An Introvert’s Step-by-Step Guide to Her 40-th Birthday Party
Step 1: Get it Straight. By birthday party, an introvert means being alone. That is the only way she authentically parties. By introvert, a girl could mean by Meyers-Briggs diagnosis. She could also mean anyone desperately in need of a phase of silence, reflection and peace. By 40, she means 40. Which seems a legitimate excuse for just about anything. Since the typical mid-life crisis stereotype still involves convertible cars, sometimes going over cliffs, a “mid-life solo retreat” seems a perfectly reasonable request by comparison. Close your eyes, imagine a 40-year old on her birthday, and try saying no to her. See. Doesn’t work. So you got this in the bag.
Step 2: Book it Up. You’re 40, so you’re an adult now. And guess what adults do? They make reservations. None of this show-up-and-sort-it-out stuff. You know what that means? That is a hungry afternoon bumping a roller bag over cobblestone in blazing heat and getting stuck in a basement with crusty windows and musty sheets. No. This is 2017. The era of AirBnb 360-degree photography and scrolling-miles of guest reviews. Show-up-and-sort-out your yoga classes. Show-up-and-sort-out your Spanish teacher. Show-up-and-sort-out your favorite restaurants. But RESERVE your room in advance. This is a retreat. And you’re an introvert (or pseudo-introvert). Staying in your room should be your favorite idea every single day. Here’s my personal shortlist of retreat-room qualities: a view so stunning you need never leave, an infiltration of nature upon as many senses as possible, enough silence to make you uncomfortable (exceptions include the roar of the ocean, jungle, or wildlife) and a pueblo or town that that can be mapped out by foot in half a day. The rest: negotiable. On day 4 of my retreat, the owner of the guesthouse stopped in his busy-fix-it-tracks and said: “ALL I really want in the world to do is as you have been doing: Deck, coffee, deck, sunrise, deck, walk, deck, swim, deck, hammock, deck, book, deck, meal, deck, beer, deck, sunset, stars, sleep.” In short, your goal is to go slower than the people who live there. Ready, set, go-slow.
*See footer for details on this particular deck, if you want it to be yours.
Step 3: Carry-it-On: Here’s your carry-on packing list in one run-on sentence: swimsuit, hoodie, hiking clothes/shoes, flip-flops, mess kit, water bottle, headlamp, bug repellent, reef-safe sunscreen, journal, good pen, books, chap stick, light dresses/jumpers, tanks, shorts, yoga stuff if that’s your jam, sunnies, passport, cash. Done.
Step 4: Bring quality reads. Why, exactly, is the existence of litmags some sort of literati secret? If you are the type that refuses to read past the first page of a book unless it has earned that honor, then head right over to the best bookstore in town. Ask someone to point you to the lit mag shelf. There, pick out an arms worth of literary journals based solely on the art cover you’d like to see framed by your bedside table. Yep, pick these books by their covers. You cannot go wrong. Every lit mag I have read so far is exceptional: Short stories that haunt me more than my own traumas. Poetry that compels me to read more poetry. Photography that has me searching for connect-the-dot story. Visual art that lingers beyond what I see. Interviews with human beings that make me feel more human. If you don’t want to go to a bookstore (wait, who are you?), then let me just leave these here (clearly I eat litmags for breakfast; the short pieces are particularly well suited to 15-minute breaks in motherhood!) @thesunmagazine @batcityreview @nowheremagazine @granta_magazine @guernicamag@wilderness @theiowareview @orion_magazine
Step 5: Be Mysterious. No one needs to know you’re 40. Or that it’s your birthday. Or that your husband is slogging through his day caring for your two small children. Nope. Take off your bra and sprawl around all light-footed and self-absorbed in your writing, book, whale-watching, drink-swirling. Pretend you’re a famous writer travelling under a pen name wrapping up her latest best seller; you really can’t afford any hints that might lead to a squinted eye on your true identification. So offer no details. Secure a compliment or two from a Frenchman on your beauty (why do Frenchmen always exactly how, why and when to compliment the beauty of a middle-aged woman?) Then, on day 5, when a 60-year woman looks you in the eye and inquires as to how you found yourself here, collapse into the bar stool next to her and proceed through a million close-up photos of your babies who you miss down to their snotty noses.
