I Am 50, and the Angels Still Sing

8 years ago

Today, my son, 19, returned home from classes at the University of New Orleans, bounded into my bedroom where I was working and said, "So, tomorrow, you'll be over the hill."

I said, "What do you mean? I'm already over the hill." And I laughed.

He said, "Mom, haven't you heard that 50 is the new 40? Everybody knows that the half-way point makes you over the hill."

I grinned, contemplating that in Vacherie, LA, they call my father's people, "The no-die Adams." My father is down the hall, and at 89 -- even after two hip replacement surgeries and having a rod in his left thigh to replace his broken femur -- he still gets on his exercise bike daily at 6:00 p.m.

I snort silently, recalling that my father may be pickled. He used to drink a lot and smoke. He does none of that now. I think of my mother -- all those vitamins she took and how much fruit she ate -- and that she went to the grave in 2008, at the age of 81, with Alzheimer's (ultimately dying from sepsis). I hope I have the genes to run faster than Death.

During the Grammys in January, I tweeted, "Somebody on Twitter just called #Fergie old. What does it say abt our society that someone thinks you're old at 35?"

When I wrote that on January 31, my birthday, February 10, was less than two weeks away. As I write this on February 9, I know that unless the Universe claims me tonight, I'll face down half a century with a twinkle in my eye.

About eight years ago, my skin was coming off in visible fluffs. Whenever I undressed, even simply pulling down pants in the bathroom, dead cells puffed away from my body like clouds of talcum powder. And my lifelong nemesis, Fat, suddenly seemed weary of me.

I was happy to lose weight, 90 pounds, but I hated that the pounds dropped for all the wrong reasons. My hair was falling out, my iron count dipped to the danger range of possibly needing a transfusion and doctors said I'd need a new kidney in 10 years. They said I'd had an episode of acute kidney failure that they could not explain.

With that news, I did two things. First, I panicked and fell into depression that manifested in all kinds of ways that my then-husband couldn't understand. All he seemed to understand was no one was doing his laundry and that he was 45 and unhappy. So, the second thing I did was file for divorce.

By no means did the kidney illness cause the divorce. No, it simply forced me to realize that I had spent the previous 20 years of my life doing nothing I'd ever dreamed I would do, and I was stuck in a life I didn't like. It was then that I turned in full fury to the Internet and began screaming at the world, "Look at me! Hear this ghost!"

And I wrote:

I’ve checked with medical professionals to see if I’m being overly dramatic when I say without a new kidney I will die. Their response, “No, you are not being dramatic.”

Something in a person flips when she knows she not only looks forward to a shorter life, but physical pain. She begins gathering herself unto herself and whatever and whomever will fall away, so be it. She sees life run beside her, the big and the small of it.

Again, I do not write these words to gain sympathies but to place in context how it is that I have come to post snippets of my life, what I call World Wide Wise: Me in Net Vignettes. My life already had the twists and turns of a cheesy movie, but when beset by one health challenge after another, I reflected on that life more intensely. And it did not settle down as the lives of some do when they understand they must rest and recover; it stood up and did the Watusi.

This method of autobiographical net postings (vignettes with links, blogs, poetry, etc.) is how I’ve chosen to frame my life. Most like to tell their lives’ tales in a straight line, on paper, in a flat book. The Internet has profoundly impacted my life, and so, it’s fitting that the Net should be the medium from which I tell my life’s tale. (Revived at WritingJunkie)

I wrote it and then hid it years later when I had to look for a job. For that reason, and others, I pulled a lot of that work--poetry, blog posts, spectacular multimedia literary constructions, as another writer later called them -- offline.

I revisited the idea of writing a memoir a few months ago. The working title was "How the Internet Became My Lover," and then I ran away from it because I knew I couldn't tell the world the whole truth and not be skewered, should anybody read the memoir. I was raised by people who believe firmly that you don't tell the world your business, and while that mindset butts squarely against my natural quest for authenticity, self-acceptance and the examination of self-mythology -- the need to tell the world who I am so I may know the answer myself -- I often back up and hide behind that belief, trembling.

But my poetry muse won't shut up, and sometimes it can be pushy. Despite having removed much of my work from the Web, an action that has sometimes resulted in people dropping by a poem at my blog to say, "I forgot that you're a poet," I still speak parts of my life in verse.

