35 Candles

Today, September 9, is my birthday.  It’s kind of a milestone birthday in that I turned 35.  I’ve been a little uncomfortable with this birthday for a while.  Part of it has to do with the fact that I cannot fathom how it can be September 2012 already. Mostly it has to do with how 35 feels.  I’ve been telling people that I’ll be entering middle-age with this birthday, and I’m only partly joking.  I see the crow’s feet.  The bags that seem to inflate exponentially.  The gray hair that makes it an exercise in careful camouflage if I want to scrape my hair off my forehead with a barrette.

As Prufrock says, “I grow old…I grow old…”

Thirty-five sounds solidly old in that the excesses of your youth should be behind you lest you become that embarrassing person at the club dressed in age-inappropriate clothing about whom everyone whispers, “she should know better.”  At thirty-five, you should know better.  At 35, you should be solidly middle-class with a house, children, job and pets, happily putting their needs before yours because you had  your shot. And like Prufrock, 35 feels ineffectual and paralyzing, full of doubt and insecurity, especially in a society that worships youth.

I have had a lot of self-loathing and doubt this year.  It’s probably obvious in my posts in that I’m a worrier.  And I’ve worried about everything.  I haven’t felt good at anything: parenting, work, relationships, identity or appearance.  I’m always my own worst critic.  I’ve felt like I’ve been floundering this year.

It’s understandable considering what the past few years have brought: catastrophe  upon catastrophe.  Death, death and more death.  Job uncertainty and the threat of relocation. Infestation.  Hard truths realized.  Why would I feel good about anything, including myself, when my life has been pretty shitty?

Thirty-five also finds me goalless.  The first part of your life is all about striving: graduate high school, get out of the house, college, career, marriage, family.  Thankfully, I’ve achieved those milestones.  What’s left?  The slow descent to retirement (What retirement? I expect to die on the job)?  I don’t do well without a goal, but the primary ones are behind me.

But lest you think this is going to be only a bitchy post about how I am sooooo freaking old at 35….

I’ve noticed a few bloggers love the poet Mary Oliver.  I had never heard of her before, which probably makes me a shitty English major since that knowledge comes with the territory.  I have no excuse except that we didn’t get far with 20th Century writers, and I’m not a huge fan of poetry.

The Mary Oliver line that is quoted often is this:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

How profound.  Each of us has a wild and precious life, and I think the crux of it is that at 35, I don’t know what I’m going to do.  Is doing anything with my wild and precious life beyond me at this point?  Have I missed my opportunity? Is my wild and precious life now slumbering, having been tranquilized into complacency?

I don’t think so.  Jimmy and I are still watching Breaking Bad and last night we watched Walter tell Hank about how scared he had been all of his life.  Scared to do anything radical or other than the right thing, and I identified strongly with that (NOT SELLING METH!).  I have always been a good girl.  A rule follower.  The one who felt crushing guilt if she dared step a toe outside of the line.  Yet 4 years ago, we took a deep breath and started down a path that seemed ludicrous and strange but yielded us our son.  After facing infertility and pursuing surrogacy, rules don’t look as rigid or scary any longer.

We took a few days off this week to do some serious house cleaning, and I had a lot of time to think and reflect as I was pushing around a mop and scrubbing baseboards (I’d say I spent the weekend on my knees but you might get the wrong idea).  After those days off, I found myself no longer flinching when I thought about my birthday. I felt…calm. At peace.

I’ve always felt older than I was for most of my life.  Maybe I have an old soul.  I’ve never felt comfortable in my body or in control of it either.  Clumsy, heavy, ungraceful.   I often wondered if maybe I had been given the wrong body and that somewhere out there was my correct body, and its occupant and I could trade, rejoicing in finally feeling coordinated and whole.

I’ll never be coordinated probably (I’m a huge klutz), but I feel more at home in this body than I ever have.  Yes, I’m carting around 15ish extra pounds.  Yes, I hate the gray hairs and the wrinkles.  I feel centered and connected, though, and that realization surprised me.  I feel like I know stuff.  I feel like I have the age & experience to lend heft to what I say at work.  I can give my opinion strongly in a meeting and not really care if someone thinks I’m mouthy.  I’ve earned it, and that’s a heady notion.

