The thick heat of August is when and where my birthday lands.
This year held a threshold and soft opening into intimacy.
I am forty now.
It feels like the most beautiful arrival, like soft landing and solid ground, an opening to let loose the things which were ready and wanting to leave, a celebration for having come this far.
It feels like return and like the sweetness of the unknown, discovered, unfurling like a curled body unwrapping itself late in the morning and leaning toward sun and the taste of another’s skin. It feels like the work was worth it, and the wrestling with the unresolvable, and the knowing when it was time to lay them to rest, and live.
There are things I know now. Things I have learned, in struggle and in surrender and in embrace. Things I have found and cut openings in my own scars so as to taste and turn towards. Here, I name my own animals. Here, I let my own tongue speak. Here, I stand in the wreckage and the glory of this life, my life, and say thank you.
And I wanted to share some of them, forty of them, with you.
What I know now. What I see now. What was here, the wisdom of a body speaking true, waiting to welcome me into what comes next.
1. This earth. This world. This broken sky and the way the buildings go gold when the sun descends. This ribcage shaking with the underwater world of crying. This held out doorway of hope and this ache for the taste of blackberries and this scar that runs wide up the back. This hand that doesn’t know how to unclench and this breath that comes easy and gasping and steady. This. This is what is real, here, and alive. Whatever may or may not come next, above or below, this world here is my home.
2. Being willing to make choices, the hard choices no one else may understand and the ones with no guarantee of outcome and the ones that remind you of the vow you will never break - this humanizes. Make choices and take risks and have regret and wake again, and choose to live.
3. Honor your limitations. Let them become a net to catch you with kindness, sinking into the knowing that you need not do everything for everyone, even yourself.
4. You are allowed to change your mind.
5. There is honest (if hard sometimes to the heart) love in being willing to disappoint people so as to be true to your own voice and knowing and need. There is rich substance of sovereignty in not abandoning yourself in order to please another and pretend it is enough. The truth is sometimes rough to the touch and sometimes elegant as silk against smooth skin. Love it for its own sake. Do what is true. Speak what is true. This is what it is to be trustworthy, for your word to mean something real.
6. It’s a voluptuous powerful thing, to know what you’ve given your life to. And everything else, all the ambition and striving and waiting and insisting and pounding against metal doors until the fist bruises and bleeds. All of this is laid to rest. You have already given your life to what you love and the paths uncross, clear.
7. Know and enter the unanswerable questions, and do not try to answer them.
8. You are not the possession of another. This is not the cost for belonging. And so you do not ever owe another your own self, as if intimacy is a transaction of putting out parts of you you in order to be fed. You, your time and your body and your presence and your capacity and the curve of your conversation, is not a thing another human has a right to or is entitled to. Love, and whatever of yourself you choose to offer out like undone origami all soft paper and wrinkled angular lines, is a gift. Every single time. Without question.
9. Love what and whom and how you love. Feed your hunger to satisfied. Want what you want. Without apology.
10. There are many things you will not do or ever get to do in this life, and there is some kind of relief in this, the knowing and naming of it. It means you don’t have to pretend you will get to it or chase the dream that drains, scampering around trying to fill a hole in the heart or insisting I can live another nine lives. It means you get to walk away from what is not yours or what no longer fits or what you once longed for and now can see only as a ghost of a dream of another woman, many years younger, learning who she wanted to be in this world. It means you get to be here, in this life right here and now, fully, deeply, and with all of you. No bullshit.
11. Whatever it takes to listen to yourself, to hear yourself true, do that.
12. Can you be good with yourself, no matter what happens or what is said about you or what the cards or planets spin of stories? Can you be good with yourself, solid, even when you don’t know what comes next or feel the weight of another’s expectation or forget the sound of your own name? Can you look in the mirror and see the stunning presence of your face, and love her for everything she had to do and could not do and say “I’m here, come on home to me.” Forget the measurements or ways of codifying and monetizing meaning. Can you be good with yourself, be a good home to yourself? This is the question that must always come first.
