Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Worth Worrying About?

It's my birthday soon and I am wondering whether and to what extent I should be worried about it. I am generally quite low key about birthdays. Perhaps this comes from being a twin. I have never seen it as my own, as a day just about me. Without want to invoke too much pity, add being a middle child and having (wonderful, kind but/and) unfussy, undemonstrative, cerebral parents to the birthday conditions I was working with. To be fair, there was a presents-in-bed-before-school ritual in my family until we were around ten. For the next decade or until we moved out, birthdays were essentially about being able to choose the brand of take-away for dinner (even on a week night!), take-away being a real treat for us kiddies. But I always had to share this decision. Plus, I knew the greasy feast was going to be shared with a bunch of other hungry attention-seekers, who would rip those chicken wings apart well before any formal acknowledgement of a birthday.

But this year's birthday heralds the start of a new decade for me - can you guess which? - and coincides with the final months (or so) of my thesis, and uncertainty about how exactly I will kick-start my academic career next year and where then I will be living. If I wanted to, if I really wanted to amp up the anxiety levels, I could also make this birthday a deadline of sorts for deciding whether I will ever use my womb and if so when (and why? Is 'why?' relevant?).

I am consciously watching myself come up with these thoughts to see whether they trigger anything within me. I feel like a child with a bug catcher rather than an aeroplane passenger floundering in the sea. But, I could send myself in a minor spin about them if I wanted to. I am wondering whether I should or not. The possibilities for a bit of internal mayhem were opened up further by a viewing of 'A Street Car Named Desire' (1951) on DVD on Sunday night.

Have you seen that movie? It is one angry, intense, brilliant movie. It had been on my 'To Watch' list for ages, but I had no idea it was going to be quite so forceful. Amongst and overlapping with the dominant themes of gender, violence, clashing cultures, illusion and reality (and mental health), one aspect of Blanche DuBois' character (pictured above) resonated with me: her fear of ageing and her desire to be elevated from mortality through, for her, aesthetics, chivalry, poetic language, beautiful artefacts and role-playing. Reading up on Vivien Leigh after the film (the actress who played Blanche, and also Scarlett O'Hara) did not provide any relief. Sadly, she suffered from bipolar disorder and recurring TB (which led to her death at a fairly young age) and seems to have been, like Blanche, haunted by her earthly vanity and impermanence.

Unless hiding away, doing a thesis in Oxford 'the bubble' England counts (?), I am no Blanche. But that small, concentrated part of Blanche, her temporality and her awareness of her temporality, struck me.

What does all this mean? Is this upcoming birthday actually affecting me? Does it mean I am finally old? Should I be worried about the fact that I may be in fact deeply worried? Or does it simply mean that I am a typical, melodramatic DPhil student? Should I bother obsessing about the onset of this new decade and take stock of my life in a chest-grabbing way or should I just get on with my thesis for now and spend the day having a nice time with friends over some good food, pretty drinks and dancing as planned?

I initially intended to mold this birthday musing into a light-hearted post, where you guys could then feel encouraged to giving me humorous tips for things I should do before or after I enter this new decade or cute ways of thinking about DEATH. So if you can somehow twist this post around so you can do this, please do so. I wouldn't even mind a bit of old-school, no-nonsense shaming. If not, hardcore Hamlet-holding-Yorick's-skull-style responses welcome. Thank you and have a good day.


Good Enough Woman said...

Well, I would guess that you are turning 30. If that is the case, then I don't think you need to worry about much. Easy for me to say, right? Cause I'm 40.

Still, I don't want to minimize all of the things you're thinking about. I remember 30. I was completely single with nary a prospect in sight. I was an adjunct lecturer. I rented a very small apartment.

Now I'm 40. I'm tenured at a CC. Married. Two kids. Working on the PhD. Homeowner. And who would have thought it?

But it's certainly worth thinking about what you want out of your 30s. I just rolled along and took what came, and it worked out. But there are times I think I should have traveled more, written more, made more music--the kinds of things that are harder to do once you start putting your womb to use.

All of this said, if you're turning 40, then I will need to rethink my comments.

Have you decided what kind of take-away you'll have yet?

Academic, Hopeful said...

Thanks GEW. No need to rethink.

Bavardess said...

Trust me, pretty soon the dodderiness will start kicking in and you won't even remember how old you are!

Seriously, though, 30 can be a big deal for women - more so than 40, I think, because by then many of the big decisions (about kids/family at least) have been made one way or the other. My best friend, who is two days older than me, had a bit of mid-life crisis at 30, though I was too busy using the birthday excuse to drink champagne to suffer similarly. I think it can be a good point to pause, take stock, and think about what you want to do with your life (or at least the next few years), but don't let it distract you too much from the partying. Happy birthday!

Kate said...

I think a healthy balance of introspection and celebration is in order, AH. One thing I have realised lately is that one can worry about stuff, but it doesn't actually achieve a function other than to make you feel bad about things. So instead, be triumphant about your achievements and take the time to have a bit of a pamper before the long home stretch. All else will lay itself before you in the fullness of time.

Big love, xx

inktopia7 said...

It sounds like just the right amount of almost-30 introspection, really. Especially given that you are a brilliant PhD on the cusp of leaving that program. Those are big changes!

But if it helps, I thought the 30s were fab and, at least so far, the 40s aren't horrid, either. Aside from the fear of death issue, which I don't really know if anyone really sidesteps.

How is your twin feeling about all of this? Might be interesting and/or helpful to compare notes?

In any case, hope you plan a lovely celebration with loved ones. You deserve a special day at any age!

Academic, Hopeful said...

Thanks ladies. I really appreciate all your wisdom and kind words.

On that basis, I am going have a bit of a reflect - just a dabble to make sure I am moving in the right direction - and then just keep on going. Kate - you're right to point out that this process should be involve patting myself on the back. Don't want to spend my life jumping from one extreme challenge to the next without any time for genuine pride or gratitude.

As far as the actual day/weekend goes (Friday birthday!), it's looking like a nice dinner Fri, a play in London on Sat, and then high tea (with fizz) with my closest pals on Sun. That's more than enough for me.

In the meantime...I do have a thesis to write. Yes I do.

Candid Engineer said...

I agree! Introspection is normal, and it's nice to look back on your life and all you've accomplished. Although I say this being 29... not quite faced with the reality of a new decade yet.

Hope you enjoy your birthday, do something lighthearted and fun!