A few paragraphs above, I lamented that I no longer had anything for which to strive.  At the same time, that’s a joy!  I love that Daniel is here and finishing grad school last year was wonderful.  I am FREE! For the first time in years, I have a tiny bit of free time, free time that I can gleefully embrace.  I can read books.  I can read bad Trixie Belden fan fiction. I can watch series about meth.  I can make jam (we plan to for Christmas).  It’s wonderful.

All this “free” time means I can also focus on another mystery: me.  I have so enjoyed the outlet this blog has provided me, and it’s been an important one.  I spend a lot of time in my head, and I often think about random stuff.  I so appreciate having this outlet to ponder whatever is in my head.  And now I’m wondering who I am.  Who is the 35-year-old KeAnne?  What interests her? What’s next?

What am I going to do with my “one wild and precious life?” I don’t know, but I hope to explore it and I hope you’ll come along for the journey and help me.

So happy birthday to me.  Thirty-five now seems like freedom or at least only a number.  I’m excited to see what  happens.



  1. Happy birthday! I hope you have a wonderful day.

    I too have struggled with the reality that soon there will be no goals left to strive for. I am also someone who works towards things and I can’t imagine a life without that. I think that’s why I play around with the idea of writing a novel, because it would give me something to DO. Because without something to do, what good am I? And just writing that I think I realized that I feel that way because I don’t feel I’m good at any of the stuff I’m supposed to be doing at this point in my life, like cooking and making my house look nice and entertaining people. Those things are not my strengths and I feel like I need to have some other goal almost as an excuse for why I can’t do those things. Oh, I never cool or clean because I’m trying to write a novel! I don’t know if that makes sense but I suddenly felt that to be true.

    My novel helps me weather a lot of anxiety. When the uncertainty of having another child knocks me over I immediately start planning the execution on my novel because the creating of it, I can control. And I in that area of my life I can put my passion into something and actually see a result. That is so important to me.

  2. Oh KeAnne, I think this post is exactly what I was meant to stumble into your path and you stumble into mine. I had nearly the same experience when I turned 35. 35 feels SO BIG. It’s the time when I wondered what I was going to be when I grew up. And I also came off a crappy couple of years, with a melanoma scare and my grandfather dying.

    I was sitting in that despair point, the one where I knew I did not want to be sitting at a desk working on software all day until I retired AND THEN WHAT, when one of my blogfriends went through Mondo Beyondo. She could not stop raving about it. I felt like I had literally tried everything else to find my path in life, so what could it hurt to do Mondo? I was already goal-less with no idea where to head, so why not?

    I’m 100% serious when I say that taking an online class in dreaming changed my life. It altered my path forever. Right when I was reaching the tipping point in the Mondo class, wouldn’t you know that the Mary Oliver quote above was one of the lessons that day?

    Anyway I came out of that class in 2009 with a plan to start a photography business. It seemed LUDICROUS because I had 3 year old twins, Jon traveling 75% at the time, I had a full time job! and also why become a photographer at 35 when I had a dependable, safe, stable software job? I realized in Mondo that I had dreams, secret dreams, that I said no to because they were impractical and seemed impossible. And I realized I was stopping myself from dreaming big.

    Obviously you know what happened. I have a photography business. Along the way, I ran a few Warrior Dashes, met 30+ blogfriends around the country, had boudoir photos taken, took a nature hike with Andrea Scher, the founder of Mondo, and was photographed by her, and have had some freaking amazing dreams come true. I have a long list of dreams still stewing. I look at the rest of my life with possibility, even as I am quickly approaching 39.

    Sorry for the longest comment ever, but this post deserved it.
    The next Mondo class starts tomorrow.
    Happy birthday.

    (Here is more I wrote about my journey:
    http://www.lauracasephotography.com/blog/2012/05/18/lcp-one-year-anniversary )

  3. Happy Birthday. And now you’ve got me thinking about 35 as a milestone birthday. I can see how it could be disturbing. Oh and incidentally, I don’t like poetry either. In fact, I took registered for a 20th century poetry class once and then immediately dropped it when the professor said, on the first day of school, “I mean, how can you go wrong with 20th century poetry?” It seemed to me that things could go really wrong, really quickly… and they did because he then pulled out Ezra Pound. Anyway, many happy returns to you.

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