For years, my life was a model of stability. My marriage was wonderful, my kids were well behaved and stayed out of trouble, work was steady and income was sufficient. About the biggest crisis I had to deal with was when the jar of peanut butter got too low to safely dip a Ritz cracker into, resulting in breakage and crumbs lodged too deep for removal.
Things are a little different now.
The past few weeks have been a mish mash of feelings and emotions that I’m just beginning to understand. I haven’t been writing as much as I normally do. Most of the writing I’ve been doing has been work on my second novel, and it’s been strangely unsatisfactory. It’s been bland and banal, even as I work out problems with the plot and develop new characters and twists that I know will fill problematic holes I’ve been wary of for some time now. For some reason, I haven’t been able to generate the same levels of enthusiasm I normally have no difficulty achieving.
Part of it has to do with the recent 3rd anniversary of my brother’s death. An inevitable sadness sets in this time of year. I can’t help but think of him and what might have been, and what I could have done differently, and I am filled with regret and sorrow.
Part of it has to do with the recent observance of my 55th birthday. Numbers have never bothered me. Thirty, forty and fifty came and went with no angst or despair. For some reason, though, fifty five is hitting me. Maybe it’s because my age is now equal to the speed limit on most county and state highways. That doesn’t make any sense. I guess it’s just the awareness that I’m not young anymore, and while I might hang on to the classification of being “middle aged,” I’m aware I am reaching the upper limit of that demographic.
So much of the old world I knew has either died or changed. It’s a natural part of the aging process. It’s also why I’ve been up late a lot lately, watching movies from the 70s and 80s on TCM. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Last Picture Show, Silkwood, Monte Walsh, and Modern Romance. All excellent films that are signatures of the era they were made in, and watching them takes me back to simpler times. They were simpler for me personally, at least, as I was young and healthy.
Change is constant. In the past couple of years, I’ve watched my children leave the house. I left the job I worked at for thirteen years. Family and work are perhaps the two largest components of identity. Add to that my diagnosis eight years ago of Parkinson’s disease, my brain surgery to implant neuro-transmitters, and my ongoing treatment. When I look at the big picture, I realize that I’ve gone through a heck of a lot of change.
Now days I am involved with leading the local Parkinson’s support group, I am on the board of my writer’s group, and I just started training as a volunteer for the local literacy council. And I write …
Last night, while watching Albert Brooks’ wonderful film Modern Romance, I was struck with what was missing in my novel writing lately. I’d gotten into the characters and the plot to a point where I’d forgotten why I was writing about them, what it was about them that I cared about. It wasn’t personal enough. What made all those movies I’ve been watching lately so good is that they were all intensely personal statements by the directors. Whatever the genre, whatever the setting or plot, or whatever the point of view, I respond to art that expresses something that matters to the artist. And it occurs to me that even a neophyte hack like myself must have something personal to say.
I need to return to the things that prompted me to start writing this novel, this particular story, in the first place. It’s not the plot elements or new characters I might introduce, it’s finding something in them that relates to the things I care about.
So if this is in fact the dreaded mid-life crisis that I’ve heard about for so long, then let’s just get it the fuck over with. I’m bored with it, and I’m losing patience with myself. I need to pull my head out of my ass before the peanut butter jar level gets any lower. I can only deal with one crisis at a time.