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Letter from My 48th Year (Jan 5)

There is no heat or hot water in my apartment complex right now. I should be miserable, but the blessed sun is blazing into the great room windows right now so, while I can hear the wind thundering outside, and there’s a faint chill around my ankles (mostly because I’m rebelling against the compression knee highs today), I am warm and cozy.

And sleepy. Very very sleepy. I was up till three last night/this morning. I wrote and edited till around 10 and then watched the last episode of the new series of Black Mirror (beyond unsettling) and a couple of episodes of The Crown. I was awake enough at three to keep going but I figured three a.m. was rock star-ish enough for the waning days of year 47. I vaguely remember that I used to be able to survive on very little sleep but…

I don’t mind aging, I should say, even if my powers of recuperation are somewhat on the wane. I think the glory days are still ahead of me, not behind me. In the opening chapters of Proverbs, the Bible talks over and over again about how precious and valuable wisdom is, which seems like a lot of hyperbole until you hit your 40s and you realize how much trouble you could have saved yourself if you’d only been able to make an early withdrawal on the wisdom that lay ahead.

And while I am vain as anyone (no, you absolutely cannot own too many face masks or brightly colored shades of lipstick) and while seeing my own neck in the mirror has helped me understand finally why Colette always made the older women of the demimonde in her stories and novels put away their pearls once they’d reached a certain age, I am also enamored of women who just let their faces collapse around them. Who bear their wrinkles and stretch marks and age spots proudly. Those are the women who are most beautiful to me, the ones I would jump the fence for (which I’m sure nobody says anymore but I also like 80s music so…)

Over Christmas my Uncle Mel, who is approaching 74 if he’s not there already, told a story about going to the senior center near his house and finding the people there his age terribly old (though the $2.00 lunch was quite delicious). He’s the uncle who travels in a pack with my much younger cousins, visiting parties and cricket matches and wherever they find a welcome, which is everywhere, awash in good liquor and good stories and as my cousins would say, vibes. He said his doctor praised him for keeping younger company as a way to maintain a youthful spirit.

For much of my life, by the nature of when I was born comparative to the school year (I was a January baby, but was in the same grade when I started school with the kids who’d turned 6 in September), I’ve always been the youngest in my cohort. I was definitely the baby in The Divas, the poetry collective I wrote with for several years in Chicago, women who made me so much of who I am. They spoke and wrote about miscarriages and menopause and divorce and empty nests while I was still writing odes to Lenny Kravitz and asking cab drivers to take my drunken self to the McDonald’s drive-thru on the way home from carousing.

It is odd now to sometimes be the oldest one among my group of friends, to be the wise woman (relatively speaking) just because I’ve experienced or watched other people experience things for a good long while now. Is that how I’ll stay youngish—by telling other people what to do?

Still, it’s nice to visit my aunts and cousins at Christmas, to still be everyone’s “first babies,” even as I’m telling their kids, “Well, when I first knew your mother….” And I love that I’ve once again found a circle of older women who shelter me under their all-knowing wings as the Divas once did.

When we meet, I call it a gathering of crones. Some dictionaries say crone means “ugly, old woman,” and I like the idea of that. I don’t hear “ugly” as a lack of physical beauty, but rather the embrace of the fact that we are so much more than our physical beauty, that as we age, if we’re very very lucky, our physical looks are the last thing people notice about us, as they’re drawn instead to our wisdom, our strength, our persistence. It’s the letting go of vanity, the giving of fewer and fewer fucks, so that even a day with no heat and hot water is joyous because your pink bathrobe is soft and your blankets are warm and later one of your younger friends is coming over for apple crisp and coffee and poetry.

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Where We Are vs. Where We Thought We Would Be

Text and images by Meaghan Mountford

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Hello Paulette’s world,

Thank you for letting me visit today! Paulette is a dear friend, so I’m honored to share space with her here. I’m selfishly relishing the opportunity of Paulette’s convalescence to delve deeper than my sugar bowl. Usually I’m over at my own blog decorating cookies and drawing on marshmallows.

It stumps me when people ask what I do. How do I concisely sum up my day without trivializing what I do, or without making it more important than it is? I say I’m “sort of a food writer.” Maintaining a blog, let alone building it, takes a heckuvalot more than just throwing cupcakes in the oven and painting on marshmallows. Then again, I’m not curing anything. I make money blogging, which lets me say it’s a real job. But it’s not much, so it’s not really a real job. But I wrote two cookbooks, so that’s something, right? Oh yeah, I’m home with a newborn and a five-year old. That sucks most of my day right there.

Why over-explain? Because no matter how good a place I may occupy, I’m not exactly where I envisioned with my work. It’s more than simply not being there yet (though given the unrealistic perfection I demand of myself, I never will be, but that’s a discussion for Paulette’s next surgery). It’s about where I’ve ended up at age 40 and the need to convey to others (and by “others,” I mean “myself,” of course) that it’s big enough.

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I reached this current moment as most reach their current moments: Through a course of events that happen so organically, you don’t even notice. One day, I took a job decorating cookies in a shop that had just opened, even though I had never picked up a bag of icing. I expected to stay a few weeks. I stayed for almost ten years. During my time at the store, I earned two masters degrees, still on the hunt for my career. When I left the store in 2007 to have my daughter, I started the blog, landed a gig for another blog writing about food, and I was then this “expert” in edible crafts. I’ve had the writer’s itch for years, and so I merged this compulsion with my food “expertise” (note I still need to put that word in quotes) to write the cookbooks. This should be enough, I suppose. I love creating fun food. Fun food has been good to me, if not to my bank account. Then why do I feel I’m not quite where I should be? If Oprah sanctions me and I roll around in a Bentley caressing diamonds, maybe I’d feel it then?

I wanted to do other things, too. I wanted to write memoir. I suffer from auto-immune disease, and I had five major surgeries before my twenties were over. I’ve had organs removed, reconstructed, my insides pulled through the outside of my body. I’m marked by over two feet of scars. How am I not exploiting that?!? No, seriously, how?!? Wouldn’t you? I wanted to write children’s books. To live in England. To get my phD in Children’s Literature. When I was young, I wanted to be a veterinarian. Then an architect. Somewhere in my old bedroom at my mom’s house, my 7th grade self stuffed hundreds, maybe thousands, of floor plan drawings in a green Trapper Keeper. Now, I create cute cookies and get excited when I come up with an idea for decorating marshmallows that hasn’t been done. Yet I can’t help but miss those things I wanted and didn’t go after, just a little.

We end up places seemingly unexpectedly, but we are guided there by our own choices. Sure, these choices may be informed by experiences beyond our control, such as my illness. But don’t we trust our earlier selves to have made the right decisions no matter what the circumstances? To have gotten us where we are not by being devious to our future selves, but by being as wise as we could be at that time? Perhaps I need to rephrase that as we should trust our earlier selves.

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There will always be at least some disconnect between where we are versus where we thought we’d be. With each choice and passing year, our options dwindle. This isn’t meant to be a depressing notion, it’s just a fact of time and physics. There is simply no way we can do everything. We have to make choices. When we are five, we might still be an Olympic gymnast if we wanted. There’s time to train. But at age 40, it’s not likely I’ll be a gymnast, especially since I’ve never even been able to do a cartwheel. And I can forget American Idol, I’m way too old.

And on top of missing what I chose not to do, I rue, a bit, those things outside my control. Sure, I wish I was given a better singing voice, gymnastic ability. I wish I wrote better. Every day I grieve at least once over living in a body compromised by illness. Given all this moaning over what we don’t have and didn’t do, how can we possibly age gracefully? Because to be happy, we have no choice. Regret is a tricky thing. We can’t change what already is. It’s no stunning revelation that fixating on what was lost risks tearing down what wasn’t. So I may linger on thoughts of that other life I might have led in the English countryside writing picture books, all my organs intact. I may still strive for what I haven’t yet achieved. And I should probably celebrate more often what I have gotten. My family. My friends. Those cookbooks I mentioned.

I think my goal for the next forty years is to bid farewell to what didn’t happen, enjoy what has happened, and be excited for what is yet to happen. And I’m leaving a message to my 80-year old self right now: Trust me. Appreciate me. I’m making the best decisions I know how for us.

Be well, Paulette!

meaghan

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