Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Squeezing The Middle

Every now and again I seek out something I have always disliked or missed the point of and endeavour to start afresh with it, to reset and retry on the offchance I might actually like it now. Occasionally this bears fruit: suet dumplings, custard and stilton, for instance, turned out to be far tastier in adulthood than as a pasty schoolboy (unmixed, I might add) - but more often than not I turn out to have been right the first time, which is oddly depressing.

I'm forty-two now, which is the same age as Bond and is likely the exact midpoint of my lifespan, since I neither smoke nor drink and my genes are good. I've had occasional midlife panics for the best part of a decade now, where I seek out something new and unprecedented to add to my being in an attempt to prove to myself I've still got the poorly-defined, elusive 'it'. I've always assumed that this was simple nostalgia for youth, when everything seemed new because it was, that this sense of discovery was what the midlife man tries to replicate.

I've never been convinced that it's really about trying to be young again. Men don't age that way: most of our role models are middle-aged, because getting to middle age is how they got to be role models, by gathering the wisdom of years and surviving the process. You can't really look up to someone who hasn't survived something. Talent isn't an accomplishment, application of talent is. Now I've been in the midrange of life for a while I think it's probably just about change.

We are supposed to resist change as we age, but we don't - we just resist the worsening of the world around us, which seems inevitable and perfectly sensible, really. When a man is trying new things in midlife he isn't striking out to recapture lost youth: he's trying to prove that losing youth isn't a drawback, that it doesn't make us any weaker or less than we were. Men are fine with growing up, we just want to use it for something. In a sense I have an advantage over most men my age in that I have no wife, kids or mortgage to drain my time and opportunities - on the other hand I have no money either, so I can't just take a month off plying the roulette tables of Monaco in search of new experiences.

As is so often the case, I have the refuge of writing. I occasionally resent the lack of performance in my field - you can't really demonstrate authorial creativity at parties, in the same way a saxophonist might blow or a singer warble - and I'd give anything to possess some kind of social artistic talent, like dancing. But for the habitual loner, which every man is at some point in his life, writing is perfect: you only need a pen, and you probably have one. When you invent worlds you're never short of new experiences.

I've been in the middle of things for a long time: in the middle of The Vagrant And The Snowflake, in the middle of some lifestyle alterations, in the middle of various disasters and accomplishments. I've made some changes, while some other changes have remade me, and right now I'm watching some of the mid-2000s dance movies I've always eschewed because, you know, what if I was wrong? I'm probably not, but it's as well to make sure.

It's chaos, midlife. It's a mess of past and present and future, of maintenance and progression, of wisdom hard-earned and glorious new ignorances discovered. But it's a chaos that we've earned, that we're comfortable with, that we're able and willing to handle and shape. It's only called a crisis because it looks like one from the outside.

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