Nancy Lemann

       I was talking to my mother in New Orleans about my midlife crisis the other day. “What you have to do is keep your hair combed,” said my mother. I said, “Yes, but there is a spiritual dimension to this as well.” My mother commented, “You have to wear lipstick.” I said, “Yes, Mother, but what I mean is, what is there after death? How do you reconcile yourself to being on the down slope moving toward it?” She spoke of facial moisturizers. My nephew piped up, “You get to the Pearly Gates and St. Peter looks you over: ‘Her hair isn’t combed. Send her to hell!’ “
       When I turned 40 last year in New York it was nothing. The air there somehow makes your hair look good. But since moving to the other side of the world, the quiet limit of the world, to San Diego, Calif., where the sun glares out of a pure blue sky, a sun that can be destructive of all you have known and believed, I have become obsessed with mortality, decline, and death. It’s so ironic, but yet typical, that California has always been billed as a paradise, and invalids traditionally went there seeking restoration and good health, and yet, once you get here, you go into a huge decline and all you think about is death.
       My husband calls it injury du jour. One day it might be my rotator cuff. The next day it will be a sort of migraine, accompanied by nausea. Then my mind feels trapped in a vise. Varying digestive complaints occupy a wide range of hypochondriacal illness. Out here in California we have a lot of sinus ailments. That’s a whole extra bouquet of ailments.
       But I am trying to come to grips with my midlife crisis. My mother, as always, is on the mark. Lipstick helps. Lipstick helps you face death. When you meet St. Peter you want to be wearing it. I guess you want to be defiantly holding your head up high, with a new hairdo. No, that’s not me. That’s my mother. I have always tried to be drab, so that the attributes of my soul, what’s left of them, should show through unvarnished.
       The root of the issue for me, I think, is trying to adapt to my new station in life. I used to be a carefree glamour girl and belle-of-the-ball type. Now I am a hapless matron with responsibilities. Actually it is a hard transition to make. I do not know how people make it so easily. But I do think that most people do make it more easily.
       Injury du jour: lower abdominal ache.
       Here I can look at the views of the vast and, after all, somewhat glamorous, if you don’t have to swim in it, Pacific … But “I don’t trust that ocean,” as Robert Benchley said on his first view of it, when he came out to Hollywood.