Step 6: Disconnect. Secure a spotty Internet connection. This is important. If the Internet is too quick, you’ll end up downloading sappy rom-com and feeling empty all night. Not that I would know. I’ve never done that. No internet at all and, well actually, that’s a great idea, but it went extinct in 2010. So place your highest aspirations on spotty Internet. Something that allows you to text-check-in with your partner once a day, but crashes after 6-minutes of Facetime with the kids when they start fighting over the phone or your husband brings up the question of how to pay the babysitter. Say that again? I can’t hear you. Oh nooooo…..the internet…..is just so bad…. *sip*……. I love you…..bye! Chop lime for your next Pacifico.
Step 7: Take a language class. My Spanish at 40 is 100x better than when I was 20. Yes, my brain fired like the 4th of July in those youthful years, but I gave way too-much-a-fuck. I was afraid to make mistakes. And if there is anything redeeming about age, it is the fact that your ego has been trampled well enough for you to know its redeemed place in life. And then there’s the fun later-life fact that learning a new language staves off Alzheimer’s. Which, with dementia and memory loss, are real punch lines in your new post-40 life. But put that aside for now. A language class introduces you to a local. It gives you a little context about where you are. Which really, you should do, as a matter of respect, anywhere you go. That’s me. On the highest horse I own.
Step 8: Let Someone Else Cook. And oh yes, Eat Alone. Unless you are one of those people that take absurd delight in “throwing together” food like art, leave that business to the professionals. You’re on vacation from being the insanely self-accomplished human you are. Yes. I know that about you. And now that you’re 40, you know that about you. So leave that self-image at home and get a restaurant-favorites list from the owner of the guesthouse. And this part is important: eat only when you want, what you want, as you want. Brunch at noon on Monday. Fingerfood at 4pm on Tuesday. Takeout tacos on your porch on Wednesday. What-the-hell-ever-you-want. You’re 40. Own it. Oh, and if you’re new to eating alone, WELCOME. Bring one of your new litmags, a journal, and that airy attitude aforementioned in the point about being mysterious. Nope. No one else coming. You heard me right hostess. Just me. As I was born and will die. Table for 1. Ocean view please and thank you.
Step 9: Get Ready to… struggle. You thought I was going to say relax huh? I’m afraid not sister. Apparently there is something called “wrestling with the angel” that is oft referenced in the book-of-all-books-Bible. I wouldn’t know; I’ve only read that book once. But here’s the essence of the lesson: Prepare to be lonely. Prepare to toss and turn in your bed sheets till you are wrapped up and half strangled with everything that has ever wanted a chance to catch up to you. Go ahead. Beckon it. Dare it. Let it strap your arms to the gurney and take you inward as the only option left on the table. Don’t panic. (Ha. I say that with a laugh.) Okay. Panic a little bit. But don’t worry about your panic. It’s good practice. For your deathbed. Really. You’re 40. You should start practicing for this stuff. Winky-wink.
Step 10: Get in The Water. YES, YES, YES. BOUANCY. After last night tied in the sheets, this is what you need. Do what you need to be comfortable in the water. Be that life vest or snorkel or darkness or nakedness. Get in the effing water. Submerge. (This is deathbed practice too by the way.) It’s the calm after the storm. And you should find a version of the water in everything you do post-struggle. Or maybe not. But whatever. It is whatever it is. And you’re okay with that.
Step 11: Do Whatever the Fuck You Want. I mean, don’t harpoon whales or have unprotected sex or start smoking tobacco like you did in your 20’s. But like, stick a lime in a Pacifico at 11 if you want to. Take a nap at noon. Eat at 3. You’re 40. You might have lost those gravity-defying body parts but are now officially entitled to some serious life ownership and attitude. So go ahead, tell those 20-year olds in the cabana next door to turn down the reggae. You, after all, are way older than this shit.
And that is exactly the point.
Welcome to the other side sister.
*If you want to steal my Eagles Nest perch in Yelapa Mexico for your retreat, by all means, happy birthday. Ask for a few wood blocks to dock the “floating” bed (unless you enjoy sea sickness). The crashing waves will keep your subconscious on edge all night. (Which can be good for your writing if you have such inklings.) Enjoy the scandalous idea that you might be offering of a peep show every time you shower (in the trickle of scalding water). If you are a sheet or pillow snob, bring your own. And the deck, good lord the deck; by some magical equation it always has the perfect proportions of sun or shade that you need in order to live on it all day and night. And when those on the footpath spot whales, you’ll be tipped off to the lookout by human squeals. Those are nice too.