This week is – incredibly – half way through TicTacGirl’s degree course.
(Though TicTacGirl is no longer really TicTacGirl; a year and a half of an Oxford education means that she is probably now most aptly known by the Native American name of StinksOfBooks.)
HALFWAY THROUGH?? How did this happen? It seems barely a twinkling of an eye since she was gnawing at her revision notes for GCSE AllTheSubjects, and now graduation is within chomping distance.
And it occurred to me, while I was wondering about the ridiculousness of the passing of time, that maybe right now I am more or less half way through my LIFE.
I am 44 now, 45 this year; in this day and age I can reasonably expect to last till 90, I reckon, especially if I eat a bit more fruit and not just the stuff you find squished in between the mint in a Pimms and lemonade.
And there is something magical, something potent, about being halfway.
The halftime whistle, the interval curtain.
All still to play for, all still to be revealed and resolved.
The best conversations are struck sitting halfway up the stairs, like I had with my friend AngelCake the other day. It’s a liminal space, not quite here or there.
(But halfway is one thing; the middle, well that’s quite another. Middle-aged-spread, stuck in the middle with you, or indeed with myself.)
Without getting drawn into a discussion about whether I am or am not middle-aged (mainly because we all know the answer to that) – I wondered whether this might be the time to take a breather, now the half time whistle has blown, to chew on this orange and think about:
What I have learned in the first half
I guess the one thing that many women my age talk about, the real thrill about being halfway there, is just not really caring anymore all that much about what people think about you.
I don’t mean not caring about other peoples’ feelings, but rather getting the very clear perspective that other people really really don’t care that much about your bushy eyebrows or if you have a ladder in your tights, and indeed the idea that they WOULD care is really pretty vain and self-obsessed of you. They aren’t looking at you, all those other people – they are thinking about what time the last Tube is and whether they left the straighteners on this morning.
And if, by any chance, they ARE sneering at your semi-monobrow, well what kind of person are they anyway? Petty, sneery and absolutely not worth your attention.
That is real freedom, if you can manage it.
Part of this freedom is not feeling you have to be interested, or pretend to be interested, in things that you really don’t care about.
Especially the things that you think you SHOULD care about. I will never give another thought to, inter alia, tennis, golf, almost all sport actually, anything on the financial pages, anything to do with soap operas, anything written in any woman’s magazine, what clothes/colours/lipsticks are fashionable, almost anything on the telly, and jazz.
This has freed up loads of time to do the things that I really want to do which – it turns out, now I’m half way through, now I have a bit of perspective – is mainly centred around hanging out with my friends in a variety of locations talking about things.
For example, if I was to ever see StinksOfBooks again, in the unlikely event she ever leaves the library, I might remind her of the other thing I have learned – that we are all of us Works in Progress.
I acknowledge that in my teens and twenties I was a bit snarly, a bit hard-edged. Rather intolerant with the faults of others, and even more angry even at my own flaws. Especially the ones that I couldn’t seem to change. (Sorry for those of you who had the dubious pleasure of my company back then.)
I am not quite sure what happened but as the second act unfolded, I started to get a bit softer around the edges.
My wonderfully kind sister, who will surely be sainted one of these days, always says – be kind to yourself.
Sounds simple but once you can manage it, then you can start practising with everyone else too.
You, me, that woman sneering at my monobrow, that man who left his straighteners on this morning (which is a problem because he hasn’t told his mum he uses them).
Recognising the pure and simple humanity in yourself and others, and reminding yourself of it whenever you can. Forgetting what you can, forgive the rest and just move onto tomorrow and try again.
Because the other thing, maybe the last thing for today, is that you don’t really know what’s halfway.
Another 45 years would be wonderful, but one thing you can only really feel the force of from this halfway step is – how many people didn’t make it this far.
Stop fretting about what other people think, stop being so hard on yourself and enjoy every minute and every step.