by Mia McKenzie
Yesterday I turned 36. It was a great birthday, just what I wanted, full of food and sunshine, friends and lovers, dancing, laughter. There were moments of poignancy, of shared wisdom, of connection. There were moments, too, of being faced with my self, with the brilliant, beautiful, talented, and deeply flawed and wounded person I am.
Turning 36 is kind of a big deal. Several weeks ago, I remembered that when I was a kid writing stories, I always made my favorite women characters 36 years old. I thought of 36 as this perfect age, when women were the most alluring, the most interesting. I fell in love with those characters, every time. For a long time, I forgot about that little detail of my younger brain, forgot how I had romanticized this particular age. And at first I wasn’t so thrilled to be turning 36. I mean, I like a lot of things about aging. I like the wisdom. The sagging, though, I could do with a bit less of.
More than that, I just wish I had learned more lessons by now. That, really, is the thing about aging that’s hard. Knowing that you’re so much smarter than you used to be, but that you’re still so fucking stupid. That you still make so many bad choices. That you still let the wrong people into your heart. That you still don’t make enough time for the things you want most (read: you still don’t write enough). That you still don’t know what the fuck your life is.
Except sometimes you do know. And in those moments, you let the right people into your heart. You write more. And it’s good. You make promises to yourself, to keep it up and, while you’re at it, to love your friends better, to take up painting like you’ve always wanted to, to mend old, broken fences, to bike more, to say you’re sorry more often and much earlier, to stand up and fight, to love yourself better. And these are good promises. Because making them means that you’re still in it, it means that you can still be that 36 year-old woman you wrote stories about when you were a girl, it means that you are her. Because the thing about her that made you fall in love with her every time wasn’t that her tits didn’t sag, or that she made all the right choices. What made you fall in love with her, every time, was that no matter how flawed and wounded she was, she was still the center of her own story. And her story was never about the ending, it was never about the resolution. It was always about the getting there, the growing. It was always about the struggle.
Mia McKenzie is the creator of Black Girl Dangerous and the Black Girl Dangerous Photography Project. She is a writer (winner of the Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award, winner of the Astraea Foundation’s Writers Fund Award), a reader, a photographer, an activist, and a nerd.