Fifty before fifty (move)

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I’m not going to lie. I thought about writing an inspirational, upbeat, positive, beat-the-odds kind of post. I wanted to say “I’ve arrived”, “I’ve overcome” something, and to feel fresh-faced and ready to face the world again with a spirit of wonder. To stand on a hilltop with my arms spread wide, and say “this was soo worth it”. Well, that’s horse shit. This is not going to be that post

It’s not that I don’t agree with those things. I do. I want to. I just can’t – won’t – put forward a face of smiling gratitude until the flesh underneath it is smiling and grateful, too.

It’s the eve (more or less) of my fiftieth birthday. That’s okay. I’m okay with that part. What I’m not okay with, is this gnawing realization over the past year or two, that I’m gone. Essentially. Something in me has given up, gone away, resigned itself with a deep and disturbing recognition that I didn’t make it. I’ve realized that I’m not special. I used to believe that somehow, some way, I would get to the other side and be amazing. Successful, inspiring. I believed – in my bones – that I would awe the doubters and the critics. That’s the way it was going to end – I just knew it. I really did. But – here I sit, forty-nine and all the bits of me that believed that, are dropping like flies. They are falling away like slow-cooked meat from a bone. No longer a part of the central force that held them.  I’m not special. The rules of life I had envisioned – the order that dictated “you will win/overcome/show them/succeed/be happy” – have dissolved, if they ever existed. I’m not clear on whether I’ve fucked up, or the naivete of earlier years has just been shaved clear. I don’t mean any of this facetiously. Some part of me expected great things. Not riches, or fame – none of that – but to feel accomplished, to have reached my goals – the ambitious ones; the ones that made people raise their eyebrows or chuckle involuntarily.

Maybe it’s because when I was younger, I did. I travelled when I wasn’t supposed to, I stood up to bullies when my heart had been ripped open by them, I learned music faster than most, I thrived in University despite being labelled the dummy in the family, I was accepted into every post graduate program I applied to, received scholarships and accolades. I graduated medical school and thought “this is it” when people started calling me “Doctor”. I married someone I thought was quirky and fun and amazing. I had two beautiful kids, and then adopted another one – I wanted a daughter and I got her. All my life I had wanted to own a horse, and finally, at age 30, I did. My life was complete, I thought. I had arrived, things were going to be beautiful. We had a lovely house and three young children, but it was even before then that I knew things were changing. I was being swallowed, squashed, held under for just long enough to realize my mortality and brought back up for glimpses of what was slowly being eaten away. I know it sounds silly. There is so much more history than I can put into words just now. There is so much I have to be grateful for – even when things were bleakest. But there are also the darker parts, the emptiness, the slow hemorrhaging of everything hopeful.

But even when I ran from all of that, separated from my marriage, I thought again: this is it. Now I can do it. It, meaning everything. Let my life explode. I was certain things would move at hyperspeed and I would catch up, eventually equilibrating in the place I had always known I would end up…. But instead, things slowed. Insidiously at first, but when the weights of life kept piling up – small pebbles at first, and then boulders and quarries without any spot to put them down – I sank. I’ve been treading water for ten years. And for the first few, I kept expecting that the clouds to part, but they didn’t.  I had nothing left. I was still treading water, but the drive to find any shore – had simply vanished. I was just treading water because I was out there. On the water, and that is what one does. I stopped looking around for exits, for life rafts, stopped devising plans for efficiency of stroke. I just was. I just am.

I don’t know what’s on the other side of this – or if there is another side – but now as I edge closer to fifty, I’m suddenly feeling the urgency to stir up the waters. To create ripples. Not swimming exactly, but rather creating turbulence. I need to.  Who knows what that will affect and how, but I do know this: inertia is our enemy in life. And we fight it by starting to move. Simple. I know that sounds so silly, but it is the truth. Move. So I’m going to do fifty things before I’m fifty. Move. Fifty things I haven’t done, or have left/dropped a long time ago and that hold some meaning for me. Fifty. Move! Before I turn fifty (a year from now). I don’t even have a full list yet. But I’m starting somewhere. Move.

 

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Cool things to keep

There are times – hours, days, months if you’re lucky – when things seem to gel, and serendipity hovers one step ahead of you. Those times are precious. The past month has not been one of those.

However, I did want to share what I have found to be a really cool idea – it works well for me, and it may work well for others, too. Let me preface this by disclosing that I edit obsessively. It really is pathological. And one piece of advice that has been really helpful as I’ve fretted and despaired the loss of words, thoughts, angles, and concepts – has been ‘Don’t get attached to any particular sentence’ (I wish I could remember where I heard that first, and now I can’t find the exact quote). It’s been both painful and liberating to heed this advice. And I think I’ve hit upon a compromise that works: when I feel that for the sake of cohesion a certain sentence or paragraph or attribute needs to disappear, I copy and paste that part into a ‘Cool things to keep’ file, and let it sit (or fester). Then, if I decide to put it back in, it’s intact. If not, it can (and has) germinate into another story idea. It works well! I’ve now written a few new things after perusing this file.

It’s been a process to accept the need to cut while editing. It undoubtedly improves the final product, but man – is it ever torturous sometimes. I am one of those people who start with an image or a word, or – yes – a particular sentence – and build a whole story around that one idea. Having to cut the initial image or word or sentence that started the story is horrifying, quite frankly. And yet, it has sometimes cut the string that lets it fly in a better direction – or, er, out the window to disappear forever. Whichever.

Oh well, back to work. My collection of rejection letters needs some tending. Happy writing.

 

Mount Kinabalu (Tanka and thoughts)

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Clouds drift down as mists

Blanketing a craggy slope

Thin air rife with peace.

Reflecting on the future

In the midst of perfection

© Nadia Brown, 2016

Many years ago, I spent some time in southeast Asia. Among countless other incredible experiences, I had the good fortune to climb Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, located in the Malaysian portion of Borneo. The summit is 4,095 m, and on the first day, we climbed with our guide Mario to where the landscape changed from dense, shaggy trees and misty slopes to a sweeping expanse of rock that disappeared quickly into the clouds. There is a house at this spot and there we stayed, eating and resting, until about 3 am. And then, in the dark, flashlights dangling from backpack straps, we left ‘Laban Rata’ and began the trek to the summit. The climb to the peak was over sheer rock, with ropes placed along the most difficult portions.  Hand over hand in the cold wind, hoping that the path ahead of you did not lead to a cliff. Here and there, people sprawled on the rock, wilting from the thin air – vomiting; waiting. Luckily, we had arrived at base camp a few days prior, and acclimatized more easily than some. The point of this trek was to arrive at the summit just before dawn. We did. I can tell you, seeing the sunrise from the top of the world, clouds on fire below you, muscles aching wildly – it’s a kind of bliss that has no equal.