i’ve never liked numbers all that much, but this one seems rather important


i’m hardly ever sick, so i have no established relationship with any physician. this morning i find myself in need of antibiotics, so i go to the doc-in-a-box at a nearby drugstore. the soft tissue of my ear is inflamed, you see, infected. it happens every three or four years, i tell her. i just need some antibiotics and i’ll be fine.

i do not tell her how i fretted as i dressed this morning, washing my hands an extra two times, downing a glass of a supposed immune system booster, packing my purse with tissues, one of which i use to protect my hand from the pen i must use when signing in because i do not know who held it before me, what germs linger looking for a warm host with a vacancy sign. i worry more these days. what if i get sick and don’t bounce back as quickly? what if i don’t bounce back at all? what if i come in to be treated for one thing and leave with something entirely unrelated that does me in?

she listens to me, believes me, says she likes a woman who knows her body. unused to eye contact from a physician let alone such a notion as listening to the patient, i am instantly smitten with her. the computer doesn’t allow for this particular diagnosis. it’s unusual. not standard. she calls to obtain an override, and when she tells the physician on the other end of the phone my age, she says the numbers in the same tone she answers every other question asked of her. there’s no drama when she says my age, no shriek, no hushed embarrassed tone.

my daughter calls while i’m luxuriating in an infrequent middle-of-the-afternoon-i’m-sick-so-i-can-if-i-want-to nap. will she call her brother to warn him? will she and her brother be worried? surely they must wish for it on occasion, but do they ever wonder what it will be like to live without having me around? do they think of me as old and fear “losing me”? i am not so noble a person or good a mother as to not hope that these scenarios play out occasionally. i want to be missed.

i make a point to keep my hands away from my face. after reading the various flu posts on facebook, i wash my hands.

i have a milestone birthday this year, you see. on the one hand i look forward to it as a crown i may now wear, an outward symbol of what – power? freedom? space? behavioral entitlement? on the other hand, i am embarrassed by it.

[ ::: ]

my word for 2013 is “homage”. i didn’t invite it – i never do – it just appeared, hopping up on my shoulder where it remains to this day. it’s an unusual word that initially causes me more worry; it’s a word i now bump into rather frequently. the stanford university band spelled it out at some halftime show, for example, and i heard it in first episode of season three of downtown abbey the other night. just the other day i overheard someone of some import use “homage” in the course of a conversation, and she pronounced the “h” (“HOM-ij”) settling that score for me. i wish i could remember who that was. am i already losing my memory? it’s a milestone birthday, but isn’t it a little premature to lose my memory? why can’t i remember? this will keep me awake tonight.

age has never mattered to me. a dear woman i cherish and knew because she was my great aunt on my daddy’s side of my tree taught me to never, ever, ever, ever, ever state my age. there’s no need, she said, it will just bring you pain because once they know your age, people will treat you accordingly. if they don’t know your age, they’ll treat you the way you behave in their presence.

am i treating my age like i’ve treated my weight? i look at wedding photos and cry for the young woman who bought an empire waist wedding dress to hide the body she thought grossly overweight at 98 pounds.

[ ::: ]

my color of the year is “deep ground”. i like that. find it comforting for reasons i’m unable to explain. that’s another thing: i don’t seem to be able to explain things, not that i ever have – not to certain levels of more literally-minded satisfaction – and now i’m wondering how important it really is that i should explain myself succinctly and articulately (or would that be articulately) anyway.

being a lifelong caregiver of many and various interests, i’ve long been able to tell you what other people will think about something, to see something and thing oh, so-and-so would love this – that sort of thing. but me, focus? historically, it’s been an impossible task. lately, though, i’m able to pare down, and it’s surprisingly (and alarmingly, at times) easy. mostly i funnel down by recognizing what i do not like, and if i say it aloud, i often forget to tack on the apologetic qualifier that implies “but it’s okay if you do.”

