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 . . .