Sunday, 27 June 2010

Somewhere Towards The Middle

As I'm reading Diana Athill's 2008 Costa Biography Awarded memoir, Somewhere Towards The End, I've begun to think more about the fact that as I turn 38 next Wednesday, I'm somewhere towards the middle of my life.

When I was in my teens and twenties, I often heard women in their thirties talk about how much more confident they were about whom they were and what they wanted. Everything they said is true - I've never been surer in my relationships and in the knowledge that I am a writer.

Like Athill, I do not have children of my own. But I do have an extended family: nieces and nephews; stepchildren and step-grandchildren. Aunty Ellie or Nanny Ellie. Though I've chosen not to have children, I am grateful for those relationships. Too often I meet again friends from school or college, who themselves have chosen not to have children, and they say, "Thank goodness. You hate children too." Well, no. I don't. Why do people assume that?

Another thing I've been thinking about is that I've never lived on my own. It's not that I want to be, or that I am terrified of my own company even, it's just never happened to be that way. When I was a young child, I lived in a children’s home, in between spells with different foster families. Eventually, at the age of 11, I went to live with the people who are now my parents, my family. But before that I spent great periods of time on my own, immersed in my own imagination - creating fantasies about who I really was. I know it's a cliché, but children in care do imagine they are the daughter of a Hollywood superstar or a lost princess! I often think that is where my love of stories started, and perhaps a need not to not live by myself.

Having said that, as an adult I need time alone, like most people I assume, or I get frustrated and sometimes mean. When I didn't write (I was too afraid to see if I really could), I would spend those quiet times on crafts or attempting some academic field of study. I craved the freedom time alone gave me, but had to fill it all up or feel a failure. Now, I realise what I should having been doing all along - writing.

A friend told me recently that her mother, who is in her early seventies, has made a list of the things she wants to do before it's too late. Admirable, I must say. But why leave it so late? Do you remember as a young child telling your relatives, or peers, all those exciting things you would do when you grew up? How many of them have you actually done? I realised that I haven't done a great deal, maybe through a lack of confidence, maybe through circumstance, but most of all, through laziness. Some things seemed like too much effort.

With the thoughts of being somewhere towards the middle, I've drawn up a list of ten more adventurous things I want to do:

1. Write a novel (no surprise there, so I’ve got this one out of the way first).
2. Own a telescope and go stargazing.
3. Go on a volcano holiday (you trek overnight to the summit, or as far as you are allowed, and watch the sun come up).
4. Sail again, if only once (I used to sail Cadets in my teens).
5. Attend a weeklong writing holiday or retreat.
6. Trace my biological family tree, in order to answer this question: Am I the first or one of a long line of writers in my family?
7. Attend an airshow.
8. Go to a Star Trek convention.
9. Play Poker in a Las Vegas casino.
10. Volunteer for a dog-walking service.

If you are feeling reflective, why not draw up your own list?


  1. Awwwww!! Wait till you turn 40 - then the fun really begins! :-)

    But seriously!!!!! I love your list - no.6 especially - that would be so amazing.

    And you must go to a Star Trek convention - I've attended as many as I could and loved everyone of them - they're just fab and yes - it's just like in Galaxy Quest but more!:-)

    You're 37 and a step grandma?!?!? Another wow!

    Take care

  2. I've read this post through twice! So much resonates with me! Maybe I am a little older than you, but I am constantly reviewing what I could do, pushing boundaries!

    As a very very shy child, I had room to dream. The turning point in my life was making a very conscious decision to step out of my shy zone! In university years I worked part time in the theatres. The job forced me to interact. I became a high school teacher - more interaction. I now lead my English department at school - further interaction! No one believes now that I am still shy - at least at social gatherings I still am!

    My writing has a similar story. Blogging has broken barriers. My photography is following a similar pathway too.

    As for your list, I think the only one I would eliminate is the poker game at the Las Vegas Casino! I would replace it with a trek through Nepal.

    Enjoy your week!

  3. Old Kitty - I'll be one of the last in my group to turn 40, so I'm getting to see how everyone else reacts first! Out of my list, no.6 is the only one that really scares me. I know once I start it, there will me many more questions to answer.

    There is a slight age gap between my partner and I. Okay, not that slight - eighteen years. Though there were some difficult times when my stepchildren were teenagers, I've been truly blessed to have the most amazing relationship with them both.

    Greyscale - I'm so glad you came out of that shell. Look what you achieved. And if you're still pushing those boundaries, there's so much more yet to come. I wish I was more like you.

    A trek through Nepal sounds amazing, or maybe Machu Picchu? That has to be the kind of trip that changes your life.

  4. When I was 37 I went off to university to do an archaeology degree. It's a great time of life. Enjoy it.

  5. I just turned 40 so I'm sort of in the same place as you and I loved this post. I'm going to make my list, too. the only thing is - I really don't recommend the playing poker in Las Vegas thing, unless you really really love poker or seriously don't mind losing money. Vegas is... well, everyone is entitled to their opinions, but mine it's like fool's gold. Shiny and tempting, but delivers nothing.

    I just love your title "Diving in the Word Pools" What an evocative image of a writer!

  6. Thanks, Margo. I spent a long time deciding on my blog title!

    The Las Vegas dream is more about being there. My OH and I love CSI Las Vegas, and I've played poker with friends of mine, but never with money. It's more of a social thing. I agree with you about it being fool's gold, though.

  7. Oh yes - the gambling is like having a day at the races. You decide in advance how much you want to spend and don't go over it. If you win it's a bonus. But no yankees, putting all your winnings from the last race onto the next one etc. Just £x per race. No more, no less. Then enjoy the horses and the atmosphere. (not many horses in Vegas though.......)


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