Eccentric Flower:201110/I Owe An Explanation

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I Owe An Explanation

Had kind of a meltdown this afternoon, and I feel like I need to explain to the people who saw the symptoms on Twitter.

To be precise, I am still having a meltdown, but since posting on Twitter I have also had meat loaf and mashed potatoes and green beans with sun-dried tomatoes, and have watched an episode of "The Avengers" before dinner with a Manhattan and some pistachios, and it is very difficult for me to be seriously depressed when those things are mollifying my mood - although now that dinner is over and I've come back upstairs to the computer, I can feel it creeping back in.

Do you know what the cause of the so-called "midlife crisis" is? I'll tell you. Ignore everything else you've ever heard, because I have the definitive answer. A midlife crisis is the point where you assess your remaining time and you realize you aren't going to make a dent in the world, that you will not be famous, that you will not be historical, that you will not leave any milestones behind - that you will just toil and live and play and exist and die and vanish. And that it's probably too late to change that, should it not suit you.

I'd say I was having a midlife crisis, except I've been having it since I was about thirty-five. It gets a little worse every year.

I'm not interested in your prods and, for once, I'm not interested in your sympathy. I'm just laying it out here so you will know what's in my brain. As statements of plain fact.


Fact: I believe, sincerely and I'm pretty sure beyond the ability of anyone to convince me otherwise, that the one really above-average skill I have - setting down words in a row - is a skill which is no longer valued by anyone - except a few diehards who are, frankly, dying hard and will eventually die off. It's true that I do know a number of younger people who value words - but the percentage, when expressed in comparison to the general population, is so small that their existence is in no way less discouraging. For every child I know who still values a book, electronic or otherwise, I know three adults who have ceased to read anything longer than two sentences.

I'm a writer. I didn't dream of being a fireman or a policeman or a doctor when I grew up; I dreamed of being a Famous Author. There are very few other things in my life I have done with enthusiasm; there is nothing else in my life I am willing to say I can do well. This leaves me in a very ill-defined place, like a man standing on the lone high ground amid a rising tide, watching his foothold disappear by inches.

Fact: My life now consists of living my life, all the daily mundanities of it, and then going home and trying to distract myself with something or another until I can go to bed. I have begun to confront that this is not a phase, this is not a temporary exigency - this is what it's going to be until I die. I'm not going to be having any adventures, other than the ones in my mind, and those frustrate me because I lack the tools to show them to anyone else exactly the way I see them. Nothing less would suffice.

In the last entry, I said my interest in playing Rift had rekindled. Today, I got bored with Rift again. That's one of the two things that set me off - it made me aware just how fragile the straws I clutch at really are. My happiness depended on how interested I was in playing a computer game. I have three right now, but one (Glitch) doesn't even pretend to be a game, it's just a way to waste a few minutes at a time, and the other (Mass Effect 2) I likely won't come back to because its structure and design frustrates me, which is a shame because it's otherwise a pretty well-written yarn. I hope you didn't just skim that sentence, because this is it, folks. When I get home I play on the computer. I stay on the web all day, sometimes neglecting my work, because I have nothing else. I have a loving wife who is very supportive when she can be - and she is exactly the same way. In the evenings, I am up in the office on my computer and she is downstairs in the living room on hers. This is all we've got.

It's a fucking lousy way to conduct an existence. But I only remember that during the brief times when it fails to distract me. This afternoon was one of those times.

Fact: I do not have a support network. Oh sure, I like you all and some of you like me, but you're not a support network. Sorry. I wish you were.

Thought experiment: If something happened to you right now, who would come see you in the hospital? Who would worry if they didn't hear from you for a week?

Is that too severe? OK. Who can you arrange to meet for dinner or drinks to have a conversation where each of you dumps about the things making your life an unpleasant place? Who could you call up and say, "Hey, it's really been a shit week, wanna go have dinner?"

