Good morning, friends – we haven’t caught up in awhile…Happy New Year! Hope your 2022 is exactly what you want it to be – back in the day, we all would’ve had massive resolutions and promises of change for the new year, but after the past couple of years, I think we’ve all really been through it, so expecting grand transformation seems like it’s just too much. Putting on pants some days now is just too much, amIright? Whatever you’re doing to be your best you, JUST DO IT. I wish good things for you. ✨
I didn’t set any resolutions this year, because I’m only going to break them anyway because I’m human, so…why bother? Instead, I’ve set some goals for myself: I will read a minimum of 60 books this year (13 days in and four books are already done – woot! woot!); I will do some yoga at least three times a week (I hurt my back before the holidays so was hindered from starting this, but I’m finally walking properly – and not like I shit my pants – so it’s go time for this one!); I will write more; and I will make my family and myself – and our lives/happiness/joy my TOP priority. Work can wait, everyone outside of our love bubble can wait – we.come.first. ALWAYS. I predict this attitudinal change will make a huge difference in our year. Stay tuned! 🙌
My last goal for the year is to learn a bunch of new things. I’ve not put a number on it, but I am going to learn some stuff. Yesterday, I learned how to make a whiteboard animation video – I love those! It was fun to learn and im excited to learn more – I will make one to share here soon. Prepare to be dazzled! (Okay, maybe dazzled is a strong word, but…let’s go with it, shall we?)
I hope your 2022 is off to a great start – I can’t wait for us to catch up and spend some more time together. Sending you buckets of love and hugs! ✨
I miss him madly. I think of him all the time and wonder what he would be like now, and what I would be like if I hadn’t lost him. I wonder what he would think of the person that I’ve become, and I often wonder what he would think of my beautiful Muppet of a child. I think he would dig her – who wouldn’t? She’s a cool kid. ✨
Losing him that early in my life had a tremendous impact on me, and completely altered the person that I was on course to becoming. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s shortly after I started university (I had just turned 17), and I must confess to not handling it all terribly well. I went through all of the expected reactions (and a few not-so-expected), and I found it hard to engage in the business of school. I wanted out, I didn’t do much, and it remains one of life’s great mysteries how I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree at all…but thankfully I did. After university, my acceptance of the situation with my dad only got worse as I faced all of the shitty milestones of dealing with a parent with Alzheimer’s: taking their license away, arranging home care assistance, and eventually moving him into a full-time Care Home facility. The stress and pressure that I felt was massive, and I struggled to deal with it, to find balance in my life. I acted out in a series of bad decisions, forever making shitty relationship decisions that defined most of my 20s (and 30s, let’s be real). I struggled to find my way, never staying too long in any one place, never letting anyone get too close…just in case they ended up leaving me as well. It was messy – I WAS MESSY. Yet I put on such a great outward appearance, pretending that all was cool and I was good – I was anything but good. 😫
Then things started to change. I turned 40 and finally felt like somewhat of a grown up (sort of). I started settling into the life that I had made for myself, and I began to treasure it, instead of taking shit for granted and trying to sabotage every single bloody thing. I quit chasing stupid decisions, I started choosing ME first, and low and behold….things got better. I got better. I felt better, it was amazing! 🙌
When I started choosing me, doors opened that I hadn’t even noticed before. I made my way through them boldly, done with a lifetime of pussyfooting around. I learned to say no a whole big bunch – and had zero remorse about it. (Note: still don’t) I focused on making the house I had bought into a real home, filling it with things and animals that I love (I’m a proud fish parent now, and my pups love looking at their Fishie siblings, hurray!). I’m happy here, I’m comfortable now…I used to feel so restless, but those feelings are mostly gone. And I love it. ♥️
I’m at a point in life where things will be changing again soon – nothing big, all good stuff….and I feel so absolutely at ease with things these days. It’s beautiful. I’ve taken up Transcendental Meditation, and spend 20 minutes twice a day on that – and I love it. Prioritizing myself and the things that make me feel good is great for everyone around me – I wish I had figured this out earlier in life. I probably wasn’t ready then – good thing I am now.