13. It is ok to have needs. It is more than ok. It is human. And inevitable. And crashingly beautiful, the way it connects us to one another and reminds us of the silk strands of a web that work their way through creation and allows us to love and be loved.
14. Your life will be forever changed the day you learn the power of a clear ask. And the strength of your own breath bringing you through. And the solid bones of a clear no. And the open space of a full yes, how it tumbles over grass and rocks like blue iris opened.
15. No one else gets to define you for you, to tell you who you are and insist you accept their projection and pain veiled as insight and then say thank you. You are not theirs to assess or determine or decide. Others can and will think what they think, about you and themselves and the world. They will sometimes find or form stories, as we all do, that help them make sense of what hurts and in the process they will sometimes seek to brand you, leaving burn marks and the sound of your feet as you walk out of the room and into your waiting life.
But in the quiet and crash of reality, we just don’t know. We don’t know what another person is going through, or what they fought through the night, the empty glass and the road trip west and the way the sun felt like salve after so much heavy rain. Another may come and tell you what they assume to be true about you. But they do not know. They do not know that someone from your past just died and now your old stories get to be rearranged, or that that the cancer came back, or that the shatter was sharp. They do not know that the love you always needed came and found you and everything, everything, changed. They do not know how it feels to be you, living in your skin, and what it took, to make the choices only you could make. They do not know. It is not their job to know, to assure you, to name you. So let them say what they will say, and just stay with yourself. There is nothing you need to go look for and figure out outside you, because you. . .you are the way. So stay, right here, breath after breath, finding yourself landed back home in your body, the love that will never leave you.
16. You can and will discover capacity in yourself that exceeds what you were given or taught or knew from experience or exposure. I do not know the why of this, only that it is true.
17. When the question comes (why?) you will know the answer.
18. because my body is my own, belonging to me.
19. because I was not, a single time in all the many times, asking for it.
20. because no is a complete sentence.
21. because pleasure is my birthright and I know now just how good, good loving can be.
22. because creating consent cultures is how we unlearn and relearn the voice and body
that knows what it knows and wants what wants without apology.
23. because sex is not a dirty word. slut is not a dirty word. feminist is not a dirty word.
woman is not a dirty word.
24. because we are allowed our places of belonging without ownership and possession.
25. because my body is my own, and I love her.
26. I used to worry that something was wrong with me for not caring so much what other people think of me. For not having much interest in confirming their ideas of who I am or am supposed to be. I used to wonder if this meant I had not yet learned the rules of the road for a culture I did not come from and stand always a whisper from the edge, as outsider invited in. I now know differently. There are many things I care deeply about. But what other people think about me is not one of them. This does not make me broken. It makes me free.
27. There is so much suffering that is not optional in this lifetime, all the ways oppression is real and devastating and the most horrible things can and do happen. But all the other things, the optional suffering, the unconscious suffering. It has no inherent virtue, making you a better or more noble person. So you will learn over time, learn and relearn as many times as it takes, to choose to not remain for what is optional, free now to live your life in all its pleasure and protest.
28. Be willing to be wrong. To acknowledge the ways you have been wrong, no longer interested in living saddled with the errors of confirmation bias, where we look around at the world only for evidence to prove our own assumptions and beliefs. For we are not always right. even when we feel we are. Even when we can "prove" it. Even when we wrap ourselves tight with certainty. And when the stakes feel high, it can feel so very hard to let down the insistence and open to the other. To listen. To look. To learn. To be educated. To tolerate discomfort. To see. To say, "I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me." But it's where freedom lives.
29. First marriages are good teachers. It is ok to keep the learnings and leave the rest behind.
30. People you love will hurt. And get sick. And lose work and parts of their being and body and those they love. And there is nothing in the world you can do to make it better, or take it away, or make it not happen. So you will sleep in a room with soft red light, and make music, and walk the dog, and choose love.
