I felt no different when I woke at 2:00 a.m. than when I had fallen into bed four hours earlier but, as is my habit when I wake in the wee hours, I checked my phone for the daily horoscope – to be prepared. The usual exhortations about my love life and relationships glowed in front of my eyes. Then I read the “If today is your birthday…” bit which said:
There will be numerous occasions over the coming year when it seems as if you are at the mercy of events, and to a large extent you will be. But that does not mean you cannot bend those events to your will. You’re smart enough to make it happen.
I stumbled out of bed in the dark to the bathroom, flicked on the light and looked in the mirror to inspect the damage of a 4th consecutive night of crappy sleep. A strange woman with grey hair looked back at me.
My 59 year old self, the one who had caramel coloured hair, wept.
Now you’ve done it. Now everyone will know. You’re old, she said.
My 60 year old self giggled. I liked the woman in the mirror, the one who isn’t a fake.
Anyway, I asked for it. I asked the stylist to dye my hair gray. I bent the inevitable to my will. I didn’t let it happen or give in, I MADE this metamorphosis happen.
In May, I saw a documentary about the 19th century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. You might know him because of his “Great Wave off Kanagawa”. Over a lifespan of 89 years, he renamed himself according to where he was in his growth and production as an artist – over 30 names.
According to the Japanese horoscope, which measures the calendar in 12 year cycles, 60 is a magical age because it represents a full life span. Back in the 19th century, if you lived to be 60 you were lucky and the stars granted you a life to start anew. So, at the start of his “second life”, Hokusai named himself “Old man, crazy to paint”. More on that later.
Hokusai believed that at 60 his artistic life was just starting and that by 100 he would
…perhaps truly have reached the level of the marvelous and divine. When I’m 110, each dot, each line, will possess a life of its own.
This magical age occupied my mind both before and after seeing the movie. For the past year I sought the help of a therapist to sift through troubling and perplexing behaviours and attitudes that frequently left me angry, hurt, and isolated from friends and family. I knew I didn’t want to start into my sixth decade feeling bitter about life and where I was at – or not at. Having discovered the joy of writing in the last 5 years but having worked for nearly 40 years in mostly soul sucking cubicle farms (aka office work), I was feeling like I’d squandered my life. The therapy and the exploration of why and what caused the anger and hurt has liberated me. It’s as though a maid swept through my brain and tidied up and put away stuff I don’t need anymore. Call it the Marie Kondo, she of the “Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up”, approach to mental health. Coincidentally, Ms. Kondo is also Japanese.
My 60th birthday arrived a few days ago, along with a card from a dear, far-away friend which exclaimed the age in big, bold baby blue embossed numbers on the front. The last time I received a card with a number on it I think I was 16. Poor 59-year old me gasped in horror but 60 year old Susanne laughed out loud.
Like Hokusai, 60 represents a new beginning for me and so my birthday cake held one candle. What an opportunity! I get a second chance to get life right. Reflecting on what I learned in therapy, and continue to learn, I’m thinking a lot about how to proceed into part two. The old me would have laughed at the list, the clichés, but the reborn, one year old me decided to do this:
- Love myself.
- Encourage others.
- Say kind things to me and those around me.
- Pay close attention to the people closest to me.
- Engage and commit to the person in front of me and give them time.
To you this probably sounds like stuff a normal, rational person does all the time, right? But these were hard to do in my first life when I waded hip deep in a drainage ditch of gloom and doom and woe is me. Now I’ve washed off the mud and had a shower and applied baby powder. I’m starting clean.
The grey hair – the new doo – symbolizes my metamorphosis. It speaks to acceptance of my chronology, the chronology that lead to part two. And of course, I’ve given myself a new name, inspired by Hokusai, something that will help me further bend events to my will.
Hello. My name is Old woman, crazy to write.