The Quiet Desperation of the Middle Ages

canstockphoto6752521It’s hard to write or talk out loud these days. I’ve disappeared on friends, but talk to strangers just to know that I still can. I dread the question how are you? because I fear that a flood will pour out. At first, I thought maybe I’d simply had too much solitude. Re-entering the world after periods of quiet is like walking after roller skating. Gliding replaced by a toddler’s gait.

Then the election came, a demoralizing event that made me rally the get ‘er done troops in my head. I started volunteering again, hoping the humility of service would soothe me. And I committed to finishing the rewrites on a novel. I created challenges when I was already playing in the weeds. Sometimes I’m my own worst Tony Robbins.

My body decided that if common sense and rational thinking wouldn’t slow me down, it would jump into the fray. My knees revolted against weight lifting and running, only allowing me a limp that smelled like Tiger Balm. My eye condition came back with a vengeance, leaving me afraid to close my eyes at night. Every single one of my joints began to ache. I started to wail in my head about aging and Minnesota winters.

I walked the red carpet to a massive pity party.canstockphoto2438668

But I live in Minnesota, so I automatically think: it’s not so bad, could be worse. Nothing like experiencing passive-aggressive depression.

I’ve arrived at a junction in my life where all roads look like they’ve been traveled before. Dried up goals tumble across deserted expanses. The discarded skins of youthful hopefulness lay curled near the skulls of dreams past. I’ve lived through a zillion depressions and unaccountable bursts of energy and pulled myself out of swamps and over precipices.

Persistence is often lauded as one of the qualities that lead to success. Except if that persistence is something akin to beating one’s head against a wall. Even if you eventually get through that wall, you’re going to end up pretty bloodied and exhausted.

On an earlier post, I’d written a pithy comment about being “grateful for the struggle”. An honest friend, in the midst of her own struggle, said Really? I think it sucks. I felt a little embarrassed. I know it sucks and I am exhausted by it. Expressing gratitude in the middle of despair is like living in a shitty little house and hoping that a new coat of paint will hide all the drywall patches and lack of structural integrity. But I’m afraid that if I let go of trite positivity, my house will fall down around me.

canstockphoto9420051Insecurity and fear have been my bedfellows of late. One of my volunteer gigs is to help in an office that supports volunteers. My superhero persona is “File Girl” (because all women superheroes suddenly become girls, doncha know). File Girl spends hours filing paperwork with alacrity and remembering that in the decades of office careers, she used to be a contender. I feel the weight of aging and irrelevance and a desperate need to remember that I’m competent.

Physical changes trigger a fear unlike any other. I’ve had the fortune of good health most of my life. My body has been a true workhorse for me. I’m used to strength and endurance, all of which are fading by degree. I’m having trouble adjusting to the new reality, my workouts an uneven jumble of doing what doesn’t cause pain. I’m desperately trying a new regimen of supplements and stretching and kinesio taping to keep moving.

Last week I self-consciously sat next to a teenage boy in a classroom of body sprays and attitude. He’s an English learner who I’ve been assigned to tutor, but he turns his body away and ignores me. I glance about the room. Five kids are furtively texting. Two are sleeping. The rest are in a variety of sprawls across desks with attached chairs. Desks that try to corral and contain.

Being in a high school 32 years after I escaped my own is a bit of a trip. The more things change, the more they stay the same. It reminds me of how painful it is to figure out who you are, trying on and discarding personas and friends and ideas. Becoming middle-aged carries the same issues of discovery – the uncontrolled physical changes, trying to figure out where you fit in and irritated that you spend so much time on stuff that won’t even matter (gym class and Christmas card lists, in case you are wondering).

canstockphoto16610014As a teenager, I spent a lot of time daydreaming and imagining possibilities. I’ve spent nearly five decades eliminating many of those possibilities and discovering that I will not, indeed, become an omniscient librarian with ninja skills and a penchant for rugged, but fleeting lovers.  I’m a bit of a suburban lump right now, grateful for my little house, my stable family and a room full of books. What I’ve lost in passion, I’ve gained in binge-watching entire seasons of shows that are cancelled on a cliffhanger. I’m worried that is how my life will end.

