“It’s the fear that you’re past your best. It’s the fear that the stuff you’ve done in the past is your best work.” ~Robbie Coltraine

I guess it’s about time I had a midlife crisis. All the signs are there, after all:

  1. I’ll be 40 next month
  2. I’ve been married for 13 years
  3. The gray hairs are taking over
  4. Fie, how my bones ache
  5. My car is red

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about age and where I fit on the scale, which makes a kind of sense, I suppose. After all, things I used to do with ease are now a bit of a challenge even though I can still do them. My memory isn’t quite as solid as it used to be. And I’m trying to grow my hair but I don’t think it will quite reach the afro heights from my heyday.

All of which would be fine if I weren’t feeling so out of sorts. Maybe things would be better if we were finally ensconced in our house instead of being boarders for over a year now. Perhaps I would feel a little more settled if I had the kind of spirituality I used to have. I drink my coffee religiously but that’s the extent of the spirit moving me lately. Maybe I need more of that in my life.

If I can live until 80 then I’m firmly at the middle of my life, and what have I done to this point? That’s what it’s all about after all, isn’t it? What have I done? I married the love of my life, had two amazing kids, and finally have a job teaching college. Add to that the fact that I’ve published three novels and I’ve done a lot of the things I wanted to do by this point in my life. But those weren’t all of my goals, which is probably why I’m feeling incomplete.

I would like to have more security. While I’m teaching again, and on the college level, I still need a second job because I’m not on tenure track yet. I need that. I need to feel necessary to the process and I’m not there yet. This house, while it is a labor of love, isn’t done yet and that makes me weary every single day. And then there’s the lack of time for the things I want and need in my life.

I want to get back to something physical. I need to fish back out my tennis racket, to dig out my golf clubs, and find people to play with me. I need to rediscover my friends, or find new ones who are good for me, who help me achieve my goals while I help them with theirs. I need a chance to breathe, to sit back and explore my own thoughts in the midst of this chaos that is life.

So I don’t need a mid-life crisis to save me from myself. I need to find myself again and help myself get better. I need to be grateful for what I have to this point but keep striving for more. Because while things may be harder than they used to be, I’m still alive, and I need to keep striving.


The Middle Place

10294385_10203801221296115_2475776669019344581_nA while ago I read this book by Kelly Corrigan entitled The Middle Place. It was all about the shifting nature of familial relationships. We are born and we become the new generation, the young whipper-snappers who will inherit the world when we come of age.

But then we come of age and we’re not so young anymore. Then time moves on, we have our own children, and they become the new generation, the young whipper-snappers who will inherit the world. But where does that leave us?

We end up stuck between worlds, which made a bunch of sense to me then, and which makes even more sense now. We are no longer young. We are not yet old. We are fathers and mothers, but we are still sons and daughters at the same time. We are in the middle place, and it can be very awkward at times.

I remember when Alexa was born and how inadequate I felt. Suddenly I was somebody’s father, but I didn’t feel like a father. I felt like a gangly 18-year old with braces who doesn’t know his ear from his elbow. Now, finally, 10 years later, I do feel like a father. I feel like I’m mature enough to say, “Yes, I’m her dad,” and I can handle everything that comes along with that.

But when I’m back around my own mother I have a tendency to feel like that 18-year old again, even now. Probably because I fall back way too easily into those learned patterns that existed for years in that household. Perhaps if I spent a lot of time around her it would be easier to develop different paradigms, but seeing her only twice a year or so makes that difficult.

So I’m in that middle place, that space between the generations that feels so foreign, but only when I’m around both generations. If I’m just here with my children it’s easy to feel like the man of the house, to be the father and only the father. The son melts away into the shadows then. And when it’s just me around my mother I’m simply the son, and the father waits for me until my children show up again.

Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be, at least for now, and I guess it beats being the youngsters entrusted with the future. But we are the present. We are the ones most equipped to deal with the “now,” and that’s scary in and of itself. But we got this. Because we are in the middle place, and it’s where we finally belong.


On Turning 39

39th_birthday_designs_card-r04129f56a30a48daafab4521ccbf8d7f_xvuat_8byvr_324I remember all of my birthdays, starting with the one to commemorate my turning 6. I had a Batman cake that year, and I recall the Batman looked a little wilted, and I said as much to my mother. It was the old school Batman with the non-form fitting suit. In fact, if I’m not mistaken the one on my cake had a blue utility belt and boots that would have been more at home being worn by Elvira. Oh, and he was smiling. Batman never smiles. But the cake tasted good, which was all that really mattered anyway.