My wife's sister and her husband are our family, and we have reciprocal interests and obligations to/with one another - but their hands are full; they chose the child path, and people who have children (quite justifiably) live a life centered around their children; they have other responsibilities that are a hell of a lot more important than providing me with an emotional cushion. I'm not going to ask them for support when they have two kids to raise.

My friend Marc, whom I have known for a very long time, has problems of his own so deep and systemic, problems I can't help him with, that I don't feel comfortable asking him to reciprocate.

Most of the other people with whom I exchange mutual griping and sympathy - that includes a lot of you who will see this - are not located geographically anywhere near me, and that does make a difference. The Other Childless Couple We Do Things With is closest, and they are 45 minutes away in the wilds of New Hampshire. Frank and Lisa are two hours away in the Even Wilder Wilds of New Hampshire (I tend to think all of New Hampshire except Manchester is wilderness), and they have a farm to run; it seems silly to talk to them about emotional emptiness when they're trying hard to keep all their livestock penned and make ends meet and so forth and so on. Farmers don't have time for emotional emptiness. They're too tired.

Yes, there was a local person. In fact there has been more than one. None of them have worked out. The one you've seen here in the past was someone whom I was almost completely incapable of having a conversation with, even about very mundane things. There'd be snowball fighting in hell before I could have a conversation with him about something deep and personal (gender dysphoria, for example). I wanted to keep him as a friend and I tried to avoid the fact that I had absolutely no common ground with him whatsoever, but now that he's left I think I can safely admit that.

Before you suggest a therapist of some sort, I must note that 1) that's not the sort of relationship I mean and 2) a therapist would be an even bigger stranger than the worst case here. If I don't feel comfortable talking to some of my friends, imagine how I'd do in a room with a professional, whom I don't know at all and whose interest in me stops the instant I can no longer pay whatever fortune they're charging to allow me to sit in a room with them for an hour? As far as I can tell, the difference between a therapist and a prostitute is that even though the prostitute doesn't have a degree, you often get better value. At least once you're done confessing to the prostitute you get to have sex.

(OK, sorry, that last was inflated rhetoric and I don't really mean it. I just tend to pull out my biggest cannons when I'm feeling bitter.)

I'm not alone. I'm married, and I'm very happy with my marriage. I feel bad implying that's not enough. I feel guilty that it's not enough. I feel like I shouldn't be lonely, I shouldn't be adrift, I should have more of a life than sitting in front of the computer every night. I know I'm doing something wrong, and that just makes it worse.

But the fact is, I am also greatly lazy and apathetic, and I sit and play games every night because everything else just feels like too damned much work. I don't really want to try too hard. I just want everything to be better. I want it all to magically be better. I want it to be the way I had imagined it would be when I was very young, instead of the way I gradually became convinced it would be starting from around the time I entered high school and I saw where I stood in the eyes of the rest of the world.

I don't really deserve any sympathy and I know it. But that doesn't help on nights like this, when I sit around and contemplate exactly how minuscule an impression I will leave on the world, and how much I deserve the ignominy I have earned for myself.


What would I like?

- I'd like to have a group of friends whose brains overlap sufficiently with mine that I can go out with them on a regular basis. You know, when I was in high school, I played cards and games with a group of my fellow students and our math teacher - no, don't snicker, she was a friend first and a teacher second - pretty much every weekend. I miss that. It's not the games I miss, you understand; I can do without those. (Most of the people I know who are heavily into games are the sort of nerd-opinionated-male types that make me want to kill them on sight. Usually I don't, but there's no need to tempt fate by sitting down to a game with them. Card games are better than board games because mostly people aren't competitive about card games at the social level - I mean, they don't really care who wins. Competition is a bar to social activity for me, not an aid to it.)

The problem is that over the years I have sort of self-selected for some people I'm sort of comfortable with and other people I'm really comfortable with, and almost all of the latter are scattered all over the country, geographically unreachable. The people I most want to see more often tend to be the ones furthest away. Maybe that's perversity. Maybe if they moved here I would suddenly stop wanting to see them. I don't know.