The canons of epiphany suggest that I should go wild or eat, pray, love myself out of complacency. There’s not a lot of guidance for those of us who stay in place, cling to our families and believe that change can come in increments. The problem with incremental change is that it is so minor as to be unnoticeable. Nobody is going to be inducted into Oprah’s book club for adding more beans and greens to their diet or meditating five extra minutes in the morning. Nobody will be playing me in the movies. Unless I get axe murdered or come down with an incurable disease.

canstockphoto22044551At the bottom of my despair, this thought creeps over me: This is how it ends. Laundry and dishes and filing. A bit fat and unaccomplished. People saying pithy things at the funeral. People I loathe shedding tears and making scenes. Prayers being said for my atheist soul. My possessions scavenged, my life in an urn.

And that makes me laugh a little bit. Because if that’s how it all ends (and inevitably it does), there’s a few things I can drop off my to-do list. Like being relevant or having something to prove. The elusive teenage cool of saying screw it, but with wrinkles, a credit history and a barely discernible will to live.

56 thoughts on “The Quiet Desperation of the Middle Ages

  1. Michelle, I enjoyed reading your ruminations. Some of the lines you wrote were really luscious to read. These are my two favorites:
    “Dried up goals tumble across deserted expanses.”
    “I’ve gained in binge-watching entire seasons of shows that are cancelled on a cliffhanger. I’m worried that is how my life will end.”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Sadly I am past the point when I can still consider myself middle-aged. My hips hurt most of the time and the slightest move in the wrong direction causes my back to go out. The pain in my shoulder wakes me up at least 3 times a night. I am already dreading my trip to the grocery store this morning. I take the subway and will have to walk up about 20 stairs when I get there and my knees are already screaming out in pain. It is minus god knows what here in Toronto today and the wind is howling like you wouldn’t believe. (Sigh). I hear “ya.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We’ve hit the deep freeze here as well. It does make all those aches and pains worse and the dry air is murder on my eyes. I try to remind myself that learning to cope now and finding ways to ease pain is good training as I age, because it is going to keep happening, no matter what I do. And stairs – going down stairs is misery for me now.
      Have a safe trip out and cozy up with your kitties when you get home!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I gather you are around 50, almost 15 younger than me. You are not alone. In the past year or two, I’ve felt betrayed by everything I ever believed in, especially my body. Like you, I’ve taken good health for granted. I can no longer afford to do that. A sense of purposelessness has washed over me. This tends to happen every ten years, or so, and I tell myself it’s just a phase.

    While you say you are an atheist, I claim to be a pantheist, with a disbelief in the absolutism of space and time. Strangely, this view is supported by many mystical traditions, quantum physics, and books like the Seth series by Jane Roberts. The idea of immortality of consciousness (if not “soul,” a word sullied by religious implications) allows me to look beyond my own physical death. This long view helps me see problems as challenges and to recognize the solutions lie within the problems. Also, the depressed moods tend to concentrate energy until it has matured enough to express in new creativity.

    It seems the election and the process leading up to it sapped everyone’s energy, no matter which side they were on. To see America sink so low is an enormous blow to our collective hubris. I hope it will force us to get more honest with ourselves and recognize we are all part of the problem and, if we so choose, the solution.

    Finally, bad weather makes me depressed, and maybe cold weather affects your mood, too. Thanks for such an honest confession.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I don’t know that I took good health for granted, but it has certainly made me a bigger baby when things go wrong!

      I think there is something in what you said about this being cyclical in terms of examination of one’s purpose. I turn 50 next year and while I’ve never put much stock in age milestones, it does seem to be pressing on me a bit.

      As for religion, I call myself an atheist in the loosest sense. I don’t know and don’t believe anyone else does either, but I’m okay with that. I imagine life would be easier if I believed in some grand plan, but if there is one, I find that the suffering of this world makes it an unforgivable plan. I’m quite okay with being worm food, castings and then fertilizing something green.

