Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reflections on a year

Three weeks ago, a surgeon removed my right ovary and fallopian tube in an effort to resolve ongoing pelvic pain that began six months ago when he removed several ovarian cysts from both ovaries.

So, here we are. Slightly older, less one ovary and fallopian tube, facing a year in which I have a lot of vague desires but not much direction.

I'm trying to figure out what it means to only have one ovary at 34. I frequently ask Intro to Gender Studies classes what exactly makes someone a woman, and they usually respond by listing primary or secondary sexual characteristics, including ovaries, breasts, etc. I follow up with the question, what about women who have hysterectomies? Or double mastectomies? Are they no longer women? Students answer no, these are still women. So, what makes a woman? At this point, they're usually stumped, and I admit that this is one of those questions to which I don't have a real answer (much to my students' frustration). And while:

a) I don't think that I've based my personal subjectivity on my gender identity, nor
b) do I think that my gender identity is based on pieces of matter I've never seen -- my ovaries, for example -- or reproductive capacity I don't intend to use, and while
c) I realize that my reproductive capacity hasn't really changed anyway,

I can't shake the feeling that something important, something critical to my sexuality, has been lost. And it's strange that I use the word lost, too. It mis-behaved. Given plenty of opportunity to straighten up and fly right, my ovary continued to maliciously produce hemorrhagic cysts. I didn't lose it, like a puppy or a friend, I conciously approved its removal. And I don't want it back, but I guess that I expect hair to start growing on my chin. Or strange upper-torso muscle development. Or my voice to sink an octave. I have this weird feeling that people look at me and some kind of shine is missing. Reproductive shine? What a weird idea for someone who knows a lot better.

It doesn't help that thirty-four seems somehow much older than 33 -- perhaps because it's only one year away from 35, which is half-way to 40, which is the end of life. Even if I accept that 40-year-olds can be attractive, a fact about which I still feel hesitant, I only have six years left. Six years, and half the original equipment.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Fabulous jobs continued

Tim Gunn! Did I mention Tim Gunn, whose job it is to be the fairy godmother of the fashion nouveau? What a fantastic job that would be -- to swoop in, dispense benevolent advice and encouragement, and swoop out again?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fabulous jobs

Travel and food writer (like the Sterns, who appear weekly on The Splendid Table and whose main vocation seems to be traveling around the US and eating)

French maid to royalty (see maid in Braveheart -- skill sets seem to include hair styling, wardrobe-arranging and gossiping, French language skills a plus)

The person who scouts locations for television shows and films

The guy I saw on the History Channel who researches dragon myths and their relationship to dinosaur fossils

Tour guide for Americans in other, more interesting countries

Diplomat to some country we're not at war with, considering war with, or recovering from war with . . . act quickly, these jobs are rapidly drying up

Professional shopper (ha! I'm already doing this job for free!)

Out-duction Project Officer (I think this means that your job is canceling things; seems like you could phone that in)

Docent of any decent museum, although this requires the existence of another less fun job that pays well

Monday, October 6, 2008


Am I insane? Is wanting to be fabulous an older, sadder version of the desire to wake up at 16 and be a princess? Do I just want to wake up (or get the right job, etc.) as Victoria Beckham?


My routines at 30:
  • Morning: shower and wash hair with whatever shampoo seems to offer the hope of volume; brush teeth; flip hair upside down and blow dry while attempting to keep bangs from standing straight up and avoiding passing out from blood rushing to head; lip liner and lipstick; maybe eyeliner, maybe not. Go. Fifteen minutes.
  • Evening: clean face with make-up remover wipes; brush teeth; take medicine. Bed. Five minutes.

My routines at 33:

  • Morning: clean face with microderm abrasion wipes; brush teeth; apply hydroquinone to erase dark skin spots; slather on moisturizer with sunscreen; frost the layer cake with foundation; lip liner, eye liner, mascara; mousse hair and flip upside down to dry but not too much; stand up and avoid passing out from blood rushing away from head; continue to blow-dry on low and straighten with flat brush (okay, this is one of the good skills age has brought); smooth hair with expensive hair-smoothing stuff; perfume; wash hands which now smell like a very clean brothel. Go. Twenty minutes.
  • Evening: remove make-up with make-up remover; clean face with microderm abrasion wipes; moisturize because I read that failing to moisturize at night means that your skin will sag into folds as you sleep, especially if you sleep on your face; apply hydroquonine and anti-acne medicine; brush teeth; brush teeth again with special enamel-hardening leave-in toothpaste; gag; take medicine; rub anti-cellulite cream on legs; put in nightguard. Wash hands, which now smell like a hospital. Bed. Twenty minutes.

