Reflections on reaching middle age

Is this what life is all about?

Dana WilsonI am a middle-aged man. There, I have said it. I have alluded to the not-so-stealthy approach of decrepitude, laughed (ha!) about my declining years, but never actually admitted the awful truth. I don’t feel particularly different, except perhaps to feel more isolated than ever . . . and don’t get me wrong . . . I am not pining after my youth, just wondering if other people feel this empty at this age.

Is this what life is all about? The youthful dreams trickle out of whatever place we’ve tried to nourish them until all that is left is this shell that goes through the motions and desperately hopes for some event that will engage the fancy, kick into gear the dream mechanism and rejuvenate that most elusive and precious of all commodities: hope.

This is not to say I haven’t had my kick at the cat, whatever the hell that means, and I’m sure that whatever it means, the humane society can’t possibly approve of it. That’s if surviving your life counts as kicks at that poor cat or if getting laid regularly – or should I phrase that “finding myriad short term relationships” – also constitutes feline abuse.

I have had my chances along the way and I have seized them . . . not. Is surviving your life the same as succeeding at your life, and no, I am not delusional; I don’t actually expect to survive this life. I mean surviving the vicissitudes of fortune, making sure that the fickle finger of fate does not end up your lubed rectum (prostate exams, another reward for having lived this long?) and, of course, not having the poor cat turn upon you and rend you limb from limb having taken yet another kick at it. Fifty years of moil and toil and striving, I have a credit rating that makes bank officers laugh in my face, or at least smile that smug, insincere, smarmy “Aw shucks, just doing my job” (and relishing turning down your pathetic ass you middle-aged loser) smile as they refuse me whilst explaining that they ‘truly’ do value my patronage.

Hollywood has taught me that the very least I should be doing is buying a hot car, or embarking on an inappropriate relationship, or at least nourishing some suicidal idee fixe about climbing a really, really high mountain or some other equally grandiose physical confirmation that I am still the hormone-fueled bonehead I was in my youth.

Cars, for me, are more mysterious than relationships, though they don’t seem to break down as quickly. As long as I am not driving a minivan or a station wagon, I don’t particularly care what I challenge the highways and byways with. In fact, I think that if you are getting laid on a semi-regular basis then you don’t need to replace your penis with chrome and magnums and insanely loud mufflers. Buying a new car seems crazy to me, let alone buying a hideously expensive new car. And, unfortunately for those more advantaged middle-agers, buying a hot car just allows others to spot, amidst the wind-blown sparsity/scarcity of hair, the encroaching bald spot when the sun gleams upon it while the mechanized top is down.

Should I be married to a soccer mom at this stage of my life? Should I at least have been married by this stage in my life? I think that many of the women I have known, fortunately for them, have been much like bank officers in determining the success of my future cat-flailings, and determined that a long-term relationship would not result in the necessary relationship accoutrements like minivan, home and children.

Am I too tired to have any relationship, let alone an inappropriate one at this juncture in my life? My most regular cat-kicking fancies throughout a good 30 of my years were romantic, or at least co-dependent in nature. I dreamt of that one magical relationship that would energize me and make me achieve success, not for myself, which was clearly out of the question – but for her, for us, for that sacred dream of us. You will note that the basis of that fantasy is essentially selfish in nature, a kind of us-for-me proposition, which is why uneasy lies this relationship head.

While I am a vasectomy closer to being one, I shall never be an Abelard and I probably wouldn’t recognize my Heloise, even if her father himself performed the vasectomy . . . and the world does not seem to me a very romantic place, anymore. Are there any modern legendary romances? And yes, I am aware that modern and legendary are terms that seem as conflicted as people sharing a relationship. This world seems too busy for true romance; it’s tough to find true love whilst piling up the stuff and then where would you store it?

Older and more tired also doesn’t lend itself to that physical manifestation of cat-kicking confabulation – the urge to climb mountains, race sport boats, etc. I am not averse to them; I just think it is too much money for a much too temporary a fix. Thrill junkies seem to defy the Darwinian ideal and if, God forbid, we are only allowed nine kicks at the cat, then these ‘thrillers’ and their midlife imitators should beware.

It has taken me until middle age to realize that I am essentially a loner, to come to terms with the fact that I shall not likely find the soul-mate who shall help me make sense of a seemingly crazed and indifferent world.

The place where dreams go to die is not middle age; it is a refusal to age. It is that stubborn clinging to the self you no longer are; it is defining yourself as just a womanizer, just an addict, just a writer, just a student – just any particular thing. I am human and thus a whole range of things and, as much as I like definitions, I certainly do not relish applying them to self.

The place where dreams go to die is any place that limits the possibilities, that says you can’t or you shouldn’t. It is any place that says that there are not more kicks at that poor, abused cat.

Dana Wilson is an Edmonton-based freelance writer and poet.

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