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?