It’s been a tremendous year. As an old version of yourself is dying, falling away to be replaced by a newer iteration, it’s time to check in.
I was born as the sweet corn was coming on and the first harvest wheat was making its way to silo. Many summer birthdays were spent first in the Rocky Mountains regions of roadside farm stands, fresh produce and corn shucking contests. One birthday I even spent with the fire department in Hyrum, Utah as they fought to extinguish my sister’s house fire despite the exploding ammo storage. (The firefighters kindly shared my birthday pizza and cake after the house was saved. Well, mostly saved.)
Then in later years in Alaska, my birthdays were spent standing hip-deep in Prince William Sound, catching my salmon limit in six casts followed by hikes into the wild where I pondered never returning to civilization.
It wasn’t until my late twenties that I ventured into alcohol and thus spent the next decade of birthdays swigging fine Scotches, sampling new whiskies, and making the exotic dessert birthday rounds. Some of those desserts were even food, or at the least they were usually wearing something edible….
Nowadays, it seems birthdays slip right on by. I’m only reminded by whichever social media platform I actually used my real birthdate to register, that I am in fact getting older. As if my drooping jawline and plumper corners, even the anti-gravity super lift on my over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder were not reminder enough.
I don’t mind the crows’ feet. Truly. I wouldn’t trade my smile lines in for all the money in the world. I don’t even mind the strip of white hair that’s filling my right temple when I’m too busy to dye. I do however, take deep offense to the random long black chin hair that wasn’t there the night before but upon waking realize it has sprouted like a fucking Gorgon scalp and overtaken my face. I guess I should be grateful, it’s trying to hide my growing double-chin.
Time gets us all, right? So, when the reminder pops up on Facebook, or my Google account, it gives me a chance to ask myself if I’m happy where I am or if I need to make changes.
Did I improve upon myself this year?
Did I improve upon my world?
It’s a simple test, really. Two questions to gauge my annual metric.
I still crave August shooting stars, fresh corn in salty garlic butter, handmade ice cream and the county fair. I still look for new imports to tempt my palate; whiskey, that is—not men…mostly. I still hunger for fresh salmon baked on alder planks and Alaskan summer evenings of the midnight sun. All these are the joys of being a late summer birthday baby. When the lavender is cropped, and the communities gather for festivals and harvest. There is a sense that we are united, that bounty is plentiful and connections are rich—all before the winter drives us inside to our deeper thoughts and silent insecurities. Nine dark months of winter ruminations.
Did I improve myself?
Did I improve my world?
My metric has never been about justifying my right to be, or validating a sense of purpose. It’s never been about whether I am deserving of space or love. To be fair, when I was younger, I often confused the exercise with worthiness before I learned what worthiness really meant.
Therefore, the two questions were always about—movement.
Movement forward, sideways, up or down, round about or zigzag… but always shifting point of view, location (both inner and outer) relative to what I think I know or understand. Movement is growth.
My mentor once said, “A stagnant character is a dead character.”
I’ve always wanted to be a dynamic character. Not because I’m afraid of dying—but because I’ve always feared not living all the life I could get my hands, mouth, mind, and spirit upon. Hells bells, I want a life I can throw my body at that swoons my brainpan with all the infinite potential of creative delights. Hedonist. Sybarite. Explorer. Chaser of kites and kittens, fairytale lore and frenetic squirrels. Builder. Creator. Grand duchess of the what-if.
All the makings of movement, creativity, and discovery.
But movement, progress, shift in perspective and point of view… the ever-reaching stretch for vision, understanding, and scope comes with a cost. That cost is only now becoming something I can consciously, in my 43rd Note to Self, quantify and thusly - willingly choose.
Before the cost seemed happenstance. It felt like a lateral, outside my periphery, odd confluence of bad luck. The cost, because I didn’t know what it was at the time, seemed arbitrary, and as though I were a casual victim of the price of something I didn’t quite recognize as a product of my will. I chalked it up to Universal commerce, the unseen feather on Maat’s balancing scale.
Did I improve myself?
Did I improve my world?
The price is the willingness to die, to let death, to invite ending. The cost of movement, transition… of living a fully enriched experience, is the consensual unbecoming of one state in order to embody the richness and comprehension of another.
