I turn 40 next month and I hadn’t really given it a lot of thought until recently. Until a friend responded to something I’d say with you’re not in your forties yet. A kind of slow-your-roll response, to which I laughed and said you’re right. I have a habit of rushing through things. I won’t burden you with a tidy list of things I’ve learned now that I’m approaching four decades of living because I kind of think those lists are a remarkable pile of bullshit–one can’t demarcate knowledge acquired neatly within a decade, rather knowledge is learned and unlearned and re-learned, and what we have with age is the comfort and discomfort you feel when you oscillate between what is known and what is not.
I read a tweet yesterday where a beautiful woman was applauded for looking “young” at the ripe old age of 43 as if we expect our women to be covered in scales with gray weeds sprouting out of their head. As if money and surgery and societal pressure don’t have a say in the matter. As if we keep reminding women about how they look over the years instead of how they’ve lived. I’ve had my time to look and feel young and I’m okay with the fact that when I look at my face in the mirror the reflection back isn’t the Felicia of 17, 27, or 35. I’m okay with lines on my face and a body that aches a little easier than it used to. I’m okay with standing aside and watching the next generation find their way and interpret the world for us, as we did. I’m fine with sitting in quiet. I’m getting accustomed to letting go of regret.
Perhaps what’s bothering me is the notion of mortality and how it presents itself as the years cycle forward. I didn’t much think of death when I was younger because it felt like an impossibility. You’re filled with all of this wonder and promise and you can’t even fathom the idea of loss. Until you grow older and the casualties slowly creep into your life. By 25 I only knew of one person who had died–a suitemate of mine in college who suffered from inoperable brain cancer. Yet her loss felt random, a freak occurrence of nature–unimaginable. And then a good friend of mine died of cancer, and then another. And then someone I knew took his life. And then another. People you love, and acquaintances you know only slightly, depart. Loss makes itself known whether you want it in the room or not, and when I got a mammogram this year and I learned I have dense breast tissue (nothing to be concerned about–just something which requires attention), I thought that the impossibility of dying became real, possible and unavoidable. Now I think it would be insane not to have health insurance because you never know. When I was younger I thought about the life unfurling in front of me, and while I still think about that, while I still try to hold on to the wonder, I think about time, about all the ways in which I could avoid squandering it. I’ve moved from desperately cleaving to the want of happiness and toward a life of purpose. And I suppose I will continue to oscillate between the wonder and the legacy for years to come.
At various points in my life doctors have asked me if I’ve ever considered taking my life. I nodded my response and said while I thought about it and all the ways in which I’d devise my end when it came down to it, I wouldn’t do it. I would only think about it, and the thought would come like a torrent and it would leave as swiftly as it had arrived. All the doctors would invariably follow the first question with this–why? And at every point in my life I said because there’s so much beauty left. There’s so much more worth doing in the small time we have here. Because it’s not fair to just give up. Because I don’t only want to know one small piece of my life without experiencing the whole wonderful composition of the rest of it. One of the few gifts that time breeds is perspective, context. A few days ago a new friend came by with her sweet daughter and we walked around Santa Monica, and she did the thing I wanted her to do–talk about anything other than the specter that I’ve been thinking of (i.e. this omnipresent sadness). We got to talking about Room (the book and the movie) and I’d expressed anger about one specific scene. There’s a scene where the mother is being interviewed about her time in captivity, and when her son was born had she ever considered giving him up. The mother is incredulous. Why would she give up her child? So that it could be free was the seemingly obvious response. And in that moment I saw the ways we’re cruel to mothers. We paint them as selfish, their bond to their child unhealthy, borderline selfish. Freudian. As if there exists a singular moral truth for every situation. The scene was minor, but I walked away from the film and my re-reading of the book, angered. My friend, who’s a new mother, and I talked about this for a bit–the idea of morality within context. There might have been a time when my moral compass would have been myopic, my pursuit of right and wrong, binary. But now there exists so much gray. Context emerges. Empathy creeps into the picture.