I’ve come so far since I lost my dad, and I hope he would be proud of me. I chat with him sometimes, and it brings great comfort to my soul to think of him chillin’ with the angels, watching over me. ♥️
Someone I know posted this online, and I had to share it with you – I seem to think it’s something Drew Barrymore posted on Instagram, but I could be wrong (it’s been known to happen):
How’s that for some truth? My life je more than half over, sadly…and I really feel this need to make the second act the BEST act. I’ve got to enjoy what health I’ve got going on, I’ve got to prioritize the things and people that matter, I need to simplify simplify simplify…and I need to forgive myself for all my wrongdoings. I’ve not turned out THAT bad – but why not use the time I have left to be the very, very best version of me that I can be?
Yesterday was my 47th birthday – I know, I’m shocked, too…I barely look a day over 35! 😉 It was nice having my birthday fall on a Saturday – and this year’s celebration turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever had. I had breakfast and coffee in bed, a trip to Austin for Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken for lunch (so friggin delicious, no lie!), back to SA for kayaking on the river through the King William district, ice cream BEFORE dinner from Baskin Robbins…and cauliflower crust pizza (with pineapple on it) for dinner – followed by some tv shows at home and just chilling. It was the perfect day from tip to toe – I’m so thankful for my peeps who love me and listen to me enough to know the things I like to do….they made my day simply the best. How lucky am I?
I would appreciate a day like that any year – but, in light of all that’s gone down in the past 13 months, yesterday was truly so special. My one takeaway (apart from the fact that I could work from home forever and be a-okay with that) from all of this is a sincere appreciation for the little things – I don’t need grand gestures to be happy. What I need is those I love, doing the little things that I love – that’s it. That’s all. I used to think that grand gestures were all that really mattered – they aren’t. Happiness is receiving coffee in bed, made just the way you like it. It’s time set aside in the day to cuddle puppy dogs. It’s getting dessert before dinner (always a winning idea, btw). It’s time spent with people who understand you – and love you anyway. Hurray!
Some folks operate on a completely different frequency from most everyone else around them, they just don’t connect with the masses…and I believe that I am one of those people. I don’t think like most others do, I don’t do the same kinds of things as other people are inclined to do…I’m just basically an odd duck. I have tried to do a better job of fitting in with the world around me, but the results of these efforts have been bloody disastrous, not to mention more than a lot comical. I guess I was just born to stand out – and not fit in.
I have come to accept this, and most of the time I revel in my weirdness. I am flattered when someone comments on the odd uniqueness of me, and if I was to be called boring, I would probably weep real tears. However, I have come to realize that while I may think this is an awesome way to be, it is not awesome even a smidge to have to try to deal with me. The people around me have had to put up with a lot of shit from me over the years, and….well, that’s probably not fair. I’m not entirely sure why this has come to my attention recently, but it has. I feel like I should contact everyone I’ve ever known, everyone I’ve ever dated (now there’s a list), everyone I’ve ever worked with, and try to make amends, AA-style. I need to somehow tell them that I’m sorry that I’ve been strange, odd, and difficult to tolerate. I need to apologize and acknowledge that my quest to find my best self has interfered/wreaked havoc on their existence…and I need to say sorry for that. I don’t really know the way to fix all of this, but believe me, I would sure like to. I know some very kind people, it seems….and they all put up with me. Angels, every single one of them – thank goodness I found them at just the right time.
Speaking of time….so much of life and your success in it comes from timing. I have notoriously BAD timing….no joke. If there was to be a super-great life opportunity about to happen, I would show up when it was over…not because I’m not punctual (because I totally am), but because that is just me. My timing is almost never right. I have struck gold with this issue the odd time – I had my daughter at the perfect point in my life, and she has been the most beautiful gift every day of her nearly 15 years. I happened to be at exactly the right place (working next door to my dream school) at exactly the right time, and I fell into an AMAZING position that changed my life in so many ways: helped me become the professional I was meant to be, helped me find the friends that make up my tribe, set me up for the work I’m currently doing, and showed me the way to my happily ever after. That was really fantastic timing….but that is the exception, not the rule. To deal with all of this, I have really worked hard on adopting an attitude of gratitude, and embracing the idea that at least something really great came along….even if the timing wasn’t quite there. I’m grateful for the opportunity. 🙂 Besides, when things are meant to be, they will find a way…good stuff will win. I believe.
