Off and on at the blog I mention Chuck Wendig — not only have I read, reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed a bunch of his books (the most recent of which was Aftermath, his first Star Wars novel), but I love his writing advice posts and his hilarious, often profanity-riddled style.
One thing about Chuck is that he and I were born only a few days apart. That’s right, we’re practically twins! And this week he posted an epic list of 40 things that he has learned after four decades of life. You should go read it.
Yes, this is my round-about way of telling you I also turned 40 this week.
Earlier this year, I felt vaguely uneasy about my impending birthday. I mean, 40. I wouldn’t be able to say I was in my 30s anymore — as though that one day between 39 and 40 would make a huge difference, be somehow transformative. But it’s all a bit of a lie that revolves around us humans placing significance on certain things, like round numbers, multiples of ten: a number we’ve chosen to obsess over presumably because of our (traditional) number of fingers.
When I was a kid and the various adults in my life would ask me, on the day of my birthday, whether I felt any older. I’d always feel like the answer should be yes, but it was always no.
I do feel older now, but it’s a feeling that’s been creeping up on me for a while. I have a smattering of silver hairs that I’m rather fond of, mainly because they are politely behaved; in contrast, I also have a handful of weird, crazy white hairs that refuse to obey trivial things like gravity. My knees have have started to crunch like a pepper grinders when I walk up stairs. And my optometrist assures me that bifocal glasses are in my near future (she’s mean like that).
Still, there are upsides to being 40; to me, they are mostly about having a better sense of perspective. I was talking to a friend today about how when you’re in your teens and 20s you (and by “you”, of course, I mean “I“) care way too much about what others think. Not just people who are dear to you, but random strangers. People you go to school with or work with but to whom you’re not close. There are probably sound evolutionary reasons for it — if you’re too different from the herd, you might get driven out, be unable to find a mate.
(Hehe, she said “mate”.)
Although I doubt I’ll ever be able to completely dismiss others’ unsolicited opinions, they don’t mean as much to me as they used to. If someone thinks my comfortable shoes are daggy, or raises an eyebrow at my geeky t-shirt, so what? If they don’t like a book I wrote and leave a negative review, then eh, they are entitled to their opinion.
So was turning 40 traumatic? No, actually, it was kinda cool. I had a variety of tasty meals with different groups of friends and family over the course of this week, got to catch up, had a few laughs. I didn’t put too much pressure on myself to have an EPIC BIRTHDAY EXTRAVAGANZA — setting too-high expectations and then being disappointed is another thing I’d like to think I left behind last decade. I got hugs and warm wishes from people that mattered.
I wouldn’t be able to come up with a list of 40 things I have learned, partly because Chuck stole all the good ideas already. But there are a few things I’d add, random pieces of advice I’d give to younger-me if I could:
Unfriend or otherwise cast off toxic, judgemental people from your life. They aren’t worth the stress and grey hairs, and they definitely aren’t worth the crazy, gravity-defying white hairs.
Be prepared to make sacrifices to do the thing you want to do. I’m not much of a risk-taker and I’m definitely not saying you should quit your job to write your magnum opus, but maybe you could watch a little less TV?
Find something physical that you like doing and then actually do it. Regularly. Even though my knees were mostly fine till I started karate, I’ve felt a lot better about myself since I joined.
Wear sunscreen. It’ll mean less wrinkles (and also less chance of skin cancer) when you’re older.
Be kind to yourself. All those people who say that one day you’ll look back on photos of yourself when you were young and realise you were hotter than you thought at the time ARE RIGHT. The bastards.
In case you missed it, earlier this month, over at Aussie Owned and Read, I blogged about Four Awesome Writery Rewards for Good Behaviour.
Now there’s a blog post title I never thought I’d write. But hear me out.
A week and a half ago I got a sporting injury. I know it’s a sporting injury, because the very nice young physiotherapist I went to see called it that. And it certainly sounds like a sporting injury; see, I got a calf strain, which is something I usually associate with rugged footballers who have no necks, and whose thighs are as wide around as my car.
How did I achieve this thing? Me, whose usual idea of a strenuous physical activity is lifting a hardcover novel? (Hey, those suckers are heavy.)
I was doing a warm-up at karate.
I never thought I’d be a karate person. But, after it was recommended to a friend’s son to help him work on his coordination, she and I decided to enrol our two boys. A colleague recommended his old school, GKR, because it is friendly and low contact.
By the end of the second Saturday morning watching my boy get all this perfectly good exercise while I sat on an uncomfortable chair, I decided to sign up as well. It took a huge act of will; the class I go to is quite large, and has a mix of adults and kids. I am incredibly unfit, and hate embarrassing myself in front of strangers. Or, well, anyone. But the sensei is kind, encouraging and funny (sadly, he’s also married 😉 ), and I figured, what have I got to lose? Other than more weight than I need and a lifetime of awkwardness, I mean?
Here are some reasons why karate is working for me
My son is six. If I joined a gym, I’d need to organise babysitting for him (or spend money on a crèche), all of which is expensive and requires more organisation than I have brain cells spare for. We have a gym near work, but finding the time to actually go at lunch when we’re so busy has proven difficult. Also, I hate having to shower at work afterwards. Communal showers: ugh.
Whereas at karate, the boy and I are in the same dojo. We can exercise in the same class, each at our own pace. And afterwards I can drive us home to our bathroom. It’s the best of all worlds!
Because I hear it’s good for you?
I do feel like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in my gi, but after a few months I can see changes in my musculature, and I have more endurance than I used to. After I tore my calf muscle I actually cried at the idea of having to take a break. Also because I was sore. But still, how pathetic/awesome is that? I’ve never felt that way about exercise before.
Meeting new people
Although I have lots of close friends that I’ve met on-line, my circle of real-life friends is small. Close, but small. I’m an introvert, and doing karate has forced me to chat to strangers. Some of them I could see myself becoming friends with. Others I can oggle at a distance. It’s great.
Fight scenes, my friend. Fight scenes. I now know how to throw a punch or …er, kick … a kick. I’m not very good at the latter, because I’m still working on my balance, but I spend a lot of time watching talented black-belts demonstrate, and I know what it’s meant to look like. That means I can describe it. It’s fantastic! Last weekend I missed a women’s self-defence workshop they were running because I couldn’t walk very well, but next time they offer it I’ll definitely go along to that as well. My characters will benefit, for sure!
Do you do a martial art? Have you tried acquiring a new physical skill later in life? Leave a comment, so I don’t feel so alone!