So of course I tried the FaceApp aging filter the other week (and, yes, I’m aware that the Russian state now probably has access to all of my data. But I immediately deleted the App!) (After I used it) (We’ll get to my grasp of technology later).
I found the result more amusing than alarming, because how surprising is it that I will look like a dried prune when I’m approximately 95 years old? What occupied me more was the difference between „me now“ and „me then“. The App also has a youthful filter – which made me look less like my actual younger self than a Kardashianised version of myself, and yet I was genuinely surprised by how much more apparent the wrinkles on my forehead and deep creases around my eyes seemed in the original picture, because wasn’t I only 25 yesterday?
A friend then told me that her mother had said you never stop thinking you’re 25. Isn’t that a little bit odd? I can’t recall 25 as being an exceptionally good year. I don’t want to the wear the clothes I wore then. I don’t need to experience the heartbreak over – what was his name? – again. And when I read what I wrote then, I wouldn’t say I’ve become worse at it. Perhaps it’s because time and possibilities seemed endless at 25 whereas right now I’m wondering how it’s possible that it’s August, because didn’t we just celebrate New Year’s Eve? Apart from that I like being 40. At least I don’t dislike it.
Because: Consider the alternative.
That’s the title of a chapter in Nora Ephron’s book I Feel Bad About My Neck And Other Thoughts On Being a Woman. Ephron was in her late 50s when the book was published (she died in 2012, which… is that really seven years ago already?), but I think subjects like I Hate My Purse and On Maintenance are generation-spanning. What Ephron does so well in her writing about aging, what she did so well in everything, is making the heavy stuff appear light.
I’m sure this is not what people mean when they talk about their mixed feelings when they turn 40, but here’s what I experienced – not on the day I stopped being 39, but over the last few years: Life feels simultaneously lighter and heavier than ever. That feeling is like a quiet soundtrack to my life with only two lyrics: „I’ve arrived“ and „I won’t be here forever“. Sometimes I hear them very loudly, often suddenly, as when I’m standing on the playground watching him on the slides and brutally realising that he will be without me one day. Then, in the next moment, the feeling floats away and is replaced by a sense of lightness that nothing has ever felt easier than taking responsibility for my child, even though I find it heartbreakingly hard to be a mother sometimes.
It’s feeling ready for a second child and thinking: At 40, well, mhm, who knows if that would even be possible. Especially because I know now how not at all usual it is to be able to have a child in the first place. It’s a mixture of „I finally feel confident in my work” and „Shouldn’t I try something completely different?“ I’m a lot less embarrassed – by a joke that doesn’t land, by my loud laughter, by my inability to tan. But I still have the tendency to brush over things with self-irony. I’m a lot less vulnerable, but more porous. I know better, but not enough to not make the same mistakes. I often think „What’s the worst the could happen?“, knowing full well that bad things really do happen. In every life. To all of us. I know EXACTLY what I’m doing – which is to improvise constantly. I know that it’s possible to live while you’re figuring out life. I really don’t like the wrinkles around my eyes, really, really don’t, but I don’t think of myself as „lesser than“ because of the way I look anymore. I’m fitter than I’ve perhaps ever been, and yet I have four times the amount of check-ups at the doctor’s. I make decisons more easily, but each and every single one of them carries so much more weight. I don’t have the urge to please everybody, but when I lose 20 Followers on Instagram, I want to say: Come baaaaaack!
For the longest time I thought I would write a letter to my younger self as a blogpost for my 40th. About all the things I will learn, why I shouldn’t worry so much, that this too shall pass and that the journey is the destination – with much clarity and wisdom. But, well, I don’t have many answers. I might question myself less, but I still have questions. So instead of writing that letter, I wrote down those questions (also: I don’t feel old enough for a resumé on my life. Ask me again in ten years) – the small ones and the big ones, the ones that have haunted me for years and the ones that might lead to a happier future, the trivial ones and the unanswerable ones. 42 in total, since even at my age I haven’t gotten better at editing myself. At the same time, the list in incomplete, because I’m always forgetting something these days.