How do you see the world, my friends? Is your glass half-full or half-empty? Mine is generally half-full…with plenty of room for more vodka! 😉 I talk about this idea of being different with my little one all the time…she fluctuates between wanting to fit in with the masses in school, to marching to the beat of her own drum and letting her tiny freak flag fly any old time she pleases. I’ve worked in Education long enough to know the vital importance of acceptance from one’s peers during the tumultuous adolescent years, but I so hope that she holds on to some of that uniqueness, that vibrant personality that is coursing through her veins. Those are the things that make her sparkle…and what could be better than that? 🙂
I’ve been thinking about Ernest Hemingway a lot lately, which is noteworthy in that he is someone that I think of on a pretty regular basis anyway, so why the uptick now??! Gotta be the Ken Burns PBS documentary that starts tonight – I can’t wait to check it out!
I’ve read all of his books, most of them more than once; I have delighted in visiting his Paris, and spending time swilling booze in his old haunts, imagining that the floppy-haired man at the next table might be the next Hemingway. I finally got to fulfill my lifelong dream of visiting his home in the Florida Keys, which, let me tell you, exceeded my every expectation – and I had set that bar VERY high. While there, I soaked up all of the details of the place (the tour was really great and our guide was outstanding), but the real highlight for me was his writing room above the garage – it was heaven to me. ♥️✨
I think it’s pretty safe to say that I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for Papa, as I can count on his words moving me every single time. I’m rereading “A Moveable Feast”, and came across this gem recently : A girl came in the cafe and sat by herself at a table near the window. She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin, and her hair was black as a crow’s wing and cut sharply and diagonally across her cheek. I looked at her and she disturbed me and made me very excited. I wished I could put her in the story, or anywhere, but she had placed herself so she could watch the street and the entry and I knew she was waiting for someone. So I went on writing. The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it. I ordered another rum St James and I watched the girl whenever I looked up, or when I sharpened the pencil with a pencil sharpener with the shavings curling into the saucer under my drink. I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.
Gorgeous, right? Those words – I’ve seen you, beauty…it just kills me. There’s something so precious about a man who can express himself like that, and something so beautiful for a woman to be made to feel that way. Le sigh. Love this. 🙂
One other quick reminder of the beautiful life courtesy of Papa: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway: AT NIGHT, THERE WAS THE FEELING THAT WE HAD COME HOME, FEELING NO LONGER ALONE, WAKING IN THE NIGHT TO FIND THE OTHER ONE THERE, AND NOT GONE AWAY; ALL OTHER THINGS WERE UNREAL. WE SLEPT WHEN WE WERE TIRED AND IF WE WOKE THE OTHER ONE WOKE TOO SO ONE WAS NOT ALONE. OFTEN A MAN WISHES TO BE ALONE AND A WOMAN WISHES TO BE ALONE TOO AND IF THEY LOVE EACH OTHER THEY ARE JEALOUS OF THAT IN EACH OTHER, BUT I CAN TRULY SAY WE NEVER FELT THAT. WE COULD FEEL ALONE WHEN WE WERE TOGETHER, ALONE AGAINST THE OTHERS. WE WERE NEVER LONELY AND NEVER AFRAID WHEN WE WERE TOGETHER. Love. 🙂
Want to do something to support our Asian American friends who are being forced to suffer all sorts of indignities and racist shit these days? Here’s some resources: Travel + Leisure article, GQ article, and NY Magazine article.
I’ve been reading Caitlin Moran’s latest book “More Than a Woman” and it’s having quite the impact on my wee brain. She is writing this now, as a 40-something woman, and it’s like she’s spent some time spelunking in my mind for research as she’s perfectly nailed so much of my life experience…. and it’s brilliant (her book, not my life experience). She talks about the ways that women tear each other down (a loathsome act if ever there was) and makes a point that I have been shouting from the rooftops for ages: why not just skip past tearing someone else down and focus on building ourselves up???
My real favorite part, though, comes towards the end when she talks about how freeing it is to get older – THIS IS WHERE I AM WITH THINGS. Read this (it’s long, I know – but SO worth it I promise):
Middle-aged women, you are just about to be born again…and what I have realized is that, this time around, you’re going to walk the earth as a hag. These are your Hag Years, and they are glorious.
We think of “hag” as a bad word like so many words associated with women—“fat,” or “slut,” or “bossy”—but hags are cool, man.
Consider the Hag archetype throughout history: when life expectancy barely reached fifty, and once a woman was no longer a bride nor a mother, she entered her Hag Years until she died.