      Cold weather just makes everything harder, no matter what frame of mind one is in. On that note, I need to go shovel our drive. Again. Thanks for taking the time to write a thoughtful comment.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Maybe getting older leads people to consider “meaning of life” issues, if they haven’t before. Lately, I’ve been asking people if they believe in an afterlife, and if so, what do they imagine. Jews believe in “some kind of afterlife,” according to the rabbi I asked. Others believe they become “worm food,” as you put it. The die-hard Christians believe in a poorly defined “heaven.”

        I don’t believe in a grand plan, either. I think life is lots of improvisation, hence my personal concept of a Cosmic Improv Group of possibly imaginary advisers and process commentators. I do know that those of us in physical form are in this stew pot together for now, and I’d like to help make it more enjoyable for all.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. God,I love your writing! Smart, funny, insightful, by turns hopeful (kind of) and despairing (so beautifully honest). There is no one talented enough to play you in the movies, so stick around, OK?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I enjoyed reading this. You have an amazing way with words. I’m a couple of years ahead of you–I just turned 51 a little over a week ago. My older child is going away to college next year. I tripped and fell down the stairs yesterday while carrying two laundry baskets and sprained my ankle, which is annoying because we have to cancel our ski trip that I planned for next week, since I can’t ski now. And it’s probably going to take forever to heal, since I’m 51 and all.

    I was kind of concerned about my 50th birthday last year. I went to Carmel and Big Sur with my husband, thinking if you have to turn 50 you might as well do it in Big Sur. But honestly the other side of 50 is turning out to be not so bad. I don’t miss getting my period *at all*. And I just moved here last year, right before I turned 50, so it feels like a new chapter. Gandalf knocked on Bilbo’s door when he was 50.


    1. Ouch – sorry to hear about your ankle! I hope you feel better soon.

      I don’t think any age is particularly bad, except for all the things out of one’s control, like bone density, muscle loss and remembering why one has gone into a room. It’s just that like so many people, I used to think I had more potential than I’ve realized in my life at this point.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I shared your post on my Facebook pages (personal and author) and it seems to have really resonated with a number of my friends. The musicians all suggest taking up the violin 😉 I’m an admin for a Facebook group of adult viola and violin students and I think they have a point. Music keeps you young, busy, and there’s always more to learn.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks for sharing my post. I agree about music – I’m a flute player and have been for 40+ years. I play a little piano as well. What’s nice is that my daughter plays viola and violin, so we’ve been playing duets. Music is a close second to books for me.

          Liked by 2 people

  6. I like the transition you made from observing the high school students trying to figure themselves out to you doing the same, that was slick. The whole thing, nicely paced and engrossing. Embrace the dark.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Bill. Lately, when I write a post, it feels like I’m just clearing out the pipes to work on the novel. It’s my way of turning the blog back to its original purpose of strengthening my writing skills.
      “Embrace the dark” has been a bit of a magic bullet for moving my writing along. Most of it is tongue-in-cheek, but has enough truth in it to dispel some of the anxiety.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Damn you Michelle, I don’t even have to write anymore, you seem to express what I’m feeling, and with such eloquence. Better than I could myself. Lewis Black said in his recent comedy special that he feels like he is irrelevant, because reality has become satire, so who needs comedians to point out the ironies…that’s what this post is for me. You said what I would have if I could have. So…thank you, and you are definitely not alone.
    At 58, I conclude that old age is all about getting us ready to die. By the time it gets here, we’re begging for it. UGH! I need to go watch George Bailey’s epiphany again. That always helps this time of year.


