“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”~ Abraham Lincoln
I have a confession to make…..
I am the kind of person who gets depressed, introspective, and melancholy whenever her birthday rolls around. Of course, I do my very best to hide this fact, by turning my birthday (and, since I was born right between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, all the surrounding days of festivity) into a unique celebratory experience in which I am the princess and everyone is supposed to go out of their way to make me happy. Yes, when it comes to birthdays, I am a five-year-old child who wants cake and a pony and all her friends to come over and play.
Every year, I do my best to make my birthday an *event*. If I look back through the photographic memories of my life, I can remember what birthday I celebrated based on what city I was in, who was there, and what merriment transpired. One of my favourite birthdays involved a tour of various East Coast cities during the holidays, during which I celebrated my birthday 5 times in 4 different cities. I’ve celebrated by drinking martinis and closing down clubs in New York City, visiting strip clubs in Philly, and having over a thousand people sing to me on a Carnival cruise ship. I’ve celebrated with dinner on swanky rotating rooftop establishments, and by getting stuck in a small town in Ohio during a blizzard and ending up at a biker bar, which was the only thing open. I’ve celebrated by having a dear friend come visit me on more than one occasion, and was a bit disappointed that this was not in the cards for this year. I did my obligatory 21st birthday theatre-geek ritual of attempting to do 21 shots over the course of the evening. (I got a lot further than I ever expected.) I’ve even ended up at more than one celebration that involved grownups taking off clothes in the middle of classy bars and restaurants. On my 29th birthday, I fell down the parking garage stairs.
Yes, folks, birthdays are quite interesting in my world. If it’s not big and over-the-top, it’s not what I want to do to celebrate. If there are not a hundred people leaving me e-mails and Facebook messages, I’m a little disappointed. After all, it’s the one day of the year where I can proudly let my narcissism shine!
Behind it all, though, is the fact that I grow very melancholy and tend to feel more alone than usual on my birthday. I remember it starting the day after my 21st birthday, when my mother wanted to take me out and celebrate because I could legally go to the bar (She pretended to have no idea I’d been going to bars since the age of 15, and would often go sing karaoke as a teenager because strangers would buy me drinks.) I remember not wanting to go, because I’d been crying earlier in the evening. The fun of celebrating with friends the night before had worn off, and I’d just grown conscious of feeling old. I had this feeling that time was passing me by, that each time I celebrated, it was really the mourning of a loss of another year—a year I could have done something spectacular, but didn’t.
I still feel that way, particularly at a point in my life where I’m NOT doing anything spectacular. I have a nice and caring boyfriend, a stable and relatively decent place to live, a roommate I don’t want to kill every day, a job where I can do something I’m actually rather good at, a family I’m still on mostly civil terms with, an extended group of friends, a few random infatuations, a fun trivia hobby, a successful social group, a dog that loves me, enough money to get by, and the knowledge that my recent health crises, while painful, draining, and not fun, will not ultimately kill me. In short, I have all the things most people my age have…and the things some have that I do not, such as a cool car, a corporate job, marriage, kids, and a house…are things I truly do not really desire.
Yet, I feel unfulfilled. Perhaps I set the bar too high in my early years; there were things I wanted, and I made certain to find them. In my 20′s, I wanted to travel, so I did. I wanted to perform, so I did. I wanted romantic love affairs and crazy adventures….check, on both. I wanted to be artistic, scandalous, unconventional…and we all saw how that worked out. I wanted to explore different ways of thinking and living, broaden my horizons. I’ve done that. I wanted to meet rich,powerful, famous, influential people for the sake of saying “When I was young, I did that.”. I wanted to live on my own, and lounge by the poolside every afternoon. I wanted the picture of domestic bliss, playing house with someone who would maybe be the right person for me.
I did all those things. I have not led a boring life, and now that I do, by the standards of many people I know…I still don’t. Becoming “ordinary”, living a drama-free life, choosing relationships over impetuous flings and crazy parties, gaining 20 pounds instead of spending my days eating 500 calories a day and drinking vodka, working a relatively normal, deadline-oriented job, having responsibilities…well, in my way, I’ve grown up. But there are still adventures I miss, still things I want to do.
For some reason, I stopped doing them. I stopped pursuing life as avidly as I did when I was young. I took my self-esteem down a few notches…or perhaps others did for me…and started caring about things outside of my own little bubble. Perhaps I just became content and complacent. Perhaps I became co-dependent, and began to think, as I so often do in relationships, “If you don’t want to do this with me, I won’t do it at all.”. Perhaps I just became older, more mature, more isolated in the suburbs, more fragile. more stuck in a life I’m not particularly sure is mine to live. I can blame a lot of things, but mostly, I had some life experience, and it left me frightened and hurt and less able to believe in myself. Sadly, the city of Atlanta has had a lot to do with that; it’s a large city with a small town attitude, including the tendency to judge, to talk behind everyone else’s back, to condemn what you don’t understand. That has affected me a great deal, taught me to limit myself, to care too much what everyone else thinks.
This year, being sick, it taught me that maybe I don’t have as many years left as I’d like to think I do. In just a few years, I’ll be halfway through this adventure known as life, at best. It’s time to make things count, to take chances, to refuse to limit myself, to love myself, to admit I have gifts and talents and not be afraid to show them.
Part of me is afraid that if I do these things, I’m going to find myself alone…as if the real me is one that’s not terribly mature or considerate of others and should likely be single. But another part of me understands that I need a person in my life who understands all aspects of who I am and can handle some of my feelings of unfulfillment and yearning for a more adventurous, unconventional lifestyle.
I can’t stay put because I’m dating someone who likes to stay put. I can’t deny that side of myself for the sake of someone else, or because it makes me feel co-dependent that I sometimes would rather not go if I have to go alone. Alone is OK, and I used to know that…but have forgotten over the years.
This year is one for healing; body, mind, and spirit. It is also one for getting in touch with who I am, the pieces that got lost along the way, what I want from my life, and what keeps me feeling so “stuck” that I stopped taking chances, stopped putting myself out there.
This year is for adventure, for making connections, for expanding horizons. It seems natural I’ll approach these things in a different way than I did in my 20′s, but as people change, so does how they explore the world around them and what they appreciate in others.
This year is for the unexpected, and deciding that makes me feel decidedly less melancholy about adding another year to my age.
After all, I’m an actress. We don’t age. We’re 25 until we’re 40, 40 until we’re 60, and 60 until we’re being shown on that “In Memoriam” page.