So, with my goal to be more positive, ignoring haters online who have called me arrogant and self-absorbed as I struggle to find my shoes, thumbing my nose at doctors who tell me death is closer than I'd like, and recalling that poets still more often speak of themselves when the world calls them cocky or mad, I'm returning to my old Net roots on my 50th birthday. I am sharing a poem with BlogHer readers, and the world that shouts, "Look at me!"

The Air is Fresh, Not Stale
By Nordette N. Adams
At 50 I am singing,
I've just begun to sing,
Now I slip lips
'round the first note of life.

At an age feared by my kind,
I am rich, a field of dark soil
teeming with seeds sown
when I lay dreaming at 15.

At 50, I do not smell like a mate. Men
don't fall against me smiling,
nor misdirect my steps. My mind
is clear to name beauty the child missed.

My soul is knowing, my spirit young,
but my body feels some days old
as the Dead Sea. My face creases, weathered,
but I am not ashamed at my reflection.

I have lived my life.
I am living my life!

I hula for me. I belly dance laughing.
I hope to joke like Maya Angelou
of watching my breasts race, to wait and see
which hits my knees first.

I run free with Persephone
and dwell not on my winter home,
but focus on the flower
I make bloom.

© 2010 Nordette N. Adams

More on Turning 50

Writing on the Number 1 Sign You're Turning 50, Christina Mitchell leads with the following:

So I got my AARP card in the mail yesterday. I tore open the envelope without looking at it closely, and when I saw the bright red letters all but announcing, “Downhill from here babe,” I wailed. My cocker spaniel – who’s going on 35 in dog years – ran from the laundry room.

I’ll be 50 in two weeks, so I had it coming. Truth is, the AARP has done a terrific job of expanding its base – backward. When I told my sister about the card, she said she’d already been offered one; she’s 45. (Read her column)

I may have gotten my AARP offer too, but I admit that I'm slow about reviewing snail mail. However, like Christine's sister, I remember getting an offer to join AARP when I was younger. I think it may have been before I was 45 and possibly because somewhere some computer has my age wrong, but I know what I thought when I saw the offer. "What the hell! I am not old enough for AARP." But growing older should be a blessing. The alternative is death.

Also, how many of the negative attitudes we have about growing older are culture-driven? Consider this view of aging in Okinawa.

For centuries, Okinawa has been known for people who live long and well. On the outskirts of Ogimi, carved into a stone marker facing the sea, is an old Okinawan saying: "At 70 you are still a child, at 80 a young man or woman. And if at 90 someone from Heaven invites you over, tell him: 'Just go away, and come back when I am 100.'" (USA Today, 2002)

Since I first heard that on an old Oprah show, I've been looking for that quote. This week I found it online.


  • Turning 50 with the Divine One @Boot Leg Betty

    The trip was a 50th birthday present from my husband (George). I was reluctant to go since the economy has been so bad and he has been working under a 35% salary cut for over 6 months. He simply said, “You only live once!” I mentioned to a friend that I was struggling, wanting to be practical and she immediately offered to purchase our Showgirl tickets for us! Lets say at that moment caution was thrown to the wind! (Read post)

  • Thoughts on Turning 50 by Godskid60

    In two weeks I turn 50 years old and find that I am unexpectantly excited about it. Half of a century! An age supposedly full of wisdom! It feels like finally reaching adulthood, isn't that strange? What have I been for the last 30 years, if not an adult? Does turning 50 mean that I will no longer make stupid mistakes, wrong choices, unwise decisions? Probably not, but it feels like it should! It feels fresh, like starting over, a new page to a new chapter in my book of life! (Read post)

  • Coming to Terms with Turning 50 at Life By Design Over 50

    No! I am absolutely not going. I can’t believe that you planned that for me and invited all those people from the office; they’ll all know how old I am ... She was horrified and I was disappointed as I thought that I was doing something nice for my friend's 50th birthday. I was mystified as to why Karen, who is cute and so put together all of the time, would have this response. All us females would love to look like her, and yet she was the one that made the most fuss and got so upset out of all of us that had turned 50.

  • On the Brink of a New Decade (Somebody's Turned 40)
  • Nordette Adams is a BlogHer CE & you can find her other stuff through Her 411.

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