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07 March 2011
I like parties and I have no problem with birthdays. Some people I know loath both to the point they cannot - no matter how much notice you give them - actually get it together to attend their own event let alone someone else's.
A friend of mine is a case in point. In all the years I have known her she has never once had a present for me on the day, or actually turned up to celebrate the event, even if she has been given weeks of notice and reminders. It used to bother me because it's not as if my birthday is a surprise. The last time I looked it was still the same date I was born on - a date of which she is well aware. In all fairness, she is as bad with her own birthday - in fact, every one she knows - and it's not because she is ungenerous or graceless. For my friend, the marking of time is just bad news.
And to be equally fair I'd have to say in relation to this birthday I am with her on this.
I've been melancholic turning 50. One of my brothers tried cheering me up by saying he was in a similar boat and that rather than looking back at the past or forward to the future he was finding the time to sit in the present with the melancholy and study it for what it is - its colours, feelings, emotions. It sounds rather romantic. Certainly better than trying to ignore it and have it grow into some dark funk.
When another friend texted me on my birthday with the phrase Happy Birthday repeated 50 times, I had to laugh. Later she told me she'd stayed up for hours typing it in. I thought: good, it's not just me having to suffer.
As for the party I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. When your brother and sister-in-law offer to hold a shindig for you and all you have to do is send the invitations out, turn up, meet, greet and eat, what could be better. In the end, the whole thing even served a higher purpose, becoming my catalyst for moving on.
Why? Because when everyone asks, so how do you feel? (Vainly attempting to keep the awe and pity from their voice if they're younger and the knowing pity if they're older.) Answering the question at least made me think about what it was that weighed so heavily on my mind.
It's that there are so many things you cannot do or have anymore. And I think it might mean more being female.
You cannot - unless you are really very unusual - have children anymore. You probably will not get another 50 years at working out what it's all about. It's very unlikely you will ever be an elite athlete or if you have been one be one again. There are ways of behaving and dressing that really are no longer appropriate. You should have achieved a certain level of maturity and if you haven't then you're not going to. And then there's the question of Super. Unless I work like a dog until I am 67 or land the lottery I am not going to have enough. Turning 50 brings that prospect into stark relief. I cannot get the time back to look at and rework my investment, saving, career, Super strategy. I'm not financially illiterate but I have been obtuse about an overall retirement strategy. I always thought: I've got plenty of time for that. Trouble with time is, it runs out.
On the lighter, less frightening side, turning 50 and having a party also proved how inherently funny-peculiar and kind people are, and that it is best to keep things simple and the lines of communication always open.
I had asked that no presents be given. Instead guests could donate to Kim Carpenter's Theatre of Image. I chair the board for this not-for-profit and we have a piece, called Snow On Mars, in the 2011 Sydney Festival. The company is for children and families and puts on works for this audience at a professional level. However, we cannot ask professional theatre company prices when it comes to performing for children and families. We are about making theatre accessible to everyone and for families and children that means keeping the prices reasonable. However, that also means there is always a shortfall between what we get at box office and through government grants (when we get them) and the actual budgets of our productions.
Back to my birthday: of a possible 30 or so donations I got about 6, and not to sound churlish, a lot of very lovely presents.
Maybe I just didn't express my desire very well.
Certainly, one of my friends (who happens to be in print media) thought the Snow On Mars donation form, attached to the invitation to make the process of donating as simple as possible, was indicating that the party was fancy dress with a Star Wars theme.
I wish I hadn't kept the 'lines of communication open' when speaking with her the week before the day, and she let her misinterpretation drop. Now, I can only imagine her and her partner turning up as Princess Leia and Han Solo to a party of casually dressed guests.
There were, of course, a few people I didn't know on the night: partners, that sort of thing. One of them left a lovely card explaining how she didn't know me well, but that maybe I'd enjoy a few favourite recipes. She had copied out in long-hand three of her favourites: one from her mum, one from a good friend and one of her own.
There is one present I would have real trouble swapping for a donation (in life and business there are times when walking the talk is almost impossible). It is the i-Pod made for me by my cousin. What can I say? It even included songs from The Archies.