Hags lived slightly apart from the villages and towns—in a cave, or some witchy cottage in the woods. They tended their herb gardens, and mixed up their medicines, and were surrounded by their animals—dogs, cats, particularly clever and charismatic crows. They wore a cape, and had a stick to poke things with, and they’d roam around and engage in mysterious hag activities like talking to trees or doing weird rituals by streams and lakes. They’d be the only women callow, young youths would be scared of—fostering a useful irascibleness that prevented all but the boldest from getting up in their grill and wasting their time. When trouble struck the wider community, in the end, the villagers would always end up having to bravely go and consult the hag, who would then provide them with a medicine, or provide wise counsel, or tell a story from days of yore that provided a solution to the current problem. And, every so often, they’d meet up with their coven of fellow hags and spend all night cackling in a way that terrified everyone else.
This, I note, in the twenty-first century, is exactly the life I am living now. I have Gone Hag. Observe my day, now, in my Hag Years. I’m living a Hag Life.
Dog walk over, I return to my metaphorical cottage in the woods—my Hag House—which I have spent the last decade finally turning into a comfortable and beautiful fortress of books, food, art, and bright rugs, to which very few are invited. In my Hag House, I have no fear of FOMO—it is where I return to with a sigh of relief, glad I no longer have to gad about meeting people, when I could be having a bath and reading a book instead.
Like a hag, I have an herb garden—I have a whole garden that I dote on, in that cliché of middle age. Making a cup of tea, I go out, into the early morning sunshine, and quietly say, “Hello” to the birds and the trees. In the last few years, this garden has become my dear love—a plain square of grass I have slowly turned into a green bower of birches, ivy, and as many roses as I could fit against each fence, pillar, and wall.
It is only in middle age that you have gained enough mastery of time to plan a garden for all seasons: that you can plant a tree knowing it won’t start to enter its full glory for a decade or more—but that’s fine, because the decades pass so quickly now, so that’s an easy commitment for you to make. An older woman can look at a garden in February—all mud and twigs—and lay over it, in her mind’s eye, the tulips in April, the roses in June, the maples in October, the frost on the hydrangea heads at Christmas. Mentally cueing in the apple blossom in three weeks’ time; knowing that now is the time to stake the peonies—for, by next month, they will have toppled, fat, into the roses.
A gardener can lose herself in a whole day of digging and planting—surrounded by her dog, her cat, the robins, and the wrens—talking to them as she goes: “There’s a worm, mate. Fill your boots.” She’ll be on the side of the blue tits gathering dried grass for nests and carefully leave out seeds, so they can feed their babies. She’s on the side of all mothers—however tiny and feathered they are.
At the end of an hour’s work, she can stand—back aching slightly—and feels she has made the world, this tiny part of the world at least, almost perfect.
I am dressed like a hag, these days. My wardrobe is full of Hagosity. I have long swishy coats with big pockets, and a stick to poke things with, as I walk. The clothes of middle age are, I find, the modern versions of Hagdom: comfortable, enveloping, all-weather, brilliantly unappealing to the young.
And my stick-poking walks are full of hag activities. I leave the house again at 10 a.m. ready to be fully pagan in my yomp. I am unashamed to go to the woods and lean against a tree to feel the unusual comfort of putting your arms around something a hundred years older than you—connected to every other tree in the wood—disparately engaged in much the same activities I am.
My mind was blown when I learned that every wood has a mother tree, which tends to the others. They send sap, through their root systems, to ailing trees; they send electrical impulses to the whole community when they’re under attack by insects, so they pump toxins into their leaves to kill off the predators. As a middle-aged woman generally unserved by stories in modern popular culture, and short on viable role models, I find I have more in common with the big beech in Highgate Woods than I do with, say, a sexy, kung fu lady scientist in a Bond film. We’re kind of engaged in the same things.
Also, as a middle-aged woman, a tree will be one of the few living things I will encounter in my day that doesn’t want me to feed it, worm it, listen to its problems, or give it a tenner. It’s good to hold on to something that just radiates a treeish, comradely vibe of “I get you, mate. Me too.”
