Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age. – Victor Hugo
Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty. – Coco Chanel
Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed. – Charles M. Schulz
“Youth has many glories, but judgment is not one of them and no amount of electronic amplification can turn a belch into an aria.” — Alan Jay Lerner, “The Street Where I Live”
Age ain’t nothing but a number – Aaliyah
Todo lo he hecho a sabiendas y no me arrepiento de nada. Ni de lo bueno ni de lo mano ni de los momentos felices ni de las tristezas. Al final, tengo el alma llena de paz y de tranquilidad. — Chavela Vargas
Holy fu*k! I’m 50! – Everyone else
I turned 50 today. I figure all that’s left for me now is getting an AARP membership and let those discounts begin! Hahaha. Nah. That’s not how I started my countdown to turning 50 earlier this week. It began by my pondering how I would look with the new Chanel Gabrielle bag in black lambskin. I mean, if it works for Pharrell Williams, who is an elder fashionista statesman of 44, it should look amazing on me!
Masculine. Feminine. It doesn’t matter anymore to me. I am finally settling into loving me as I am today after years of thinking happiness could only be found in constant reinvention or letting perception dictate who I was as a man. Capes. Open-toed shoes. Painted toenails. And that’s just cosmetics, an expression of my evolving style. It’s on the inside where I am discovering where real beauty lies and I think I can safely say “I am beautiful” now. Maybe not at the top of my lungs, but I can say it, dammit.
Helen says this classic ad for the fragrance named Charlie, starring that golden blonde Shelley Hack and New York cafe society crooner Bobby Short, summed up my 40s. I’d have to concur. It was a decade filled with high-end glamor and high street drama. As I venture into the next 10 years, I think I’m gonna favor a life like a Chavela Vargas song.
I think about where I was 10 years ago. I was preparing for my 40th birthday party in my patio, complete with taco cart, a wide assortment of boozy drinks and a lot of fun people, family, friends, co-workers. I’d reached a personal peak. I was vice president of a content agency. I had a boyfriend that I loved so much. My duplex apartment was the first dwelling of mine to feel like home. The night of the party was soupy warm and full of expectations for the decade ahead. My worlds were colliding again, but I felt confident that it would be a night to remember. And it was.
That was 2007.
It is 2017. The company I worked for at that time went bankrupt, leading its charismatic owners to an acrimonious and shocking divorce. Most of that crew went their separate ways, starting families, moving abroad or across the country. I love that they are all living exciting new lives today.
I broke up – twice — with my musician BF. In 2010, we stayed apart for good. While communication between us is now sporadic, it is still better than it was during the volatile early years of our split. However, I have yet to be able to call anyone a partner since, much less a steady date.
My duplex remains my chosen sanctuary, complete with pictures on the wall and other examples of a life less ordinary. The occasional screech of wild parrots still makes me smile as they break through the tree-lined quiet that makes this stretch of South Pasadena wonderful.
My family remains a unified front, even though some of us are starting to rebel as we finally make awkward attempts to curate lives on our own. Dad’s struggle with Alzheimer’s has run its inevitable course. While he is still very much with us, the realities of his age (92) and the illness have shrunk his capacity to stay in the moment. His dependency on my mom and sister is at a critical mass and I wonder how much more they can endure. Now I am starting to think about what will THEY need once he longer requires their selfless care.
I am three years in with the most extraordinary – and award-winning – agency. Career remains at a peak and I am surrounded by a constant source of creativity and inspiration. Yes, my political incorrectness does get me into trouble from time to time. However, is altering my unique voice a good thing or is it a means of being oppressed by those who can’t dominate me? Either way, the struggle keeps me alive and bristling with an energy I still possess, no matter how hard I try to obfuscate it.
But the journey since 40 has not been easy and I worked hard at making it unnecessarily complicated, which may be my biggest achievement today. It can’t be explained away through depression, family loss and a voracious need to be liked anymore, although I continue a mighty battle with them all. What I discovered in the last decade is that I am my own worst enemy and we have reached a moment of “high noon.”
I gave turning 50 a lot of thought and my taking this milestone to Mexico City was the answer. I wanted to step away from all that has given me pause these last few years. I wanted not to worry about my weight, my lack of romantic pursuits, my stagnating friendships, the visits to the nutritionist, the shrink, the anti-depressants, the meds for diabetes and high blood pressure, all of it. I wanted to pay homage to my identity as an American born of Mexican parents. That I remain proud to be parte del mundo hispanohablante. I wanted my parents to know I owed all that I was, more, I wouldn’t be able to even stand before them if it wasn’t for their bringing me into this world. I wanted my siblings to know that they mattered, despite this surprise round of growing pains we are experiencing now.
2017 has been a watershed year for friends. Weeks on the road brought the most wonderful energy to my life, taking me out of my self-imposed inertia because of my forging these new friendships. And the effects, which started out as confusing and frustrating, have evolved into a refreshed perspective on the roles my close circle of friends plays in my life. Loyalty was never an issue here. They are the epitome of tough love and I need them for that alone. More, it was high time for them to know how they still make me try to BE a better person. Period.
The weekend’s wine-soaked dinners, and there were two, truly became the stuff of a dream. The theme of “Details of Diego and Frida” that was taken too literally by my cousins who drove three hours from Tlalnepantla to reach the first dinner. The all-female salsa band that played a theme as I entered the antro at the Sheraton María Isabel. The post-dinner mariachi performance as the “final-final.”
