January 2010


The birthday girl

It’s been almost a week since I celebrated my 41st birthday with a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts, and let me tell you: I simply love life on this side of forty.

Above and below

Last year when I celebrated the Big 4-0, I wasn’t sure how middle age would suit me. “Middle age,” in fact, sounded like a term I couldn’t imagine applying to myself. Given the fact that it feels like I finally finished graduate school only yesterday, it seems physically impossible that I could be over forty. But, it really is true when they say time speeds up as you age, for my long-awaited graduation from graduate school happened over five years ago, not yesterday. My twenties were the decade I married and moved to New England; my thirties were the decade I finally finished school, divorced, and came into my own; and my forties are…now. I’m not exactly sure how I got here so fast, but here I am, waking up to “middle age.”

And therein lies the kicker: it turns out I actually like being “middle aged.” I don’t necessarily like that term, as it sounds middling and mediocre: not quite young and not quite old, just a nondescript mishmash of This and That. I don’t like the way that many folks utter the term “middle aged” as if it were an epithet synonymous with “out-of-touch and stuck-in-a rut” rather than “a period of life when you’re still active enough to do fun things and wise enough to enjoy them sensibly.” But despite my initial indecision about how I’d like being 40, I’m finding that being a “woman of a certain age” really suits me. I’m beginning to think, in fact, that I’ve been a 40-something-year-old all along, and only now am I behaving in a way that is age-appropriate. Finally, the sprinkling of gray hair that looked so strange when I started getting it in high school looks entirely appropriate on a 40-something head: a badge of wisdom rather than an unfortunate genetic inheritance.

Sky walker

Jo(e) hit the nail on the head in her post about not making New Year’s resolutions when she remarked, “By the time I was forty, I had decided to accept my vices as part of my charming personality.” In my 20s and 30s, I looked at myself as some sort of self-improvement project that was never quite finished, and this meant I spent a lot of time and energy mentally comparing myself to people I thought were more “improved” than I was. During the long slog to my doctorate, for example, I wondered why I couldn’t/didn’t finish sooner, like others did. In the years leading up to my divorce, I wondered why I couldn’t assume the character of the “perfect wife” as I imagined other married women did. Throughout my twenties, I worried that I wasn’t as good a college instructor as my peers were, and throughout my thirties, I even compared myself to my female students, wondering why I as a 30-something woman couldn’t look as cute, thin, and fashionable as a fresh-faced coed.

Corner of a Calder

Somewhere around the time I turned 40, though, many of these comparisons simply fell away. It was as if I reached a point in my life–as if I reached “a certain age”–where I was simply too tired to worry about how I look, seem, or behave in comparison with other people. Somewhere around the time I turned 40, I remembered I’ve never been cute, thin, or fashionable in a conventional sense. I was always the strange kid who, in elementary school, used to climb to the top of the jungle gym to contemplate the universe while my classmates played kickball; I was always the kid who spent more time reading than socializing. Now when I see my 18- to 20-something female students in their crop tops and skinny jeans, I no longer compare myself with that because I was never a girl who wore the latest fashions or anything called “skinny.” As a 40-something, I’m in a completely different category than all the world’s 20- and even 30-somethings, so there’s no use trying to make a comparison.

Going to an art museum on your birthday, it turns out, is a wonderful way to embrace this kind of age-acceptance. The MFA contains artworks of all ages, with galleries devoted to objects both contemporary and ancient. In an art museum, there is no indication that works “of a certain age” are less valuable than younger works; instead, older pieces are cherished as “classics” and “masterpieces.” Why then do we worship human youth over the more seasoned ripeness of age?

