Discover more from Wallflower Chats
A Gleeful Ode to My Middle-Aged Body
Or, why you should adopt YOMO as your new motto.
When I was a kid, I never understood how my grandparents could spend so much time talking about their sore joints. My grandfather used to have the younger kids walk up and down his back to get his aches out. Now, at thirty-seven, I not only completely understand their preoccupation with their bodies, but want to dive deep with them about the best neck massagers (we like this one) and list all the reasons why hot water bottles make excellent gifts. I used to daydream about having a private chef if I ever became fabulously wealthy; now I fantasize about a weekly masseuse.
There’s no getting around it: my body’s not what it used to be. If it’s not the aches, it’s the thinning hairline and decimated alcohol tolerance. I’m approaching the border of a new decade, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel it in my literal bones.
Yet, even so, my favorite revelation in recent years is that middle age is also kinda-sorta-unexpectedly wonderful. Sure, it might take me longer to recover from a hangover. But I’m also working out more than I ever have. My meals include actual vegetables. I find real satisfaction in taking care of myself. It’s an investment I’d never taken before, because, for years, I thought I was invincible. My body operated on default, like a well-oiled machine.
Now, I can’t tell myself that same myth anymore. By removing the illusion of immortality, I’m living life with more care than I ever have. Cooking for myself. Taking walks. Sleeping better. I think all these goals would have sounded boring to me a decade ago; evidence of a lack of excitement in my life. Now, they represent the ways I’m trying to love myself.
My body might be steadily breaking down, but it’s also capable of healing itself, of straining for more. I can carry my sixty-pound kiddo when I need to. Spend longer outside in the garden. Even the things that remain unhealed—the scar on my ring finger from a hike gone awry, that ache from when I sprained my ankle playing hide-and-seek with my daughter—remain as evidence of the life I’ve lived. Both emotionally and physically, I’m stronger than I was a decade ago, and that alone is something to celebrate.
In the age of YOLO a while back, my friends and I presented an alternative motto that we’d text each other in times of need. YOMO: You’re Only Middle-Aged Once. It reminded us that we were Grown Women who didn’t have to do anything we didn’t want to. YOMO got us out of Tinder dates we dreaded; boring corporate elbow-rubbing events involving constricting business casual clothing; and any experience that required us to squeeze ourselves into molds that didn’t fit.
Of course, we’re all going through our individual crises—some of them identifiable as the midlife kind—but we can also look at ourselves with such gratitude. Admiration, even. I find myself thanking my own body for all it’s carried me through: childbirth, breakups, so many failures that could have kept us inert but didn’t. Who else has been there for me, so steadfast and strong, the way my own body has?
Yesterday, I went over to a friend’s house for coffee (we’re bringing back the hour-long drop-ins) and we talked about our upcoming birthdays.
“Do you feel forty?” I asked her.
She paused, then laughed. “Yes, I definitely feel forty.”
So do I. Forty feels big and exciting, and a little scary. It’s another era of unknown milestones, probably more aches and pains, and definitely many more experiences. The cusp of a new decade is almost here. My body and I are ready for it.
Dust Child by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai: One of my favorite authors does it again in this heavily researched, epic novel about Amerasians left in Vietnam after the war. Phong, a Black and Vietnamese man, tries to immigrate to America but is quickly stopped in his visa process by government officials demanding proof of his father. He meets Dan, a war vet traveling in Vietnam with his wife Linda, and is certain Dan holds the key to his future—and his past. This story is tender and gripping, providing a much-needed perspective on a marginalized group of people in history.
Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr: A fast-paced art thriller about two different groups of people searching for an allusive painting, lost in the Nazi thefts of the 1940s. We follow dogged young journalist Jules Roth as she becomes further enmeshed in a world of secrets, crime, and impossibly alluring intrigue. Tense, enjoyable, and perfect for a vacation/escapist read.
Family Lore by Elizabeth Acevedo (forthcoming in August): Acevedo is a deeply accomplished writer and captures a beautiful collection of voices in her intergenerational novel about a Dominican American family blessed (or burdened) with magical gifts. The book opens with Flor, one of the matriarchs, who invites everyone to her wake, occurring in a matter of weeks. The rest of the family must navigate these uncanny preparations while also grappling with their unresolved pasts.
You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith: This much-anticipated memoir by poet Maggie Smith was at the top of my TBR. I loved the way she shed light on the painful and healing moments of a sudden divorce, due to infidelity. She’s a master at elevating the smallest moments and observations, and her language is unparalleled. However, there were points in the memoir where I felt a little excluded as a reader, not from salacious details that I didn’t need to know, but from moments that felt essential to the narrative.
Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld: Sally, a late-night comedy writer, makes her living off finding the absurd humor in situations. She writes a sketch about her coworker, Danny, a comedian who inexplicably becomes engaged to a beautiful actress who guest-hosted their show. In the sketch, Sally claims that a female comic could never date a celebrity the way male comics often do. To her great surprise, that week, she gets to know heartthrob musician Noah, the latest guest host, and finds herself falling for his sincere charm. This book is quick-witted and warm, promising some of the best tropes of the romcom genre.
“How To Be A Woman” (The Sun): A gorgeous essay from the author on what she learned from her mother and grandmother about womanhood, storytelling, and surviving poverty with dignity.
“The Arranged Marriage That Ended Happily Ever After: How My Parents Fell In Love, 30 Years Later” (Vogue): I’m deeply enamored with everything Mira Jacob writes, and this (old) essay is no exception. Such a tender, unforgettable essay.
“Write from the Belly” (Joy Sullivan’s newsletter): I love this advice for writers! The first one is life-changing.
Online language courses: I’ve always loved languages, but have never gone beyond 2-4 years in a course. I’ve been taking Pimsleur classes for the past few months and really loving the routine of it. I also like the way they divide the speaking portion from the reading/writing portion. (But now I have to switch to Duolingo, because I’ve finished the only level they have in Vietnamese!)
*There are no affiliate links in this newsletter.
Wallflower Chats is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.