If you’d like to read the happy side of approaching 40, read my earlier blog, or read this currently popular NYT piece. But this post isn’t like those. Let’s get all the hard truth out of the way: I am incredibly grateful for the wonderful life I’ve had so far- wonderful husband and truly my best friend, amazing kids, great job, great career, great standard of living, great dog, I’m in great health (if not great shape… but we’ll get to that). I have nothing, literally nothing to complain about. And yet, I’m going to.
Turning 40 (on the 28th of Feb, if you must know) is making me schizophrenic. So, read all of the above and then realize that I was crying into my coffee this morning because I feel like an abject failure. Okay, maybe not abject- but sizable, like clog the toilet sizable. There are some ugly realizations that hit at 40. I’m never going to be Tina Fey, or Nicholas Kristof, or even that guy that writes/draws The Oatmeal. Fame & fortune probably aren’t in the cards.
I remember being six years old, sitting in front of the TV and watching Princess Diana marry Prince Charles and thinking- that fairy tale could be mine. There was a chance, however remote, that I could be swept up in a fantasy like that. I had some English blood in there somewhere, right? I believed it with the fiery purity of a six year old.
Fast forward, thirty-four years.
Obviously, those dreams are long, long gone and good riddance to them. I mean- look how that marriage turned out! I’m confident Tony & I have had more happiness in one day than they had cumulatively in their 15 years. But I also believed, as a child, that I was exceptional. And that feeling didn’t dissipate with the years. I have held on to that belief. As I climbed through the ranks at school, at various companies, measuring milestones based on goals around tangible things like job titles, fitness level, kids, possessions, etc.,- I felt secure, like I had settled into a good position. Not crazy leader-of-the-pack, but with a couple of accomplishments that I could cuddle at night, the way I used to snuggle my beloved stuffed rabbit.
Now, with the big 4-0 just days away, my subconscious image of who I am and what I should have accomplished is crumbling beneath my fingers like sawdust. I thought I’d always be on the fast track at work, I thought I’d always be able to knock out a half-marathon at a moment’s notice, I thought I’d have parenting down seven years into it (oh, how wrong I was on that one!). In short, I thought I’d have it figured out. I believed I’d go riding into my forties triumphant, on the back of chariot like Marc Antony coming into Rome. I might have even practiced my wave and sincere-yet-knowing smile.
Pbbhhhbt. Instead, 40 feels like shit. I am just overwhelmed by impostor syndrome. Not only do I feel like my career hasn’t reached the heights I’d hoped for, but I have this horrible suspicion that ALL my jobs and all my work has been a fraud. I also spend a fair amount of time thinking I’m a horrible mother. And don’t get me started on my fitness or weight. Pull up the goddamn bridge, ’cause I’m going for it.
These realizations have been hitting in waves. At the end of December, I was struck by the fact that I would never make a “40 under 40 list” and, if I can be honest- I had really thought I would. Maybe it would have been in the community newsletter- but as I said, I have felt, for my entire life, like I had something exceptional, something special to contribute. Yeah, not so much, I guess. So, being a “pull myself up by my bootstraps” type, I thought, I may not make the PSBJ list… but you know what?! I’ll just write my own list of 40 accomplishments that I have made before 40. Then I’ll feel great! And worthy! Hooray!
Mentally, I began to compose my list. Happily married. Ta-da! Master’s degree. I am smart! Fancy jobs at Microsoft and PATH. I am accomplished! Peace Corps in Kenya. I am altruistic! Incredible kids. I am a parent! Just 34 more little feathers to put in my cap. I should feel GREAT by the end of this.
Then, abruptly, I stopped, a cool horror dawning. I realized something profound. I was still fucking competing. Comparing. Measuring myself. Cuddling up with my little stuffed rabbit of self-worth. Against whom was I competing? Against what yardstick? I’m flipping 40- it’s time to let that whole ridiculous business go. Measuring your worth through accomplishments is a young person’s game. Yes, I know.
But it’s hard to let go. It’s super hard to change your perspective from “what you have done makes you worthy” to “who you are makes you worthy”. As people who know me personally will attest… I can be a bit of a control freak. I like things to go my way. I like to be in charge. I like having a list of “dones” to refer to. Long time security blanket, first time confessor. This has been my yardstick my entire life!
The truth is, I may have let go of my “swept off my feet Princess Diana dream” (though, if I have hit the jackpot anywhere in my life, it’s on the marriage front), but I swapped one set of unrealistic aspirations for another. I suppose we all do to some degree. Now, I know that 40 is the gate-keeper that makes you put all that crap down or at least take a long hard look at it.
