Discover more from Listening in the Dark with Amber Tamblyn
Hi. I'm 40.
A milestone on Mother’s Day.
Today is Mother’s Day and also my fortieth birthday, and tomorrow is my mom’s seventy-sixth birthday. Phew! What a weekend of celebration it’s going to be.
I’ve spent my whole life sandwiched between the many celebrations of motherhood and life, metaphorically and literally: my mom’s birthday is the day after mine, and Mother’s Day often falls on the day of, or day before, my birthday. This year feels particularly symbolic for me though and worthy of all the questions that ask themselves as we get older.
I’ve thought a lot about this milestone in my life—turning forty—and how it’s different from other milestone years that have felt big to me. I have a distinct memory of turning ten years old and crying to my mom that I was never going to be a single digit again. (Big poet energy early in life as you can see!) When I turned twenty-one, it felt like the pinnacle of freedom, like being a wild animal let loose from the stable into the great unknown. My first two poetry books, Free Stallion (speaking of being let loose from the stable) and Bang Ditto were published when I was in my twenties.
Turning thirty was the first time I had a real sense of my own mortality. It’s also when my body began to tell me I needed to start taking better care of it—that my bones were real things worth listening to and not to be ignored. During the decade of my thirties, the struggle to find my voice settled into what is now my own style, and my writing really came into its own. I wrote Dark Sparkler, Any Man, Era of Ignition, Listening in the Dark, and countless op-eds and pieces of writing for the New York Times and other outlets.
And now, here I am: forty. Looking back at all of it with a deep sense of love and admiration for what I’ve been able to accomplish so far.
Even with that love and admiration, I’ve felt at times like I still haven’t accomplished enough. This feeling, at least for me, is a byproduct of growing up in an industry that highly values the commodification of personal and professional time, with no boundary between the two and an emphasis on creative output at any cost. As a child actress, I was often warned by the adults I worked with that I was only as good as my last role. A director once again reminded me of this when I was guest starring on a TV show around the age of eighteen; he wasn’t wrong—that was (and still is) how Hollywood values people in many ways, no matter their age or success. All of this is, of course, a byproduct of capitalism and the notion that downtime, introspection, and quiet periods in our lives are not moments to reflect or refuel but instead are negatives. We are told these quiet periods should be filled with anguish; they are “writer’s block” instead of creative hibernation before a fruitful spring.
It has taken me years to unlearn some of this conditioning. It’s with this in mind that I am thinking about my forties and not just what I want to do with this next chapter of my life but what I want not to do. While I don’t have all the answers, I have more respect for the questions than I ever did before. What does the quiet mean? How can I do less and still feel fulfilled? What do I want this decade to be about? What if I stopped trying to curate all of it or overthink it, and instead, let it reveal itself to me? What if that was enough?
That’s part of why I’m hitting the road these next two weeks on a motorcycle tour with one of my best friends, Derrick C. Brown, in the name of poetry, community, and pure adventure. Yes, I grew up a child actress in a tough and often harmful business, but I also grew up a poet, surrounded by adventure-seekers, thinkers, and creatives who lived their lives outside of the expectation to serve capitalism. (Extra big shoutout to my mom and dad for nurturing me in this way—by making sure I was surrounded by artists from a young age.)
So with openness to this new chapter in my life and to the questions that will no doubt arise in my forties, I’d love to hear advice, thoughts, wisdom, or even questions that you’ve asked in your own milestone years.
Share your birthday wisdom with us in the comments below. I’ll be savoring them for years to come.