I Have Zero Chill on My Birthday...
(...or ever, about anything, tbh)
Hellooooo…after longer than I meant to go between editions of my newsletter!
Forgive me — I have been running around a lot. Speaking of which, last week I was in NYC for the Longreads 10th Anniversary Celebration, an incredible reading/performance at Housing Works Bookstore in Soho, featuring Morgan Jerkins, Laura Lippman, Choire Sicha, Anne Theriault, and Elisabet Velaquez, which you can listen to here.
^^^ OMG, have you ever experienced poet/writer Elisabet Velasquez reading her work? Her writing, and her delivery of it, are amazing.
Also tripping me up was an internal debate over whether to weigh here in on the furor over Natalie Beach’s essay in The Cut about her friendship Caroline Calloway.
I wasn’t 100% sure whether I wanted to go there, or instead just bring you along to the next stop on my wayward career path, in the early 90s. (I’m sure you are all DYING to know about my life on the decorative pillows and personal alarms beats, and covering home furnishing trade shows for Fairchild’s HFN 😂, but you’ll have to wait until the next installment. )
For now, suffice it to say that I liked the Calloway piece, and I defend Beach’s right to publish it, although there are aspects of it that give me pause. (I have a long history of defending essays and memoir, especially those written by women.) I might eventually write more about this, but for now, I’ll point you to a smart piece by Shannon Keating on the matter that made me consider it from new angles.
Today is my birthday! My 54th!
I bought myself those kooky crayons you see in the photo at the top! I might also buy myself some drawing classes so that I can feel more confident drawing here again. A bigger present I got myself: sage green frames from Sol Moscot, in the “Lemtosh” style I’ve been crushing on forever.
^^^ Lemtosh glasses by Sol Moscot. (Too-shiny complexion by Sephardic genes, plus Egyptian Magic and NOW Solutions Vitamin C and Sea buckthorn moisturizer, which I mix together and smush all over my face to keep it from wrinkling too badly.)
Each year I vow that come the next, I will be chill about my birthday and turning a year older; almost halfway through my sixth decade (WHAT?!), I can confirm I am incapable of that.
I have a love/hate relationship with birthdays. Being born at the beginning of the school year and the middle of the Jewish new year — specifically on Shabbat T’Shuvah, the sabbath of return and repentance, which falls in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — placed a fair amount of pressure on the day.
I mean, I got saddled with a birthday on which you are supposed to — commanded to — be reflective about your choices. It is probably no wonder I have raised “reflective about your choices” to an art form. “Reflective about your choices” is my resting state. It all gets ratcheted up quite a bit each year around October 2nd. I obsess even more than usual, along these lines:
Have I made the right choices? Have I made enough corrective choices to counteract some of the early bad ones? Have I achieved the goals I set out to? (*So much “no” to that one.) Will there be more chances to achieve my goals? When will it be too late to achieve them? Will I ever publish a book of 100% my own writing? Can I keep convincing myself it’s never too late? That there’s no such thing?
This anxiety is tempered with something resembling optimism. Here’s a new beginning! Maybe this is the year you’ll finally get it all right! Which is…more pressure. But it somehow makes me want to celebrate my birthday — with my husband, with my family, with my friends. Most years I throw myself no fewer than three parties. The impetus comes from a place in me that is equal parts PLEASE DISTRACT ME WITH ATTENTION SO THAT I CAN GET THROUGH MY ANXIETY ABOUT AGING WITHOUT YET HAVING DONE ALL THAT I’VE MEANT TO DO, and HOORAY FOR BIRTHDAYS AND PRESENTS AND BIRTHDAY CAAAAAAAKE!!!
In our culture, it’s only acceptable to be excited about birthdays when you are a kid. I’ve decided (literally right this second) that it’s kind of radical to be excited about birthdays as a grownup, especially as you start getting really older. Like, say, your mid-50s. (Also, maybe Alana Massey is right that chill is not a virtue to aspire to, anyway? I have no chill about anything, ever, so I am sold on this idea.)
This is terribly cliche, but go easy on me for my birthday: Living longer is something to be grateful for.
Not everyone does live longer! Both my grandmothers died around my age, one at 53, the other at 55. Just before my 50th, I led a writing workshop for women with metastatic breast cancer, and one of them commented on how much she hates when women bitch about getting older. She was 47, and several of her friends were approaching their 50th birthdays with dread. “I will probably not live to be 50,” she would tell them. “I will probably die while my children are still relatively young.” She passed away the following year, at 48.
So, sorry, I’m going to just keep being me on my birthday — a mix of anxious and excited, and probably telling everyone I come in contact with (including all of you).
Every birthday since my 50th I have thought of that woman with metastatic breast cancer. (Honestly, I think about her and others who’ve passed all the time. My obsession with/aversion toward planning for death persists!)
In addition, this year I’m thinking about Pauline Uchmanowicz, a friend and colleague who died suddenly and unexpectedly in June, at just 61. She was fierce, and youthful, and vital. And then she was just…gone. (I think where ever she is now, she’d grant me permission to be ridiculous about my birthday.) Kingston Writers’ Studio will honor Pauline this Sunday, 10/5, from 5-7 with a reading of her work, plus other pieces, at the wonderful Rough Draft Bar & Books.
Today I’m also thinking about Jamal Khashoggi, who was brutally murdered by MBS and his henchmen on this day in 2018. Like Pauline, he was just seven years older than me; on Oct 13, he would have been 61, too.
I’ve made a donation to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in Khashoggi’s name. Journalists and journalism have never been more endangered. I’d love it if some of you who were able to felt inclined to donate as well.