Here’s the thing I am really struggling with- I’m disappointed in myself. Not in my life- because again, there is not one actual thing I should be disappointed in about it, but I guess I had hoped for more from me. It’s that exceptional thing again. I know- I can hear all of you (or some of you, anyway) saying “Don’t be so hard on yourself!” Yes, I know. And some of you are saying, “Life isn’t over at forty, it’s just beginning!” Yes, I know that too. When not mercilessly flagellating myself, I feel so excited and optimistic about the future. I feel great about everything I can shed now that I have crossed this magical, mystical threshold. But that gate-keeper is extracting a painful toll. And I can see that this is not a one-and-done exercise.
So, 40. It’s coming on like a freight train and as my sister so wisely said, it’s a lot better than the alternative. I just have to stand at the platform and get on board.
That’s what I’ve got going on right now. It’s not a super pretty time to be in my head but I wanted to give you a peek at the journey. It’s a little bit of the sausage-making, but I wanted to share the darker side, the harder side of turning 40. In case you have felt it, are feeling it (I know Wilson High School Class of ’93- you feel me), or wanted to be forewarned about feeling it (if you are under forty- don’t even talk to me right now). I did not know that a ding-dang birthday- some arbitrary date on the calendar could inflict such angst and agony in the midst of so much to be grateful for. My rational self is violently shaking my emotional self by the collar and yelling, “Get yourself together, Locati!” Did I mention that it’s a little ugly in my head at the moment? Maybe call before you come over….
Over the years, I have come to see myself like a cork floater on a fishing line. I get pulled down occasionally, but I always pop back up to the surface. Turns out that 40 is more of a whopper than I anticipated but I’ll bob back up and have a heck of a story to tell in the process.
Thanks for reading and sharing this journey with me!
I was in my favorite place on earth, Winthrop, WA, a few weeks back to celebrate the 4th of July. Winthrop is charming, rustic, Western-themed town that today continues the tradition of being a hub for ranchers and farmers, and importantly has transitioned into a tourist destination for those seeking active getaways in a beautiful valley. On a busy summer weekend, every car on the street will bristle with all manner of outdoorsy paraphernalia from mountain & road bikes, to kayaks and inner tubes, to camping and hunting gear, bulging from Thule roof racks.
We were enjoying a break from mountain biking ourselves, strolling down the diminutive main drag, ducking in and out of the shops, without a care in the world- when it happened. One moment I was saying something to my 6 1/2 year old daughter, and the next moment I was staring at a gun. Now, it wasn’t pointed at me, but it was about eight inches from my daughters face, so to say my heart skipped a beat is an understatement. It was as out of place as if someone had walked up and slapped me.
The man in front of me was participating in the practice known as open carry. As in, I have a gun stuck in the back of my pants and I want you to know it. The gun was in some kind of fanny-pack (he’d call it a holster) and it was perched there like a flower stuck in a vase- a very deadly flower. My initial reaction was shock followed quickly by anger. Then, almost as quickly as he was in front of me, he was gone. He turned into the next shop and we kept moving down the block toward our destination.
However brief that moment was, it was a lightening strike. As bright and harsh as a fiery bolt of electricity, it illuminated in a flash why open carry is so harmful.
Let’s Get One Thing Straight
Let me state emphatically- I am not opposed to gun-ownership and I am a supporter of intelligent gun rights. Please don’t read any secret agenda into that- I truly support the right to bear arms and given the chance, I’ll happily have a dialogue about the parameters that should be implemented to ensure everyone who wishes to, can enjoy and own guns safely. The comparison to car ownership and operation may seem like a cliched argument (and may not be enshrined in the constitution- because let’s be honest, it would be an amendment about horse ownership) but it is incredibly relevant and apt. I’ll come back to that in a little bit. In fact, NYT Opinion Columnist, Nicholas Kristof, just had some great thoughts about this idea.
Like most Americans, I have many friends who are hunters and frankly, if you are a meat eater, you are a bit of a hypocrite if you don’t support hunters. I admire the ability to dress a kill and have enjoyed the fruits of these endeavors (whether as jerky or steaks). When the zombie apocalypse happens, I’ll be glad to count these folks as friends. Further, I have many friends who enjoy owning a handgun and although we may argue about whether or not possessing a gun actually makes them safer- in many ways that’s beside the point, they have the right to own a firearm.
Not to mention, the United States has the highest rate of firearm ownership in the world, 97 guns for every 100 people; 50% more than the next two closest countries (those paragons of civil society, Serbia & Yemen)- so to a very real degree, regardless of your feelings on the subject- guns are here to stay. No one (at least not me) is arguing that fact.
What I do want to address is the impact of reducing the complex issue of gun regulation to a one-dimensional “all or nothing” argument. It’s ridiculous. We should feel embarrassed as a nation to allow that kind of shallow invocation to distract us from the real opportunity and need in front of us. We must find a way, both in terms of our laws and more importantly, in our attitudes and social mores, to ensure public safety and security. To do nothing is selfish, arrogant, and short-sighted. One place to begin is with a careful look at the impact of open carry on social dynamics, freedom of speech, and safety.
