Today is my birthday. Not to put too fine a point on it, I am officially older than dirt. But I am also undeniably happy to be here and feel extremely lucky at the year behind me, a year which unfolded in unexpected ways and ended on a far happier note then it began. I woke up today feeling lucky and grateful for what I have.
I also woke up thinking of my friend Rick. I think of him on my birthday every year because of the great gift he gave to me, without even realizing it. Here’s how: Rick’s birthday is soon after my own. Conscious of what it is like to have a birthday near the holidays, I always tried to reach out to him and press him to celebrate in some way. But a few years ago, he explained to me that he liked to spend his birthday quietly and use it as a day of contemplation, as a time to look at his life and make conscious choices to do things differently if it was not as he hoped.
The idea of spending your birthday in such a manner was a revelation. It seemed the perfect way to celebrate for someone like me, who is often caught in the middle of a tug of war between my own yin and yang. You see, I grew up in a crowded, noisy house that believed deeply in conversation and connections and crowded, noisy parties. As a result, I am definitely an extrovert. I like being around people (so long as I can retreat for periods of being alone to recharge). On the other hand, as a writer, contemplation is something I need, but often fight, as I was raised to define my emotions mostly by reacting to others. And I am also a planner. Like my mother, I love to make lists: things to do, tasks to remember, thoughts that could lead to books to come. During my rare dark times, I will turn to my journal and write myself out of unhappiness. I believe in my ability to put my life in perspective, to order my priorities and to jump into the unknown, if need be. Certainly this past year, and all the changes it brought to my life, proves to me that it can be done. But to be truthful, in the past, I only stopped to look at my life when things were going badly. I took it for granted otherwise. My friend Rick’s comment changed that. His belief in using his birthday to look at his life, to give it 24 hours of introspection, seemed to me a wonderful way to honor life in all of its glory and capriciousness. Ever since he made that remark a few years ago, I have found myself happily and firmly in the camp of those few, those happy few, who see birthdays as a gift of solitude and unbridled self-absorption.
Today, I intend to unearth my beloved mahogany writing desk, which is currently hidden by stacks of moving boxes, find a chair and sit down with my open journal in front of me and a fountain pen close to hand. I intend to look ahead. I am now past the halfway point of my life and I am determined to make the most of what is left. I am not certain what will come out of this introspective journey, but today it is mine to make.
It is a familiar process to me: outlining a character, its motivations and the actions I want them to take. Of course, when I am writing a book, I get to decide the outcome. I am the arbitrator of success or failure. When it comes to my own life, though, god knows what will happen. But I like the illusion of control and I like the sensation of my pen scratching over the pages of my journal so I am going to do it anyway. And this year, because I am inching toward being a little old lady who — and I say this to you, Mary Lee — intends to sit at the end of bars well into my 90s, sipping cocktails, I may even have a glass of Firefly over ice at my side. This is, to me, a grand celebration. I want to get to know who I am at this point of time and space since, trust me, I am a different person than I was a year ago. Mazel tov to us all!