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Claudia Zelevansky Headshot

This Is 39

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I am one month away from the end of being 38 years old.

That's a convoluted way of saying that in a little over a year, I will be 40. FORTY. I remember when my dad was about to turn 40, he was in a bad mood for months. If it's genetic, people should start avoiding me in October of 2013.

I want to be that person for whom this looming event has no meaning -- or at least no negative meaning. I really want that. To be so confident, self-satisfied and above the anxieties of aging that it barely flits through my consciousness. I want to be so evolved that turning 40 would be like, just a nice excuse for a fancy dinner. I met someone like that yesterday, one of those people who assures you of how great it is and that she was so busy she barely noticed that birthday and how I should look forward to it. I listened, but instead of absorbing her wisdom, all I could think was that she was a big, fat (tall, skinny) liar in very high-end gym clothes. I almost hissed.

So it's here. The slow march and manic sprint to the big 4.0. I think I'm freaking out. One of the ways I know that is that I keep making lists. Lists are calming to me like consolidating bottles of Advil in my medicine cabinet or stacking books in size order or recycling. Evaluating what I should have done by now seems unhealthy, so I've taken to writing lists that evaluate areas of growth. Ah, growth.

A Comparative Analysis of 25 years old versus 38 11/12 year old:
BILLS
Then: Paid only when pressed/monthly panic
Now: Yes. Almost always on time(ish)
FRIENDS
Then: Most interesting wins
Now: Still true, but a lower tolerance for lunacy
WORK
Then: Everything
Now: Almost everything
FOOD
Then: Baby carrots and nachos
Now: Kale and nachos
DRINK
Then: Whatever you can fit in a mug
Now: Do you have Malbec?
HOME
Then: Small NYC apartment, shared
Now: Small NYC apartment, solo*
NEW YEARS EVE
Then: Go out NO MATTER WHAT
Now: I stayed in on NYE 2010, just because I wanted to**
SELF-KNOWLEDGE
Then: Virtually none***
Now: I lie to myself for shorter intervals

*Still no washer/dryer
**Still went out every other year, and often in pleather pants
***But MANY opinions, theories and feelings

It doesn't really help though. My growth chart makes me feel better for 10 seconds, and then I'm back in the panic room. I'm easily set off these days. Triggers:

• Anyone asking me about my plans for my 39th birthday
• People born in the '90s
• Having a hangover after more than one drink
• Sundays (and sometimes Tuesdays and Wednesdays)
• Very impressive people my age or younger. See: Rachel Maddow, Jonathan Safran Foer and that Mayor from San Antonio
• The N train (I have no idea)

All these can send me into an almost-40 tailspin. 13 months to work it out! That's no time at all. 14 months ago, I decided to buy new sheets at Bed, Bath & Beyond, and I still haven't done it.

When I was 25 years old, I was amazing at 40. I was so impressive. You would have loved me. I was way better that the big, fat, tall, skinny liar I met yesterday. And that's a big part of the problem, right? The idea you had about who you would be? Because no matter how good your current comparative lists look, there's always that other list, the secret list you made a long time ago.

I'm not telling what was on mine.

Nope. Still not.

Because in truth, being 40 minus a year and 4 weeks old has taught me that my secret list is a catalog of extremely impressive virtues that have very little to do with me. If I had checked them all off, I would indeed be fantastic. I would also be someone else. Probably someone taller. With straight hair. Trilingual. I don't fault my 20-something self for it -- I was ambitious and I was also still drinking jug wine. But my secret list was about as likely to work out as when I went to Paris for the first time at 11 and believed everyone would be dressed in Fin du Siècle clothes. Both were assumptions based in experience (that's what they wore in Gigi) but not reality (it was a movie from the 1950s). I was very very sad when it turned out the French people were wearing jeans, but I still loved it there. Maybe I can learn to love this, too?

T-minus 385 days. It's hard to know what these days will bring. But for now I'm headed to Bed, Bath & Beyond. Because new sheets always help and, in the ageless parlance of our time: Whatever.