I pass a group of teenagers, smoking fags on a bench, and their body language is not what it was when I passed similar groups when I was a teenager—these days, they are deferential. Callow youths are wary of me, now: my thin lips and orthopedic foot stomp make them instantly stop pissing around at a bus stop. No one shouts “Oi! Tits McGee!” at me now, as I walk down the street, which is the Hag Bonus, and prevents my wise thoughts from otherwise being interrupted by constant low-level sexual harassment. This means that when I am finally consulted for help in urgent matters of the village, I can pull fully formed solutions out of my head and cheerfully present them, for the good of the community, or the weeping toddler, as is appropriate.
And as for my mysterious Hag Activities out in nature, well, from May to October, I daily pilgrimage here, to my final destination, to the huge, cold, muddy ponds of Hampstead, where I have a single, wild determination: to jump in.
Previously, as a young woman, I was always too scared of swimming in the sea or lakes. The dirt, and the mud, and the things that might swim up inside you. Eels. I feared eels.
Now, of course—now I have known real fear; now I have looked the end of the world in the eye—eels seem laughably inconsequential. You could fill my whole house with cold, muddy water and I’d be like, “Oh. Eels. Odd choice,” before calmly brooming them out of the house. Long-term terror and misery do not bring many gifts, but the wholesale destruction of all lesser fears is one of them.
I notice that—like all the women in the park, with the dogs—the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond is another territory for the older woman. There are not many places where they are widespread and triumphant—but they are here.
There is a sprinkling of skinny, jejune young things in bright bikinis, of course—but they do not last long. Screaming at the cold, taking ages to descend the ladder into the water as the older women shout, “It’s just a bit of cold water, dear!,” they are in and out in minutes. Almost everywhere else is, but this is not a place for soft, young, sexy things.
Instead, the ponds are ruled by doughty matriarchs. Janets, every single last one. Veined thighs; stretch-marked bellies; bosoms like the prow of a ship; grey or white hair up in a bun, or else a jolly swimming cap—these are women who have raised children and grandchildren, seen houses burn down, prosecuted fraudsters, scrubbed front doorsteps, and scared off bastards.
I watch one, in a navy one-piece, briskly descend the ladder.
“Now I don’t care about my children,” she says, on the first rung. She takes the next step down, shivering joyfully as the cold water reaches her thighs.
“And now I don’t care about my job,” she says, gasping.
On the third—up to her waist—she yells, “And now I don’t care about my fucking husband,” and launches herself into the water, sculling off into the willows with a determined breaststroke.
I twist my hair into a bun and jump in.
Hitting the water, all I can see is golden, golden brown—the soupy water shot through with sunshine. The cold is the kind that makes your teeth crackle.
Uttering a single “Oh!”—which bursts out of me with my last warm breath—I swim, hard, for a minute, feeling my chest shudder and my throat close. And then—after exactly a minute—hot, sweet syrup fills my belly and radiates up through my heart, out through my fingertips, and pours from the top of my head like steam. I keep swimming. I have never felt like this before. I feel perfect. Utterly perfect.
When I get out, I lie on the hot meadow grass—turning to hay in the sun—absolutely naked and overwhelmed with how astonishingly lovely I am. I am an absolute god. I briefly saw my reflection in the lifeguards’ hut window, and it showed a middle-aged woman with straggly, wet hair with green mud across her breastbone, walking awkwardly, barefoot. Like I say—astonishingly lovely. I am smiling like I am in the photos after I had just given birth. I think I might have just given birth to happiness. Or: of who I am going to be next.
WHEN I GET home, still muddy, but still glowing, I sit at the kitchen table and look at my house. My little queendom. My Hag Pod. Girls—now women—looking for their car keys, or else cooking tea; a dog on the sofa; a husband putting away the shopping.
This isn’t the only happy ending for a woman—there are millions, equally satisfying, that don’t involve children, or husbands, or what appear to be seventeen tubes of Pringles—but this is definitely one of them, and preferable, I think, to having perfect tits, six billion dollars, or colonizing the moon.
What goes on in a house—behind a billion doors, on a billion streets—is still seen as, primarily, the work of women. The laundry and the broken hearts and the boiled cabbage and the teaching of manners to toddlers; the plans for the future and the way you face adversity and the tone you use on the phone, to customer services.
I remember, a few years ago, walking home from a fundraiser for domestic abuse. The stories I had heard were the kind that make your bones sick; women and children, in everyday clothes with everyday faces, telling everyday horror stories. The monster in the house. The war in the bedroom. The fear in just sitting in a chair, ears still ringing from the last explosion.
For months afterward, I found every street I walked down inescapably sinister—for who could know what was going on behind each door I passed? Once a door closes, anything could happen behind it: It is amazing how much atrocity you can fit into a small, semi-detached house. How many bones you can bury under a patio.
For a while, I became uncharacteristically negative, and dolorous, about humanity—I could not get over this image of how, behind every front door, there is a world that no one save those behind it really knows about. How every street, suburb, village, and city holds thousands upon thousands of microuniverses—all with different rules, vocabularies, and ideas of normality. This is where the women are, and their worlds are utterly secret to us. Women’s domestic lives are secret to us.
But then, a second, comforting thought: the majority of untold stories, happening behind every door, are good. They are breakfasts, birthdays, Christmases, and the whole family being excited to use the new fluffy towels; they are handles being glued back onto cups, and weeping friends being consoled, and the money being found, somehow, for a holiday with Nan. The laundry and the broken hearts, and the boiled cabbage, and the teaching of manners to toddlers; the singing of songs, and painting the walls, and running what is essentially a small company from which you don’t expect profits, or goods, but merely the endless production of calm and love. Adventures still happen, inside these homes. Quests are embarked on. Transformations happen.
But we do not hear of these adventures because we do not tell stories about middle-aged women and their lives. Their triumphs and woes. What we do is either seen as just boring, or else ignored entirely. The lifestyle choices of younger women—the wine drinking, the years of sexual buccaneering, the intense friendships, life lessons, and messy explosions—have, thrillingly, in recent years, taken on a cultural significance and weight. We acknowledge them in their sometimes swaggering, sometimes tearful stories—we see these girls. We know they are a new, established archetype; you can now buy cushions for twenty-five pounds embroidered with the legend “Hot Mess.”
We have been these girls, and now, older, we cheer them on, as they racket through the cities we once racketed through. I hear them laughing in the street at 2 a.m.—returning drunk in cabs—and I fall back to sleep, smiling. They are the shiny ball bearings tumbling through the pinball machine. They are the buzz of electric trainlines being hit by the rain. They are out there, conquering the world, as they should, scattering single earrings as they go.
I feel like I’m on my sofa, quietly content, and texting them, “Just so you know, guys—there is something even more marvelous waiting for you, when you finally land.”
AS NIGHT FALLS, I sally forth into the world to engage in the final activity of Hagdom—meeting my other hag friends in our coven.
When you are middle aged, you find other middle-aged women inescapably more glorious than any other kind of person. You may love the men, and the younger people, passionately—but it is only with the rest of your kind that you feel you can assume your true form: sharing stories and laughing hysterically about things in a way that could, yes, be described by others, passing fearfully by, as “cackling.”
We like to meet away from other people—were it warm enough, we probably would meet in the woods, and dance, naked, around a fire; but as this is Britain in September, we all go to my shed at the bottom of the garden, where we gather around a single bottle of wine that will last us all night. No one in this shed has the enzymes for alcohol anymore. But we don’t need them—for you can get drunk on the right people, when you’re older, and these are the right people.
Sal, Loz, and Nadia—oh, these are the right people, who have sustained me through these years. When I was younger, I believed Christopher Hitchens when he said that women just weren’t as funny as men. I grew up in a generation where “comediennes” were rare and regarded as a freak of nature—once-in-a-generation one-offs, like Joan Rivers, Roseanne Barr, and Victoria Wood. Some kind of genetic accident, mutated to make this rare “female humor.”
What I realize now is that Hitchens and I were, respectively, too male or too young to have ever been invited into a coven—of which there are millions, across the world. You are probably a member of one. If you are not, I truly hope you meet yours soon. Covens are where middle-aged women withdraw from the world to be with those who have, like them, gone through abortion, death, miscarriage, nervous breakdowns, funerals, unemployment, poverty, fear, hospital appointments, and broken hearts—where they sometimes weep and comfort each other, but more often make jokes, so pitch black they can only be laughed at by a fellow hag.