Museum steps

Last year, a few months after I turned 40, I went not once but twice to the MFA’s eye-popping exhibit of paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese, and as a woman of a certain age and body shape, I absolutely loved viewing artworks where full-grown and fleshy women were displayed as being the pinnacle of erotic beauty. Titian’s Venus and Tintoretto’s Susannah aren’t young girls or wispy waifs; they are mature, substantial women who would never stoop to squeeze themselves into skinny jeans. Standing in a room where voluptuous Venuses hung on every wall, I had a moment of clarity: “Maybe this is what mature Italian women actually look like.” If you’re a woman of any age who has ever felt a pang of insecurity when you looked in the mirror or compared yourself with the models in magazines, you know how liberating such a realization can be.

Ultimately, the lesson of any museum is that you should enjoy beauty wherever you find it, regardless of its age or shape. It’s a lesson offered to any who would hear it, but it is one especially savored by those of a certain age.

Click here to see my photo-set from my birthday trip to the Museum of Fine Arts. Enjoy!

Rotunda

One of the things I love to do at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, after a few hours of exploring has caused a case of museum-fatigue, is to find a comfortable chair near the upstairs rotunda and spend a quiet while reading whatever issue of The New Yorker I have stashed in my purse, the John Singer Sargent murals overhead providing ample canopy for the most expansive and inspired of thoughts.

Aloft

It’s become something of an unofficial tradition for me to go to the Museum of Fine Arts on or around my birthday. I did it last year when I turned 40, and I did it several years before that when I turned 38. Taking a day off to stroll the galleries is a simple pleasure that gives me a chance to take stock of where I’ve been and where I’m going, and I love surrounding myself with beautiful things–paintings, sculptures, and the like–as a reminder of how I’d like my life to be.

Midair

In characteristically warped fashion, today I want to spend my birthday contemplating death, first in an exhibit of ancient Egyptian funerary art and next (if I have time) in an exhibit of prints by Albrecht Durer. The ancient Egyptians turned preparing for the afterlife into an art, and Durer’s prints often focused on dark and otherworldly subjects. Neither probably sounds like the stuff of your normal birthday celebration, but I’ve never exactly seen myself as normal. In my mind, taking time on your birthday to remember where your life is headed isn’t morbid; it’s realistic. Although I’m not dead yet, I figure it never hurts to check out the scenery in the “neighborhood” where we all eventually end up residing.

Today’s images come from an August trip to the MFA, when I shot lots of pictures of art, images of the Museum’s Japanese garden, and a photo-set of the enormous baby heads outside the Museum’s Fenway entrance. Enjoy, and I’ll see you once I’m another year older.

Buried

I sometimes wonder (for no apparent reason) whether C, my ex-husband, ever thinks of me–ever wonders how I am doing–now that it’s been more than five years since our divorce. I think of him, his wife, and his daughter often; I wonder how they are and genuinely hope they are well. I think, too, of C’s mom, grandparents, and brother; I wonder how my former sister-in-law is doing, or my former niece and her sister, whom I’ve never met, and C’s uncles, aunts, and cousins.

Dangling

It has always troubled me that divorce cut me off irrevocably from these people: one minute they were family, and the next they became strangers I’ll never see again. This finality and the absolute abruptness of the break both stun and sadden me. It’s something I still haven’t made peace with, even all these years after having moved on.

Winter is a contemplative time: the landscape is sleeping, people have retreated indoors, and like meditating cats we all have hunkered down to generate and savor our own inner warmth. Winter, especially in New England, is a time for waiting: when will we see long-lasting days again, or when will we dare to bare our ankles and necks? The barefoot and sandal-clad days of summer seem impossibly distant, and we’ve almost forgotten the object of faith–spring green and all the hope it holds–that we’ll spend these next interminable months waiting for.

Frosted

It is in these winter months when it is natural to wonder about time and its passing, or about the nature of love and loss. How long have we humans been treading this old, tired earth, tracking mud on our soles and brushing snow from our boots? All these generations–all these endless eras–and what at all have we learned about heartbreak and how to weather it? We’ll all older but no wiser now; we’ve just become more practiced over time at the same old mistakes, rehearsing the same stories even though we know how they all will end.

