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Inevitable Birthday Post: 30

This morning after Dave left the house, my mom and dad called to wish me a happy birthday. While I was talking with Dad, he mentioned bragging about me to a colleague at ISC West, the annual security conference he visits in Vegas. Vegas has featured prominently in my dad’s professional history; it’s a big reason why part of iD takes place there. (In other news: part of iD takes place in Las Vegas, at a casino called The Akiba.) “And you’re saying she’s done all this before she turned 30?” Dad’s colleague said (says Dad).

Actually, I’m pretty proud of the things I’ve done before hitting 30. I’m not so proud of others. They include:

  • Graduating from university (MCL; two Departmental Honors; Honors Program)
  • Being turned away at the Canadian border.
  • Getting married (I was 22).
  • Immigrating to Canada.
  • Writing my first master’s thesis.
  • Writing my first novel (and watching it get published).
  • Leaving my husband, five years later.
  • Seeing a therapist regularly.
  • Writing my second master’s thesis.
  • Writing for BoingBoing (and io9, and Tor.com, and Creators Project, and ArcFinity)
  • Living with Dave (something I’ve wanted to do since he first made me a steak dinner; in my memory his eyes light up as I wilt some spinach and garlic in steak drippings, and a moment later when my knife slides through the tender flesh I look at him and think “Why can’t it always be like this?”).
  • Gaining epic amounts of weight (most of which can be attributed to eating my feelings, and also living with someone who knows how to cook for pleasure).
  • Working for Strategic Innovation Lab, Gorbet Design, Intel Labs, The Institute for the Future, and Ideas in Flight (a tiny little social media firm run by the incomparable Jessica Langer, that allows me to work from home; many thanks are due to the equally-incomparable Tamu Townsend for introducing us). All of those gigs have happened since 2010. When my friends knew that I needed work to support myself (and distract myself, and save myself) , they provided it. As my grandfather used to say, I was “blessed with work.” Now my days are a lot fuller than they used to be, and I’m happier with them.
  • Making friends (and losing friends).
  • Losing my wallet (and making it back into the country anyway).
  • Writing my second novel (and waiting for it to be published).
  • Having my eyes checked for the first time since childhood (turns out I’m astigmatic and it’s very lucky I don’t drive).
  • Starting a real savings plan, with a real RRSP and everything (my former husband used to handle all this; I was a stereotype on a lot of levels, and it’s nice to know I’m taking care of myself).
  • Doing my first library appearances; one last year, two this year (these latter appearances warrant their own blog post).
  • Meditating regularly (I prefer Jon Kabat-Zinn’s methods, AKA “mindfulness based stress reduction”).
  • Drinking green shakes every morning (spinach, bananas, berries, flaxseed and soymilk, in a NutriBullet).

These are some of the things that have happened in the past few years, most of them since 2010. They’ve been dense, full years. I’ve been extremely lucky, and privileged in terms of my friendships, my network, and my demographic position. I wouldn’t be here without all that.

Perhaps for that reason, today I’ve been feeling a nagging sense of Imposter Syndrome: the sense that I haven’t done enough, or that what I have done isn’t good enough, or that what success I’ve had isn’t truly deserved. I’ve been an overachiever my whole life — I was always “the smart girl,” if not the particularly pretty/funny/talented/coordinated/fashionable/organized/adventurous one. And that meant that the value I placed on myself was directly related to grades, awards, accomplishments, and other academic milestones. Exterior metrics. Other people’s judgments of me. In other words, Lisa Simpson Syndrome.

And on many levels, this persists today. When people ask me how I’m doing, I tell them about things I’m doing — gigs, projects, interviews, appearances, and so on. But that’s what I’m doing, not how I’m doing. Implicit in that conversation is the assumption that what’s most important in my life is what I’ve done, not how I’ve done it or why or how it makes me feel. This is toxic for two reasons: 1) it makes me sound like a self-aggrandizing bitch who can’t shut up about herself (cf the list above), and 2) it keeps me from regularly relating to people on an emotionally intimate level. I walk around with the assumption that nobody really wants to know how I feel, or that feelings are inherently lacklustre conversation material. Part of this is Canadian culture — there’s a lot of stiff upper lips left in the true north, strong and free. Part of it is junk code from my marriage. And I have no doubt that part of it is how I was raised; it wasn’t until later in their lives that either of my parents could honestly call themselves “happy,” so my understanding of what happiness looks like is a bit more skewed toward “getting things done,” than “finding peace.” But whatever my personal reasons for interacting with others this way, I suspect lots of other people do it, as well. If you’re one of them, please refer the special people in your life to this blog post by way of explanation.

All of this boils down to the fact that today when I woke up, I knew that I should be happier with where I am, but I couldn’t muster it. All I could think about were all the things I’ve done wrong, or the way I’ve hurt people, or the things I want for the future. Literally, I kept thinking about how I’m finally old enough to participate in the Ontario Breast Screening Program, and how I have to get myself tested for BRCA1 and BRCA2, and how no matter how much I might want a child it would be irresponsible to pass that mutation on to someone else if I knew I had it, and how I should finalize my divorce before even considering any of that, and what a terrible wife I was, and how I’m probably an equally terrible candidate for a second marriage.

Dave says that last bit is nonsense, but what this post tells me is that is I should probably blog more. I’ve been holding a lot of this stuff in, and there was really no reason to. So maybe this year, I’ll at least be a better blogger.

2 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Happy Birthday!

    I wish I was as wise at age 30 as you seem to be. 🙂

  • Madeline Ashby…

    ...is a science fiction writer, futurist, speaker, and immigrant living in Toronto. She writes a column for the Ottawa Citizen. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and Jason Richman at UTA. You can buy her books here.

    She has worked with Intel Labs, the Institute for the Future, SciFutures, Nesta, Data & Society, The Atlantic Council, the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, and others. Her short fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her other essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity, Tor.com, MISC Magazine, FutureNow, and elsewhere.

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