A Fine Cargo

A few days ago, I said to my husband, “So I’m about to turn 44. What the hell is that?”

Barely looking up from the curry he was stirring, he replied, “You’ll be divisible by 11. That’s what 44 is.”

Aside from smartass responses and the fact that my husband recently wore a pot of curry on his head, I’m left wondering why I’m giving weight and time to the arbitrary thing that is age. When I was 12, I felt 35. When I was 26, I freaked out about feeling old. When I was 30, I felt like my life was starting anew. When I was 40, I just wanted to thrash around the First Avenue floor one more time to the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s version of “Higher Ground.”

So I don’t know how much I buy into this age business.

Then again, age defines us. When I was twelve, I was well beyond being the first of my friends to menstruate. When I was 26, I was a regular menstruator with no hope of pregnancy. At 30, I was feeling adamant about the need to get prenant but spied nary a seed. When I was 40, I was completely past pregnancy, still menstruating regularly, confederate to my husband becoming what he calls “a eunuch.” Now, at 44, I’ve got the eunuch, the regular periods, the results of the pregnancies, and no hint of menopause. Should I want to get pregnant, I probably could. More than likely, I’d miscarry 4 out of 5 pregnancies, and the one carried to fruition would pop out with an uncountable mass of toes.

Fertility-wise, I could, but I won’t.

Unless Henry Rollins suddenly announces he needs an incubator for his child. For that project, I could work up enthusiasm.

Beyond the whole uterus issue, there’s the other business of “What’s life about?” In general, this question chafes, too. I’m not a huge fan of Life with Purpose and Why Are We Here talk. Call it existentialism, call it small-mindedness, but I generally work best under a model of what is, is and here we are, so there you go.

But if I’m not looking for some larger meaning–if I’m guided by a feeling that we all should just be–then how come I’m puzzling over 44?

Maybe it’s because I’m neither clearly working towards nor pushing against anything.  It’s all good.  I’ve got my jigsaw puzzle and my Abigail Adams biography.  I play a little backgammon and look at trees.  I fold clothes.  Then I crack some eggs.  Hmmm.  44.

Wondering if anyone else besides me and Gail Sheehy gets all talky and bemused by the stages of life, I tossed out a quick update on Facebook the other night.  I quite liked some of the responses (some of you will recognize yourselves, names changed):

Jocelyn…Needs a little help here. So my 20s were about college and getting a career going; my 30s were about marriage and kids; and my 40s, as I creep upwards, are about WHAT? I’m a bit confuddled today about this thing called The Middle Place.

NKP: How can you be in you 40’s? I’m still 34!

NKP:  Spend it enjoying every bit of who you’ve become.

MN:  Have… a good time… all the time.” -Viv Savage

DS:  That makes two of us. Even well in the Middle Place as I am, I still don’t know what it’s about, except that I get called upon as a counsellor more and more often.HSF:  Silly. It’s about staying sane.JB:  Self-development and personal satisfaction.

Jocelyn:  Loving these responses. JB: what if I got both of those some time back? I guess they’re working on a continuum?

RP:  Yeah. I asked myself that question and came up with rock n roll as the answer. I think I did it wrong.

LJ:  Darling, as someone who is hitting the wall of 50 in very little time, my 40s were about reveling in the fact that I have nothing to prove to anyone anymore and if they don’t like it to hell with them.

JocelynRP, I’ve been thinking you’re doing it very, very right. Keep singing, and keep at the 6-packs.

JocelynLJ, I actually was thinking of you and what your answer might be when I composed my question. 

DN:  I was going to say something along the same lines: the Forties for me so far have been about no longer giving a sh*t.

KM:  I agree with LJ and DN. Your 30’s were about acquiring a mate and breeding (sorry, a bit crass, but I am considering my audience). For me, my 40’s are about balancing the parenting of said offspring with the personal goals of getting better at stuff while exploring the new stuff that will bring me into old age.

KM:  Also I’m thinking about a heavy gold chain and a red sports car.

MDB: My 20’s were spent accidently walking into situations, my 30’s were spent figuring out how I got where ever my 20’s had landed me, and my 40’s are so far about wondering where my 20’s and 30’s have gone. I”m a very confused gal.

MB:  if you figure it out let me know because i’m confused about it too.

JH:  40’s are the unfolding mystery of whether I’ll feel grown up by 50 (along w/ some of the prior observations about rock n’ roll, parenting, exploring new stuff & reveling

CA:  Just wait until the 50s!!

RP:  So, just a few further comments: (a) it is good to know that I am not the only freak wondering about this phase of life; knowing that other freaks are also wondering is very helpful; and (2) I have a little mantra of sorts that sums up my approach: Don’t sit down. By this I mean, essentially, stay engaged and don’t let the momentum of routine and responsibility become your life because, as I think we all appreciate, it goes very fast. I would say that a year in Turkey is not sitting down.

PS:  equidistant between relaive youth and relative age i think often about people i thought of as older and wiser but who were younger than i am now. but more often i think about the weird places on my body that hair keeps sprouting up on

VO:  Darling J–you of all people don’t need to worry about the “middle place.” Since when have you ever hewed to convention, aged-base or otherwise? You will do well in your in-betweeness. Xo.


More than anything, I’m turning 44 today and loving that I’m not alone in wondering if and how it matters.  At the end of the day–a day made rich by homemade cards, a copper pot, a Whopper, a latte, some quality wine, chili with Fritos, chocolate mousse, and a glorious sunset run–nothing’s really changed. 

I catch kids:

I hang laundry:

I hand over money:

I open my maw and let sounds pour out:

Yes, nothing’s changed.  Yet I find myself taken today, as I tick off another year, with Arthur Schopenauer’s notion that

The first forty years of life give us the text: the next thirty supply the commentary.