Perhaps the greatest moment was seeing Dad literally bolt from his seat at the table at Balcón when he laid eyes on his nieces, that sonorous blast of color and love I’ve grown to cherish so much more in the last decade. Dad KNEW who they were in an instant, Alzheimer’s be damned. The hugs and kisses and tears were a harbinger of things to come, too. Annie G captured the moment, broken ankle y todo, the sweetest gift preserved by one of my best friends, herself a purveyor of honest sentiment and great care.
At each stop that weekend, I offered my thanks to everyone, triggering a series of testimonials that were better than any AFI tribute I’d ever seen. As I faced my family, my friends at the Saturday night dinner at Rosetta in the colonia Roma, I was overcome with such emotion. I felt nothing when we dined at the Balcón del Zócalo on Friday night. I was too worried about having enough seats for everyone. Yet, after a day’s cultural excursion to the Museum of Anthropology and the visit to see the art of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo at the Museo Dolores Olmedo in Xochimilco, I was in a fight to keep the buzz of happy from dissipated too soon. It was all going so fast! I just let the emotion take over. I couldn’t keep it in and I didn’t want to anyway. The hot tears I let fall were wonderful on my skin.
This was the unification of the two Jorges, the American and the Mexican, and it was ultimately an out of body experience. I looked around the family-style dinner table at this grouping of family, friends, co-workers and more. I could see and feel the presence of those family members and friends no longer with us. Tío Ernesto and Tía Tayde. Aunt Susanna. Melissa Duke. I know they enjoyed a trago conmigo, that was the source of my emotion.
I was reunited with esteemed Mexican film journalist Daniela Michel, herself now a major figure in world cinema. It may have been an absence of 10 years, but the distance in time was quickly shored up the minute I saw her. We spoke at length that night, sharing the details of our lives in the effortless manner that belied the reason we became friends in the first place. Her influence on my life goes without compare and how I’ve missed our epic conversations. She’s a lot like Alan in that she brings out the best in people she trusts in friendship. Walking her through the colonia Roma streets, sitting down with her husband Jim and friends for a quick drink after the dinner encapsulated what I envisioned my life to be as I enter this fifth decade. It’s about the power of community, of creating a family that is made of strong ideals, true conversation, and absolute joy.
The next Sunday morning, we staggered through Reforma for an oh-so-necessary pozole brunch at La Casa de Toño in the Zona Rosa, I was determined not to cry again. I had to keep some sense of strength and avoid the calling of the chillón. But then I looked over at my Dad, and his face was one of such love that his tears gave the order to allow for my own to march again. I’ll never forget that image, swiftly banishing all that we said and did so wrong to each other as father and son when I was growing up. In it is place was a recharged soul, one that I had let become airless and dull. My father. My mother. My family. My friends. They all brought me back to life. Having them in Mexico City was an affirmation of the following:
I am alive.
I am getting better.
I am looking forward, even as things change anew.
I wanted to wax lyrical in this post. Perhaps the flourish is steeped in the hyperbole that is the curse of being a former publicist, yet it’s something I’ve done since I first penned my first paragraph. Ego dictated that I write the sort of essay that gets quoted and/or added to some basic DIY Pinterest wall with a deep thoughts pic. Instead, I am happier with keeping 50 closer to my heart. The intimacy and emotion of the entire weekend were the culmination of a journey that’s never failed me, even as I failed myself in the process. What I’ve discovered as I start this chapter is that everything changes for the better in an instant when you finally let love take its rightful place within yourself. Once people see that emanate forth, nothing will stop another person’s love from being returned in kind. That’s the gift we are so lacking these days of acrimony and confusion. And we need to fight like hell to restore its place in us all.
My heart’s at the wheel now
And all my mistakes
They make sense when I turn them around
What I thought was so permanent fades”
— From “Watiress,” score written by Sara Bareilles
The gifted singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles is the Carole King of our moment. I am drawn to her music for its honesty and poignancy. Like Ms. King, she is so cognizant of the universal emotions we experience at any age, at any moment, in life and in love. Her score for the musical adaptation of the film “Waitress” represents some of her best work as a songwriter. Near the end of the second act, the character of Jenna sings about how her view on life has changed because of the birth of her daughter, Lulu. That song, titled “Everything Changes,” resonated like a thunderbolt as I penned this essay. I may not never know the wonderful sense of achievement of being a parent. However, I do understand the importance of being reborn when we begin to shake loose from the torpor of our discontent and fear. Because, as Bareilles writes:
“Everything changes. My heart’s at the wheel now and all my mistakes, they make sense when I turn them around. Everything changes. What I thought was so permanent fades.”
I don’t want my past mistakes to fade, but I know they will not represent me, either. And if it takes another half-century to right these many wrongs, so be it. Most people forget you 10 minutes after you’ve gone. We don’t own this time on Earth, we pay rent. Don’t you want it to count, to know you were the best you could possibly be while you’re here? Don’t you want to cast aside the standard of mediocrity and narcissism we’ve let define our time? We need to deserve each other again so when the time comes for our departures, all that remains is what was felt with truth and love. That’s my goal for the next 50 years or however many years are left in my narrative.
And I have a whole lot of writing to do…