Why 40 is extra-ordinary

I have wrinkles on my knees. I just noticed this the other day. Wrinkles. On my knees. When did this happen?

A few weeks ago, I found a grey hair. One. Really, just one. I have not plucked it because I’m not convinced that it’s grey. Maybe that one hair is just a fleck of blonde, glistening in the sun. In my bathroom. Where the sun don’t shine.

These recent discoveries hammer yet another nail into my newfound fear that I am becoming less extraordinary, less exciting, as I approach the year I can’t talk about (40). I know that my true self — my soul and even my personality — is essentially the same, though presumably wiser and more open with time and self-awareness. But my superficial self — the me that the world sees — is becoming more sensible. Others would call this “getting old,” but I refuse to call myself “old.” Especially considering I haven’t even turned…that other number yet.

In my early 30s, I owned a hot little Toyota MR2 Spyder two-seater convertible. It was completely impractical, but it was my dream car and so much fun to drive. I loved cruising around Nashville in the scorching, humid summer with the top down, my long hair secured in a ponytail and a barrette. When I went out on a Saturday night (convertible top up), with my very blonde hair and deep red lipstick fixed just so, bangles on my wrists and a little summer skirt, I felt so prosperous. In my hot little car, I could pretend that I was the shit.

Not only did I look cool and have a cool car, I had an even cooler job: music journalist. I wrote about indie rock bands and recording studios. I wrote about well-known artists and interviewed hundreds of producers, engineers, and musicians. Cool people. So there I was, with my hot job, the hot car, whippet thin and with enough money to pay a mortgage on a nice condo. I had cool friends and a cool social life. I even had dates when I wanted them. Happy? Absolutely.

When I moved to San Francisco (arguably one of the coolest cities in the U.S.) at age 32, I brought all of this coolness with me, minus the nice condo. Within the first year, a hairdresser convinced me to chop about six inches off of my hair. Two years after that, I sold my cool convertible (too many break-ins) and replaced it with a “practical” Honda Civic that I bought for $1500. When that Civic blew a gasket, I replaced it with a less old but more reliable Honda Civic. There are at least five identical cars in my own neighborhood alone.

I let the color grow out of my shorter locks to reveal its natural, blasé dirty blonde hue. I stopped wearing red lipstick. Instead of making me look glamorous, and, well, “hot,” it emphasized my shrinking lips. Where did they go, anyway?

In 2008 I phased out my hot job to work for a legal news service, trading excitement for stability and a 401K. When I talk about my “job” now, it is just that. A job, no more exciting than anyone else’s. People that meet me for the first time have no idea that I interviewed Beyoncé from my home office while she was in her limo leaving Wimbledon Stadium. They have no idea that I was hot shit. But I’m at ease enough with my present place in the world that I don’t have to brag about my hot shittedness.

If I really wanted to, I could dye my hair platinum, quit my stable job, and buy another convertible. But where would that leave me? Exciting and “cool” again or unemployed and in debt?

The changes that took me from extraordinary to ordinary happened gradually, in a span of less than three years. My identity remains in limbo. I am not the hot chick of 2000 or 2003, but I don’t feel especially boring or “settled.” If I am not these things, who am I? And who will I become?

Not long after I noticed the knee wrinkles, I came across a quote sent by a Buddhist friend who leads a meditation workshop that I don’t attend anymore. It basically said that our suffering comes from the ego. The ego resists change, and when we are faced with change, the ego protests and we suffer. When I read that quote, I realized that all of these things I lament — my shift from atypical to typical — have nothing to do with the real me.

My spirit is and always has been extraordinary. And no matter if my hair is mousy or bleach blonde, no matter what type of car I drive, I will remain extraordinary. Just like everyone else.

(note: I pulled out and cleaned up this essay recently and thought it was a funny perspective on turning 40. I’m well past 39 now, work for myself again, and am very much okay with my hum-drum life. I still have an affinity for roadsters though.)

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