Yesterday was the 39th anniversary of my birth. There was no pomp and circumstance because that’s the way I wanted it. Sure, my Facebook Timeline was exploding with all the messages, well-wishes, and jokes about my advancing age, but that was something separate from me, like some apparition floating along beside me. I acknowledged it without spending too much time breathing it in and letting it define me. Otherwise I was here, and no one saw me except the people who also live here.

My mother called, and she’s finally realized my actual age, which is fine. I used to take insane pleasure in the fact that she would get my age wrong, but she’s fixed that issue. I knew her getting that new phone would come back to ruin my silly little pleasures. But it’s okay. She called me right 11218902_10207635426748855_4355396860113741347_nabout the same time I was born, even though I doubt she knew that’s what she was doing. It was odd to talk to my mother on the occasion of my 39th birthday because to me she is still 39, the eternal age I’ve given to her since I was 10. Acknowledging that I’m a year away from 40 is to admit that my mother is that much older than I see her in my mind.

I watched my favorite movie too, a film I’ve seen some 40 times (wouldn’t it be interesting if I counted all of my viewings of it and there were precisely 39?) and I never get tired of it. There’s just something comfortable about watching a film I internalized ages ago, a movie I’ve made a part of me in so many significant ways. And I don’t expect others to understand, but I do expect them to appreciate the fact that it’s this way for me, to let me watch it uninterrupted, and to bring me snacks when what I want are snacks.

It was a relaxing day altogether, and while there was no Batman cake, there was a spectacular dish of banana pudding complements of my wonderful wife, who tells me that 39 is not that important. She says that 40 is also not that spectacular, that I can look forward to more aches and pains, but that’s been true since I turned 30. My wife is older than I am, and I look forward to getting to her age. Of course, though, when I get there she will be inexplicably older still, forever out of my grasping reach. She says it’s okay, though, because that’s the hand we’ve been dealt and we should embrace it like it was a second skin.

So how do I feel about 39? I’m still undecided. After all, it’s only been a day. But what I can say is that I certainly don’t feel 39, for what that’s worth. insomnia-quote.jpgWhen I got up this morning I was exhausted, testament to getting to bed after 11pm and having to awaken at 5:45am. At 19 I was able to parlay one hour of sleep into a full day at a frenetic pace. By 29 my necessary sleep to avoid being an ogre was five hours. And now… well, now, let’s just say that I know the consequences but I still don’t get the amount of sleep I need. But maybe that’s not 39. Maybe that’s just being stubborn.

I have decided, though, that 39 will be a transformative year. I’m going to publish two novels this year. I’m going to teach my children something they haven’t learned yet this year. I’m going to show my wife even more how much I appreciate her this year. I’m going to live life to the fullest because no time is guaranteed to me. That’s one thing 39 has taught me even in its infancy. That’s one thing I will carry with me during my 365 days of 39-hood. Oh yes, and this blood pressure medication too.


Ogres and Old People

38_year_old_birthday_designs_stickers-ra29a1bc1f8734c9ba17b6eb38a04b160_v9wf3_8byvr_324When I was 10 I thought 38 was ancient, that the space after 35 was inhabited by ogres and old people, and that if I ever got to that point someone should probably take me out behind the barn and put me out of my misery. I would see people on the streets and shake my head, knowing that if they weren’t already at that point that they were getting there soon. But one thing I knew for certain was that I would never get there myself. You see, when we’re 10 the world is such a small place, and time is such a vast concept that we can’t quite wrap our brains around it. When we’re 10 we think about forever being 10, not growing older.

But I didn’t stay 10 forever. I kept getting older while the world got larger and time began to shrink. As I motored past 20 it was about shaving and parties. Then 25 came and I noticed a few aches and pains that hadn’t been there before. That’s when I noticed the people in my life who were past 35 weren’t that far away age-wise from where I myself had gotten to, and that woke me up to an extent. Once 30 was in the rearview mirror I began looking at the mirror more myself, noticing the gray hairs that had started to creep in and that were trying to take over. Then 35 hit hard like a hammer slamming against an anvil, and I woke up with a start.

Either I was an ogre or I was {gasp} OLD. I think at that point I preferred the ogre.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t think of my parents or other relatives in that way. They were simply themselves — ageless in my book — and defied characterization. However, everyone else was fair game, and as I hit that magical number myself I began to notice those who were younger looking at me the way I used to look at “old people.” It was a mix of pity and awe: the pity because I was old, and the awe because somehow I was still walking around and talking to others. Yeah, the ogre seemed a lot more humane when I started noticing those looks.

