Issue #79: How I Used My Birthday as Practice for the Rest of My 30s
Diary of a perfectly imperfect day.
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📚 Couplets: A Love Story by Maggie Millner: I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve walked into a bookstore and finished a book before leaving. I read Millner’s collection of poetry twice this past Saturday—first for the story, then again slowly to absorb her gorgeous couplets about leaving a longterm relationship (“His love had been the organizing system/ of my life. I’d known it since nineteen.”) for another person (“She’ll make you suffer in the end, he said—/ not meanly, but as if reporting something true/ about women in love and what they do.”). There’s no question that Millner deserves a spot among our Wild Women.
🎥 ‘Emily’ in Theaters: Emily Brontë (played by Emma Mackey of “Sex Education”) is a misfit. Her sister Charlotte, who published Jane Eyre two months before Emily’s Wuthering Heights, tells her cruelly at one point that people in town call her “the strange one.” Emily’s oddities and struggles with mental health are frequently misunderstood as a female artist born in the wrong era, until she enters into an affair with a member of the clergy. At times surreal, and supremely dark, there is so much to this movie, which explores love, artistic muses, sisterhood, and responsibility against a gorgeous English backdrop. The friend I saw it with agreed that it’s the kind of movie that makes you feel inspired to create something afterwards.
💿 ‘Strays’ Album by Margo Price: When I read that Price was inspired by Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids and Joni Mitchell’s album ‘Ladies of the Canyon,’ I immediately pulled it up onto my speakers. Though the song “County Road” clearly alludes to Mitchell, the rest feels borrowed from a broader mix of rock and folk, as in “Radio,” which features straight-out-of-the-’70s rock goddess Sharon Van Etten and and the badass ballad “Change of Heart.” I can’t stop listening to it.
A couple more recs… I’m also enjoying Rozi Plain’s new album, ‘Prize’ and woah, I finally listened to Kelsea Ballerini’s ‘Rolling Up the Welcome Mat’ after so many of you recommended it. Woah. Elements of it definitely hit home.
Birthdays are weird. The existential dread of getting older, tied with impossible-to-meet expectations of a perfect day, and an internalized sense of being undeserving are a few of the reasons I downplay mine each year, often opting for dinner at home or nothing at all.
This year, I did something completely out of character and began planning my birthday a month in advance. In many ways, my 30th birthday catalyzed the most challenging and exhilarating year of my life, and I wanted to acknowledge its ending at the same time I ushered in my 31st. If this year taught me anything, it’s to not take anything for granted, and to celebrate the messy/improbable/beautiful time we get on this planet at any opportunity.
My initial vision included a packed, two-day affair: There would be donuts (these are my favorite in Portland) and skiing on Friday, then brunch, hiking, and dinner with friends on Saturday. Here comes the plot twist: When a sudden snowstorm hit Portland, my plans disappeared overnight, hampered by unsafe driving and hiking conditions. It felt poetic that, by the time my birthday rolled around on Saturday, I found myself back where I am most years, plan-free and admittedly a bit mopey. As I texted friends about road conditions, sequestered in my apartment with a cup of coffee, it dawned on me that this change of course was a gift. I had been planning my idea of a perfect day, but the real opportunity was to use my birthday as a chance to practice the way I want to live my next year. By the time I finished my coffee, I had written down a list nine of goals for my 31st year and a plan for practicing them.