I like it. 

Hmmm, but then you hit 70, and what’s that?

Not even divisible by 11.




15 responses to “A Fine Cargo”

  1. Joy Avatar

    Happy Birthday Jocelyn! For you, lucky you, your 40’s are still about kids, and marriage too, because that’s where you are. The number I am facing, pondering, freaking out a bit about, hitting me in two days, is also divisible by 11 (and 11 away from you now) – 55. I’m not even sure what questions to ask, or how to analyze the past without fighting having regrets, panicking at how fast time has gone by and being desperate for ideas about how to just slow it down going forward. Am I still in a “middle place?” I want the answer to be yes (but that means I am planning to live to be 110?) I liked Steve Martin’s statement when he turned 60, that suddenly all of his long term goals had become short term goals. This number is arriving at a time when many of my friends are retiring and having a fun time of it, causing me to say often under my breath, “Must be nice!”, while I’ve just begun a new demanding job where it is very clear I have much to learn. Happily, as a result of my new job, I’ve gotten a jolt of the me that has confidence I can do it, and rediscovered a sense of me has nothing to do with my age, which is exciting. When I am most in the “be here now” state of mind, my questions about the past and where I’m headed in the future are muted, and that takes off a lot of the pressure caused by asking those questions.

  2. secret agent woman Avatar

    Oh, I don’t know – I’m less than two years from my 50’s and I can’t decide what my 40’s are about. I can tell you it’s been a wild ride of a decade.

  3. Maxine Pihlaja Avatar
    Maxine Pihlaja

    And in 3 decades you will marvel at what has happened to you and what you have helped to happen in the world and to yourself.
    The Red Hot Chili Peppers were guest artists at a Concert in the Park with the BSO in the 1990s. Whee!

  4. Jenn @ Juggling Life Avatar

    I actually think there is something about 44–I think some of it is actually having a little TIME to reflect.

  5. kmkat Avatar

    Forties may be about expanding — your career, watching your children grow, rejoining the world after those annoying years of little kids. I had my kids later so my 40s were all about kids. Don’t remember what my 50s were. My 60s seem to be about public service and politics and grumbling about aches and pains.

  6. geewits Avatar

    Wow. LJ could have been me except I never call anyone “Darling.”
    I guess most women at 44 are just starting or are soon to start the “reclaimed nest” section of their life and relishing the freedom to march around in their underwear all day singing along with the radio at the top of their lungs, but since you had late hatchlings, you are somewhere else. Man, am I helpful or what?

  7. lime Avatar

    schopenhauer’s quote makes sense. all i know is the more i know the less i know. i should be a right ignoramus by 70.

  8. lime Avatar

    glad your day was a lovely one though 🙂

  9. Jeni Hill Ertmer Avatar

    Well, thanks for reminding me about two things -One, being that I am 66 and that’s divisible by 11 although I have no clue what special things that may mean and Two, that I read that book, “Passages” way back when I was in my early-to-mid-thirties (I think it was that long ago anyway) and thought then that was my Bible, my guide to how I was thinking/feeling then and would think/feel as time went on. In my late 40s, I went to college for the first time and the goal was to get my B.S. for my 50th birthday. Challenge met, accomplished then has lain dormant since then for the past 16 years as apparently my new found knowledge and degree weren’t enough to help me be employable in the field I had chosen. Now, for lack of anything more exciting to do, I spend my hours like the little old Grandma, stitching away the embroidery stuff and instead of sitting in a wooden rocker while doing that, I use the recliner (more padding ya know so the backside doesn’t ache as much that way) and yes, have a lap robe generally over my legs too. Where I used to wonder over the years about getting cancer, I no longer fret over that since I’ve now had it -and the required treatments -twice in the past decade. In my late 30s, I had the age 44 kind of glued in my brain, figuring if I made it past that age, I was safe. Why that? Because my Dad died shortly before he turned 44 -of cancer -so that was my own brand of superstition I held back then. Now, I figure I am just another boring old lady with nothing to look forward to anymore except senility and that is coming down on me way faster than I’d ever thought it would!

  10. Jazz Avatar

    In three months I’ll be divisible by 5 – and 10 – is that a milestone?

    1. geewits Avatar

      It most certainly is!

  11. tattytiara Avatar

    I have no talent for defining the decades of my life. The fact that I play make believe and dress up for a living might have something to do with that. Here’s what 44 is: it’s what you make it.

  12. Monica Avatar

    well, happy B day ! can’t help you with the philosophy there, as I just turned 43( March 20), and so you are WAY older than me… But ya know, my blogs name is Finallyfourty, so that should give a hint on my thoughts of being in my fourties…

    so glad you made it through to my blog..

  13. Mother Theresa Avatar

    Happy Birthday Jocelyn! I know I’m late, but I’m still sorta on my Barcelona hangover. If it’s any consolation, I still haven’t figured out what it’s all about yet ether, but I figure I can have fun while I get there…if I ever do. I don’t feel much different than when I was twenty-some, in ways I feel much better, but I wouldn’t mind having a fewer wrinkles, I guess, but I guess wrinkles don’t really get in the way of being silly and enjoying life…in fact, they give you an excuse to say, so look at me, see if I care, which is harder at twenty. At least it was for me. Anyway, I hope it was a good one, no, an excellent one, and that every one that follows will be even better.

  14. Julie Sucha Anderson Avatar

    Happy, happy birthday. I bet you never, ever envisioned spending your 44th birthday in Turkey. Of course, when we were little, we had no vision of 44. At 54, I can’t imagine 64. At 44, well, I don’t quite recall. I think it was good, though.

    I’m so behind on your adventures. Briefly looked at your trip to London and visit with a dear friend. Will catch up soon. Meanwhile, I love the photo of your laundry. And, you look so comfortable at the market.

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