What Does it Mean to Remake Your Life After 40?
This week I read an essay by William Dameron, The Joy of Living—and Writing—the Truth, that made me feel more hopeful than I have since returning to Brooklyn from Sicily. The tagline for the essay is:
"On the brink of 60, William Dameron reflects on the happiness borne of coming out at 43, and publishing his memoir about it in his late 50s."
I first met William Dameron back in 2019, when he published his debut memoir, The Lie: A Memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing and Coming Out, the same year and with the same brilliant editor as Marco's debut novel, How Fires End.
I devoured Dameron's memoir, a gripping book where every chapter could easily stand alone as a personal essay. Back then, though, I read it as an outsider. Yes, I was pulled in by the strength it took to come out at age 43, give up his marriage and the life he'd built, and then work through both pain and joy as he remade a whole new and much truer life.
It was incredible. It was moving. But it wasn't me.
Flash-forward, three pandemic years later, I click on Dameron's latest essay and all of a sudden I see myself his words. Not because I'm coming out as LGBTQ, but because, at age 43, I am finally learning to accept who I am—a person living with chronic illness and disability—and to figure out what a life that honors that truth looks like.
Reinvention After 40: What Does it Really Mean?
When you google "reinvent your life after 40" or any related phrase (which, let's be honest, I've spent many hours doing), most articles talk about either your career or small changes. Pursue a career change. Take up a new hobby. Learn to meditate. Get a makeover. Kick bad habits to the curb.
But no makeover or new hobby is ever going to fix the fact I've spent my entire adult life pretending to be someone who is not sick.
No perfect set of habits will ever make me able-bodied. No job change will erase the fact that my body requires an incredible amount of care and attention, and that some days it simply will not cooperate. No amount of meditation will transform the U.S. work culture into one that is welcoming, instead of punishing, for people with chronic illness and disability.
The reality is that, when it takes until age 43 to accept who you are—and to share that with others—it means unraveling and examining every aspect of your life. Which, as you can probably tell from this blog, I'm in the process of doing.
There's no handbook for this, at least not one I've found related to chronic illness. (Hmmmm...maybe it's time to make one.)
I've written a lot about the things I'm rethinking, like my career and how to create a day-to-day life that respects the reality of my chronic illnesses.
I haven't talked as much about the elements of my life that don't need reimagining: my wonderful husband and life partner, my supportive family and close friends, and the penny-pinching mindset my husband and I share that has allowed me the precious space to take this step back without fear of immediate economic insecurity.
For all of this, I know I'm both lucky and privileged. But this is my writer blog, so what does this all have to do with writing?
Rediscovering a Lost Love of Personal Essay Writing
In his beautiful essay, William Dameron writes:
"Rounding the corner of my sixtieth year, I have learned something. Joy is always experienced in the present. Anticipatory joy, planning for a night out on a summer evening, waking when a strip of yellow illuminates the morning sky to write a few pages of a book, and carrying the kernel of hope in your heart that one day you will love someone body and soul can be just as satisfying as the end result. Joy is always present, and experiencing it is never a waste of time."
For me, the simple act of continuing this blog and the A House in Sicily blog—both of which started because of a driving need to write about discoveries, challenges, and joys of this moment in my life—has helped me rediscover my forgotten love of essay writing.
In college, I grew to love writing essays. I even had a couple published. Then, for two decades, I somehow decided that "real writing" was fiction. I don't know why. But it stuck in my head that fiction was what I wanted to write, and everything else was secondary.
But like Dameron wrote about joy: "experiencing it is never a waste of time."
Right now, writing blogs and articles and personal essays gives me joy. A joy in the simple act of writing and discovery. And, no matter how many or how few people read those words, I'm determined to remind myself that it's never a waste of time to write them.