For most of my life, no matter what was happening in it – including sickness, death, bankruptcy and heartbreak – I almost always opened my eyes in the morning glad to be awake and excited to be alive. I could have been stuck in a job I detested, or facing the anxiety of getting my kids back from their father, or going to the hospital to see my post-operative son – yet I would open my eyes, jump out of bed, and begin my morning routine of coffee, straightening up the house, and stretching exercises (in some years even yoga). This excitement, this glad-to-be-alive feeling didn’t last all day: gradually it would fade, but by tomorrow I’d have forgotten whatever disappointments took it away, and be poised for excitement again.
Now that I no longer wake up this way, I’ve come to realize what it was about: ANYthing might happen! It’s a new day! Another batch of mail will arrive, in it an acceptance of my novel. Maybe a poem will be published (this actually did sometimes happen). Perhaps I’ll fall in love. Or J. will show up, back from his travels. Maybe I’ll meet someone new. Even better – I’m in love and he or she is here with me. Or I can’t wait to get to my desk. Or I’m performing with my theater group tonight, or the kids are coming, or I’m going to a job I love (there were a few), or seeing M. later on…I don’t think I actually ran down a list of realities and possibilities, it was just that I knew they existed. In my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s, even into my early 50’s, life was on the upswing. I was headed somewhere. Things could only get better.
This morning I dragged myself out of bed with no hope of anything new and wonderful happening. Two years ago, after 40+ years of daily stretches, rarely missing a single day, I stopped doing them because out of nowhere they started making me dizzy. I can barely manage to make the bed. It takes me two hours and three cups of coffee just to wake up. I tried tracing my life backwards to determine when the excitement stopped. It was within the past six years: I recall that I inwardly articulated to myself that life was no longer heading in an upwards direction. Physical energy began diminishing at the same time. Nothing wonderful is likely to occur today, tomorrow, or ever again. I’ve given up on the kind of publishing success I tried so hard and so long to achieve. Having loved and lost as many times as Elizabeth Taylor, I don’t expect – or even want – to fall in love again. Life’s cheerleaders will protest “But it can happen! You can make it happen!” Bear in mind that you can’t be published if you don’t submit anything — and I haven’t the motivation to go through that process anymore. Nor can you fall in love if you don’t go anyplace to meet potential partners — and I don’t want to do that either. When you give up your dreams, they can’t come true.
It’s supposed to be a tragedy of some magnitude to give up one’s dreams, but sometimes it’s a rational act. A lot of writers I know are flabbergasted when I tell them how long I hung on to the naïve best-seller fantasy, how old I was when I finally let myself see how the publishing business works (or worked back in the Dead Tree Era). I clung to the fantasy of love as fairy tale even after gaining an acutely raised feminist consciousness. It’s not so much that I gave up on my dreams as that I grew up.
Besides, I’m not talking only about writing and falling in love: these are just the big, obvious areas we all point to when talking about life ambitions. When I awoke excited, it wasn’t always over something major; I could’ve been looking forward to something as mundane as trying out a new soup recipe.
I don’t know if my aging peers are experiencing this kind of thing, since nobody talks much about getting older. They don’t address these issues on Facebook either. Maybe what I’m going through is unique, just more of being me: the negative, neurotic, obsessive me that we all know and tolerate. Also, since I lived unconventionally, my daily life was fairly unpredictable, so in fact anything really could happen, and frequently did — and not always positive.
What I’m going through seems like a logical aspect of aging, not some new quirk of mine alone. It seems logical that our lives would feel and be on an upswing, until, at some point, things slow down. Maybe it’s not sad for everyone — if I’d managed to achieve half of what I wanted, it might not be. For those who do get what they’re after, I can see how slowing down would mean reaping life’s rewards.
While writing this, I suddenly remembered that two days ago I was walking along, singing to the music on my iPod, when I spotted a dollar bill on the ground. I rarely find money, and don’t recall ever finding a bill. Instead of being thrilled, though, I worried that whoever lost it might have needed it. Ten or fifteen years ago I would have interpreted the dollar as a “sign,” a message from the universe that exciting surprises can occur at any age.
Now, remembering the girl who used to think that way, I can’t help but smile with compassion at her optimism. She didn’t know. She just didn’t know.