For many years, I was close to my junior high school teacher, my one and only mentor. Once that relationship ran its natural course, I had looked for a guru for years, until finally, like Gwyneth Paltrow, I realized there weren’t any others in the pipeline per se and I needed to become my own mentor. (Well, I’m not really my own mentor — but Paltrow did say in an interview she did a three-day hike alone in Arizona and gave herself advice because she’s the wisest person she knows. Lord help us.) But mentors, or role models, donâ€™t always have to be people you interact with in real life. They can be people you read about too, and so for that list, I nominate Frances McDormand. She is a superb role model.
Sheâ€™s film and theater actress (she did win that Oscar for “Fargo”), forgoing the spotlight to raise her son in anonymity, which seems very sensible. But if you read the Times arts sections, her name shows up in these random shows off-off-Broadway, in Brooklyn in weird places like St. Ann’s Warehouse. There are a lot of movie stars doing straight plays in Broadway, where their name is critical in generating millions of dollars of ticket sales. This woman has the pull to follow a similar path, but chooses oddball productions that are well-off the beaten path. It’s so not normal. Last year, she did an ensemble show of Shaker Spirituals, where the cast, a mix of millenial unknowns and septuagenarian theater vets, replicated the dancing and singing Shakers did to get down. How uncommercial can you get? How fun. She seems to be doing the kind of theater that interests her, and weird plays like the Shaker thing is something I love about theater — what interests me is less about performing, and more about having a new life experience. McDormand is no spring chicken, but she’s still out there, playing and trying new stuff and that is incredibly inspiring.
On Wednesday, it dawned on me that I am now truly middle-aged â€“ Iâ€™m in the middle point of my life (you know, provided I donâ€™t get into an accident, get a tumor, etc.) I felt and profoundly understood the finite character of my life span. Forty years ahead of me or not going to be like those behind me. I will no doubt be a bit physically helpless, not so independent for some of it, and when Iâ€™m older, Iâ€™m going to need something to do. I am so very fortunate that I have things that I enjoy doing. I was telling Nancy that I could see myself on an improv team when Iâ€™m in my seventies and sheâ€™s in her sixties. It was her idea that our team would be called the Golden Girls.
What was surprising is recognizing the end of my life did not make sad moment. On the contrary, I feel a little more directed, liberated, like the stars aligning. Because, much like any work of fiction, now that I know the end, I can better figure out the middle.