Friday was my thirty-ninth birthday, and it’s been an excellent birthday weekend. I took Friday off so that Matthew and I could spend the day together – we went to the zoo, to a wine bar and out for a fancy dinner. Then on Saturday we had a nice lazy day and in the evening went to a summer bash at an awesome local winery. Today I’ve been keeping it low key; some running, some walking, some studying Spanish, some chores, some cooking, some lying around – mostly recharging my batteries after an especially active week.

Unsurprisingly, my birthday has had me thinking about how my life has changed in the last year and how I see it continuing to change as I approach forty. Forty is a big round number, one I’m actually looking forward to reaching, and I’m already in a time of change.

I’m so different from the person that I was when I was thirty. I take much better care of my health and am in general far kinder to my body – that’s a sea change that came about in my early thirties.

I’m more cynical – which is, I think, inevitable to some extent with aging. I’ve tried not to let it get out of control; I try to retain a baseline of hopefulness, even if it is in a hope-for-the-best-expect-the-worst context. I also try to maintain that even if the world is fucked, that doesn’t mean we get to stop working to help people and make things better. I do, however, have a misanthropic streak that’s probably always been there, but the fact that, although my career has grown and improved vastly over the years, I’ve never managed to get away from working with customers or clients in some form has only continued to increase the extent to which people make me want to bang my head against something. (The state of the world has a pretty generous hand in this, too, but direct dealings with people on a regular basis tends to make it less theoretical.)

Side by side with that, I have more of a tendency to be judgey, which is something I wrestle with and work on keeping in check. It’s an odd contrast to growing desire to help people and be kind to people, which I think I often succeed at, but there are definitely times when people frustrate the shit out of me and I have to work on that. There are times when my judgey cynicism is warranted and there are times when it creeps into places that would be far better served with kindness and understanding. Being snarky is part of who I am, it’s not something I’m going to be able to (or would even really want to) quash entirely, but I’m working on a better balance.

I think I was a lot less judgey when I was in my twenties because at that time I really had no ambitions to improve myself at all. It took me until my early thirties to decide that maybe I needed to take better physical care of myself, a little longer than that to decide that maybe I needed to take better mental health care of myself, even longer to decide that maybe I needed to take better intellectual care of myself and longer than that to decide that maybe I needed to start helping people other than just myself. I’m equal parts proud of the path I’ve taken and frustrated with myself that it’s taken me so long to get there, and when I judge myself (which, Lordy, do I ever do) it’s sometimes hard for that not to bleed into the lens when I look at other people too.

I think part of the lesson here is that I also need to be gentler to myself, and that that will help me be gentler in general. It’s always been hard for me to find a balance between pushing myself to do better but also not being too hard on myself. I think that’s a hard balance for everyone; I know I wrestle with it. I want to be kind to myself but I don’t want to let myself off the hook all the damned time, because I do very well with accomplishing things when I keep myself on the hook. That’s a worthy goal – to keep the drive and ambition and momentum of my thirties while trying to regain some of the take-it-as-it-comes Dudeness of my twenties. To find a better balance. I’m saying that word a lot, aren’t I?

It’s a crazy time out there in so many ways, and I really have become aware and involved in ways I’ve never been before. My mind is more active than it’s been in years – maybe even since I was in college. Feeding my intellectual curiosity has only caused it to grow, which is a good thing – but sometimes between being more active both in what I’m doing and in what I’m learning, I have more trouble quieting it down. I don’t fall asleep as quickly as I used to – I’ve always been lucky with sleep, I’ve never had much trouble getting plenty of it, and I’m still very fortunate, it’s just not quite as simple as it was before.

It was a lot easier for me to fall right to sleep at the end of a day where my audio content was a romance novel and my evening’s activity was a video game – if it’s a day when I teach ESL after work and I come home and chatter with Matthew about what’s going on in the world (because lately it’s ALWAYS SOMETHING GOOD LORD) it takes me longer to wind down. A glass of wine helps, which is one of those areas where I can be kinder to myself – a while back I decided to cut down on drinking, which was a healthy move, but for a long time I was only drinking wine on Fridays, on our date night. Now I’m working on finding another balance – I can have a glass of wine in the evening to help me settle without going overboard.

I think aging is a factor too – I’ve heard plenty of people talk about how it gets harder to sleep as you get older, and that wouldn’t be the only physical sign of aging I’ve noticed. I’m definitely experiencing a few symptoms of perimenopause lately; nothing extreme, and it’s intermittent – sometimes I go a few weeks without a symptom – but it’s happening. Thirty-nine is a bit young for it but hardly unheard of, and given that I started menstruating at ten it would make sense that I’d start going through this part of the process on the young side, too.

It somehow seems fitting that I would see the very first early warning signs of “the change” at a time when I’m going through so much change. Also it was excellent timing that I read Parable of the Sower last month, because “God is change. Shape god.” just keeps resonating with me.

I don’t have any specific goals set to reach by my fortieth birthday, other than to keep moving forward. I want to still be doing everything I’m doing now, to be continuing to progress with my Spanish, to be continuing to learn where this path of change is taking me.

To be doing my best to shape god.