I turned 49 yesterday. Perhaps that accounted for my feistier than usual tone on the blog. I wasn’t upset to be turning 49. On the contrary, I woke up elated and full of it. I didn’t expect that, can’t explain, and feel the same way today. How you feel about different ages and stages of life isn’t subject to conscious manipulation. At least it hasn’t been for me.
A short, personal story.
The night before I turned 47, I was flying home from New York with Isabel when out of nowhere came a wave of dread unlike anything I’d experienced before. Window seat. Crushed slice of Milk Bar crack pie in my pocket. Unflattering vintage red coat. I had a premonition that I was heading into a very rough period. The next morning I lay in bed and basically couldn’t get up. It was as if a switch flipped on my 47th birthday and just like that I was lost in a dark wood.
I didn’t expect it, can’t explain. Somehow I’d thought midlife crises only happened to men and involved sports cars.
It was a terrible time. I went to visit my grandmother a few weeks into this period and was so down and desperate that I tried to explain my feelings to her, though she was frail and 101 and I didn't expect her to have anything to tell me. I just needed to tell her, because she was the closest thing I had to a mother. She sat across the kitchen table and as I talked I watched her eyes light up. No one brought problems to her anymore, no one asked her for help, and here I was laying out a real, live problem. She proceeded to quote from memory the opening lines from a Ruben Dario poem about melancholy and the fleetingess of youth, one that had spoken to her during her own midlife confusion. I thought maybe she was hallucinating (so condescending) and looked it up on my phone. She had the words all right, it was a real poem. I had never once heard my grandmother quote poetry or say the words “Ruben Dario.” She had a lot to tell me that night, but the most valuable message I took was that she had been there, that maybe Ruben Dario had been there, that I was not alone. I guess that’s why I’m writing this post.
It wasn’t quick or easy, pulling out of those woods, but at 49, I’m really, really out. Sad, hard, surprising things will happen in the years to come and who knows how I’ll handle any of them, but there will not be another shocking midlife crisis. For me, facing up to the inevitability of those things was the midlife crisis.
Mark offered to take me out to dinner for my birthday yesterday and I thought about it, because that’s what you’re supposed to want on your birthday, to go out. But I really wanted to stay in. I made Marcella Hazan’s spaghetti with tomato and butter sauce, one of my all-time favorite dishes, and we ate on the sofa while watching The Walking Dead. I looked forward to this all day, getting that bowl of pasta and sitting on my corner of the blue sofa. Owen, Mark and I have seen every episode of that dark show and I love watching TV with those two and eating dinner on the sofa. I’m not even going to make a joke about how lame that is, because I’m 49. No more self-deprecating apologies for my tastes.
For cake, I baked Mimi Thorisson’s pear flognarde, which is like a clafoutis. Or, as Thorisson puts it in A Kitchen in France: “like a big pancake filled with melt-in-your-mouth pears. . . In the old Occitan language flognarde means ‘soft’ and it can refer to a duvet, so you can just imagine how a bite of this feels in your mouth -- as light as a feather.”
Well, not quite that light, but pretty light and really delicious. Mark described the dessert as “inconvenient” because the pears are cut in quarters and didn’t meld well with the custardy cake. I agree. I think this would be better if the pears were chopped, but I liked the cake, like Thorisson’s book, and like being 49.