Jhames Supercollider

This is 40

I spent the last Saturday of my 39th year having my back waxed in preparation for my 40th birthday. I cannot imagine why anyone would opt for searing pain every 5 weeks for the sake of smooth skin, but I digress. My husband asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday and I replied “India.” I have had a strong fascination with the subcontinent since I was 15 and I would love to explore its every city. I was quickly reminded that a) such a journey takes more time than we have allotted with our jobs, and b) I do not handle heat well. Like, at all. (4 years ago we celebrated our anniversary in Paris during the last week of June. I assumed that I would be able to manage the heat and humidity wearing cotton shirts and shorts, and I was sadly mistaken.) And so we compromised with an adventure in Europe across 8 countries: we each pack 1 carry-on bag, we spend no more than 48 hours in any given city, and we experience each destination without an itinerary. I am traveling with a linen-only wardrobe (and a freshly-waxed back) to ensure maximum comfort as we live the jetset lifestyle for 16 days. With age comes wisdom—a souciant of crazy helps.

I was 15 when my dad turned 40. We were living in Nashua, New Hampshire and standing in line at Home Depot when I made a joke about my dad being “over the hill” and “an old fart.” He looked dead at me and replied, “I will knock you flat out if you ever say that again.”

In high school my friends and I would often joke about killing ourselves when we turned 30 because, really, it’s best to die young and live pretty. When the day came for my friend to turn 30, she burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably. She wasn’t even part of the death-pact.

Another friend recently had an eye lift when he turned 50. I was shocked to hear this because he is in excellent health and pays close attention to his overall physique. “I don’t want to look tired and old.” He works as a project manager and he, like so many of us, must compete for employment with peers his own age (or older) as well as college graduates. His artifacts of time – much like the college graduation date on his résumé – no longer appear.

We embrace aging with our own degrees of grace and nuance.

My dad was already losing his hair in his early thirties, and I was never sure if I would suffer the same fate as I aged. Genetics thankfully intervened and my maternal Mediterranean heritage allowed me to keep my hair. Unfortunately genetics took the hair a bit further than I would have liked, thus my back. And my eyebrows. Ears, too. Jesus, the ears. Every 6 weeks I have a haircut appointment, mercifully, and every 5 weeks I have an appointment for my eyebrows. I can accept gray hairs sprouting all over my body, I can even accept that I am not working out as much as I should and I have a bit of a midsection to lose. But I simply refuse to let my body transform itself into David Lynch’s vision of Thufir Hawat from Dune.

My dad never had any tattoos or piercings. I have two tattoos, one on my upper right arm and the other on my lower back. I had my nipples and ear cartilage pierced in the early ’90s but all that remain are scars and slight divots. I would opt for more tattoos if I could but when I estimate the cost of an arm sleeve, I could buy new fencing for the house.

When I was 15, I pictured myself living in New York City as an artist in an industrial loft. Andy Warhol, his Superstars, and The Silver Factory were my everything. Art school later taught me the reality of what it means to live as an artist. I never would have imagined that at 40 I would be living in Seattle with my husband, 2 cats, working for an Internet company, owning a car and a house. I’m sure the 15-year-old me would not entirely understand the choices I made to be where I am today at 40, but it is a very good place to be.

If I could give advice to my 15-year-old self, it would be this: You are not a unique precious snowflake. Your family, friends past and present, even jobs you hold in this life, all of them will seek to build you up and tear you down. What you possess is a strength that others lack, but this does not make you unique. It only makes you strong, and this is neither greater nor less than what other people possess. You will make a lot of bad decisions, also a lot of great ones, and you become stronger from those consequences. Just be sure to retain the wisdom of your experiences so as not to commit the same actions repeatedly.

If I could do things differently, I would have asked more questions before blindly accepting what was in front of me.

If I could do things differently, I would have asked for help sooner and not make myself believe that I had to go it alone in this world.

If I could do things differently, I would have put my needs first more often.

There is a passage by William Wordsworth in “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” that has carried me through 40 years of life through all its Sturm und Drang.

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;

My parents married young and divorced when I was only 5. I spent 26 years of my life in-between homes, bitter feuds, and ugly fights. I experienced firsthand the physical toll all the resentment, bitterness, and anger my parents manifested. I’m thankful that I was smart enough at an early age to choose a life with eccentricity and passion. You become what you hate. I can only hope I spend my remaining years on this planet transitioning into a lifestyle that allows for rainbow caftans, macramé footwear, and cats falling asleep in my lap as I occasionally write.

More importantly, I will fulfill a 25-year promise to myself and travel to India before I shed my mortal coil. Even if that means undergoing the pain of another full-back wax.

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