31. At the age of forty, you will have lived through so much loss, your own body bearing the weight of woundings that can never be undone and your own memory choked with trauma that never resolves. You will have had and lived through cancer, twice. You will have watched a great many people die, many of them from a terror from which you still will never know why it was you found a way out and through, landing on a city street where you changed your name and listened to music fill the streets late at night, counting the concrete steps and your luck of impossible aliveness. You will have lost through all the leavings too, and there will be all these spaces inside you, like gaps, where they once would have slipped inside and now there is only the grief and then it is only memory of grief, missing the missing. It will hurt. You will not be able to return or go back or become what you once thought you were or would be. You also will come through.
32. So there is this. Keep making decisions. The hard ones. The uncertain ones. The in the dark ones. Keep following the tread of curiosity and trust the voice that knows what it knows, beyond language or the ways of reason. Keep showing up, for the work and the wrestling and the water you submerge yourself into, swimming deep and fighting strong, tossed up to a shore of your own survival. Because you make it. You arrive. You know what it is to say no more. You let loose the need to understand or master or make meaning of brutality. You lay a thing to rest, which was everything it took to come from there to here. You taste and see and know that it, this flesh and fought for freedom and the home that is her, it is good.
33. Stop finishing books you don’t like. Or eating to the end of a meal of food you don’t like. Or wearing clothing you don’t like (just because it’s in your wardrobe, doesn’t mean you like it. So you can stop wearing it. Or give it away to someone who does and stare there at your closet with only four hangers dressed with black and fringe and flannel, and a pile of torn jeans, and know that you live now in what is loved.) Stop completing and competing in conversations that have no ending because they are really arguments or attempts at control. Stop telling yourself will do things that you really won’t ever do. Because you don’t want to. And you don’t like them. And they only serve to weigh heavy on the paper of the list of to do’s, so you can just not do them and cross them off and call it complete and never write them down again.
34. After trying things on and working around other’s ideas and ideals. After playing with possibilities and bending your back to become the shape of another’s unarticulated longing unaccepted in themselves and offered out to you. After setting up house and putting placemats on the table and then hearing your voice again, clear. After this, you will stop trying to do it, life, by someone else’s rules or ways. You will no longer ask yourself to huddle down and limp along and hope the hurt later leaves. You will no longer pathologize your own want and need and the names you choose for love. You will feel the words come, different and altered and fully now your own.
35. You are the only one who can live your life for you.
36. You can trust yourself,
You can trust yourself.
You can trust yourself.
37. Let others have their own experiences. Their own opinions and ideas and stories about you. Their own needs and unanswered questions and knotted memory. They are allowed. It doesn’t mean they are yours or need to be yours. So let them have what is theirs. Respect them enough to take radical responsibility for their own lives. And tend to the arrow in your heart. Love yourself hard and well. Nourish your hunger. Honor your own exquisite boundaries. Take good care.
38. This is your one life, your own life. Choose what feels good.
39. You can and will learn new things. Even well past the point when you thought it was possible. You will take flying lessons and see the city lights grow small and then fade to a dark sky and open air. You will learn new sleep patterns and discover the cadence of your own language between soft sheets and the piles of inked paper. You will, decades after you had decided it was meant for you, run your hands across exposed brick and call it home. You will wake to realize that there are entirely new experiences that you will at the age of 39 turning forty, only now enter into, undone and set right inside. You will be surprised, not by the bad thing that was always waiting but the impossible possible. This falling. This whole body knowing. This safety. This unforeseen adventure. This love that gives you back your whole self.
40. And after everything you’ve known and survived and held hesitantly in your large hands, your hunger and hope fragile as spider webs and strong as a hawk’s wings stretched wide. After this, you will only be able to locate yourself in the word lucky. Because here you are, all the constellations of things leading you to this. Not a plan or a purpose or divine intervention. Not because it was meant to be or forever fated. But this. Your life. And you are still here.
So open the drawer that once housed all the things you would never speak. Pull out the deck of cards that was your origin and everything you could not choose, all the odds against you. Splay them out in any and every order. Watch their faces find rest and their mouths spill secrets and wisdom. This, they say. Here, they say. Now. You. Her. Say yes. All things safe and found. All things made new.