I turn 50 in three days. Fifty! Well, stuff that. I've decided turning 50 means dick. I'm not Baldrick, backing out of the room with obsequious hand-flourishes anymore. I'm replacing "Ugh, I know (feigns puppet slump) I'm old and haggard" with a swaggery. "Yeah? This is my grizzled self, so f***ing what?"
Yes, there is the shock of foreclosed possibility that comes with female middle age (I'm never going to be a Russian contortionist ballerina nuclear scientist spy, darnit) But there are also some surprisingly great things about turning 50.
ONE I've stopped wishing I could go back and do it all again, tidier and better. The past is nothing - it's gone. Finding meaning in the second half of life is about recognizing the best moments often follow the worst moments. Feel remorseful about the past? Love yourself for it. Feel pathetic that you wasted so much time on a situation you couldn't do anything about? Love yourself for that too.
TWO There is nothing wrong with you. Who knew? All those things that kept you awake at night - the dread and foreboding of 3am dwelling on failures - none of them seem to matter so much anymore. Or maybe they do still matter, to a part of me, but at the same time a more badass part of me doesn't give a flying toss. For my birthday, I've ordered a cake with "Permission to f*** it up" iced on it in giant swirly frosting letters.
THREE By now, you're pre-hated. Getting past 50 you don't have to be tyrannized by the imagined conception of what is expected of you, imprisoned by what you ought to think, how you ought to look, what you ought to do and who you ought to be. What people approve of is not necessarily what is good or what matters. (Van Gogh never sold a painting.)
FOUR You're a survivor. You've been dismantled by grief and loss. You know life is just a question of learning how to lose things. Having children is just one long excruciating process of letting them go. And you still lose yourself again and the boring old thoughts arise, but you're just so bloody used to it by now. You can get back from there.
FIVE You can live with contradiction. You don't have to choose sides. (New Yorker cartoon of two dogs talking to each other: "It's not enough that we succeed. Cats must also fail.")
By this age you tend to stop seeing things in such rigid terms. Cats can win too! You know it is all mixed up: black and white and yellow and red and young and old and rich and poor and male and female and that what connects us is greater than what separates us.
SIX You've slowed down. Changing our patterns is slow. Certainly slower than we would like. How different would our lives be if we could accept our pace of change? Or make space for our impatience? (Imagine if our politicians could grasp this - but that's another story.) Accepting the oscillating nature of change is an act of generosity to ourselves. We do react less to our old habits and behaviours, but it helps when we accept there is a dignity to the length of time this process takes.
SEVEN You've found your tribe. You have found better mirrors. By that, I don't mean, selfies and bronzer with glittery stuff in it. You now surround yourself with people who mirror back the good in you. I have made so many new friends in my late 40s who could see a different me, a lovable me, even when I couldn't.
EIGHT Stop trying to fix yourself. Stop trying so hard. Stop reading things about how to fix your problems. (In fact, if reading this feels like I am preaching to you about how to fix yourself then step away from the paper - sorry Ed. Or turn to the crossword)
NINE We are all every age we have ever been. Like Russian dolls, one inside the other. Part of me is a right old nana. But part of me is still 16, a wild sexy messy shambles. The trick is holding that portfolio of different selves together.
TEN At the end of the Wizard of Oz Dorothy realises she can return home by simply closing her eyes, clicking the heels of her ruby slippers together three times and repeating the phrase, "There's no place like home." She asks the good witch, Glinda, why she didn't tell her this trick earlier? Glinda replies Dorothy would never have believed her. She had to find it out for herself. So now it is time to put on your ruby slippers and forgive yourself for everything. Yes, even THAT, whatever it is. Everything. Time is running out. You can't wait until you're worthier to like yourself. Love yourself, I mean. You just have to do it right now. The more you forgive yourself the more you are in touch with your own goodness, and the more you are motivated to change. If only I could have worked that out thirty years ago! But that's the point. You can't. But when you turn 50, you can finally find your way home, to yourself.