Yesterday was my 47th birthday. If actuarial estimates of my lifespan are correct, I’m at the exact halfway point of my life.

(Of course, that’s barring any kind of random accident. And one of the questions on the questionnaire was not “Do you regularly jay-walk across New York City streets while taxicabs hurtle toward you at high speed playing ‘chicken’?”)

Waxing philosophical for a few moments on this momentous day, I asked myself “What have I learned in the first half of my life that I would like to apply in the second half?” And I asked the same thing to my two closest friends (who, by the way, have never met or talked with each other). Remarkably, our answers were all the same.

Annette said: “To not worry about what others think, and just be true to myself.”

Lela said: “To be appropriate — to always act and speak in the way that I believe is best. People don’t remember what you say, but they remember how you make them feel.”

And my answer: To engage my better judgment before speaking and acting in ways that I end up regretting.

To paraphrase them all, what we have learned in the first half of our lives that we want to live in the second half is this: To be true to our better selves.   (Could it also be said that it takes the first half of our lives to figure out what our true selves are?)

I had a second answer to this question as well, and it was this: People are more important than tasks. Speaking as a chronic workaholic, I would like to change my priorities and my behavior so as to break the cycle of working to the exclusion of relationships, then working to fill the empty space. I find that when I can look forward to spending time with people I enjoy, work gets done in much less time, so by arranging my priorities to put relationships higher on the scale, I should be able to accomplish as much work and have a more fulfilling relationship life.

To these, I would add another reflection on my life that has been bouncing around in my head ever since I watched To Wong Fu, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar last week. It is this: the calling and privilage of being a woman is to embody and express beauty and magic. Those women who embrace this calling are the ones who inspire and lift the rest of the human race above the soulless, mundane grind that life might otherwise be.  (And since this is a quilting blog, I have to say that quilters definitely fall into this category!)

After watching this movie, I asked myself to what degree I feel beauty and magic within myself.  It was surprisingly little. Rather, I feel useful. Useful is not a bad thing; it is good to be useful in this world. But if you are useful without embodying beauty and magic as well, you see yourself and are seen by others only for what you can do. With beauty and magic, you are seen for who you are (or at least who you appear to be). Put the two together and you have style and substance. Now that is something powerful!

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I managed to get myself away from work by 3:00 to spend the afternoon/evening reminding myself why I love New York. Given how much I’ve been working at home and on the road lately, I haven’t been engaging in the life of the city much, so I am due for a dose of NYC energy.

As I dressed to go out, I really paid attention to how I looked — I wanted beauty and magic and substance and higher self all in the mix. (I decided my closet needs an overhaul — too many t-shirts and jeans.) I ended up wearing the purple cardigan sweater I bought at Anik last year to celebrate the publication of SASQ over a white belted shirt and black pants, with dichroic glass jewelry. (To quote Jacqueline Bisset playing “Madame Simone” in one of my favorite movies: “More of that, please!”)

First I dropped off a job at Creative Bath. Ever since Daniel left town, I’ve taken over his work for them making sample shower curtains and table linens. Recently, the head designer asked if I might like to design a line of bed linens for them. Years ago, slogging through my last couple of painful years of music grad school, I longed to design homewares. As I was finishing the manuscript for SASQ, my friend Ann (who listened to so much of my whining back in those grad-school years) reminded me that I had said back then that if I could be anything I wanted, I would be a designer. And now here I am, practically in spite of myself!

Next I headed uptown to the Guggenheim to see the Kandinsky exhibit. But the museum was closed by the time I got there. No problem. I walked a few blocks downtown, first to Vosges (what’s a birthday without chocolate?) (http://www.vosgeschocolate.com/?gclid=CNKr7pzr7Z0CFY915Qodh15uMQ) and then to the Metropolitan.

I decided to just wander and let the Met surprise me with some new discovery. Looking at the list of special exhibits, I saw there was one of Japanese mandalas, so I started there. That took me to the Asian wing, where I have never been before.

Of course, I was interested in the mandalas because of my current book project. They were inspiring not so much because of the design or the specific philosophical/religious underpinnings, but I did feel drawn again to the idea of creating a piece of art that embodies some sort of attribute that you want to focus on, meditate on, and incorporate into your life. I’ll take that with me as I work on the next few mandala quilts for the book, thinking about what I’ve mentioned above.

The sound of trickling water drew me through the galleries to a section of contemporary Japanese art, and I discovered, to my utter delight, that the Met has one of Isamu Noguchi’s water stones. (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/11/eaj/ho_1987.222.htm) Now there is something to meditate upon. The paradox of apparent stillness and yet dynamic movement of the water, the perfect level balance of the stone, the depth of the well in the center, I could go on and on. I could have lingered for hours. (http://www.noguchi.org/water.html)

Moving on through the Asian galleries, I came to a round entryway with a sign that said “Astor Court”. Walking through that strange portal, I entered a Ming dynasty scholar’s garden. (http://www.metmuseum.org/special/scholar/astor_corner.R.htm) It was magical. The stones, plants, waterfall. The covered walkway lined with glowing lanterns. I could imagine a woman in a hooded kimono coming quietly to meet her lover, the stars overhead (it has a glass ceiling), the crickets of a warm summer evening. Who would have thought there was such a place right in the middle of Manhattan? I literally felt as though I had travelled halfway around the world and through time.

As I exited the museum, I saw that it had begun . . . to snow? It seemed so (though it was rain) because the rain was soft and misty enough that the wind tossed the raindrops through the beams of light shining on the face of the museum, making them dance the way snowflakes do. It certainly seemed cold enough for snow. Another magical moment.

Coming home on the bus I decided that even though it was getting late in the evening (8:30), I did want to make a birthday cake, even if there was no one to share it. I wanted the making of it, and even more, I wanted to blow out the candles and make a wish. I haven’t done that in years, but it seemed somehow appropriate and meaningful at the midpoint of my life. So I hopped off the bus to buy a chocolate cake mix and some raspberry jam for a chocolate raspberry layer cake.

Carolina, bless her heart, came over to share the moment with me, even though she was up till 5:00 a.m. the night before being sick. Just as we were lighting all 47 candles (and believe me, I was worried we were going to set off the smoke alarms), my cell phone rang. It was after 11:00 p.m., and I didn’t recognize the number, so I didn’t answer it. And then it rang again — same number. And then a third time. So I checked the voicemail to see who it was.

The voicemail went something like this: “Hi Jen, this is Pete, I know it’s really late, but I just called to wish Trini a happy birthday.” I don’t know anyone named Jen, Pete or Trini.  How wonderfully, strangely coincidental that some complete stranger would call my number — a wrong number — to wish someone happy birthday at exactly the moment when I’m lighting the candles on my own birthday cake?

So I called Pete back to tell him what had just happened. He’s in Florida, but he and the whole family had just recently moved there from New York, which is why he was trying to call a phone in a 917 area code. We had a lovely chat (he asked me how many candles, and all I would tell him was that it took more than one box), and Pete asked if he could call me every year on my birthday. I said he could if he told me his birthday and let me call him every year on his (it’s December 27, and he’ll be 42). So we agreed.

I think the second half of my life is off to a beautiful, magical start.

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