A journalist looks at 40


NOTE: I know. I’ve been distracted. I’ll post an update on my projects eventually, but I have more important things to discuss at the moment.

I am 40 today.

I’ve wanted to be 40 since high school. My parents turned 40 when I was 16, and I always saw 40 as the dividing line between “kid” and “grownup.”

All I ever wanted in life was to be a grownup.

I suspect this is a side effect of being, for all intents and purposes, a child prodigy. (Nobody called me that, because my gift lay in journalism rather than, say, music or chess, but I don’t know what else you call a 10-year-old who writes like she’s 40. With or without the label, the fact remains that from the time I was in fifth grade, I wrote professional-quality newspaper articles, and the disparity between my skill level and my physical age created some tension as my clip file grew.)

No matter how well I wrote or how meticulously I took notes, adults continually talked down to me or assumed I was going to misquote them simply because I was young.

My senior year of high school, I got word Hillary Rodham Clinton would be speaking at a get-out-the-vote rally in Carbondale, and I talked the editor of my hometown weekly into letting me cover it. I participated in the presser afterwards, and when Ms. Clinton looked my 17-year-old self in the eye and talked to me in the same tone she’d used with all the adults around me, she earned my undying respect.

She also obliterated my patience with condescending adults.
If the most powerful woman in the free world didn’t have a problem with me, who the hell were these plebeians to question my credentials? If I were 40, I wouldn’t have to put up with this crap, I thought, and from that point forward, I looked forward to that magic age.

Over the years, well-meaning souls have smiled indulgently and assured me I wouldn’t be so excited about turning 40 when it actually happened. These people said the same thing about gray hair, bifocals and wrinkles. I suspect several of them also secretly thought I was just a little girl pretending to be Lois Lane when my byline started showing up in the local paper in 1985.

Their ageist rot was wrong then, and it is wrong now.

Today, for the first time in my life, I feel as if my mind and body are finally in sync. I cherish each gray hair I find, because I know it’s giving me the image of credibility I coveted in my teens and 20s. I get a kick out of looking at people over the lines in my trifocals, and I wouldn’t dream of Botoxing away the four decades’ worth of laughter that shows up at the corners of my eyes and mouth.

I am 40. I am happy. And I intend to stay that way for the rest of my life.

To hell with anybody who can’t handle it.