I don’t know what it is about lists, but I’m forever making them and always tempted to read them. So around the time of my 28th birthday earlier this month, it seemed timely that I came across a list of things every woman should have and know before she turns 30.
Published originally by Glamour magazine in 1997, this year it was published in the form of essays wherein each of the original 30 items was expanded upon by different writers.
In the introductory chapter, Pamela Satran -the author of the original list- talks about how she almost missed her own surprise birthday party thinking turning 30 was no reason to celebrate, added to the fact that she was an exhausted new mother and grappling with grief following her own mother’s death.
However after her husband gave away the surprise and begged her to come to the restaurant where all her friends were waiting for her, she had a great time and realised that she was the same person she was at 9 or 15 or 28 or later will be at 39 or 44. But what she also realised was that there was a shift for her. She writes,
“for many of us there is a sense, whether it’s justified or absurd, that throughout your twenties you are becoming someone and something that, once you turn thirty, you simply are“.
Of course a list published by Glamour telling women 30 arbitrary things didn’t really promise to be thought provoking soul searching literature. But while some items on the list are just plain fluff such as “a purse, a suitcase and an umbrella you’re not ashamed to be seen carrying”, some do have underlying value to them.
For example, no. 8 on the list of things to have is “an email address, a voice mailbox, and a bank account- all of which nobody has access to but you”. This to me points to the importance of having privacy and being independent, both as an attitude but also financially. We women tend to share and give too much of ourselves in our relationships, so it is a good reminder that some things should be just for ourselves, even if it is reclaiming a day of the week or an hour in the day as ‘me time’.
To give another example, no. 3 on the list of things you should know states “how to quit a job, break up with a man, and confront a friend without ruining the friendship.” To me this underscores the importance of good communication rather than being literally about quitting jobs, breakups or confrontations.
My teens and early 20s were marked by numerous socially awkward encounters. I would beat myself up for days about something ridiculous I had said to someone (or at least what I considered to be mortifying). These awkward conversations would then shape those relationships for years to come and I would just not be able to get over them. As I’m getting older, my communication skills are getting better, but more importantly when I do make a faux pas or say something embarrassing, I am able to laugh at myself, sometimes even on the spot, and move on. In cases where I do dwell on something, the after effects don’t last forever.
When I bought the book, I was seduced by the idea that each of these arbitrary items on the list would be turned into something meaningful by people like Katie Couric, Bobbi Brown and Maya Angelou (and others whose names I didn’t recognise given my limited knowledge of American pop culture). At any rate these were all successful inspirational women who must have something to say that I could learn from. However, while there were snippets here and there that were touching, inspiring or funny, most of the writing was very superficial and rhetorical, only touching upon an idea or story rather than really delving into it. Sometimes even the transition from one thought or paragraph to another seemed abrupt, so that the essays seemed like they were synopses of larger pieces rather than being complete pieces in their own right.
Even Maya Angelou’s piece, which I was looking forward to, was no more than a reading list and a list of random objects to possess. These included things like “an elegant robe to wear when one has company staying over” and a silver tea serving set and a silver coffee serving set, which you would expect a 84 year old woman to come up with.
Personally I could live without these, especially given the next item on her list: “with all this silver, you should always have silver polish on hand. When a silver set is polished and shining, it tells a woman that she is worthy of the best because she is the best.” Ahem. I can imagine how having a really beautiful tea set (perhaps vintage china in a very delicate design) would make you feel very grownup and ladylike, for the moment I’m happy with my polka dotted and striped mugs. I do own one white tea pot to brew green tea in though. Perhaps that is enough of a concession to domesticated womanhood?
I will share with you Maya Angelou’s book list though, some of which I plan to read:
1. Sula by Toni Morrison
2. The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
3. Poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay
4. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
5. The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou
6. The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni
7. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
8. The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan
9. The Woman Warrior: Memories of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston
10. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende