on being middle-aged

From my third-grader’s spelling homework last week:

middle-aged

He handed me this page for my typically cursory parental review.

ME: Uh, Seamus. One thing.

SEAMUS: (already putting his pencil away) What?

ME: Well, it’s just– 45 isn’t “middle-aged.”

SEAMUS: (quite sure) Yes it is.

ME: Usually people say that, like, 60 is middle-aged. More than they would say that about someone who was… only… 45.

SEAMUS: But 45 is in the middle.

ME: Well. It IS, but–

SEAMUS: So that’s middle-aged.

He zipped his backpack with great finality. End of scene.

Two days later, I received my college alumni magazine. In my class notes, my college class secretary stated that since all of us who graduated that year were “halfway to death,” it might be an opportune moment to send in news of where we had ended up.

I’m not middle-aged, strictly speaking, since I’m not yet 45. But I’m darn close. So both of these events have really stayed with me. Halfway to the end– if I’m LUCKY? In that case, what am I thinking wasting another moment watching the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills?

These days, I pass a mirror, and I think: OLD. You are OLD. Which I am. My forty-something friend told me that this decade was all about stepping up your game. No more fitting into that dress by just skipping dessert for a few days. No more heading out to your kid’s soccer game in messy bun, sans makeup. Everything gets harder and takes longer, she explained, and so you have to work harder.

And perhaps that is why, last week, I got Invisalign braces for my teeth. This was after two decades of adulthood in which I 1) thought I should have straighter teeth and 2) did zero about it.

They’re not horribly deformed or anything, but after one of my first auditions in New York City, a casting director explained to me, not unkindly, that I had to do something. (He showed me how they looked in closeup on camera.)

But for several years, I didn’t have the money to do anything about it.

Then I had the money, but couldn’t wear braces on my teeth because I was acting. (Yes, I am middle-aged, so I am speaking of a bygone time in which Invisaligns didn’t exist.)

Then I looked into movie-star Chiclet veneers, but I laughed out loud when I heard how much those would cost.

My oldest friend said, “Don’t do that! Your teeth are fine! You’re like Kirsten Dunst!”

Kirsten_Dunst_320x240

Which was a comfort, for a time. But then two things happened:

1) Kirsten Dunst got her teeth fixed

2) Kirsten Dunst sort of stopped doing movies

By then, I wondered if I was too old to bother. What was the point of fixing my teeth now? I was middle-aged! Halfway to the end! Time to get fitted for a rocking chair, or something. But there is a part of me that rages against the dying of the light. If I’m going to look in the mirror and notice how old I look, I might as well have straighter teeth as a little pick-me-up.

So here’s my question: how does one age gracefully? Is it about increasing the upkeep? Or decreasing the amount that you care?

is blogging a dead language?

WHY BLOGMy brother recently asked me why I’d been posting to my blog less frequently.

More than anything else, I was shocked that he’d noticed.

For six-plus years, I have been blogging– parenting stuff usually, funny stuff most-of-the-time-hopefully. Five hundred and fifty-odd posts later, besides giving me a wonderful record of things I was sure I’d never forget, blogging has brought me so much: Online friends that became real-life ones. Laughter. Writing assignments.  Listen To Your Mother. Even a book deal. It’s led to preposterously great things for me, both personally and professionally.

One thing I have nearly always resisted writing about is blogging, because it seems my audience (such as it is) doesn’t want to read it. Someone’s probably going to unsubscribe on FeedBlitz tomorrow, and I’ll regret having gone so technical and behind-the-curtain. But as we begin 2014, and I begin a seventh year of writing this blog, it seems clear that things are changing, and maybe for good.

These days, blogging can often feel like a lesson in diminishing returns. Today, if I want lots of people to read something I have to say, there are other, faster ways to reach far more people. On almost any blog, comments are way down. Not many people read blog posts ON blogs anymore. Blogs mostly get read through email subscriptions and RSS aggregators. Easier still, we could just follow the blogs we enjoyed on Facebook, and click on the updates that appeared in our Facebook news feeds. But now blog posts aren’t showing up in almost anyone’s feeds unless the blogger pays to promote those posts.  Perhaps it was foolish for me to ever have the expectation of reaching my carefully built Facebook audience for free, forever, but the sudden game-change rankles just the same. 

The notion of diminishing returns is also self-fulfilling, of course, because I have less motivation to post when it feels like no one is reading. But why would anyone keep checking my site when I no longer post with any regularity? When I blog for the Huffington Post instead of on this site, I get way more page views- but I’m also giving away the ownership of my content, and as an actor (perhaps the only other most-unpaid “profession”) that bothers me too.

 There’s another factor in the blogging malaise when you’ve been at it for a while, and that’s a straining against the boundaries of how you defined yourself as a writer back when you started. I had a semi-forced rebranding of this blog, originally named “Mother Load,” when the New York Times picked basically the same name for Motherlode. It was a good thing in the end; renaming my blog “When Did I Get Like This?” meant I didn’t have to write exclusively about parenting anymore, though it seems clear that the readers I still have prefer it when I do, and when I do so humorously. Of course, there are times (months) when life isn’t funny, or at least you can’t see it that way at the moment, and at those times, it can be hard to post. Ann’s Rants is wrestling with that very issue this week- here’s part of what she said in that great and thought-provoking post: 

As the years go on, the part of me that constructs the clever has grown weary, and the part of me that comes to the page to make sense of my experiences yearns to strip away the onus of “funny.”

Over on Babble, CecilyK suggests that 2014 is really about bloggers’ understanding that we are “content marketers,” and that if bloggers don’t make their sites “responsive” for smartphones and tablets and invest in “conversion optimization” (whatever that is) that Google will start penalizing our search rankings, and our readership will drop even further. Cecily’s advice is spot-on, as always, but it’s also a little depressing. The SEO reader-drumming-up stuff is no one’s favorite part of blogging. We just want to communicate and be heard. We just want to start a conversation.

I love the community of writers and of women I have found online. I love hearing from someone, anyone, that something I wrote made them laugh or just hit home. So I will keep blogging in 2014, for that one person who may be reading, because maybe that is enough. But many of the bloggers I’ve known and respected longest are either officially closing down their blogs, posting way less often, or doing their own soul-searching on why they should continue.

Is there still room for blogging in 2014? Or have I, have all of us, come to the end of this road?