• How are you?
• When somebody asks you the next time how you are, will you be able to bear answering honestly, no matter if you are feeling sensational, horrible or just fine? Will the other person be able to bear hearing your answer?
• What would you still like to learn and be able to do?
• When will you stop feeling like a fraud who somehow managed to swindle herself into this job, rather than someone who is actually good at it? And why does it still make you cringe with embarrassment to say „I’m actually good at this“?
• At what age does it become an acceptable attitude to not want to understand technology anymore?
• Because: where are the 134,12 GB of data that my computer insists are clogging up the hard drive, yet are not to be found, I ask you WHERE?
• Also: what is a TikTok?
• Will you ever watch The Godfather trilogy, even just the third and according to anybody who has ever lived best part, because you’d rather watch When Harry Met Sally for the 76th time?
• Is there a better scene than the pecan pie dialogue at The Temple of Dendur? Than the argument over the wagonwheel couch table? The conversation on the plane that includes the sentence „Between 30 seconds and all night is your problem“? „Baby Fish Mouth“? Than the four way phone conference between Harry, Sally, Marie and Jess after Harry and Sally have sex for the first time? And what truly important things could you remember if you didn’t use up brain space for knowing that that scene took 61 takes to film?
• What was the name of that actor… you know, from that film… hang on, I’ll have it in a minute… who was also in that other film… you know… him?
• Hipster jeans – why?
• Who can you cry in front of without pulling yourself together after two minutes, because „I’m fine, really I am“?
• Would you want to know yourself?
• What unprompted piece of advice would you give yourself?
• What difference would you like to make – for yourself and for others?
• How to deal with people who respond to my long overdue email within 30 seconds, necessitating another mail from me in response and… how the hell is it Thursday already?
• What would be worse: feeling uncomfortable for a moment when you justifiably say „no“ to something or the longterm annoyance that a „yes“ will cause you?
• Does a „no“ always have to be justified?
• Spanx – why not?
• There, that bit of flesh on your jawline, will that just keep hanging there? (Incidentally: gravity – what gives?)
• What would be a reasonable point in time to consider 50 Euros for a tiny jar of eyecream money well spent? And an equally reasonable point in time to stop believing in any of it, especially jade rollers?
• What would you do exactly the same way you did it the first time round?
• And what would you do differently?
• Or is the better question: What would you do differently in the future, taking into account that change is monumentally difficult (but perhaps not as difficult as repeating the same patterns over and over again)?
• Are you a good friend?
• Will you call your grandparents this weekend?
• What would you still like to ask your parents?
• What should you tell those closest to you more often?
• Who do you want to spend your time with?
• Why are the legs of the bed always in that same place where you bump into them with your small toe?
• When you asked yourself 20 years ago what love would feel like, would it have surprised to hear it described like this? It will feel like that afternoon recently, when you were both lying on the couch, talking about whether it would be better for England’s chances to win the Cricket World Cup if they batted or bowled first, about that book that you just started, about what you wanted to get for dinner, about whether to start Arlo in school next year or wait another year – about the small and the big stuff, all of which amounts to this life you have created together. It was a nothing afternoon. An everything moment. Here you are, two people being in front of each other just as you are. Love will feel like looking at him while he makes a silly Cricket joke and thinking: You are the person in the world I like the most.
• And will you remember that feeling when this person annoys you, when you are lost for words, when it gets hard, when you fight?
• Will you remember to be kind?
• When you think that everybody else has got it together so much better than you, will you stop yourself, because everybody has their shit, their challenges, their struggles, their history to deal with?
• Can you forgive yourself?
• Can you take the compliment without diminishing it by a joke, by waving it off, by adding some sort of small print, just for once?
• What are the battles worth fighting?
• Why is it so hard to ask for help?
• Is an ability to cope with stress really something to strive for?
• Who will ever know if you have the third bowl of cereal while you’re sat in front of your computer in your pyjamas, unshowered at 3pm?
• What one thing would make today a good day?
• Where are my glasses ?