Don Rogers: True north at midlife
I’ve just started “Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife.”
It’s up next for a book club through the The Lift coworking office in Truckee. Gotta read to take part, right?
The author is a journalist worried about a midlife crisis, which for some has do with life’s dreams falling short, promise gone to dust, melancholy settling in, death looming larger. Tick, tock. For others, an achiever’s ennui: Is this all there is?
Anyway, she didn’t buy a red convertible or get a divorce. She wrote this book.
She and I are kind of in the same tribe: middle-aged, career journalists, tend to learn by writing. That is, researching, talking with people wise and otherwise, thinking in that way you have to think if you are going to wrangle it all into a story.
And I realized this morning as I began the book that I explore similar ground, far more interested in this than the political fare that enthralls so many.
All this sound and fury now, reality bent even here in whole-hog personal identification with a party or an ideology. Partisanship to this degree — whether expressed in strange pink hats, “Not my president” cries, or fleets of fluttering American flags on pickups dangling testicles on their trailer hitches — strikes me as a perversion of civic responsibility and who we are as people.
Haven’t we had enough by now of this weird stew of grievance, scolding, sanctimony? This poor substitute for a thinking life, a community life, a real life?
There is so much more to being alive than that junk. Midlife might offer the best opportunity to rise out of what politics and popular culture have become. We’re old enough to recognize this pap for what it is, and young enough to change course.
A good start might be dropping cable news and social media, and picking up this book. I can attest to the value of shedding the first two, those sugar highs. We’ll see about the book. I’m on page 26.
I have sailed by serendipity rather than ambition, against all good advice.
This worked out OK moneywise, better than expected. I landed the ultimate job for me at age 42, the one I’d gladly still be doing today while pinching myself at my good luck and imagine feeling the same in my 80s. I married far above my station in brains, beauty and general good sense. Well, maybe she had one lapse in the last.
No charting that future course, no grand plans executed or dashed, no sense of realizing potential or falling short. I sidestepped promise, and lower regard for myself paid off in less regret, perhaps a silver lining. Hard to slap your forehead over not doing what you never thought you’d do in the first place. If a poor psychological defense against defeat, surprising personal victories turned out all the more grand.
Puffing up over accomplishments, career gains, wealth, fame? Yearning or envying what we didn’t reach? Seems a little silly, considering that even Jesus, the Buddha, the Prophet will be forgotten soon enough against that tide, eternity.
The best of the human mind, spirit, heart, though. These suggest qualities steeped in real value. More enduring, in any case, come what may. Stripped of what we have, we’re left to what we are.
So what are we? And what might we be?
I wonder if this is what the book will be about: steering away from personal ambition, an aim of youth. The title suggests that.
We’re really talking about the meaning of life, then, a wonderful aphorism. What’s the meaning of life? Simple: Living with purpose.
Sigh, it’s also circular, a trick question. Purposefully seeking the baubles will run you headlong into crisis by middle age.
“Crisis” probably overstates the blues or drift most of us feel in middle age, that U or low point in midlife that runs across all the cultures worldwide. This puts midlife correction, let’s say, into another of life’s passages, like adolescence.
We develop as we must in our teen years, then shed that skin. In midlife we have a more hardened shell to peel for the next phase, if we are to avoid being stuck.
Viewed this way, we middle-agers still have some growing up to do. That is, plenty yet to live for.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.
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