On Middle Age

Goodness, I suppose I must be middle-aged. By which I mean that I’m in my 40s, and that’s what they call middle age, right? It’s supposedly somewhere in the middle . . .

Although my grandmother lived to 96, and I’m not halfway there yet. And I don’t feel as though I’m in the middle of anything. One of the problems of being an artist is that you feel, always and for all time, as though you’re at the beginning, just getting started. You don’t think Picasso sat around thinking, “I’m in the middle,” do you? No, he was always at the beginning of another period, of discovering the way to paint. Sometimes I beat myself up mentally, asking myself, why haven’t I accomplished anything yet? Why am I still at the very beginning of writing? And then I remind myself that I’ve been at this ten years, that I’ve published four books. Oh, but those were poems, stories, essays, I think. Not a novel, not yet. And anyway, I’m still learning . . .

Every night, when I sit down in front of the computer and write a new sentence, I learn something new. Every sentence is a beginning.

So perhaps middle-age means physically? But I feel healthier than I’ve ever felt in my life, more fit both physically and mentally. I have back problems, but those started in my twenties, when an Evil Partner at my law firm cast a curse that kept me revising documents for the financing of a technology startup, twelve hours a day. After a week, I couldn’t move my neck. When I went to see the doctor, she told me it looked as though I had been in a car accident. Ever since, I’ve had back problems. So I go to a magical Physical Therapist, and I exercise, and try to get enough sleep, and manage as best I can. I will never get rid of the underlying injury.

The strange thing about writing a blog is that I can remember back, two years ago, when I started this one. I was still working on my doctoral dissertation, then. I remember writing about butterflies, and how when they are in the chrysalis, they must feel as though they’re dying. I wrote that because I felt that way myself, at the time. I had faith, then, that I would emerge at some point, and that what I would emerge as would look like a butterfly.

And guess what? I feel like a butterfly. A very tired butterfly, sometimes. But free, and beautiful, and able to do all sorts of things I could only dream about, when in the caterpillar stage of my twenties and thirties. Like, you know, fly . . . So whatever age I am now, whether middle or something else, thank goodness for it.

This year, several people I knew died, in their thirties or forties. What was the middle for them — their teens? Twenties? The truth is, we don’t know what the middle of a life is. We never know. So I’ve decided that middle age is like fairies, or the stock market — it exists only if people believe in it. I’m not sure I do. (At least, I’m more likely to believe in fairies . . .)

If I had to describe the way I feel, today, the day before my birthday, I would have to say that I feel as though I’m in my late childhood. Just emerging from the process of learning who I am, for the first time confident enough to say “I think I know.” Not yet confident enough to say “I know,” but I don’t think I’ll ever get there, because I keep changing. As do we all. We have a tendency to discount how much we change, how much life changes around us. We think the present is it, that in the present we have arrived somewhere. But we haven’t. We don’t arrive anywhere until our deaths — everything else is journey. And where we are on that journey . . . we just don’t know.

Personally, I intend to live until I’m a hundred. And I intend to write all the way. Perhaps by the time I reach my 80s, I’ll know what I’m doing.

Dora 1

This was me last weekend, out in the country visiting Fruitlands, the farm where Bronson Alcott and his family tried to create a rural utopia. It didn’t work very well . . . But it makes for a wonderful visit in fall, when the trees are starting to turn yellow and orange and red, and the apples are hanging on the trees. And then there was apple pie and maple walnut ice cream. A wonderful way to spend a birthday . . .

Landscape 4

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11 Responses to On Middle Age

  1. Emily Lam says:

    People, like you, who keep starting and creating new chapters and journeys in their life give me great optimism about my future. It reminds me that there’s so much time and so much you can do; There are so many different things to do. There seems to be a belief that there is a certain deadline one needs to succeed by, but I’m not quite sure what that even means anymore.

  2. sarah says:

    Happy birthday! I always think of you as a very accomplished writer. Funny isn’t it how we can believe the novel is the pinnacle of publishing? I participated today in a conversation about teaching American Literature in which several people agreed the short story was American lit at its finest.

    • Thank you! And yes, that’s interesting . . . I think from a writer’s perspective, a novel is the only thing that really pays. So yes, we’re all trying to write novels, because a short story is a lot of work for, often, several hundred dollars. Also, novels often get a much larger audience!

  3. I intend living to be 102, so this year I hit my “middle age”. The view is good from here!

  4. Happy, happy birthday! You look so not 40! Hope you have a good year, and you continue writing (your blog posts, inclusive)!

    xo!

  5. Teri Skultety says:

    Such a wonderful post. I adore what you’ve said about not really knowing what the middle is, sort of scary as I, too, am in my 40’s and I hope that this is the middle, wonderful thoughts on the subject.

  6. KLM (Nyíregyháza) says:

    Welcome to “the club” and Happy Birthday… Here’s my “gift”:

    “Soha nem hagyom abba
    csak újra kezdem el”

    ie.
    I never finish
    but start it again

  7. pbrewer says:

    I have been advocating to my older relatives that they shoot for eleventy-one. If it’s good enough for Bilbo…

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