In your coven, you attend to your busy, vital Hag Work: drawing up the lists of idiots to curse and heroes to bless; forming your battle plans and schedules. Scheming the downfall of asshats, and the uprising of the righteous. You do this in a place where non-hags can’t hear you, because Hag Club takes a lifetime to join. And it is here where you launch into the comic routines that leave your ribs bruised from laughing the next morning: the bellyache of pain that only comes from other hags being truthful about their lives. The husbands sneezing, the hormones raging, the bosses perving, and the children being “a delightful challenge.” This is where you realize there is a whole book full of truths about being middle aged that you have only ever heard spoken—and never read. I keep notes on what our conversations span, in a single night: socks, socialism, anal sex, first loves, what we would do in widowhood, whether to buy a fake fur gilet, how to get a pay raise, where the best trees are, kettling, communes, Botox, Sertraline, sexism in its many forms, the glory of Nora Ephron. This is where, one night, in our coven, we found out the origin of the word witch: wych, in Old English, means the thin, whippy branches that can be used to bind things—baskets, fences, boats—together. A witch is a binding thing. Without it, things fall apart. We are witches. “Worldcraft” is what they called it in the eighteenth century. The knowledge that comes only with age.
It’s now 11 p.m., and we’re lying out on the grass, under blankets, looking up at the stars.
“If you could travel back in time, and meet your younger self, what would you say to them?” I ask, as we drink tea from mugs. Oh! 11 p.m. tea is the best! “What are the things they need to know about getting older?”
We all pause for a moment, considering this.
“Always pee after sex—it prevents cystitis.”
“And wipe front to back—God, I didn’t know this until I was in my forties.”
“Have a secret Running Away Fund, in a bank account no one—no one—knows about. You never know when you’ll need it.”
“Learn to drive in an automatic. Fuck it. You might as well. Who cares about gears?”
“Don’t throw away the things that have always made you happy—drawing, music, dancing, animals, being outdoors—because they suddenly seem childish. They are the things that make being adult brilliant.”
“Parenting has about fifteen stages, and you’ll be shit at some of them and brilliant at others. No one is perfect at all of them. But they all only last a year or so, so just when you’re feeling useless, a new phase will begin that you’ll be awesome at.”
“A teaspoon of Marmite in a baked potato will change your life.”
“Your women friends will save your life over and over and over.”
“You can never have too much toilet paper.”
“Every woman will spend their life oscillating between thinking they’re ‘not enough’ or that they’re ‘too much.’ Neither thought can be, nor is, true.”
“Oh God, yes, this!” I say, banging my fists on my knees. “I have lost count of the women I’ve met who worry that they are ‘too much.’ Do you know what women commonly do, when having their picture taken? It is an action that is so ripe with symbolism it hurts. They stoop. They crouch down. They apologize, simply for standing there: ‘I’m a giantess!’ or ‘God—I look like Hagrid,’ or ‘Sorry—I’m Brienne of Tarth in these heels.’ NO YOU AREN’T! YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING WITHIN A PERFECTLY NORMAL HEIGHT VECTOR! STAND TALL! Or they pull their stomachs in, bowing away from the camera, murmuring apologies for how ‘fat’ they are.
“Stand up! Don’t apologize! Relax your stomach! TAKE UP YOUR SPACE. Take up your space, middle-aged women—take up your space. You spend all day saving the world; yet, you still feel you are physically too much. My God, hardworking women—you have earned your place. You have earned every inch. Straighten up, and take it! Oh, I wish I could shout this at every middle-aged woman I meet!”
Lauren starts laughing, then says: “‘It gets so much fucking worse.’ That’s what I’d say. Then I’d wait for it to really sink in, and then say: ‘but then it gets better than you could ever imagine.’”
We all nod. Yes, yes. These are all useful truths.
“What about you, Cat?” Nadia asks. “What would you say, if you could go back and talk to yourself?”
I ponder. “Well,” I say, eventually. “I’d want to warn her, definitely—so it didn’t all come as a shock. And I can’t deny I’d want to wind her up just a little bit, because that would be funny, and she would appreciate my dark humor. But I think, mainly, I’d just want to tell her that I love her. She gave birth to me. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. So, I think I’d just give her a hug. Oh! Imagine if women had time machines! It would change everything. I’m sure we’d make good use of them. I’m sure we’d say the right things and be of comfort to our younger selves. Because we are so fucking wise right now.”
