November is my birthday month, and I recently had my 48th birthday. That’s right. I think of myself as “pushing 50.” I’ve always been very open about my age, particularly in my engagement with young people. In teaching college students, I consider it part of my job to be a role model. I’m the same age as the parents of many young adults, but my life doesn’t have to look like their parents’ lives. A lot of older adults have given up on their dreams, or they achieved their earlier goals and haven’t developed new ones. It gets harder to be a beginner as we get older. Becoming a novelist is profoundly humbling. And I’m open with my students about my struggle to break into the literary industry and the challenges of being a debut novelist.
I think it’s really important for women to resist the public pressure to be “forever 21.” When I was 40, I had been a spoken word artist for a decade, and I threw a big public party called “Grown Ass Woman.” This is an African American colloquialism for an adult woman who is self-possessed and powerful.
In spite of my public pride in aging, I do have my areas of insecurity. I will admit that, although I’ve never dyed my hair, I did spend many years parting my hair in the middle and combing it down to cover the gray at my temples. Also, in recent years, I have begun to be a bit more cagey about my age. This is mostly because I write for various outlets that have a largely millennial audience. So instead of saying “in the 80s,” I say “in my 20s,” as if it was just yesterday…or maybe 10-15 years ago. It’s too my career advantage to sound more like older sister than mom. In order to engage thoughtfully in millennials’ conversations, I read the work and social media commentary of young adults.
Increasingly, a person is defined by her/his online profile. 99% of my journalistic life is online now, and I know my personal brand skews younger. My photo is untouched and unfiltered in outdoor light, but I don’t look my age. I only feel it.
Fortunately, the stamina needed for being a novelist is mostly intellectual as opposed to physical. Because my mind is filled with ideas, but my body is often tired.
It seems like every decade of my adult life has had a main thrust:
20s: finding myself. I started on a path of self-reflection.
30s: artist life. I poured myself into my career as a writer/performer. I toured nationally and developed a body of work in spoken word, slam poetry, and hip hop theater.
40s: motherhood. I got pregnant and had a kid at age 41. This also makes me seem younger. As the mother of a small child, and most of my mom peers are a decade younger.
50s: author. I’m “pushing 50,” so I expect the next decade to be where I settle into developing a body of work as a novelist/essayist.
60s: jock? I think that’s when I’ll do something wildly athletic…A senior triathalon? The Bay-To-Breakers? The AIDS ride? Climbing a mountain? We’ll see…Whatever it is, I guarantee I’ll write about it.
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