Monday, November 26, 2007

Birthday Countdown

A colleague of mine mentioned the other day that she was pondering “going blond.” “Have you ever considered this?” she asked me. Well, I like to think that my nearly white hair is really platinum instead of gray, so answered easily, “no.” After a bit more conversation she said a big birthday was approaching and she was sure this desire to fiddle a bit with nature had something to do with it.

I remembered birthdays past, especially the ones that I had to pause over a minute to let in the passing of years. I recall that 27 gave me chills for some reason. I breezed through 30, though, without missing a beat. The 40s brought mega-doses of joy and sorrow as they do for many in mid-life, and change, change, change. As I approached my 50th birthday (already a few years ago now), I became possessed with ways to celebrate that half-century mark. I wanted it, looked forward to it, told everyone. So, I planned a birthday countdown unlike no other up to that point in my life.

For the fifty days leading up to the day I planned something unique, special, unusual, and in some cases, usual, but too infrequent (like time with the grandkids). I had as much fun planning those days as I did enjoying them once they arrived. And so did everyone else in my life. It was a great thing to talk about at parties or over dinner with friends. Try it. Everyone has an idea of what to do. I added everything to my list, even the things I knew would not make it to the final 50. It’s fun to look back on some of those crazy ideas (like toilet papering the neighborhood, offered by an acquaintance who, like me, had never done this as a teenager and thought it was high time).

Three of my favorites from that list still live large in my memory. I rented a Jaguar for a weekend and drove through the mountains. I had always fantasized about this car. It was great. And, once I got it out of my system, I have not thought about owning once since. So, I got a double gift from that one. I also tried Dom Perignon for the first time on day 45. The best gift, however, without a doubt was signing up for an art class.

As a seventh-grader I had an experience that I have since learned was not that uncommon in my generation. I had a teacher who was a wonderful artist (or so it seemed to me). Her idea of art class was to draw elaborate scenes on the chalkboard and have us draw the same scene. One Friday afternoon we returned from lunch to find a most magnificent farm scene complete with horses, cows, barns, people. It was our job to recreate this scene in a 45 minute art period with no further instruction. I was already fairly intimidated by the whole art thing anyway and had just squeezed my way through other art days, but on this day, I felt my heart sink. I simply had no idea how to tackle this project, so I did what I knew and drew stick figures – stick horses, stick cows, stick people, a barn with four lines. When it was time to turn in our work, I tried sliding my paper to the bottom, but she saw me and pulled it out. Amazed, she held it out and said in an evil voice, “Well, look what we have here! Stick cows! Who on earth has ever heard of stick cows?” She and the class had a good laugh. I sunk deeply that day and never picked up a pencil or paint brush again.

And, so it was in the days before that birthday that I remembered how much I loved art. I had spent time in museums here and abroad, I had collected books of famous art, I loved doodling and playing with color. But that trauma of Friday afternoon art had cast an anchor inside me. What a fantastic thing it was to find so many options! The research gave me so much pleasure, I almost hated to make a decision. But, I settled on a basic painting class at the Denver Art Museum. How incredible it was to show up the first night and find paints and a paper and brushes that would be mine! I pulled out those early drawings earlier as I thought about writing this blog. What a wave of delight passed through me!

I went on to take a few more art classes, basic drawing and color. And, then, life got crazy and the years have passed. It was one of those decisions, though, that forever changed me. Who could have guessed that turning 50 is one of my most cherished memories! Bringing curiosity and a sense of adventure not only released the hurt and embarrassed seventh grader finally, but invited in skills and ideas I would not have guessed lived inside me. I can only imagine my brain got bigger that year!

So, I say to my friend whose birthday is creeping up, go blond for sure if you want to. And come up with dozens of other things you always wanted to do and start working that list. If you hurry, you can make a big dent by the actual day!

How do you feel about birthdays? Are there a couple that stand out for you as being turning points? Feel free to reminisce a bit here with us. And if you’ve got some ideas for how my friend can make the most of this particular birthday, post them here. I’ll be sure she gets them.

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