The 50th Birthday

Have you ever had certain things happen to you, seen or read something, met someone, at exactly the right time in your life? And it felt serendipitous, the planets had aligned, the world conspired with you, not against you, and it couldn’t be chance, because it felt so perfect and perfectly timed?

The day I turned 50 was one of the best days in my life. Quite possibly THE best. Two days before I turned 50, I hadn’t made any art in two years, I was out of shape, unhappy and depressed, and not particularly excited or looking forward to being 50 years of age. Where had the time gone?

Somewhere in Ohio, April 5, 2014

Driving to Chicago. Somewhere in Ohio, April 4, 2014

The day before I turned 50, Mike and I drove to Chicago for the weekend. We had been making this trip on My Birthday Weekend for a couple of years, and this time my actual birthday was on Saturday.

Mike and I are creatures of habit when it comes to our Chicago visits, and we generally stay at the same place, eat at the same restaurants, and do the same things (sad, I know, but this makes us happy). We stayed at the Congress Plaza Hotel again, splurging this time on a room with a lake view.

The Art Institute of Chicago in April

Our first stop is always the Art Institute of Chicago. We visit our favorite paintings, among them Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day, the Monet’s, and Gerhard Richter’s paintings. The featured exhibit at that time was the work of abstract painter Christopher Wool. Here was inspiration! I loved his textures, the work with flowers and patterns, and I felt invigorated! I finally had that itch again, anxious to make some art of my own.

My last day at age 49 ended on a high note too. We were adventurous this trip and ate at a new place for dinner, Exchequer. I love a good pub, and this was hands down the best deep dish pizza we had ever eaten. My birthday weekend was off to a great start.

The Planets Align

My birthday was a beautiful day. It was still chilly, but the sun was shining (we had been dealing with a lot of gray days), and the sky was a perfect and clear blue. Another first, we decided to walk along the lake, north towards the Museum of Contemporary Art. It was a perfectly wonderful walk, with the lake to our right and the city to our left, sun shining, people walking/running/biking on the path. It was one of those “life is good” moments that you try to relish and absorb.

We get to the Contemporary and wander into an exhibit of an artist I had never heard of: Michael J. O’Brien. Walking around and viewing his work, I felt shocked by a feeling of familiarity, and I literally said out loud, in a museum (ok I said it quietly), “what the f**k?” Here were works with textiles and safety pins, paint and glitter! I was seeing and experiencing validation, that my inclination towards using sewing and craft materials is “ok,” and more importantly that my instincts as an artist are. I just hadn’t been trusting them.

The zinger came when we rounded the last corner and came upon large drawings, one of which drew me to it like a magnet:

William J. O’Brien Untitled, 2012 Colored pencil, ink, and glitter on paper

William J. O’Brien
Untitled, 2012
Colored pencil, ink, and glitter on paper

It’s hard to get the feeling written down right, to convey the impact on my soul, but experiencing his work was such a kick-in-the-pants revelation. GLITTER! And bright pink ink! And it’s beautiful and cool and sophisticated! And this piece is in a collection. It was a sign, a huge billboard, telling me to f**k insecurity and self-doubt and get to work. Start making art again.

Don’t Break Your Heart

I hate that I (most likely) am more than halfway through my life, and that I keep drifting off the path and into the weeds. And before turning 50 I was in the weeds for a while. But at least I’m (working at) living a creative, art full life, and my 50th birthday experiences got me out of the weeds and set me back on my creative path.

I love this quote from Anne Lamott:

“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”



This entry was posted in Creative Spirit, Inspiration, Motivation.


  1. Took Gallagher October 26, 2015 at 10:37 AM #

    What a great post — such wonderful writing. I have felt the same sort of feelings and I have also recently received validation through several bursts of synchronicity and totally unexpected opportunities. And things just keep falling into place. Life (right now) is so glorious! Congratulations on your events and discoveries — good luck to both of us — we are definitely on our
    “right” paths!

  2. Julie October 27, 2015 at 6:18 PM #

    Thank you so much, Took! I appreciate your feedback and sharing. It’s so great to hear life is glorious for you! At least right now ? We have to remember these glorious bits when we wander into the weeds. Yes, good luck to both of us!

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