I'm losing twenty-five minutes a day. That's 152 hours a year. And yet, in the scheme of personal obsessions, I'm skipping so much -- hair masks, leave-in conditioners, regular foot-sanding, facial masks, blackhead extractions, exfoliating creams, eye creams, botox, peels, oxygenating facials, eyelash permanents, eyebrow tints, whitening tooth bleaching. But the time those would all take force me to a decision. Do I want to be a well-rounded, accomplished person with skin like indoor-outdoor carpeting and dark eye-circles, or a smooth and shiny person with the intellectual curiosity and skill set of a kitchen sponge?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Ways of coping

I've tried all variety of methods of coping with my third-life crisis, which I think has been coming on for some time now. I've switched jobs a couple of times. I experiment endlessly with appearance believing, despite an overwhleming number of women's studies graduate degrees that a Louise Brooks' bob will turn me into an inscrutable French icon. I've sputtered at developing skills from languages to sewing clothes. I've made vague lists of the things to which I aspire. I've read books about the people who seem to have fabulous lives, and books about people who've had appalling lives (to make me grateful for my current life). I shop as if fabulous is sold at Nordstroms . . . occasionally to excess (bless my husband for his patience and earning potential). I cry. I envy friends, like my friend Modi who trained at Parsons and then in Paris and now sells her own clothing line in Portland. Or my friend Susie, who works for Nike in Shanghai. And I feel rotten the whole time, because of course my life is fabulous compared to 99.9% of all people who have ever lived. And then I start the cycle over again.

And recently, following the births of friends' children and my neices, I began to want to have a baby. I think that part of my interest in a child came from a sense that motherhood would essentially remove me from the pressure for fabulousness. Being a mother in itself would be fabulous and, conversely, everyone knows mothers can't be fabulous because they are busy being mothers (my own beautiful and fabulous mother excepted, of course). It's contradictory, I know, but either way I'd be safe and could stop worrying about it.

I would still like a baby. But health problems, and a lack of motivation to make myself into a science experiment or expose myself to the wrenching rollercoaster of adoption, make this unlikely. And so here I am, seeking fabulousness. The will is strong, but the leadership weak.

On another note, I am distressed about the significant number of blogs about third-life crises that have one, maybe two entries. And no meaningful advice. I hope that this is because it's a feeling that passes so quickly that one needs only the time span of a couple of posts before recovering completely, but I fear that 1) these people are dead, or more likely 2) that the pathology is so absorbing that they eventually can no longer bring themselves to type.

Friday, October 3, 2008

What I learned while waxing my legs

Since I have to get older, I decided that I should at the very least take advantage of some of the privileges -- well, not privileges, exactly, but interesting experiences and silly indulgences.

So, instead of shaving (which, gifted as I am with ridiculously-quick growing hair and thin skin, has never worked well) I waxed my own legs. I've had my legs waxed at salons a couple of times before, but it always seems a little condescending to expect someone else to deal with my extraneous hair growth. Yuck. Here's what I learned from tonight's in-house experiment.

1. The reason that people go to salons to wax their legs is not the soft music, aromatic lotions, tiny water features, and high-quality supplies. The reason that people go to salons to wax their legs is that someone else has to deal with the mess. By the end of the evening, my legs were relatively smooth (more on that later), but I had wax on my hands, my shirt, the floor, the counter, the microwave, all of the spreading sticks that came with the kit, my feet, and my dog. Except for the slightly rewarding feeling of having accomplished this myself and the relief of not having to carry on a meaningless conversation with the attendant, I would pay $40 to spare myself the oily shower. And probably a week of cleaning the counter.

2. I am not as flexible as I used to be. You try to spread hot wax on the back of your calf without dripping any on the floor and while paying attention to the direction of hair growth. It is astonishingly complicated. This is a task that should be featured on Cirque du Soleil.

