I resent being called middle aged because I plan to live much longer than seventy eight. But, I am almost thirty nine and a half years old, and we do expect to have figured some things out by now right? Like, by forty, as a friend said, perhaps we’ve achieved some of what the future self who’s “got this” has been expected to accomplish. That seems a middle aged proposition.
Or, maybe it all (life) seems to fall around us, repeat predictably, exhaustingly, in patterns we think we can alter for so long. Then, we give up. Give in to our unshakeable shortcomings, or stop trying altogether. The boyfriend we keep dating, over and over, we just want to date that guy for the rest of our life, in all his incarnations, eat his copious servings of not quite till we’re unable to move.
I want to live in my painfully flawed way in peace, be released from dealing with the endless bullshit of my adult professional life. Released from being asked, no expected – to care about said bullshit.
Here’s the thing. I don’t care anymore. I’ve been shown it’s not worth it.
Part I: Career Burnout
I, like many creative professionals, work in an extremely competitive industry driven by both brand whims and dwindling budgets, consistently recalibrated by evolving technologies and consumer adoption. However, the people willing to both work in the industry and do so for low pay hasn’t changed at all in my 18 years in the workforce. Hence, the hamster wheel.
You build your career to the point of somewhat comfortable money and boredom, and then you realize: the money never really came, the artistic satisfaction never really came. And people are still asking you to care. And you don’t want to work that hard for shit you don’t care about, and money that’s disappointing.
And your reasons for not caring – they are basically the answer to everything you ever wondered about. They are the answers you have been waiting for your entire adult life.
Part II: Mid Life Crisis
Now that you have these answers, (see Part I), you realize that everything you expended your time and energy on (i.e., building a career, your urban professional lifestyle, paying rent that increases yearly making your pay raises inconsequential) was complete bullshit other than the connections you made with other people, who were everyone from the random people you laid to the guy on the frontage road you yelled at for trying to wash your windows to your EMDR therapist (who you miss). Everything else was noise, though some of that noise accompanied emotional highs and lows, provided an atmospheric soundtrack to those moments.
But mostly you can’t remember what you were doing. There were these boring stretches in between the joy, the sadness, the flashes of the best parties you ever went to when you felt like you were holding hands with the universe. And other ones when you were just really high.
So, why are you doing this? And why is anyone else doing this? And why are some of your friends doing it better than you or at least making the money to justify it? Or having the children to justify it?
You don’t have anything left to justify it. But you’d like to justify something.
Post Script: Money and Furniture
A current fixation is asking someone I’m engaged in conversation with about taking money from my 401K. In practice, it’s just getting them to agree with me, that it’s a good idea. “It’s my money that I worked for, and why shouldn’t I use it?” I’ll ask. “I deserve to be able to take a break. I’m almost forty years old and I’ve been working for eighteen years.” That money is waving at me from its tax free prison. “I know you’re not retired yet or buying a house,” it says, “but it seems like you kinda need me.” How on earth can I learn how to apply the lessons of adulthood, without a mere few weeks to absorb them and choose the next step? Maybe a couple months.
In 2011 I bought a couch from West Elm. It was slate grey and called Henry. I researched and prepped for the couch in the three months I spent between my Mom’s and a friend’s after a break up. I had the cash for the couch. I was magically moving back into the same apartment I had moved out of nine months earlier, because the new tenant was looking for a subleaser.
On the day it arrived, the delivery men called my cell so I could drive to the apartment to let them in. It didn’t fit through the doorway. “See this ma’am,” the man kept saying as he stood wedged between Henry and the door jamb. “See ma’am, I can’t do the butterfly move to get it in. Everyone who orders this couch has a small apartment.” I fucking hate being called “ma’am”.
The couch had come to represent the new, more grownup life I was embarking on without my ex, who still had the futon we had been gifted by friends. In its failure to fit within, the couch proved my new life to be as lame and sad as the kind of cheap couch I ended up with, that you can put together in your garden level flat. I had just turned thirty three.
A move to accept a new gig at thirty eight meant starting over in a very adult way. Again, I picked out my couch, this time a different one from West Elm, who offers financing. I had money in the bank. But, unsure of my new position, used the interest free credit. The couch was set to arrive when I did, as a welcome gift to myself in my new life. It was two weeks late, and beautiful. It moved through my normal sized brand new doorway with ease into my brand new luxury apartment.
Months later, I count my dwindling funds and stubborn debts and desperation about future plans and I look at it and think: did I never really deserve you? Am I just not the luxury apartment sofa-owning type? I consolidated what’s left of what I owe on it to a friendlier credit card, and now consider it my only sellable asset.
My future plans include things like avoiding rent for a few months by visiting family and helping a friend remodel his house. Then, choosing a home. Being okay with laying down there. Being available for a relationship in that actual zip code. Putting that couch in the place I live there. I’m at mid life, I should be able to manage something like this.
I really don’t want to sell that couch.