Winter is a time when such questions arise unbidden, and they linger like frozen snow that won’t melt until spring. Some questions are unanswerable, and others simply unanswered, the Universe remaining tight-lipped when it comes to our most pertinent questions.

Fenway classic

When I first envisioned what it would be like to watch a hockey game at Fenway Park, this is the picturesque scene I imagined, with the grandstands full of fans, an outfield full of snow, and an ice rink incongruously centered between first and third base.

Unfortunately, J’s and my tickets to Sunday’s Legends Classic–a charity fundraiser match featuring former Bruins players and celebrities–afforded us this view:

Section 7 obstructed view

Having a great view of a steel girder is a classic predicament at Fenway Park, where architectural oddities provide an abundance of “obstructed view” seats and where the seats in older sections are antiques:

Section 7 seats

J and I were lucky, though. Whereas the guy in the row ahead of us was seated directly behind The Pole, J and I could crane our heads left or right for a pole-free view of the on-ice action:

Unobstructed Section 7 view

Sunday’s Legends Classic was the day-after finale to Saturday’s Winter Classic, in which the Boston Bruins played the Philadelphia Flyers in Boston’s beloved (and history-laden) Fenway Park. J and I couldn’t afford tickets to the Winter Classic, which were going for hundreds and even thousands of dollars on online ticket reseller sites. J and I are diehard sports fans, but we can’t stomach ticket resellers (a.k.a. legalized scalpers) and their jacked-up fees.

No ticket scalping (here)

So while we enjoyed watching Saturday’s Winter Classic on TV from the best seat in our house, on Sunday we took the T to Fenway Park to watch a friendly game of old-time hockey played by old-timers.

Opening face-off

Part of the allure of the Legends Classic for J and me was the simple opportunity to set foot in Fenway Park. Although J and I have been dating for three years and have gone to nine Red Sox games together, we’ve always traveled to other cities (Atlanta twice and Oakland once) to see the Red Sox play. Instead of paying those aforementioned jacked-up ticket reseller rates for baseball tickets, we’ve participated in the surprisingly common phenomenon of the Red Sox pilgrimage, whereby diehard Sox fans converge on cities where the Sox are playing, buy face-value seats to the entire series of games, and root root root for the away team.

Blades & Wally pose by the Green Monster

Sunday’s Legends Classic allowed J and me to kill two proverbial birds with one stone. We got to set foot in Fenway Park, and we got to see the once-in-a-lifetime spectacle of a hockey game there. When else could we watch local youth hockey teams play in the outfield shadow of giants…

In the shadow of giants

…or see the Bruins’ mascot, Blades, greet fans alongside the Red Sox’ mascot, Wally the Green Monster?

Wally and Blades work the crowd

On-ice, a game that matched retired pros with celebrities who haven’t laced up skates in decades offered its own kind of hilarity, with one goalie playing the entire game with two cans of Budweiser and some hydration tubes strapped to his mask…

Bobby Farrelly with his Budweiser-hydration helmet

…while a motley crew of helmeted, hatted, and bare-headed old-timers eschewed the subtlety of puck-passing, choosing instead to congregate in a frozen free-for-all wherever the puck happened to be.

Free-for-all

After spending the first period fighting The Pole for a decent view of the action, during intermission J and I took a walk around Fenway, where we took in the usual ballpark sights and smells…

Beer and nuts

…before finding a section near the electronic scoreboard…

Under the electronic scoreboard

…where there were empty (albeit snowy) seats.

Snowy seats

From this blissfully unobstructed vantage point, J and I had a much better view of those old-time hockey plays as they unfolded…

Old time hockey, played by old-timers

…and we finally got a chance to take a classic shot of Fenway on ice.

View from centerfield

Click here for a photo-set of images from Sunday’s Legends Classic, including two panoramic shots: one from our original section in right field and the other from our adopted section in center field. Enjoy!

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