3. Waxing doesn't hurt that much. Any real woman can stand the pain.

4. If you wax your calves and it takes all twenty paper strips, it's okay to skip your thighs. Once you're over 30, your skirts don't show that part of your leg anyway.

5. It's best to do these things while your husband is out of town. He doesn't need to see this -- it involves just enough complexity and equipment that he'll try to surpervise. Or at least provide color commentary.

6. Hair on your legs grows at different rates. I'm not sure if you're supposed to wax, wait a week for the rest of the hair to grow and wax again, but I hate to have to block off another four hours so soon.

By the way, I remembered a couple more fabulous women around my age -- the divine Heidi Klum, of course. And Reese Witherspoon, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie. I'm not sure what their existence proves, though. That I'm shirking?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Things I love

I love . . .

Rescue Beauty nail polish -- it comes in great colors and stays and stays
Zappos -- you can't beat free shipping and the customer service is amazing
Nars lip pencil -- it's sheer and goes well under lipstick
The King Arthur Flour catalog -- great recipes and kitchen stuff you didn't know you needed
My Steve Madden purse -- the leather is beautiful and I love the lock
In Style magazine, both the paper version and the website -- especially the new Deals and Steals section
The petit scones at Starbucks
Diamond-tipped tweezers
Healthy Choice smoked chicken paninis, which are only 310 calories and close enough to real bread
My stylist, Emma, who gives me haircuts that don't come with bad hair days
Burt's Bees Mama Bee belly butter -- probably good for pregnant stomachs but great for feet
Kensie and Kensie Girl for pretty clothes at good prices
Jessica Simpson shoes -- fabulous, shiny platform and 1940's heels at prices that allow me to buy more than one pair a year -- super-cheap books you can't find elsewhere
The Orkney Islands
Anthropologie, although with each year the prices get more and more out of reach
Shabby-chic Parisian apartment style interior design, although until I can afford the apartment I will probably never buy
WWII advertising posters
H & M, the Ikea of clothing stores
My Costco treadmill, believe it or not
Scrabble, mostly because I almost always win
Movies that take place in Europe (current favs include In Bruge and Mama mia)
Tim Gunn, although I hate the Tim-Gunn-like androids on other design reality shows
Great black, pointy-toe knee-high boots
Tandoori anything
Skinny black jeans from Alloy
My mom's banana bread recipe

Hmmmm. That wasn't as cathartic as I thought.


But, my god, what if you reach the age of 75 and realize that you under-shot?

My so-called fabulous life

My dentist appointment was just canceled. And while that's a relief, it also reminds me of one of the greatest contributing factors to my third-life crisis -- teeth suddenly in need of drastic repair, despite years of flossing and brushing and regular teeth-cleaning. I don't have many recurring nightmares, but the one that I have fairly regularly is of my teeth starting to fall out. In the dream, one starts to wiggle, and gets worse and worse until I have to pull it out. Then the next one starts. And this year (in real life) I started clenching and grinding my teeth so severly while I slept that some have started to feel a little loose. It's as close to living a nightmare as I have ever experienced. So now, I wear a nightguard to sleep, which is like trying to sleep with those flouride trays they use at the dentist's office. It's hard plastic, and I have a difficult time breathing with it in.

Nightguards interfere significantly with the fabulous, sexy, breezy image you want to have of yourself. They are not sexy, nor fabulous, nor even comfortable. And to keep the spit in, you have to make a sucking sound every few minutes. And it forces to you to remember that there is a teeny, tiny war going on in your mouth, wherein your top teeth have to be protected from your bottom teeth.

All of that is to illustrate how far away my current life seems from the one I think I want . . . or need . . . to have. The problem is that I'm scared. And shy. And really underwhelmed with the skills I have. You know that question, "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?" My immediate response is, "That's asinine and fantastical. You CAN fail. Pretending you can't is for six-year-olds and oil tycoons." I just finished The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. He explores the meaning of this question in Iceland, where basic necessities like health insurance and shelter are guaranteed by the government. Perhaps there you can safely fail, he argues, and so attempt things not in your immediate repertoire of skills and job experience. But then you have to live in Iceland.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

All of this seems to have been precipitated by my 33rd birthday. Twenty-five didn't bother me, nor did 30 (really). But at 33 -- only seven years, as it is from 40 -- I suddenly feel as though I'm at the beginning of the end.

