Friday, March 30, 2012
As a big birthday looms, I wonder: Where did I go?
It’s no secret that I’m a little wigged out about being 49. There’s just something about the number coming in December that gives me pause, primarily because one can’t truly define oneself as “middle-aged” when the average person doesn’t live to be 100. So numerically, I’m on the downhill side of things, and that’s not where I want to be.
But today, I was reminded that there’s a whole lot left, and I spent this afternoon mulling over the fact that perhaps I need to stop consigning myself to the rocking chair.
I went with some co-workers to a lunchtime concert by singer-songwriter Karla Bonoff. Although I’ve never been a die-hard fan, I’ve liked her work over the years and have one of her songs on my iPod. My friends and I grabbed our to-go lunches and settled in at the Temple for the Performing Arts – one of my favorite places in Des Moines – and I felt myself shake off the stress of the morning and begin to relax a bit.
And then Karla and her guitarist came out, and I knew I was in a place that would be good for me.
Karla is 60, and I would guess her guitarist, Nina Gerber, to be about the same age. Karla was dressed in an outfit I would describe as a natural evolution of the clothing she no doubt wore in the early '70s – although she was appropriately attired for most any venue, the top flowed and its first few buttons were undone. It was as if Karla were saying, “Yes, I know how old I am, but I’m not about to shop at Coldwater Creek quite yet.”
Her hair was on the longish side, and although she probably dyes her gray, she looked natural and pretty. And Nina? Long, gunmetal-colored hair, and a tunic with a peace sign emblazoned on it. She looks her age, but if I were as talented as she is, I wouldn’t worry about it, either.
In between singing her songs with a voice that’s every bit as pure and strong as it was 30 years ago, Karla talked about her life – about her tendency, once upon a time, to date “the biggest jerk in the room,” but also about how she regrets nothing because from the fiercest pain came the best songs.
And I thought: Is it too late for this part of me?
Lately, my creative side seems to have gone the way of my concert t-shirts and cassette tapes – it’s buried, and I still think of it fondly, but I really have no idea where it is. I blog when I can, but I tend to censor myself; I have kids and jobs, and I’m always conscious of the possibility that someone in my life will take offense to something I write.
So I’ve simply become more … sensible. My clothes are more sensible. My hair is shorter. And I’m a whole lot less fun. Why? Because I guess I’ve somehow been feeling that I had my “fun time,” and now it’s time to settle down and think really hard about things like my 401(k) and my teeth.
I am boring. Karla Bonoff and Nina Gerber are decidedly not. Karla sang of wanting someone to lie down beside her. Nina wrung everything there was to wring out of her guitar. There wasn’t an ounce of silicone or a syringe of Botox to be seen, nor did anyone onstage seem to be worrying about retirement investments.
But then I looked around, and I saw women in corporate attire and men in ties. Some snuck glances at watches; no one sang along or danced or swayed to the music, or even moved at all. Karla and Nina were creating something on that stage; the audience was destined for an afternoon of reports and spreadsheets.
It’s a catch-22. I’m grateful to make a good living doing something that allows me to utilize my skills set, but I have to wonder what’s happening to me. I used to be able to perform well at work, then let my hair down when the clock struck 5. Lately I make myself feel I’m always on the clock.
I needed this today; I needed something to make me think. I can’t do anything about the passage of time, but I can keep from allowing it to define who I am. No one says I can’t wear a tunic with a peace sign on it; no one says I can’t comment about my political beliefs or sing at the top of my lungs to the Black Crowes or keep my hair as long as I want to. And although I can’t play guitar, I can still be a good mother and wife and employee if I undo one or two buttons once in a while.
No one is telling me not to be me … except for me. Perhaps it’s time, as my teachers always advised me, to talk a little less and listen a little more. There’s a small voice, buried somewhere in my cassette box, that seems to be trying to find its way to the light.