On Turning 40

Posted on August 29, 2019


I used to make playlists for every occasion possible. I have playlists called “Drive to Sara’s wedding” or “From Teheran to Shiraz” or “Christmas Traffic”, among many, many others. Over time, these playlists tell the story of my life since iTunes. From “First date with J” to “Pastry School Delights”, passing through “Mauritius with Fato and Lego”, “NYNYE2016” and “Moving to Badaro.” Each playlist encapsulates my mood at the time. Some songs appear on several playlists, especially the songs that I am obsessed with at any given point.

For my 30th birthday, as I was planning a trip around the world, my playlist was boringly named “Around the World.” It was made up exclusively of songs that make me happy. The most played song on that list was my favorite Beatles song: I’ve Just Seen A Face.

Optimism and possibilities.

It’s a relatively unknown Beatles song, bursting with optimism, possibilities, love, and energy. It’s a great feel-good song that perfectly captured my attitude going in to my 30s. Every day felt like something great would happen that would make things even better.

Now I’m 40. I’ve stopped making playlists, for lack of time, and lack of enthusiasm about mundane things. I’m obviously still listening to music though. My current obsession is Sloop John B by the Beach Boys (Don’t fight me on this: music from the 1960s beats all other music. You can thank psychedelics for that!).

Depression and melancholy.

It’s a brilliant rearrangement by Brian Wilson (who was only 24 at the time, and recovering from a nervous breakdown!!!) of an old Bahamian song. At first listen, the song is, once again, bursting with energy and joy, an instant feel-good sound. But as the harmonies sweep you away into a world of happiness, the lyrics move in and suck you into a melancholy that is all-powerful. By the end of the first verse, as Wilson beautifully proclaims “I feel so broke up. I want to go home”, claustrophobia sets in. Soon, you realize that a fun adventure around Nassau (where, coincidentally, is where I turned 20), quickly turns into a depressing, almost oppressive need to escape, to go home. The haunting continues: “Let me go home” “Why don’t they let me go home?” “I want to go home” “Why don’t you let me go home?”

It’s a deeply introspective collective autobiography of everything we feel, as humans. Through the song, we enter a world, the real world we’ve been too distracted to notice, where we are fragile beings, trying not to buckle under external pressures we can’t control, trying to deal with self-imposed romantic expectations and personal limitations, while simultaneously trying to hang on to the fading faith we have in ourselves and in humanity. It’s a song that’s as horrible, wistful, painful, joyous, exciting, and mysterious as life.

This is not the best way to enter my 40s. It sounds like I’m about to jump off Burj el Murr. I promise you I’m not.

It has been a rough 10 years though. I was hospitalized. I lost my last living grandparent. I started taking daily meds. I learned how to cry. I took care of ailing family members. I began feeling chronic pains. I gained over 20 kilos. I’ve gotten bald. I started experiencing anxiety. I had my heart broken, 3 times.

But it has also been a magical 10 years. I have traveled extensively. I’ve changed careers. I’ve lived in 6 houses, in 3 countries. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I’ve unraveled the secret to making desserts. I’ve met new people, forged new friendships, strengthened existing friendships. I’ve fallen in love, 3 times.

I’ve lost the optimism of I’ve Just Seen A Face, true. Life kind of made me do it. Now, I hunt monsters, with soul, heart, and joy. But the hunt gets tiring, and sometimes, it’s time to just go home.

As you reach the last verse of Sloop John B, “this is the worst trip I’ve ever been on”, the contradiction takes full force. You don’t know whether to just give up and cry at the hopeless state of being, or jump up and dance to the beauty of the Beach Boys’ harmonies. It’s a mindfuck like you’ve never experienced.

So now, home is where I’m headed. That’s what I expect my 40s to be. A long, winding journey to finding home, wherever that may be. The 30s were a fun trip that went wrong. The 40s will be the return journey, to a destination that is still unknown (here, I’m tempted to quote another Beach Boys classic, but I stopped believing in god in my teens.) So instead, I’ll revert back to the eternal optimism of the Beatles, quoting a song that is the exact opposite of Sloop John B: it sounds melancholic, but with lyrics that are full of possibilities.

Take these broken wings and learn to fly

“Blackbird singing in the dead of night

All your life

You were only waiting for this moment to arise”