[ ::: ]

i’ve not worn a watch for decades, and yet i feel each tick and at least every-other tock. is that why it’s so easy to make decisions about – to sort how to spend my time, who to carry-on with, who and what to surround myself by?

having been a student then a teacher then a mother of students then a student again, my calendar has long started in september and ended in august. now i’ve decided that beginning in 2013, my birthday will be my new year’s day. decisions like that come easily to me, and they feel Good and Right. i continue to make my list of things i want to do in this new year, in this milestone year, feeling like a kid in the candy store. i should think of places to go, i tell myself, but when i consider travel, i shove it aside because it takes me away from the things i want to create. i have SO much i want to create.

[ ::: ]

i think i should probably dread this birthday, skirt around it, shoo it under the proverbial rug given that it’s an undeniable fact that i have more life behind me than in front of me. i am, you might say, quite in touch with my own mortality. death is frequently with me these days, mostly by way of a deep desire – a commitment, really, a resolve – to die well by living well.


  1. ☆little light☆

    Not knowing which milestone of a birthday looms on the horizon and also not caring a twit, I can say with impunity that your life as seen through my eyes is one that is being lived “out loud” and full of energy.
    I am not sure what your heart means when it says ” living well” but I do know that you Love deeply, laugh deeply, smile at the absurdities and weather the storms with true southern grace.. and of of course flair!
    I shall endeavor to wish you a “happy new year” when your birthday rolls around…

    • whollyjeanne

      living well mostly means meeting you on the playground of the moon every night before our eyelids hang out the “closed” sign. xo

  2. Patty Bechtold

    Hi. New here. Lovely writing and you’ve hit a nerve. I have a milestone birthday next year, 15 months from now, and I keep thinking I have to prepare for it in some way. Like if I don’t I’ll miss something important that I’m supposed to know that I don’t quite know yet. I keep reminding myself that it’s just another year, but still, what it signifies, how I sort out the meaning that’s applied to it by others vs the meaning that I need to make of it for myself, well, that’s complicated.

    • whollyjeanne

      hey patty-nice to meet you. meaning from others v meaning from self. that’s what i’m batting around right now, too, trying hard to shove aside meaning assigned by others and deciding the meaning assigned by me. but you’re right: it’s complicated.

  3. angelakelsey

    From Women Who Run With the Wolves: “It is also a good idea for women to count their ages, not by years, but by battle scars. ‘How old are you?’ people sometimes ask me. ‘I am seventeen battle scars old,’ I say. Usually people don’t flinch, and rather happily begin to count up their own battle scar ages accordingly.” xo

    • whollyjeanne

      perfect! this is absolutely perfect – though i’d probably consider my age in tears cause i’m obsessed with teardrops right now, you know. xo

  4. Merry ME

    Okay, so you’re not going to share the “number.” Will you share the date? I’d hate for an opportunity to send confetti filled cards to pass by without me knowing it.

    • whollyjeanne

      you make me laugh, sugar. i’m a valentine’s baby: 2/14. i’ll surely tell you cause you send the best cards. i still have that last card you sent out on my windowsill. makes me smile all the time. xo

  5. Judy Wise

    My birthday is coming up a couple of weeks after yours. I expected to die at the age my parents passed but I’ve gone over that date now and realize I could go another decade maybe. I almost gave up teaching because of my number but then I had a talk with myself. I’m healthy. Just old and with less energy. But the mind. Oh, the mind is more active than ever. So I go on. I will drop in my tracks but I will continue. Your post was thoughtful and spoke to me personally. I like your honesty. Really glad to make your acquaintance. xo

    • whollyjeanne

      Now that you mention it, I think the age Daddy died rattles around in the back of my spirit somewhere as my deadline. I hope you go on at least another decade, Sugar, and I’m so, so, so delighted that you’re teaching the Cold Wax Workshop cause it’s something I’ve wanted to know more about for a long time. Really looking forward to it . . . and I guess I better go shopping soon if I don’t want to be the dunce . . .

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