Wednesday, March 26, 2008
The Aqua Mustang 5 – MIDLIFE CRISIS?
Books were being written about something called a midlife crisis and by some reckonings I was in midlife if 50 is old enough to count. I was surely going through a crisis in the sense that everything in the landscape of my life, past, and clearly present, and even more clearly future, was suddenly other than I had always seen it to be. The old reference points had become as flimsy as those antique chairs you fear will crumble if you sit in one of them.
But I was not so concerned yet about any mysteries I might be entering, for my interpretation of midlife crisis was just the way it was presented by the popular writers – something that was far more literal than spiritual – a hot subject that had to do not with entering areas of mystery but with straight-line solutions to problems.
The crisis part rang true. Maybe I wasn’t suicidal but it felt like the end of the word to me. A new affair with a glamorous French woman did not feel like the romance she assured me it was. This book on the Philippines I wrote with Max was in the stores still and getting a little attention, but it had not changed my life the way I had expected. All my books, I now knew for sure, had been the wrong books, just as my marriage had been he wrong marriage.
Change, in the midlife crisis theories as I read them, meant working hard to get to wherever I was supposed to be – which I thought was roughly where I had been in the first place. Maybe for some it would mean changing how you brought in money, but that didn’t seem to apply either. I was no corporate drone. I was a writer, as friends reassured me every time I thought to do something else. Writers are meant to write, they said. Getting past this dark midlife time would partly be a matter of doing more writing, like a writer should.
Getting back did mean change in the sense that I would look for new places that were the places I ought to explore, and I would look for a woman that I ought to have had in the first place. This was so clear I could see the places and the woman with no evidence that they existed. But my ideas about books became a little more concrete. My agent sent out in all directions new book proposals that I labored on. One was for that light book about my family that an editor had suggested and a publisher seemed about ready to sign. Another was for a piece of travel writing that mean I would close my eyes and breath deep and do what most travel writers do, which is to take air tickets and hotel rooms and food and drink as bribes to say nice things that might not be of any interest at all to the writer. And there was an idea for a book about great rivers of the world, most of which I had already seen and some of which I had explored. And then one that would make fun of things in California – from New Age to free-flowing sex to new politics – including things I actually found appealing but would treat with irony verging on contempt.
So I did try to bring the midlife crisis to an end. I did try to write a happy, funny book about family that seemed neither happy nor funny to me. And I tried to find women when I could find the energy.
And the depression got worse. There was this dread writers block which I did not know yet almost never occurs unless the writer is trying to write something false.
I started with a young therapist who wore a yarmulke whom I had encountered by mistake thinking it was a way to placate my ex-wife, who was no more Jewish then me but had a line into the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, where the sliding scale fees were reasonable. Long ago I had pushed for couples counseling – not that I knew much about counseling – and I had been rebuffed. But now that our marriage no longer existed, she called to hold me to the promise.
So there I was, doing the charade of seeing the therapist separately, after a joint session that proved too volatile . And I soon found the young therapist was brilliant and empathetic. The young guy asked about my family and I said my father had recently died. I also found myself telling him about something I had not spoken about before to anyone in the busy near year since I saw my father’s body – about the details of the death, about how my father had died in great pain in a fifth rate Gulf Coast Florida hospital deserted by his wife, my mother, and by my brother the good twin, who came down but then fled the scene, and by his Anglo daughter-in-law and also his only remaining sibling and by anyone who might have still after these last years been considered an old friend – deserted by everyone except my about to be ex-wife and me, who saw him through to death, his entire chest an oozing red and yellow open cancer wound. His reaction to the pain was interpreted as a final coma by the people who would not come to see him – though probably not by the doctor, who refused enough morphine for apparent fear of a malpractice suit. The young therapist asked me how I felt about my father’s death , which was the kind of question I had never been asked before. I was certain I felt nothing beyond a little safe sympathy, and yet I was sobbing now, me a man who had not sobbed in the many years since he had stopped drinking, sobbing now as if it would never stop.
So I junked the midlife crisis books, sure now that I was no more a candidate for a correct midlife crisis than in school days I had been a candidate for organizations that did trivial things with various sizes of balls. And I started making some wild new moves, entering visual rather than verbal worlds, even joining groups of people on the same sort of hunt I was thrilled to be on, all of them angry and at the same time most of them exhilarated as we made our way out and into our lives. The crisis was not over yet. There were still more attempts to get back to where I had been. But by the following summer everything was so different that I was in the aqua Mustang, moving through nature without a map, and hardly a care in the moment though I knew that at some not too distant moment I would be crossing a frontier into the landscape where it had all begun.