Nothing dreadful about being 86

On being 86

A week ago, or perhaps even as late as Friday, I dreaded being 86. And then, suddenly it happened, and the world didn’t fall off its axis. In fact, the day itself was mildly celebrationary and very pleasant. A hot day in early November, a gathering of people who love me, and messages from friends wishing me a happy day and year.

I remember other years like this. Years when the age I’d have to grow into felt vaguely unpleasant, to be endured. I’d forgotten, but they all seemed to work out, and I’m sure being 86 will be just fine.

Read more: Nothing dreadful about being 86

Now my birthday’s over for another year, what’s next?

My birthday journal

Twenty-three years ago, a dear friend gave me a notebook. It has beautiful illustrations and the paper is smooth and glossy. As a writer, I find all new notebooks irresistable, but this was special. I decided to use it as a ‘birthday journal’.

Each year since then I’ve made a list of things I planned for the year ahead. Goals, if you like. Some items recurr, year after year, because they are important enough for me to repeat them.

Each birthday, I also list the things I’ve achieved during the past year. They’ve sometimes been new and often more exciting than the things I hoped for.

The notebook covers my Master of Arts Degree and a PhD. Several house-moves. Marriage. Publication of a book (Other People’s Country) and other less momentous events.

However, rather sadly, for the past few years, both lists have been pedestrian, grey in colour. Wihout excitement. They signal time for change.

My list on being 86

Being 86 looks as if it might be a good year after all. Here’s my plan, in no special order.

  • See more of the people I care about, especially those who do not live close.
  • Go on another holiday. This year’s trip to the snow gave me a taste of what’s possible.
  • Spend three nights away from home for pleasure. (Not because I’m in need of care!)
  • Swim 110 kilometres during the year and walk most days.
  • Review at least 12 books, including three by Indigenous writers and four from the Miles Franklin and Stella Literary Award lists.
  • Write and post 52 blogs.
  • Go on a least 24 ‘Artist’s Dates’. I love this idea from Julia Cameron and look forward to these outings.
  • Enjoy the Perth Writers Festival in February, 2024.
  • Participate in an an online ‘Writing in the Dark‘ workshop, which starts on 6 December.
  • Do three new things I haven’t yet thought of.

There are also a couple of other legal, boring, things to complete, but they don’t rate a place on this list.


With my list of goals, I’m looking forward to getting on with the challenge of being 86. I also look forward to being able to review my list this time next year, and to share how I did with my readers.

If you’ve experienced years that your birthday seemed daunting, even ones you wished would go away, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

signature, maureen helen
Writer Maureen Helen


  1. Such positivity and clarity of purpose inspires me! So glad your birthday celebrations lifted your spirits. 🩵
    To lift my spirits, I’m one for quiet contemplation, looking across a favourite view and purposely being grateful. Mind you, it took me nearly four years to adjust to turning sixty!!
    Wishing you a beautiful year ahead.

    1. Thank you for your feedback, Susan. I love your choice of calming and spirit-lifting techniques. Thank you for your kind wishes for the new year I’m just starting.

  2. Happy Birthday, Maureen 🎂I’m glad you had a lovely birthday.
    Oh, how I envy your enthusiasm for life!
    But I can understand how dread and unease can engulf us when a birthday gets near.
    I felt that way as I approached my fiftieth of all things, but strangely, it didn’t bother me again until I reached seventy-six last January. And now I’m pretty sure the years speed up once we reach a certain age!

    1. Hi, Sue. I was overwhelmed by the thought of being so much closer to 90 than 80! How ridiculous is that, when day is to be lived to its fullest. I’m quite comfortable now with being 86, and even bragged to a woman in the changeroom at the pool yesterday who asked me how many laps I swim. I’m really proud of still swimming a kilometre three timed a week, and hardly ever mention that those days I also need a nap after lunch. I’m sure the years speed up as we age. Weeks seem to whirl around so fast. Mx

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