Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Crisis in Midlife

by Giselle Renarde

I'll tell you how I've been feeling lately.

I've been feeling like every worthwhile thing I'm ever going to do in my life--everything good, everything useful, everything productive--I've already done. The best is behind me. I'm just waiting out my sentence.

Last month, my mother told me I'm not a spring chicken anymore. That threw me for a loop. Isn't your mother supposed to think of you as a child for always? But when I told my girlfriend, she said, "Yeah, well you're middle aged."

Middle aged?

My ex, who (as you know) was much older than me, used to say that every time he looked in the mirror, he expected to see his 18-year-old self. And instead he saw an old man. It was jarring.

I didn't get that when I was 19.

I get it now.

The thing I really didn't get is that a midlife crisis is... well... a crisis. Crisis in the sense of crisis counseling, crisis lines, crisis intervention. The term always made me think of sports cars and 22-year-old girlfriends, but there's more to the story. Holy Mother of God, is there more to this story.

There's a reason you try to recapture your lost youth: that's when you accomplished everything of value. Or, at least, that's when I did. Or, at least, that's how I feel. But you're talking to someone who peaked in high school. Your mileage may vary.

I'm sure there are ways to feel useful again. Volunteer work and such. But volunteer works is just one more of those things I did when I was younger. I worked in the domestic violence sector for years, and I burned out so hard I can't even tell you. I've volunteered my ass all over this city, and most organizations (the big box charities in particular) have left me disillusioned at best and disgusted at worst.

In a perfect world, I would feel fulfilled by my work.  So I've devoted a lot of my time and energy to projects I felt would be helpful to others. The thing is, in order for your book to help anyone, someone in the world has to... read it. And when you get to the point where you write something super-meaningful and then you literally can't even give it away for free, it becomes pretty clear that the work isn't going to dig you out of this hole.

Now I get why people go back to what gave them pleasure as children, as youths. There's a simple joy to childhood that's so hard to recapture decades later.  The lights dim over time. The world is less shiny and bright.

Maybe I've been watching too many YouTube videos about nihilism and existential angst, but lately I've been wondering if I should even bother trying to do anything of value, if anything actually has innate value anyway, or if we're all just marking time.

I remember having fantasies, when I was young. Fantasies about all the exciting things I would do in the future. I would imagine scenarios in detail. It was really energizing. Made me want to get up in the morning and work toward my goals.

Now? In midlife, or whatever this is?

I don't have fantasies anymore. do you get through life when it seems like your best days are behind you?

I'm taking it one day at a time.

I've been working at publishing all the stuff that's just sitting on my hard drive.  Most recently, I've released the second edition of my book Ugly Naked People. It's a collection of queer fiction. This second edition has a new stories, three of which have never been published before now.  No sense letting perfectly good fiction go to waste. Might as well get it out in the world.

If you're so inclined, Ugly Naked People is available from booksellers like Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo and Google Play.


  1. At 73 I still feel that I'll accomplish more. Maybe not in areas that require the strength, optimism and libido of youth, but certainly in the art world. With the exception of writing, I don't have the abilities to create art like painting, sculpture or music, but am able to recognize the good from the bad.

    Though I can't afford to buy high art from retail galleries, I do have the knowledge to see a bargain where it's not supposed to be. I cruise flea markets, garage sales and thrift stores, looking for things that catch my eye. Even if the objects won't find a place in our little home, I maintain a venue to sell them.

    Just in the last year, I've found a keeper painting, a gorgeous unsigned bronze ballerina, and a signed Japanese bronze of a stylized cypress tree. Total outlay for those three items? $93. Plus, treasure hunting is fun.

    In 2012, I went to Thailand and found a very old Chinese jade that when sold, just about paid for the trip.

  2. Another thing. Nowadays I'm always being told "You looking good". Funny, nobody ever told me that when I was 20, when I really did look good.

    1. Well, having met you, I'll say I thought you DID look good.

      In fact I have a character loosely modeled on you (Nick in my holiday tale Gray Christmas).

    2. Sweet of you to say, Lisabet, but there may be something wrong with your eyes. :>)
      Will check out your story. I assume it's available on your Amazon page.

  3. Giselle -- I've come back to comment on this post three times, wanting you to know that you've been read, and been heard. But I don't know what to say. I can't argue with your feelings or your perceptions, even though I think you're wrong (that is, I think you have a lot more to accomplish and contribute).

    You're only in your forties, right? That seems so young to me (I'm in my mid-sixties).

  4. When I was your age, Giselle, I was afraid I'd waited too long and missed any chance to accomplish anything worthwhile. I'm immensely impressed by all you've done already, but I can also attest that whole new enterprises can be begun after, even 55, when I began final attempting to do what I'd always intended to do. Maybe not in the ways I'd intended, but using the same skills, and maybe only worthwhile for certain limited values of worthwhile, but Ill take it. Having done so much already, and with the state of writing and publishing these days, it's understandable for you to feel down, but "midlife" just means that there's plenty of life to come, and plenty to learn and do. Maybe you don't owe the world any more contributions, you just owe yourself whatever enjoyment you can find, and let things take their course.

    Damn, I sound pompous and foolish, don't I. The privilege of being well past midlife.

  5. I just visited a friend whose husband retired a few years ago, and they moved down to TN to a house on a lake. He putters around all day, trying to stay busy. She's never worked, so never cared if she was or not. Since she'll be 65 this year, she calls herself "old." I only have a few years to go until then, but I told her that "young" is your teens, twenties and thirties, when everything works well and you never have to wonder if it will or not. The forties starts middle age, when pains appear, but usually go away. Middle age lasts into the fifties and sixties, when (hurrah!) women finally stop having to get cramps once a month. I figure old starts in the 70s, when things often don't work well, like in that song by Little Feat, "And you know, that you're over the hill, when your mind makes a promise that your body can't fill..."

    I'm trying to stay optimistic that I can be creative and do worthwhile things until my spirit has grown so large that it has to abandon my body, to move on. They won't be the same things I did when I was young, or even that I do now; but I'm hopeful that I will still find enjoyment in life.


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