Part of this is because of a series of superficial health problems this year. Cosmetic tooth problems. The sudden appearance of sun damage on my face. Arm skin that looks a bit like my mom's. The occasional grey hair. The birth of the next generation of my family. And perhaps, a bit, the aging of my parents. Working on a college campus doesn't help either, surrounded by people who do not remember the Challenger explosion and look as though I'm speaking about the sacking of Rome when I mention it. Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall? Sure -- just about the same time that Moses retrieved the tablets. I am no longer the precocious young professional. Instead, I'm the instructor who makes jokes about her age and surprises students by having a Flickr account.

I try very hard to believe that life -- or, at the very least, beauty -- does not end at 33. I eagerly read columnists who argue that women look and feel their best in their 30s. I am deeply relieved at the continuing sexiness of Halle Berry, and Gwenyth Paltrow, and . . . oh, god, I can't think of anyone else over 30 who doesn't seem irretrievably old. However, these arguments are always bookended by ads for eye creams or microderm abrasion products, minimizing their power to reassure. Oh, and Gwenyth Paltrow keeps that figure by exercising an hour and 45 minutes a day.

Add to this basic abilities that atrophy with age. My brain will no longer absorb another language as easily, so the possibility of learning French has probably passed. I have more bone and strength than I will ever have , and since it has avoided me by to date sudden future athletic ability is unlikely. I am probably at maximum technical ability and will, forthwith, be less adept and at the bleeding, cool edge of technology than I am now (or worse, than I was a few years ago).

Therefore, if my body has crossed some kind of age longitude, by extension my life is rushing by. I've lost my ability to achieve success by sheer charm, energy and showing up in clean clothes, so if there are things that I want to have in life I'd better achieve them soon. Hence, the feeling of desperation. If I'm at the height of my powers now and haven't achieved the heretofore mentioned fabulous life I want, is the possibility totally gone? Can I only have the fabulous and slightly tragic life of an older woman? Can I only be preternaturally preserved, as MSN calls Pamela Anderson and Demi Moore, and no longer simply fantastic -- at least, without airbrushing?

I bought skin firming cream, by the way. And home microderm abrasion products. And, for the first time in years, foundation. And a very, very expensive purse.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The name of this blog is "third-of-a-life crisis." I am 33 years old, and I am not questioning my purpose on earth. In fact, I think that I have a fairly purposeful life -- I have a good job with upwardly-mobile potential at a small college (which I'll refer to as Winfield to avoid having my comments picked up by Google Alerts) where my colleagues largely appreciate me, I chair the board at a local domestic violence agency where people thank me for my work a lot, I have a wonderful, loving husband, good hobbies, generous parents, friends, and a very silly dog.

I am sort of ashamed to admit that I have a problem unique to relatively bright (but not noticeably brilliant) upper middle class white people -- an almost paralyzing fear of the possibility of regret and unfulfilled potential. Not that I know what I want to do or should be doing. I am just scared of not doing the unidentified excited, thrilling, fulfilling things I could have done.

Pathetic, isn't it? But the feeling is almost desperate. I want to have the kind of life that normal people envy. I want to be fabulous and smart and skilled; I want to be daring and brave and talented; I want to be meaningful and valued and irreplaceable. And yet I am completely terrified to try to be any of these things. Conversely, I don't want to smother myself with work. I don't want to be responsible for organizations of any scale. I am compulsively risk adverse. I have one central skill which I exercise involuntarily and at the worst moments -- convincing myself that the little reasons a particular plan for greatness might fail are overwhelming enough to fail to try.

Things I like doing:
  • Traveling
  • Reading about European history
  • Knitting
  • Looking at the "undressed" column on MSN
  • Thumbing through fashion magazines trying to figure out what my look is and worrying about whether or not I'm too old
  • Shopping (por supuesto)
  • Playing with my dog
  • Napping

Hmmmm. What do you suppose we call this? It's not a napolean complex . . . I aspire to a napolean complex . . .