The Reality of Open Carry
Back to that moment in the sun in Winthrop. Recall, the open carry individual and I didn’t even make eye contact, though my first impulse was to reach out and tap him on the shoulder. I wanted to ask him, “What the HELL are you thinking?” How dare you introduce that kind of threat into our peaceful afternoon? What if my daughter had tripped and instinctively reached in front of her to catch herself? What if I had tripped (a pretty common occurrence) and stumbled into him? What if he thought I was a threat? An unarmed person, even one spoiling for a fight, would do no more than push me, but this guy- who’s arrogance and slavish devotion to belief puts every member of the community at a very real physical disadvantage. He could shoot me. He could KILL me. In front of my daughter. And he might even successfully claim it was self-defense. That’s the reality we invite when we tolerate open-carry in the public sphere.
It’s important to note that in Washington State, open carry is legal (even without a permit), so this man wasn’t legally doing anything wrong, but he was in a very tangible way, impacting every person around him, by destabilizing the dynamics of power, community, and freedom from fear that our society relies upon to function.
Critics may move to dismiss my assertion as hysterical or naive, but that’s the lazy voice of misdirection. The crux of the issue is this: when one person has a gun and another doesn’t, the person without a gun has less power, less voice, and in point of fact, can be under threat of death in an instant. Standing eight inches behind that open carry person as a pedestrian, I was “safe”. However, I have no doubt that I could have provoked the guy into shooting me (perhaps with words alone) and that is not okay. It is not okay that my ability to speak and move about on a public street was limited because one guy had a pointless point to make. The other lazy answer to this is to arm *both* people. But we know that’s a violence multiplier, not a violence reducer. It’s bananas to think that any rational person would want to live in a society where we all walk around armed.
Cars vs. Guns
Back to the cars vs. guns analogy. Although the right to own a car is not in the Constitution (again, it would be a horse amendment), US car ownership is on par with gun ownership; particularly with respect to other nations. We have the highest level of car ownership in the world. Car ownership and what it represents in real terms and psychologically, is vitally important to America and yet, we have a whole body of comprehensive laws that folks are more or less happy with and abide by. It is not only against the law to drive on the sidewalk in the US, but it’s also socially unacceptable. You may laugh, but that’s NOT true in all other countries. Social norms in Kenya (where I lived as a Peace Corps volunteer), dictate that cars can drive wherever they can fit- sidewalks, center dividers, into on-coming traffic- whatever they can get away with. Through enforcement of our laws and our social norms, we have made car ownership a reasonably safe and regulated prospect. Insurance, training, safety features, consumer protections. Remember when seat belts weren’t mandatory in cars? Okay, me neither- the law was changed in 1968, but I DO remember when it became the law to *wear* a seat belt in California in the mid ’80’s.
Only someone grossly out of touch with reality would *ever* suggest we abolish cars in the United States. It’s not even a serious conversation, BUT it is a good discussion to talk about ways to continue to improve safety, efficiency, affordability, and alternate methods of transportation. The same holds true for gun legislation. Criminal background checks for gun buyers has overwhelming popular support among Republicans and Democrats and yet it becomes Kryptonite the minute Capitol Hill goes near it. And it’s true- no one piece of legislation will be a silver bullet (see what I did there?), but again, that’s beside the point. That’s like saying that seat belts don’t save ALL the lives, so let’s just forget them. We must take some moderate, common sense steps toward improving the safety and security of guns for the benefit all Americans.
Our Collective Responsibility
Changing our attitudes and laws takes courage and it will, ultimately take trust. So I am taking a first step, gathering my courage and showing trust. It was difficult for me to write this post. I had to consider whether someone might decide that my voice, my words, would be considered a threat to their “security” or “freedom”. In writing this, do I put my family at risk? As a parent, this is a sickening question to ponder. But the answer is- if I don’t speak up, if I don’t advocate for common sense, if I don’t call for the nation to join together in support of safety for all, in conjunction with (not at the expense of) the rights of the individual, who will? There are many individuals and organizations doing this, but we haven’t seen the groundswell of moral conviction and support that must be present to change, not just the laws, but our society itself. Again- it’s crucial to reject the urge to marginalize or derail progress by sounding the “slippery slope” alarm. It’s a specious cry and one that Americans must step up and prove that we are smarter than.
So, my call to action? Share this post, comment on this post, write your own post. Get involved. Add your voice. Conventional wisdom would say call your senator or representative, but maybe it’s time to expand our approach. Contact your local gun store, contact your local NRA chapter, your hunting club, your shooting range. Contact the gun manufacturers- tell them you will support the makers and sellers who are committed to responsible gun ownership.
As for my encounter in Winthrop? It was a grim reminder of what we are allowing to become “the norm” in the public sphere.