This is not a suicide pact. It’s not a bargain to do violence or harm—it’s an understanding that polarities are poles…and that life happens between. We die a thousand deaths a day; shedding cells, rebuilding muscle and tissue… ideas and concepts, habits and paradigms, and relationships (inner and outer). We la petite mort three times a night, if we’re lucky….
I could wax on all inebriated and poetical, but I think you get the point, Athena.
You’re finally understanding how to calculate the price of walking away, leaving, starting over, speaking truth, hearing truth, making a stand, owning your space, valuing yourself, your voice, your process. You understand the power of naming your own price, and holding out for it. The fee for changing your mind, your will, your ownership of self from day to day may very well be the loss of relationships, trust, face, money, respect, image, and imagined power or purpose.
The choice of one thing, of the new point of view, risk, adventure, personal growth is the END of what was in its place before.
Athena, you get it now. Sometimes the toll of improving yourself is the agreement to accept the end of all you were, even all that you thought you’d become. It’s the return on personal investment tax.
A remaking fine. You’ve had a dozen of these transitions already, but never with the ability to consciously sit and sort the probable fallouts in relation to the goal. You’ve never put it in mercenary calculations before or counted your match sticks and measured the distance to the horizon line so thoroughly. You were always a gut-creature. You moved by instinct and a hungry bid for breath of life. There was so much world to fit on one tiny plate. I don’t know what’s more terrifying from the outside; she who breathes feral-like into the fire of personal transformation—or she who strategizes, and organizes. She who holds the scalpel to her life with determined focus.
In survival mode it’s nearly impossible to think in terms of:
Did I improve myself?
Did I improve my world?
For sure, there were birthdays when you asked the questions and were met with the dissatisfying realization that all you managed to do for a whole year was keep your head above the waterline, treading as fast and hard as you could and you still couldn’t do more than just break even on your own scale.
Other birthday years as you stood in line at the county fair or dined with friends, you were overjoyed knowing that you had passed the bar for the year, and that a new bar had been set for your own internal challenge twelve months hence. How fun!
But every time you already knew, you could not remain the same woman from one year to the next. You could not repeat cycles that weren’t working, maintain relationships that held you back, or accept habits within yourself once you’d identified them as detriments.
Sure, you had to identify them first… then be willing to murder them gently and put to rest an old version of yourself—there to zigzag, remake, remold and become new. Sure, you’ll look indecisive, transitory, scattered, and overwhelmed—but that will pass as the trimming begins and the dead parts of your old self fall away for fresh growth to emerge.
So here you are at 43 and the questions have to be asked.
Did you improve yourself? Yes. Yes, you did—and you will continue to do your best to improve upon the bar every yearly return.
Did you improve your world? Some, but not as much as I would have liked. Still, you’ll continue to do more every yearly return.
That’s it. You do what you can. You improve when you can. Your bar is yours alone. Your judgment of that scale is between us. The tally of costs, the prices accumulated for loss of old will never compare to the tremendous value you will add to your life and to the world by investing in the renovation to let go, free up… to welcome change.
You created movement in your life. You walked away when it was needed. You held your ground when you had to. You used your voice without regret, and made your positions known; not just once or even twice, but on many fronts and for many ventures. You spoke truth. You accepted the truths that were spoken to you. And you put the scalpel to everything that is no longer supporting your growth and movement forward. Mercilessly, I might add, and without hesitation. I am proud to say… I didn’t recognize you in those moments, which goes to show how far you’ve come from the dithering wobbler waiting for permission to command her own journey. Like, who the fuck are you? I dig it, sister!
This meant the transition of your dream, the transition of your writing career, the transformation of creativity, the shifting of your physical shape, the rethinking of your property and even your finances. Closing down shop, shuttering boxes of books and preparing to find alternative paths to answer the questions next year with even better results.
Just in time for your annual birthday return, when the sweet corn comes on, and the grain harvests are prepped for silo. This year as you broke Lammas bread you gave thanks to the newfound determination you’ve discovered to dance with more personal integrity, to show more grace of spirit, and claim the things you truly want —even if that means sacrificing some comforts, or letting some treasures go. The results will be worth it, Athena. I promise.
Happy 43rd birthday!! Many happy returns.
P.S. Just be prepared that when you wake up on the morning of the 6th, that fucking chin hair will need to be plucked again. WTF? Oh, the indignities.