We all sigh. There is a long pause, whilst we all reflect on the last ten years of our lives: The middle age so many presume is dull, and uneventful, and bland, but which actually manifests like an epic Ring Quest, all conducted without leaving the house. Heroes, and demons, and sex, and work, and doubt, and despair, and hope—storms whirling onto and through the house, over and over, even as you still get the washing done, and try to end every day having said, to those who inspire it, the only thing, ultimately, ever worth saying: “I’m glad you’re in my life. I love you.”
The silence lasts almost three minutes, before I break it, eventually, saying: “But, even more than that, I wish we had some fags.”
I know this was LONG read, but it’s absolutely extraordinary, isn’t it? I can’t stop thinking about this. I’m going to be 47 in a couple of weeks, and while people think it’s funny that I’m roundin’ 3rd and heading for 50, I think it’s a MIRACLE. I’m alive. I’m happy. I’m (mostly) healthy. I still have my own teeth, and a crackin’ sense of humor. As each year ticks by, I don’t feel closer and closer to the grave (though I most certainly am), I feel more and more free, more and more MYSELF. And I love it. It’s a great time to be alive – bring on my Hag Years. ✨
I’ve read Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” four times now, and each time I get something new from it, the beautiful, simple words resonate with me on a different level. If you haven’t devoured this book yet, I highly recommend that you do – it won’t take you long to read it, but the absorption of the words and the meaning could sustain you for a lifetime. Gorgeous. Here are some of my favorite passages:
When love beckons to you, follow him, Though his ways are hard and steep. And when his wings enfold you yield to him, Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you. And when he speaks to you believe in him, Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself. Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; For love is sufficient unto love.
And what of Marriage, master? And he answered saying: You were born together, and together you shall be forever-more. You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days. Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another, but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone.
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding.
And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving.
And is there aught you would withhold? All you have shall some day be given; Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’.
What books do you keep going back to because they speak to your soul? I would love to hear your recommendations! ✨
“It was so strange, one of the strangest calls I’ve ever dealt with,” Newburn adds.
Workers at the Kenansville store (about 80 miles from Raleigh) told animal control officers that they caught the Lab mix darting into Dollar General every time a customer exited. Each time the stray dog made it in, he went to grab the same plush purple unicorn toy.
“Finally, they had to lock the door and called us,” Newburn tells PEOPLE about how animal control became involved in this playful pooch’s story.
CREDIT: MARY SHANNON JOHNSTONE
Samantha Lane, the officer who responded to the Dollar General store’s call, was so taken with the dog’s devotion to the unicorn that she bought the $10 toy for the dog. According to Newburn, the canine was happy to head off with Lane once he had his beloved stuffed animal.
Lane brought the dog to a Duplin County Animal Services shelter, where workers named him Sisu after the dragon cartoon character in Disney’s new film, Raya and the Last Dragon.
CREDIT: MARY SHANNON JOHNSTONE
“The only thing we can think is that he came from a home where he had a similar stuffed animal or kids in the home did,” Newburn adds.
Shortly after Sisu arrived, the shelter posted a picture of the pup and his unicorn on their Facebook page with a caption that read, “This is what happens when you break into the Dollar General consistently to steal the purple unicorn that you laid claim to but then get animal control called to lock you up for your B & E and larceny but the officer purchases your item for you and brings it in with you.”https://
Sisu is currently considered a stray intake at the shelter because no one has come forward to claim him, but the pooch obviously loves affection. He spends every night curled up with his unicorn at the shelter.
CREDIT: MARY SHANNON JOHNSTONE
“It’s so sweet. It’s amazing. I mean, he’s obviously super smart, and even when we got him to the animal shelter, he’s been very obedient. He sits, shakes. Someone should be looking for him,” Newburn says. “I don’t know of any other reason why he would focus on the unicorn other than he had one at home. If the store had called and said he tore open dog food, that would make more sense but not hunting for a purple unicorn.”
Newburn says the shelter has received numerous calls from people interested in giving Sisu — and his beloved unicorn — a forever home. And it looks like it’s time for the pair to pack their bags because, according to a Friday Facebook post from Duplin County Animal Services, Sisu and his stuffed animal have an adopter and will be moving out of the shelter soon.
Dollar General spokesperson Crystal Luce tells PEOPLE that Dollar General plans to send a “few extra purple unicorns for the adoptive family,” a thank you gift to animal control officer Lane, and a pet food donation to Duplin County Animal Services.
“We are glad to see Sisu is happy with his new toy!” Luce added.