This Friday, April 25th, marks my 32nd birthday. It comes two days after my favorite holiday, la Diada de Sant Jordi (internationally known as World Book Day), when all of Barcelona is decorated with roses and there are booksellers on every corner of the city. The excitement of that day and the warmth of the spring sun spills over to my birthday — roses that are still mid-blossom and a stack of literary magazines grace my writing desk for at least a week after.
Since living in Spain I have celebrated two birthdays: my 30th and my 31st. It rained on both occasions and both were memorable celebrations. The evening before my 30th birthday I was nervous because I wasn’t sure what to expect when the clock hit midnight and I would go from my naïve but seasoned twenties into the first year of my yet-uncharted thirties. Plus there was the added anxiety of it being my first birthday that I would celebrate abroad — at that moment I didn’t know too many people, and it being such an important number I was hoping for it to be a happy memory. In the end, all my worry was for naught: I was surprised all day long with endearing messages from friends back in the States, and many of my Spanish friends made an effort to call me or even visit me by surprise bearing sweets. A handful of students gave me handmade cards and another gave me a cake with the traditional yellow and red stripe pattern of Catalonia. I went to bed overwhelmed with all the love I had received and was especially moved by the generosity of the friends I’d made in Barcelona.
My thirty-first birthday was different as I had met Fran. My birthday fell 0n a Thursday last year and I spent the day working — I didn’t really feel like celebrating like I did the year before. It was a combination of not feeling too hot (I had a stomach bug) and having multiple back-to-back classes that afternoon that made me tired by the time for our pre-planned dinner arrived. We had mediocre Mexican food a stone’s throw from our then-newly-rented flat and though I started off kind of grumpy, Fran was gracious in giving me a bit of space before laying into the birthday celebrations. I was also checking e-mail the whole day and felt loved all over again at seeing the many messages I’d received from back home and here locally. As we finished dinner a light drizzle began to fall and we walked home arm in arm, the taste of the piña colada still fresh on my tongue.
As my birthday approaches, I have to be honest in saying that I have what could best be described as mixed feelings. I am happy to be alive, definitely: a couple of childhood friends didn’t make it to thirty, and though I’m in good health it doesn’t hurt to be grateful for just waking up. I feel fulfilled for the first time in my life in that I am in a place I want to be with someone I want to be with and doing what I want to do. I have never known freedom until moving to Spain and I celebrate that with every decision I make to establish my life more and more permanently here in Europe.
It’s an odd feeling, really, contemplating my age as it increases in number. And all the stranger being so far from home — there’s no one really here in Barcelona that’s known me long enough to give me perspective, the day-to-day kind that only a long-time friend can provide. At first I thought I was simply feeling anxiety, even fear, at seeing the years start to accumulate. The idea of things happening ten years ago doesn’t seem so impossible as it did when I was 22. I am starting to notice the age gap between some of my younger students whereas before I was still part of those social groups. Most of my friends are celebrating weddings and having babies and the other day while writing I realized that my parents had me when they were 22 and 23, respectively. Incredibly young to raise a child when at that age I was still too foolish to know what I really wanted in life.
But then, I thought, do I know what I really want from life now? Things can always change, of course, that’s a given. But how do I feel so different now after being on my own, really on my own for the first time ever?
The only way I can describe it is that with the passage of the last few years and feeling the onset of some deep psychological change that affects my outlook on life, it feels like I’m leaving behind the old me and moving on to a more mature version of myself. I feel more focused and more protective of my creative impulses. I feel a more intense need to take better care of my health, and this means mind and body. But more than anything I’ve promised to make this my 32nd year the year of my life that I began to rededicate myself to writing. After a long time of contemplation, I’ve realized that writing is really the only thing that’s always been there. Doing it is what makes me happy, and there’s no feeling that’s more gratifying in the world than being exhausted from having written all day long. It is a deep, mystical relationship that I can’t fully understand. All I know is that it’s not magic, that it requires a hell of a lot of effort and discipline that I’m still working up to.
I hope that this my 32nd year will be the turning point my development so sorely needs.