- I'd like to have a purpose again, but I'm not sure what it would be. Any purpose I adopt would have to be something I saw a reason for doing, and it would have to be a reason other than "keeping myself happy." My happiness is insufficient. The pieces of writing I value the most haven't necessarily been the best-written ones; they've been the ones where I have tangible evidence that they once made someone else happy. The most disappointing pieces of writing are the ones that made me happy but where I have no evidence that they affected anyone else a whit. That applies to anything else I do as well. Without that evidence that it affected someone else there is no point in doing it; and if there seems to be no point in doing it, then I won't do it.

- I'd like to be able to remember more of the joys in my life. I think that would help dislodge this horrible feeling of transience, where the pleasures and satisfactions evaporate as soon as they happen, but the fears and hates and pains and recriminations come back over and over and are never settled, so there is no actual forward movement, there's just temporary warding off of the shadows again and again.

- I'd like to sleep solidly more often than not. I bet that would help a lot with everything else.


OK, that's more than enough unwanted confession. Congratulations if you made it through all that. Now forget it. Forget you ever read it. There's not a damned thing you can do about it, you have problems of your own, and I'm sorry for baring my ass to you yet again. I'd like to break this habit. I'd like to be able to just talk about the meat loaf and the green beans. But, let's face it - if I only talked about the good parts of my life it would be incredibly mundane and even more tedious than this is. To echo a famous critique: None of the good parts in my life are interesting; none of the interesting parts are good.

And now it's a little after nine o'clock and I have to go find something that I can distract myself with reasonably well until I have to go to bed, where I will toss and turn and then I will get up at seven a.m. to face yet another Monday where I won't get nearly enough work done to convince myself that I earn my paycheck.

This is my life. I wish I could get used to it.


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ProfRobert:

You know what I used to do when I felt like that? I'd come visit you and Nonelvis. Your home was an escape, a place (unlike pretty much everywhere else) where I never felt any pressure to be or do anything other than who I was or what I did (other than maybe try not to leave the bathroom a mess for you). If you think you've not improved anyone else's life through your existence, you are just plain wrong; you improved mine substantially.

Which leads me to my next point: Try helping others. I know you don't want to do 826 tutoring, so I won't push that. But find *something* where you're helping someone else, whether it's a teaching thing or a ladling soup thing or something. If you can't find any other purpose, "helping others" is a pretty good one.

Have you noticed the days are getting shorter? It's going to get Much Worse next Sunday. Do you have one of the bright light things? You might want to sit in front of one for 20 minutes a day.

As for therapists, I confess I've never explored the prostitution options, so maybe that would have gotten me to where I want to be faster than the 9 1/2 years I spent in therapy. We'll never know. OTOH, I was getting regular sex from non-commercial sources, whereas no one was offering to shrink me for free, so maybe I did get the best of both worlds, after all.

-- 14:58, 31 October 2011 (GMT)


Medley:

I don't buy one of your premises - namely the one about the value of the written word, at least in the long-term. We may (or may not) be in a valley as far as appreciation of longer-form writing goes at the moment. (Even that I'd argue is a debatable premise.) But I see no particular reason to believe that current trends (assuming they are toward less appreciation) will continue in the long-term.

I'm not necessarily optimistic, mind you, but the ubiquity of text is a relatively recent phenomenon in the grand scheme of things. Who knows what attitudes will be like in 20 years, much less 50 or 100. So if your concern is about leaving a mark, I wonder what timeframe you're thinking of? And why does the percentage in terms of the general population matter at all?

Everything changes - there will be dark ages again, but there'll probably be another renaissance, too. Except for rock carvings, plain text has about as good a chance of persisting as anything else. Impact emerges in strange and mysterious ways, sometimes. Who knows?

