One more tour around the sun under my belt. As I settle into my almost-but-not-quite-but-who’s-counting-mid-forties, I have to remind myself that birthdays can still be a good reason to celebrate. The current urge is mostly just to take stock, do a bit of habit-cleaning, and maybe, if there’s time, toast myself with a glass of something moderately priced. Anything more ostentatious than that, chances are I’ve already done it by now on some previous birthday or other.
Mind you, taking stock can be a kind of celebration. Take my health as an example: whereas on any other day of the year, I might be overheard complaining about my overly sensitive teeth or my chronically sore back, a birthday gives me the excuse to list all the things that aren’t wrong with me. I may not be running any marathons, but I still have full mobility, and enough vim to swim, enough pep to walk to and from my favourite coffee shop on sunny days like this one. Plus, thanks to various attacks of hypochondria over the years, I’ve subjected myself to enough tests to know that I don’t have three different kinds of cancer or Crohn’s disease.
This fall, I got a CPAP machine – a little pump that sits at my bedside, gently puffing hydrated air through a rubber hose into a face-hugger mask which I wear while I sleep. It turns out I have sleep apnea, which means my body thinks it’s a good idea to stop breathing periodically throughout the night. The machine counteracts that, ensuring I get a full night’s sleep (and that I snore less; guess whose idea it was?). At first, I resented the imposition of having to wear something on my face for basically one-third of the rest of my life. Now that I’ve started to get used to it, I can see it for the ingenious medical tool that it is, and I can acknowledge how blessed I am to be alive in a time and place when a machine can remind you to breathe without waking you up.
It’s mostly that sense of right-place, right-timedness that I feel like celebrating whenever I take stock. If I’d been born in a different era, or even a different part of the world, there’s no guarantee I’d have any of the good things I’ve got – a home, a family, an impressive dice collection. The soldier’s persona I took on in Louisbourg was never assigned a particular age, and that’s mostly because he’d almost certainly have been dead by 40. If I’d spend a year’s sabbatical in France in the 14th century, I’d have caught Bubonic Plague instead of pneumonia.
There’s more. I’m a playwright – a profession which has seldom ranked highly in either wealth or reputation. Maybe if I’d lived in Ancient Greece, or in Renaissance England, I’d have won more esteem, but the money would still be tight. As for the 21st century, I can’t think of many countries I’d rather live in than Canada, where our government’s cultural policy places just enough value in the arts that I can count on their support – now and then. Their grants are not as lucrative as the bursaries I receive from the Bank of Dr. Christie, but it’s enough to remind me that my work is valuable, and worth making time for.
Time is an ongoing issue for me, and when I pause to take stock of my life, I’m struck yet again by how much life I manage to pack into each year. A few times now, I’ve resolved to slow down, pare away some of the commitments and activities that leave me so consistently drained at the end of the day. It can be stressful, especially when I misjudge what I’m able to take on, or anytime unexpected crises fall upon my already-overloaded plate.
But the stress isn’t even why I think about slowing down. I do it because it feels like I’m supposed to slow down – as a middle-aged person, or as a Buddhist, maybe. Aren’t I supposed to be morphing into a sedate, reflective old man who putters in the garden, or sits on the deck gazing off into the middle distance?
Meh. I’ve never seen myself that way. Inside this aging shell, I’m still the 22-year-old go-getter who once directed two Shakespeare plays in a single summer. I’m the multi-tasker who juggled university and work and relationships and shows – then, after getting knocked down a number of pegs by the National Theatre School, proceeded to do it all over again a few years later. And, although my never-stop lifestyle can cause stress, it also yields beautiful moments, whether that’s a show or a storytelling festival or just a weekly D&D game with beloved, like-minded geeks.
It feels like a fair exchange – stress for beauty – but more to the point, it’s just who I am. My encroaching senescence, my resolutions to slow down – even a year’s worth of sabbatical – haven’t changed that part of me.
So I will keep racing and creating by day, and breathing (better than before) at night. I do the latter with the help of modern medicine and Canadian health care, and the former, with a little help from loads of people whom I dearly love.