Then I saw signs saying “40 is the new 20,” showing photos of women who were apparently 40 but who looked 30, as if we could bend time back around and get younger Benjamin Button-style without fading away. But I would look into the mirror and I wouldn’t see 10-year-old me with the wide open world view and the judgmental glasses. I would see 35-year-old me with a little extra weight on the mid-section and with the crinkles around my eyes that showed wisdom as well as age. It was as though 10 had been just a mirage. I would look at the young kids as I passed them and shake my head in wonder that I was ever that age, that I had ever thought like that about aging, about the myth of 35.

Now I’m 38, and I’ve only been 38 for a few hours, but I know what it means now. It doesn’t mean I’m an ogre or that I’m an old person. It means I’ve gotten older, for sure, and it means that I do have more aches and pains now, but they’re war pains, the result of a life lived, and still being lived. See, I don’t want to be taken out behind the barn and put out of my misery now because life isn’t misery. Sure, it can be tough sometimes, and the years have taken a toll on me physically and emotionally, but it’s all part of me now. That’s what 10-year-0ld me could never have understood, that getting to and past 35 means knowing yourself more, means learning how to be content with aging because it’s not going to slow down.

And yes, those ogres might still look enticing from time to time, but they’ll never be me. I’m simply growing older.


Dear Journal: Being 37

This is what 37 looks like.

Dear Journal,

I am an adult. Sometimes I find that hard to remember, which is funny since I spend a lot of time with younger people. Time was when I would be the youngest one in a room or a group, and I got used to it. But of course as time has passed so have those opportunities to be the youngest, or the second youngest, or the third youngest. Sometimes I still like I’m maybe the fourth youngest but only if I squint really hard and imagine some people are older than they appear to be.

And I’m not sure when that age thing became important to me. Maybe it always was, but from the other side of the glass, when I was looking in at the exhibits instead of being one of them. Generation X. We had the future ahead of us, but now that future is now, and it’s moving quickly. Objects in the rearview mirror are getting more numerous and hard to differentiate from each other. Was it 10 years ago or 20? I can remember both with some level of clarity, but they all start to blend together at a point. That’s all part of being 37.

But yes, I can still be childish at times. I find myself making jokes that I am ashamed of later. Kid jokes, like the kind you would find in a “clean jokes” book available at Barnes & Noble for six bucks. Or playing the repeat game, when someone else says something and I repeat it. Then I’m the only one who laughs at it. I do that a lot with my eight-year old and she’ll roll her eyes at me and keep on doing whatever she was doing before I started repeating her.

Every once in a while I’ll find myself thinking about what I was doing 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, and remembering how I thought I was so old then, that time was some kind of vacuum that sucked years up like so much detritus. And I’m older now, but I don’t always feel my age, whatever 37 feels like. Maybe 37 feels like whatever I’m feeling at the time, like it’s an individual thing instead of a collective age.

Maybe being 37 is just a state of mind.


Ten Years in One Night

How did I get here? I got home last night in a drunken haze from whatever party came after the party I actually got invited to. At least I thought I was home, but this bed feels strange, hard and lumpy like old oatmeal, and my eyes are slow to open. When they finally do I can see a ceiling fan blurry above my head. It’s whirling around so fast I wouldn’t be able to make out the individual blades even if my vision were normal.

My back hurts, too. Not a shooting ache but a dull one that usually comes from having slept on it wrong for too long. When I passed out I must have landed awkwardly on this strange bed, or perhaps it’s a futon. I slowly sit up in bed and force my eyes open more than just the slits they were. I stretch my arms above my head and notice they seem to have lost some definition. Instead of my firm biceps I see some give to them, as if gravity is fighting to drag them down, and is doing a good job of getting it done. It doesn’t compute.

The old, threadbare slippers I’ve had for years that don’t fit me anymore are gone from the foot of the bed, not that I thought they’d be there anyway, but I have to find out where I am. And suddenly I hear a noise behind my back, like a muffled thump, and I turn to see what’s over there. To my shock the thump I heard is identified as a small, mousy woman with stringy brown hair who is on the floor on the other side of the bed. I find my glasses on the side table and slip them on. When did I start wearing glasses?

Everything comes into focus then — the woman, who has obviously just been woken up by her fall from the bed, the ceiling fan above my head, and the sounds of running feet in the hallway outside of the closed door.

“What the…” says the woman in a gruff voice, obviously startled by the fall.

“Who are you?” I respond, still out of it myself.

She looks at me as if I’ve grown a second head.

“Don’t get started this morning, Murray, not until I’ve had my cup of coffee,” she says, dragging herself up from the floor. I notice she is naked, and I quickly look away, first because I don’t know her, and second because she is older. Quite a bit. By at least ten years. And those ten years have not been kind. Continue reading “Ten Years in One Night”

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: