I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. ― Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Is it strange to hold a number but not feel the shape of it? The clocks are an altogether different matter — they force a kind of inventory. You stare at your hands, inspect your face under the glare of a sun that threatens to set your skin aflame, and contort your body this way and that. A mask, a doll, a funhouse mirror, a forest — you are all and none of these things, and you stare at photographs as a reminder of the person you used to be. As instructed, you’ve taken the inventory, you’ve done the maths, and all you’re left with are the additions. And as a result, all that has been taken away. This wasn’t what you used to look like, you think. You scramble to compare a photo taken then and a photo taken now, and you chart the minor (and sometimes significant) differences.
I’m 37, but I don’t feel it. No, that’s not true. I feel some it. I feel the quiet and patience that comes with having lived through the torrent, having felt the undertow, of having almost gone under, but didn’t. I’ve imagined all the ways in which I can end, complete — from a plane hurtling into the ocean to a wisp of air sputtering out in the middle of sleep — so the trash can flames and basement floods don’t incite the terror they once had the capacity to do. I feel something of the severe in terms of managing the multiplications. There was a time when I’d wake to a face covered in barnacles, all those who cling, burrow and fiercely attach to only drain, and I’d try to yank them off and tire from their resilience. Now I walk around with a scalpel, ready for the scraping. I feel a body slowly not able to recover like it used to. I feel the softness that won’t easily harden. I can start to see the years in my eyes and on patches of my face.
I’m 37, but I don’t feel it because I feel as if I’ve only just woken up. Had I been asleep all this time? Had I been dreaming?
This week an old friend tells me that my greatest challenge (there’s another challenge? I laugh in a way that isn’t funny) is taking comfort in the betweens. There was a time when I worked in marketing and only saw myself as a writer. Refusing to write jacket and campaign copy because it would ruin — I was a woman who would not bend. Then there was a time when I was all slideshows and key performance indicators, and all the important people in my life don’t even know I’d written a book. Don’t know I’m writing a new one. So my friend tells me that I’ve got to find a way to reconcile the two. Torch the masks and meet the world with this one face, these two hands, this one mind, divided.
We talk about the kids and their entitlement, which is sometimes true, but I wonder if we’re a little envious. If we want to age in reverse — start knowing too much to knowing nothing at all, and living every moment in the wonder of the next. It used to infuriate me to hear children cry because I wanted them to know how good they have it. How every moment forward brings a newness that they’ll never get back.
I’m 37 and I hear about the too lates, the new starts, the pivots, the awakenings — and I want to torch all of it.
I wonder if instead of us staring at photographs, obsessing over the surface of things, perhaps we can attempt to create a map of the country that is our heart, the cities that are our mind in swell, in bloom. We gawk at the largeness of it, of all that we’ve become and achieved, and perhaps we need this laid down on paper. Perhaps we need this taped to our mirrors, festooned on the walls. Perhaps then we’ll stop thinking about the maths, the numbers.
I don’t have an answer, but I know that I want to move in the direction of our heart being a country.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe inspired by Joanne Chang’s Famous Applewood Smoked BLT recipe in Flour, Too (Serves two)
8 slices applewood-smoked bacon, thick cut
4 slices good-quality slice sourdough bread
2 tbsp butter
2 cups baby spinach
12 figs, quartered
1 tbsp balsamic vinaigrette
Sea Salt to taste
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil and preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place bacon on the cookie sheet and bake for 24-28 minutes, until half is crispy and half is still a little bendy. Remove from oven. Lightly toast bread. Spread each slice with a tablespoon of butter. As I need to keep my dairy in check, I used Earth Balance butter. Top two slices with baby spinach and quartered figs, a drizzle of vinaigrette and bacon. Season with salt to taste. Top with second slice of bread. Cut in half and serve.