Having finally come up with a workable end to my novel and polishing it to a sparkle, I am now beset by inertia. I have spent every evening of the last week lying on the sofa watching the most dreadful TV series, so bad in fact, I cannot name it for fear I shall never live down the shame. It bores me to tears; the story lines are sentimental, the dialogue constructed by stringing clichés together and the acting is mediocre, or more kindly, not bad, but not scintillating, which probably has more to do with the script than the quality of the performances. I find myself watching the actor’s shiny foreheads and eyebrows more than anything else, looking for signs of Botox paralysis. Which made me realise that my inertia has more to do with the fact that I’m about to turn forty than the end of the novel.
For over a month now, my husband and close friends have asked repeatedly what my plans for the big four oh are. For over a month, I’ve made the same excuse; I don’t have time to plan a party, I have a novel to finish. Which was true, but also not the only reason for avoiding party planning. I, like so many lines of bad Hollywood dialogue, am a cliché. I do not want to turn forty. And here is the reason:
In the About the Author section of my first novel, it says that Rachel Zadok was born in Johannesburg. She is thirty-three and lives in South London with her husband. Or something like that. I didn’t question it at the time but, lately, I think about my age and wonder why they thought it important enough to print. Why disclose an author’s age? Was it the significance of the number? Thirty-three does have spiritual connotations, being the age Jesus Christ was crucified. Will they print that I am forty in the About the Author section of my second novel, due out next April? And, if they do, what does that say about me? That I have not been very prolific? That I did not live up to my promise? Am I that person – the one who once had the world at her feet and then took a giant step off the face of the planet?
Forty is, in the words of my friend Lisa, one of those bitch birthdays where one tends to do a bit of debit and credit analysis. To my credit, I am a well-read, well-travelled, conscientious human being who gives a shit about poverty, the environment and the state of literature. I am a good friend with a tendency for honesty that can sometimes cross the line into tactless. In the debit box, I can put reluctant and lousy housewife, mediocre mother, and still a wannabe author.
A couple of weeks ago, a writer I have recently befriended called me famous. Hardly, I scoffed to which she replied, you don’t even know how famous you are. Looking around my Nowheresville life makes me realize that my new friend may be deluded. Famous people do not have 35 people following their Facebook page, 95% of which are close personal friends being supportive. If famous people have blogs, they’re designed by PR teams and not hosted by Blogger*, and the majority of their hits do not come from Lithuanian spammers trying to sell Viagra and fake Nikes via the comments section. Famous people do not worry about whether they’re a burden to their agent, or their agent’s assistant because their contract got lost in the mail and they need a new one sent over. I don’t know what the life of a famous person is actually like, but I know this ain’t it. And while I’m not seeking the kind of fame that has paparazzi camped on my doorstep, I would like my work to be recognized. I want to be invited to literary festivals and, most of all, I like to be read.
Forty is a stock taking birthday. It’s half way to death more or less, and that makes one look back and assess how many dreams have been achieved. Tomorrow, I will cross that invisible divide between youth and middle-age and I am not the person I envisioned, or even close. By lying on the couch watching TV that bores me I have made the nights* leading up to my birthday drag. This inertia is an attempt to delay the inevitable. It’s Botox of the soul. And it’s rather pathetic and clichéd.
* No insult to Blogger intended, there’s nothing wrong with Blogger.
** As a mother, I can do nothing to slow the hours when my daughter is awake. Toddlers live full speed.