    1. I saw that Lewis Black special and absolutely agree with him that in these times, satire is superfluous.
      I like your take on aging. I think it’s fascinating how we revert back through growth phases until we’re all diapers and drool once again.
      I’m less dour than some of my writing would suggest – writing dark actually makes me laugh – giving into that self-indulgence on paper (or online) seems somehow useful.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can see your sense of humor even in the darker posts. And I agree. Writing “it” makes “it” seem less threatening, more reasonable. I also find that writing memoirs makes me work at pulling up all the sensory information that is stored in different parts of the brain as memory, and finally the emotional aspect, which helps me know how I feel about things now. As much as I sometimes falter at being a writer, I also know it is integral to my mental well being. I just always appreciate the realness in your writing Michelle.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I think it’s very easy to take all we have for granted. I hope your new supps work out as I think feeling good helps us to be grateful. Every time I get complaints about a boring meal I want to remind them that some folks eat rice and beans for every meal and are thankful they have those. Every time I pay bills (yuk) I remind myself that I have the money to pay those bills and I’m not drowning in debt. When I bemoan the time and potential I’ve wasted, I remind myself that I’m using my life experience to benefit my son (who is exactly like me in some ways.) And I hate to mention, but I must credit my faith for the peace and joy that are my life companions (my hubby certainly can’t claim responsibility for that!!) I hope your book does well because you are obviously perceptive and gifted!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s interesting how a couple of commenters have talked about gratitude. I don’t think gratitude and grousing have to be mutually exclusive. I am very grateful for the good things in my life and am occasionally grateful for the challenges, but it doesn’t seem to magically make depression go away.
      As for faith, it’s one of those things one is either capable of or isn’t. I tend to see spirituality in metaphorical terms and eschew religion for a lot of reasons. But we each find our own path. I am not uncomfortable with the idea that the path is a rocky one.
      Thanks for your good wishes on the book. I’ll just be delighted to get it done!


      1. BTW, I was just reading that depression is being linked to chronic inflammation (among many other chronic conditions.) The cure is to eat as much veggies as you can get (the mood enhancing effect of veggies has been proven in other studies.)


  9. You young blokes talking about getting old, you don’t know what getting old is, not yet. I’m still young at 75, I’ve got so much to do… learning every day. People come to me for advice; I’ll give you some. You write well, you have a talent… use it.
    Look at my page; quid pro quid
    Summer in Oz.


    1. It’s human nature to gripe a bit when in a period of change. It’s also human nature for someone to pipe up that one shouldn’t be griping. If I complain about the fact that it’s -18F/-27C this morning, somebody will inevitably pop up to tell me that’s nothing, they’ve got much colder temps. To each, his or her own.
      Sounds like you’re a very fortunate 75 year old. Some of us are still in the learning stages. I imagine I’ll be there until the day I fall off the mortal coil.


  10. I was sitting at my table cutting paper the other day and missing you. I miss our clever kvetching, the air hugs, and holding a mug of something hot in the same room together. Depression & isolation get in the way. Next time I come up, we’re doing coffee.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And make me come out of my hidey-hole? The horrors! While I’m finding myself to be less-than-companionable, I’d be happy to sit and have coffee with you. Sometimes I think when we’re drowning at the same time, best to wait until one of us has a life jacket on before reaching out. Maybe we should just hang out in the kiddie pool.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I can relate to this feeling. In the past two years, I’ve been very involved with my aging parents medical, they are 78 and 80. The up close version of my own future is like a big, wet, cold blanket. I keep going by a daily mantra of “Something good HAS GOT to happen.” and keeping my fingers crossed.


    1. Spending the last 8 years involved in my 86-year-old mother-in-law’s healthcare has been a sobering experience. I also archive a lot of family history photos. It gives a person a broader perspective of how human lives come and go. Coming to terms with one’s own human frailty is one of the tougher things I think we have to do. I find it very unsettling, at the very least.


  12. I am facing similar struggles, thoughts, and frustrations but in the next phase – old age. First time I’ve used that phrase, old age, and I don’t think I like it – as if I had a choice. But I find it useful, in a perverse way, to write about it, too. And it is fun to find others who share our space.


    1. I laughed when you said “useful, in a perverse way”. Spot on. I’ve never been one to do anything gracefully and I doubt that I will handle aging any differently. But I plan on being perversely humored by as much of it as I can. Thanks for sharing your perspective!


  13. It’s my first time reading your blog. I find your line about persistence appealing and powerful. Just says what exactly on my mind.

    May I repost this on my blog? 🙂


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