Home > diary, personal > Facing forty – defining my age rather than letting it define me.

Facing forty – defining my age rather than letting it define me.

Wow CCCamp was such fun, inspiring and helped me on several issues.

First off a really moving and powerful talk involving folks from http://policespiesoutoflives.org.uk/ helped me look at my own relationship with activism and burnout. As Lili (one of the woman abused by the cops by unknowingly being subjected to a two year relationship with a spy) said at the end, we mustn’t let the paranoia and pain and fear from state repression chase us away from our struggle for a better world, but look at what roles we can do it we can’t face the coalface (I can’t recall her exact words but watch the whole talk for yourselves) such as cooking or other support roles. This reminded me of one of Rachel Corries’s emails, reflecting on how massive the horrors she was facing were, and that whilst she couldn’t see clear ways she could stop the assaults on Rafah, she could wash dishes*. So I realised I can look at what I can still do, even as my burnout is making it difficult for me to be involved in day to day organising. And this reinforced that yes I will continue to develop/improve/solidify both my first aid (and [tropical] nursing) skills and technical skills, particularly digital security, sysadmin, internet services etc. In this way I can support and help look after those people, organisations and movements who are more directly involved in creating positive change. I tend to take a long time making decisions and orienting my life focii so this is part of longer process that has been going on a while, but was yet more encouragement that this is what I should be doing.

Camp also reconnected me with a couple of friends from my past life (as a programmer), which I was very happy with. And reminded me of those past times and those aspects of myself that were more expressed at that time, and which I am turning back towards now. :)

Another biggish thing I’ve been dealing with is my imminent 40th birthday and some minor crisis around that. Some of that is due to the different ways people treat me when they find out my age. Other problems are wanting to do so much, and suddenly facing my mortality – do I have enough years of health for all the adventures and experiences and projects and contributions I want to make with my single chance at existence? What does it mean to be leaving my 30s? None of this is helped by people saying “oh you don’t look 40” as if that is something I should be happy about, because to be 40 is so shameful and terrible?

Its easy to internalise all that rubbish society and those around me seem to be saying about ageing. All the minor ways people let it be known that leaving our twenties, let alone our thirties, and especially for women, is basically leaving life. We fade from independent existence, there only to support those who are still ripe and at their prime. Fun, adventure, experimentation, creation, sex… those are young people affairs. And the dread that those much younger than me express about the horrors of entering their mid twenties makes me shamefully cringe to be approaching forty.

So what exactly was it that I had internalised about ageing, particularly within a female body? At forty surely my body would be decaying as it began an inevitable tilt towards decline and death. I ignored images of wrinkly marathon runners and pictured only my elderly patients, as if that was any less biased a sample! I allowed myself to listen to those around me who talked of their aches and pains and unreliable bodies as due solely to ageing. Additionally I would become less desirable. “Will you still love me when I am no longer young and beautiful?” sings Lana Del Rey because youth and beauty are indivisible. Less so in LGBT/queer subcultures, but still present is the understanding that whilst older men can be attractive, women wizen. We have a brief blooming, where we actually burn too bright, and the attention and fetishisation of our teen and twenty-something bodies is scary, frustrating and threatening to experience. It could feel like being forced to visibly carry around high value currency as you try to go about your every day life, but are now constantly vigilant and afraid of attempted theft. Intellectually stimulating conversations with interesting people frequently deteriorated to clumsy movements knickers-ward. But the messages I’d received was that this was now over and I was to be flung from the frying pan to the floor. So part of my fear was definitely that, though those I find attractive have always spanned a wide age range, somehow nobody would ever think me hot again. (Spoiler: To those that are yet to come down this path I can assure you that those fears are unfounded ;D )

An end to adventure also seemed on the cards. I felt a similar crisis when I approached 30, and internalised those messages from society that I should settle down, get a mortgage and judge my worth at achieving the perfect nuclear family and career path. Happily a super awesome friend reassured me that “your thirties are like your twenties, only better because you’re more sorted” – second spoiler – pretty much! But turning forty … this seems a much bigger deal. That is definitely middle aged territory, and how many stereotypes does that evoke? Even without a television or much other connection to mass media, I was still bombarded with messages about how people like me (ie the middle aged) behaved and were interested in and wore and occupied themselves with. None of these reflected my existence. And yet somehow it seemed inevitable that this was my future. That was what it would mean to be forty.

At some point when I was wrestling with apparent contradictions between my Judaism and my anti Zionism, half believing what I was being constantly told (by non Jews and Palestinian sympathisers almost as much as from within Jewish communities) that a Jewish identity incontrovertibly included certain rightwing political beliefs, I stubbornly turned around, put my chin in the air, and declared to myself and anyone who would listen that actually as I am Jewish, what I am also therefore is a part of what it means to be Jewish and therefore the set of beliefs that those who are Jewish have includes anti Zionism. I was inspired by that moment when Ged turns to his shadow in Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea and neutralises his nemesis by naming it Ged also and changing shadow into man, rather than fleeing from it and allowing it to define him.

And so now I turn to my forties, and declare “This is who I am”. My life, my being, is not defined by turning forty. Rather the definition of what it means to be forty, soon must expand to include me. My choices, my lifestyle, my modes of dress and presentation, my priorities and interests emanate from all that I am. They are influenced by my age in one crucial way – I have learned over the years that the only constant companion that I should listen to is within me, and messages from outside are merely suggestions to be considered. For life is short, and if I am in the middle of it now, there is not so much left to waste being anything other than me, to the max.

I turn forty in a few weeks. Earlier this year I decided to mark this by cycling from Land’s End to John O Groats (LEJOG), partly as an excuse to finally do it, partly as a fuck you to those that would tell me that I am now past it, but mostly as a frightened response to the crisis I was still wrestling with. Regardless that the latter was a bad reason to make any decision, I’m excited to be going. Now that I’m over the hump of my mid-life crisis, and feel freer than ever to be me, more deeply and expressively and fully than I can ever recall, I am looking forward to this adventure. No longer is LEJOG a route to escape the reality of turning forty, but a path to celebrate it head on with something to challenge and excite me. And when it is done, I have so many plans for the coming year – I want to learn electronics and conductive yarn crocheting, fully re-enter the communities in Glasgow and wider afield, I want to go away with MSF from September 2016, explore Scotland’s highlands and islands and improve my skills at doing that, develop sysadmin skills to better support political organising and activism, grow street/action medic collectives and networks and trainings, dance, adorn myself with blue hair and glitter and finally get that octopus tattoo I’ve been wanting for years and wear whatever crazy clothing I feel like without reference to what anybody else thinks. Wooot to being forty!

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