Oh - I am sympathetic to existential angst and have my share about the meaning of it all and wondering what's the point - but we who have borne witness to the explosion of the Internet and the information revolution (I use the term guardedly, but do think there's something to it) should be especially mindful of how quickly things can change. What's appreciated today might not be tomorrow, and vice versa.


-- 15:33, 31 October 2011 (GMT)


Bunny42:

I have trouble grasping why it matters, to me or to anyone else, if I leave a mark in the world. If one or two people remember me fondly, then fine, I had some sort of purpose, although I frankly don't need one. You see it as a pointless existence, I see it as a comfortable one. I stopped questioning the whys when I was about 17 and have never looked back. I keep busy and fairly content. My life is apparently much easier than yours. That's not bad or good, it just... is.

Of late, I've felt I'm coasting, that one day things will smooth out and I'll have all the time I want to entertain myself, be it sewing or crafting or planting things, whatever. Life overwhelms me sometimes, to the point that I can't get anything done. Did I tell you I got a freaking pacemaker, about a month ago?? Talk about overwhelming. But, see, the way I look at it, one day I'll be here, next day I won't, and then I won't know or care what effect my life had on the world. It's the curse of the cockeyed optimist. Happiness, however you can attain it, is everything. Mine's relatively easy to find.

I've learned I have far more affinity toward "dealing" with old folks than I ever thought I did, by my daily sorties to my mom's nursing home. I know many of the residents by name and have no trouble at all talking to them and/or helping them with little problems (the staff don't want outsiders to do a lot, too much insurance liability if anything goes wrong). I wish I could relate to children the way I've taken to the elderly. What Robert says is true: it's very satisfying on a human level to help other people somehow. Maybe you could find some, I dunno, satisfaction or something by volunteering somewhere.

-- 01:32, 1 November 2011 (GMT)


Mrissa:

I don't have a specific thing to push here, but I agree with Robert and Bunny42: you seem to be spinning your wheels on finding an entirely internal purpose. Try helping someone else.

-- 18:05, 2 November 2011 (GMT)


Ursula:

I understand feeling lost and hopeless. Absolutely. But while I've heard you say plenty about feeling like that, and I've heard you dismiss various suggestions for things you could try to feel better, I haven't heard you say much about what you actually ARE trying to do to be happier.

If you're unhappy, you have to try new things, you have to keep thinking of ways to try and improve your situation. Just distracting yourself isn't enough. That's not going to help at all in the long run. You have to stay active, and try to steer your life back on course.

All my life, I never understood what self-pity was. I knew it was bad, but I couldn't grasp why it was such a sin to feel bad if your life sucked. But recently I heard self-pity defined as hating your life but not doing anything to change it. If that's really what it is, then I'm sorry, but I think you've become trapped in self-pity. I think you are sitting on a metric fuck-ton of talent, and you don't HAVE to die in obscurity. You're choosing that path.

I have made huge mistakes in my life, but perhaps my greatest regret is being too complacent. I've lost years of my life as a freelance writer, draining my creative energies and going broke doing it. I am currently going nuts trying to make a new and better life for myself, and even if my new life sucks butt so far, at least I'll go down fighting. Pardon the cliche, but the fight's not lost until you stop fighting. You deserve better than this shit. So go kick some ass... Starting with your own, if need be!

(Meant with all the affection in the world, and sorry if it came out as way more bitchy than I intended.)

-- 09:59, 20 November 2011 (GMT)


Ursula:

Nothin'. I have no idea if you ever even saw my comment. Oh, well.

I could have phrased it better. I didn't mean to suggest that I now have life all figured out and you need to follow my example. My point was that I've been stuck in the kind of defeatist thinking you describe, and I now recognize that the only way I'll ever improve my situation is to take action of some kind. Just being sad only leads to more sadness.

Well, I won't be offering advice again. I hope you figure out some way to be happier. Wishing you the best.

-- 01:15, 28 November 2011 (GMT)

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