E had some comments on my post Advice to My 40-Year-Old Self that, although facetious, had a point. It seems she thought my post was too sunny to be sincere. And after some thought, I realized I had a been a little big disingenuous. Even though aging at this point of my life has more pluses than minuses, it would be wrong for me not to affirm that there is a certain grief to not being young anymore.

I had two moments recently that illustrates this. One was in a café I frequent. The workers behind the counter were joking about something and I sort of joined in and added a comment. They kind of ignored me, not in a mean way, but then I realized, “They see me as that older women at the counter, not one of them.” I was, indeed, old enough to be their Mom. But I guess in that moment I forgot my age. And then I had a strange surreal thought: “Not only am I not young, but I’ll never be young again.” Why would a person forget, even for a second, that time in linear and not circular? It’s odd.

The whole sequence is especially weird because mostly I look around me on the street and notice how mostly everyone is younger than me, so why in this moment did I see things so differently?

The second story is about my reuniting with an old friend. We had been friends in college and beyond and then “broke up” in our early 30s. We had a fight — really, a small class war I believe — and never spoke again. We bumped into each other recently and the battles of the past were long behind us, and all our youthful drama as well. So we had dinner.

As I talked with A., who I’ve only known as a young person, I felt very strange. Yes, it was him but in a way it wasn’t him. It wasn’t the “him” in that sat in my mind, frozen in time, for almost two decades. He was middle aged. He had mostly gray hair. He seemed very subdued. It was sort of like some of the feelings I felt during my Visiting The Past journey, except this time I hadn’t gone anywhere geographically. There was definitely a larger dose of surrealism and disbelief to this encounter. I felt lost in time and place, as if I was just dreaming. Somehow, the image of him when he was young kept overshadowing the person right in front of me.

And I realized, although I have found A. again, there are many things that have been lost forever, and they were all linked to the relationship we had when we were young. And that is when I felt the pain of lost youth.

Joan Jett! 1980What makes one movie great and another one just okay? Partly it’s a matter of taste, and partly it’s a matter of the director having a clear vision. I recently saw both The Runaways and La Vie en Rose on DVD, both movies ostensibly made to let the viewer into the life and mind of the musical artist. Although La Vie en Rose received great critical acclaim, The Runaways is a far better film in almost every way.

La Vie en Rose follows the tragic fame of Edith Piaf. Despite growing up sickly, neglected, and dirt poor she has an innate magnificent talent for singing. From an early age, she makes her living by singing on the street, and eventually is “discovered” and becomes famous. The Runaways follows the formation of the first widely known “all-girl” rock band, focusing on the fall-from-grace of the initial front woman, Cherie Currie, and the musical development of Joan Jett.

Although there are two different musical genres from two different eras represented in these movies, they both show girls/women being exploited by men, destructive drug and alcohol use, and dysfunctional families. However, almost nothing positive is ever shown about Piaf. We are shown her being bullied to improve her singing style which helps her achieve fame. We never, however, are shown any attempts at artistic development after this. The movie makes a fleeting reference to her acting career, but we never learn anything about this subject. In addition, practically every scene of her once she is becoming famous shows her acting like a bitch on wheels yet somehow having friends, lovers, and husbands. Indeed, those close to her act like she is very lovable, but just as she is not shown to be a great artist (only a great natural talent) she is not shown as endearing in the film.

In Runaways, we are shown similar scenes of the girls being bullied by Kim Fowley. However, we also see Joan Jett working on her own development, coming up with riffs, and creating lyrics on her own outside of the band. Although the film initially seems more about Currie, it’s Jett’s creativity and drive that compels us. The film also shows the characters being both kind and cruel; they fairly three dimensional.

Both films have a sprinkling of surrealism, but Runaways uses this technique more consistently and to greater affect. In La Vie, there is one scene of some goddess figure speaking to the young Piaf, never to be seen again; there’s another of her going from the shock of hearing about her dead lover to emerging on stage. That’s it. In Runaways, there are many scenes that blur the line between actual and imagined events. A particulary effective one has Jett composing the lyrics aloud to “Love is Pain” in the bathtub, and then submerging — but after she submerges, there’s an underwater shot of her being in a large body of water. It’s unexpected and it works well visually and to move the plot along.

There’s no doubt that Marion Cotillard’s acting is amazing. She plays Piaf from age 15 to a women dying of liver cancer, and it’s really an amazing transformation. It goes beyond the innovative makeup techniques used to show her as a sickly women looking well beyond her age. It’s very impressive. Unfortunately it is the only impressive element of the film.

Certainly the sentimentality of the public and critics, and their desire for maudlin scenes of women’s emotional suffering is behind the greater fame of La Vie en Rose, which grossed $86 million to The Runaways $4 million. I finished watching La Vie feeling pretty empty and unattached to the character; I finished The Runaways wanting to see it again. Which I will. In the meantime, can you watch this video while sitting down? Then perhaps you are dead.

Congratulations! You’ve made it to your fourth decade on the earth. What’s that, you say? You’re not feeling that excited? Well, now that I am just a few months away from 50, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned. First of all…

The Bad News

The Good News

(Although this list is shorter, it really counts more. Quality, not quantity.)

In conclusion

Accept that you are not young anymore. On the other hand, you are NOT OLD. You are middle-aged. There is still a ton of things you can do and with more wit, wisdom and élan than ever. So go have some fun.

… now, if I could only find a time machine so I could actually deliver this message.

Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman book coverMy jaw dropped when I saw this book for the first time. I saw the huge gold letters proclaiming BEDWETTER and a very funny photo of Sarah Silverman. I immediately figured she could not have *really* been a bedwetter, because it was inconceivable to me that someone with such a shameful past would actual not only publish a book about it but name the book as such. But, indeed, as I leafed through I saw that this was an autobiographical account of her childhood and her experienced with dreaded night-time pee.

I am not a big Silverman fan, as she vacillates between uproariously funny and just plain annoying. But I thought I’d read this book because, as you may have divined, I was a bedwetter too.

Even today, decades later, I feel a profound sense of shame when I admit this. I still have not been able to overcome the deep sense of humiliation, even though I understand intellectually that it wasn’t my fault nor was there anything wrong with me. I grew out of it, but later than many, living in constant fear of exposure.

Reading through Silverman’s close calls with being publicly exposed was more frightening to me than The Blair Witch Project, because I remembered my own near misses and the possibility losing all social standing when I already stood on very shaky ground.

Frankly, the rest of the book where she grows up (and out of it) and achieves fame is less interesting. I enjoy reading about folks overcoming adversity and becoming stronger, but I think Silverman is just too young to write a convincing retrospective on events that occurred only a few years before.

There are many of us who end up emotional and psychological weakened by our childhood. Some childhoods are truly horrific, and some just run-of-the-mill crummy. My later childhood featured a steady decrease in self-confidence that started from age 10 and bottomed about around age 16. For about three years I had no friends, and during those years or so had almost no meaningful conversations.

I’ve been thinking about this recently because of the recent rash of teen suicides being reported, mostly because they are being bullied for being queer.

Queerness, among your average blockhead teens, is still considered a shameful, laughable state-of-being, deserving of relentless ridicule. The blockheads are small in number but make up for it in loudness and a trail of toadies.

So, I was not a gay teen, but I was considered a “dog” i.e. homely girl, which meant any boy could ridicule me at any moment for being “ugly”. Which they did on occasion. So, I can’t imagine what life would have corroded into if, in addition, my secret shame of bedwetting came to be public knowledge. I do know that life would have become unlivable.

I think it my time it was much more fashionable to have an old-fashioned nervous breakdown, where you just lay down in your bed and did not get up for long periods of time. I suppose that’s the route I would have taken if things had gotten worse. In the chaste world I grew up in, I never heard of anyone killing themselves, so the idea wouldn’t have occurred to me.

Suicide is contagious. When K & I were in Ireland last spring, we found out there had been a rash of suicides in the area we were staying. The scenery was gorgeous and quiet, and yet people were continuously killing themselves. These people were not particularly bad off; some had children. There was no real explaining it.

So, if this sad pattern could occur in a place that seems really wonderful to me, so much so would a suicide contagion occur in hopeless teens.

I hope that with all the Internet access available to kids now, that some of these queer children will be saved by a video they saw on It Gets Better or they made a phone call the Trevor Project. I feel afraid though that some kids are so isolated, alone, and feeling desperately unlovable that they won’t reach out.

And as for folks for Silverman or me, we were not bullied queers, and somehow we lived through adolescence and depression and went on to be strong adults. And this strength that I found in myself and helped grow over time is one of the things I like best about myself. If my 15-year-old self could see me now she would not believe how wonderful life can be. I am living beyond my old dreams, but in the end they were they dreams of a child.

Last week a sick bird showed up at my bird feeder, a female house finch. She seemed to have something wrong with her eyes. They were very watery and she could barely see. It made me very sad. I realized also that I was going to have to take the bird feeder down and sterilize it so as not to spread whatever illness she had. Supposedly one should take the bird feeder down for a whole month if one sees a sick bird. That’s right, a whole month without chirping birds in my backyard.

For the next two days, the sick bird reappeared eating crumbs of seeds off of the cement. Once or twice I saw a male house finch with her. I decided to try to catch her and bring her to a wildlife rehabilitation place. First I dug up my Havahart trap. Although intended for rodents, I had once accidentally caught a towhee when trying to catch a particular rodent. So I knew that birds might be lured inside. I placed it on the ground with oodles of seeds inside.

Several times I saw the Sick Bird go very close to the entrance and said, “C’mon, go inside…. gooooo inside…. goooo…. you’re right there…. Aw, shit!” And Sickly Bird would hop away. I even use hand motions to virtually push her inside but you know, you can’t control a bird with your mind.

In desperation, I got the fish net and snuck up on her on the ground. Very, very slowly. And lo and behold, I caught her! With gloved hands I very carefully carried her to the aforementioned cage and tried to place her inside. I don’t know how, but somehow, she escaped and flew away. In a flash. I just stood there, utterly helpless and frustrated, knowing that was the last I’d see of her.

I haven’t seen Tzipi yet this week, but last time he came by a many times, often accompanied by his girlfriend who we now call Missitzipi. However, I did have an interesting encounter with some imposters. Towards dusk, a male and female were sitting on our fence, so I grabbed some almonds and headed outside assuming it was Tzipi & Missitzipi. I stood there for a moment and the jays kept staring at me quizzically, moving their heads around to get a better view of me. I then realized that they folks were NOT T & M. They were both smaller and the male was not nearly as well groomed as Tzipi. So I stood there for another moment or so and then said, “Look, you two, I’m not going to spend my time training other jays to eat out of my hand,” and I went inside. I haven’t seen them again although I’m sure I will eventually.