I don’t have much to offer about growing older. I can’t deliver neat little listicles that are easily tweet-able. What I can tell you is this–age has brought me physical and emotional space. And that space is filled with so much gray. That space requires patience, temperance because it dawns on you that you are in the midpoint of your very short life and the world is not clean, simple and complete. And this is okay. As the years press on, you keep telling yourself that this is okay. That it’s okay to settle in the gray, vacillate in the betweens.
Or who knows? You may already know all of this at 25. I could be wrong and that’s okay too.
For the pie crust: makes a nice 9″ pie, it can also create 2 4″ pies (approximately)
2 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 tbsp organic cane sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 sticks of cold, unsalted butter, cubed. Keep this in the freezer until you need to use it.
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup ice cold water
For the pie filling:
4 cups blueberries
1 cup organic cane sugar
3 1/2 tbsp flour or cornstarch
In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar and salt until combined. Cut the chilled butter into the mixture with a handheld pastry blender. Cut together until the butter is the size of small peas or lentils. If you’re using a pastry blender, don’t SLIDE the blender, press down on the butter against the flour or you will lose the integrity of the solid butter. You can also pulse all of the ingredients in a food processor. I opted to do this by hand as I wanted to understand how the dough should look and feel before I take shortcuts. Of note, it takes a while (10 minutes) for the dough to be properly cut, so be patient.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, chilled water and apple cider vinegar. Using two forks, make a “well” in the center of the flour mixture. Pour the egg mixture into the center of the well. Using the two forks, toss dough from each side to cover the wet well and then toss the flour mixture into the egg mixture from the bottom up. Toss this gently as if you were tossing a salad. I know this sounds odd, but it’s genius. I used to use my hands and I ended up overworking the dough and my crust would always have a cookie-like, tough texture. Do NOT touch the dough with your hands and I even recommend chilling the forks.
Intermittently, check the dough by lifting it up with the fork on its side. If you see lots of “sand” that means you need another small drizzle (think 1 tbsp) of cold water and continue to toss until the dough comes together. You don’t want a wet, sticky dough rather you want a dough that completely comes together. Continue tossing until there are no loose crumbs of flour and the dough sticks together.
Turn out the dough onto a baking sheet, wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Believe me when I say that this is critical. YOU DON’T WANT TO WORK WITH WARM DOUGH, TRUST ME.
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. While your dough is chilling, in a large bowl toss together the fruit filling mixture. Remove your dough from the fridge (after 30 minutes) and unwrap. Coat a clean, dry work surface with a dusting of flour. Lightly coat the chilled dough with the flour. Cut the dough in half and coat the cut edges with flour. Place one-half
of the dough on the flour dusted surface. Wrap the other half and chill in the fridge.
Using a rolling pin, begin rolling the dough. Make sure you lift the dough between rolls and make sure the dough surfaces are coated with flour so it doesn’t stick. Continue rolling the dough. Roll each corner of the dough, one time, then turn the dough clockwise, roll again, turn, roll again, until you achieve a round circle of dough about 10 inches in diameter (1/8 inch thick). Fold the dough in half. Gently, transfer the dough into the pie tin, align the dough with the center of the tin, covering half the tin. Unfold the dough to cover the other half of the tin. Gently, relax the dough into the tin to shape. Cut off any excess dough hanging over the edge of the tin.
Now you can fill your pie with your fruit mixture! Place the pie tin in the fridge (cooling again! I’m serious, kids!) while you roll out the top crust.
Remove the other 1/2 of dough from the fridge and roll out until you achieve a round circle of dough about 10 inches in diameter (1/8 inch thick). Fold the dough in half. Remove the pin tin from the fridge and transfer the folded dough onto the top of the pie. Unfold to cover the entire pie. Cut off any excess dough hanging over the edge of the tin. Fold the edge of the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust. Crimp the crust with your fingers to create a decorate edge.
Chill the pie until the dough is firm (20 minutes). Once chilled, brush the top with heavy cream and cane sugar. Cut three score marks in the top of the pie to allow the pie to vent while steaming. Place the pie on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake the pie at 400F for the first 20 minutes. You want to shock the pie to allow it to hold the integrity of its shape and create a flaky crust. Reduce the temperature to 350F and bake until the pie bubbles in the center — approximately 45 minutes.
Remove, cool on a rack, and serve with ice-cream!