My Monthly Mid-life Crisis

Some dude on the nose of Four Pines, Teton Village, WY. Shot on Kodak Gold.

It’s funny.
I wrote this whole thing about letting myself be authentic and how that enables me to be drawn to my purpose. If I’m real enough with myself, I don’t need to find my calling, it just happens. I do it.
So I wrote that and then, for all of the two weeks since then, I’ve been totally adrift again. I’ve had this wonderful anxiety cocktail of “Do I really like this shit?” and “Is this what I should be doing?” and “I want to leave.”

Like I said, real funny stuff. I’m not certain what set this all in motion, but I would place my bets on that last post being the culprit. I think writing it out made me feel too damn satisfied. Which, obviously, made me unsatisfied.

Like many humans, I always want something new and better. Routine isn’t satisfying, and neither is maintaining the same material station. I always want things to change… though I would, of course, fight any change imposed upon me from the outside. So I started thinking, “I can’t do landscaping forever. The pay is shit and my knees and back fucking hurt every day. I need to find a new job that pays better, and doesn’t crush my joints, but is still enjoyable. I wish I could coach volleyball year-round, but I can’t. This sucks. And I suddenly don’t have anything to write about either, so my stupid blog doesn’t mean anything to me right now…”

Genuine, abject misery.
(Lame, pointless self-pity.)

What little I understand of Buddhism comes in here to kick me in the face:
Desire is the source of all suffering.
Stop wanting what you don’t need. Be grateful for what you have.

So I tried that, and it does actually work, if you can stanch the gush of anxiety long enough to get into a truly grateful, present state of mind. However, I still wasn’t satisfied. I was just less anxious. So I approached the issue from a different angle – (speaking to myself) What do you really want?

This question ceaselessly visits me. It’s the type of thing that’s too simple to be underestimated and too oft-overlooked to be ignored. Read that sentence again. Goddamn, I can write.
For me, this question opens the door to a clusterfuck of contradictory waxing and waning between the Buddhist virtue of eliminating desire and my personal intuition that desire is what gives me life, in an actionable sense. If I don’t want anything, I’m not going to do anything. But why do I have to do anything to be happy, or at peace? Isn’t here-and-now good enough? Sure it is. No it isn’t.
The best answer I can give myself is: I need to settle on the right thing to want. Certain wants can only lead to misery, because they’re miniscule. If I satisfy them, I will only want something else. But even if I disregard these minor wants, there will remain a nagging existential desire to move and shake and get something done. So maybe if I only pursue one legitimate, earnest desire, I will be at peace, because I won’t fret over worthless things, but I will also have a purpose, a goal toward which to live.

And now back to the original question:
What do I really want?

Freedom is what I really really want.

I finished another audiobook yesterday called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert. I had an admittedly skeptical attitude going into it, but I dig it. The skepticism, by the way, was derived from the fact that she also wrote Eat, Pray, Love*, which – despite my knowing almost nothing about it – conjures up the most insidious visuals of boring white women deciding to become spiritual gurus in between Oprah re-runs. So, from a really weird prejudice.
Big Magic is a study of Gilbert’s successes and failures with being a conduit for ideas, and includes snippets about others who have succeeded in living creatively. For Gilbert, “living creatively” means not strictly being artistic, but being open to inspiration, and acting on it. Succeeding in doing so requires one to simply stop giving fucks and do it.

This is what “got” me. Life could not remind me of this lesson too often. I need this tattooed inside my fucking eyelids. A wise man once told me, “Start every day with twelve fucks and come home with a dozen.” He was absolutely correct. Whenever I start to give fucks, I don’t have enough to do anything. The fucks are my soul fuel and I need them.

I am, to my own detriment, quite prone to giving fucks – to attaching so much weight and gravity to every decision I make and activity/job/creative outlet I pursue, I end up losing interest and finding my way back to the bog of anxious insecurity. I question what people will think, if I’ll make enough money, if I’ll really be interested or get burned out, if it’s really worthwhile, if it will save the world, etc. Essentially, I saddle each choice with the burden of making life worthwhile, in every sense. It’s some really non-constructive fuck-giving. What I recently (for the nth time) realized is I need to stop.

I need freedom from giving fucks. I need to be able to act, pursue inspirations, and generally interact with life without giving all my fucks away every five minutes. I need pure freedom. More accurately, I need to free myself. I need to work for the freedom I need.

The freedom I need is the freedom to be authentic.
Go figure, we’re back to that. Well fuck off, because that’s going to keep coming up as long as I have these open conversations with myself.

This freedom to be authentic is something I must work for. I must work to achieve the vocational, material, and social contexts that facilitate the life I want. This might mean quitting another job. This might mean hitting the road again. This might mean finally getting a passport and buying that one-way airfare to Germany or Ireland or Japan or Vancouver. This might mean leaving my old friends again to go find the ones I haven’t yet met.

On the other hand, this freedom to be authentic is also something I must give myself in every moment, regardless of context. Another wrenchingly beautiful contradiction – go get the life I want while also being what I want to be right now. After all, I don’t have to become authentic, I just have to stop trying to be something I’m not. I have to free myself up to be that genuine freak.

This post feels whiny to me. It feels sappy and soft and bleh. But, I’m going to publish and share it, because I need to, even if I don’t want to. Because it only feels whiny when I consider how others might view it. And that, obviously, is entirely contrary to the point.
Sometimes I feel like doo doo. Sometimes I trap myself in despair about big scary life not laying down and giving me what I want. If I can own up to that in a public way, it’s proof to me I can own up to building my own freedom.

“Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, you’re cool… and fuck you, I’m out.”
– Scarface, Half Baked


*I actually started listening to Eat, Pray, Love after finishing Big Magic. I’m about a third of the way through, and it’s dope. Gilbert has a great voice (both literary and literal – she reads for the audiobook version). She lets herself be enchanted by the mystical and the feel-good, but she also mocks her own lack of pragmatism. This book is not a lame proselytization. It’s a memoir of suffering turned into a freeing of self. It’s epic and my prejudices were unfounded.
Why write this post-script instead of omitting the prejudice? Well, it would create falsity by omission… and because my prejudice was pretty funny, I think.


2 thoughts on “My Monthly Mid-life Crisis

  1. Well written Mick. Although not totally related to Buddhist detachment and desire leading to core suffering, this Zen story came to mind after reading your piece.

    One day a Zen teacher saw five of his students return from the market, riding their bicycles. When they had dismounted, the teacher asked the students, “Why are you riding your bicycles?”

    The first student replied, “The bicycle is carrying this sack of potatoes. I am glad that I do not have to carry them on my back!”

    The teacher praised the student, saying, “You are a smart boy. When you grow old, you will not walk hunched over, as I do.”

    The second student replied, “I love to watch the trees and fields pass by as I roll down the path.”

    The teacher commended the student, “Your eyes are open and you see the world.”

    The third student replied, “When I ride my bicycle, I am content to chant, nam myoho renge kyo.”

    The teacher gave praise to the third student, “Your mind will roll with the ease of a newly trued wheel.”

    The fourth student answered, “Riding my bicycle, I live in harmony with all beings.”

    The teacher was pleased and said, “You are riding on the golden path of non-harming.”

    The fifth student replied, “I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle.”

    The teacher went and sat at the feet of the fifth student, and said, “I am your disciple.”

    One internet commentator noted “We see that, in the story, all five students have different characters. If we bring the five together, we can be brilliant, prosperous, skillful, open-minded, content, harmonious and living in the present. This is very good, isn’t it?” I agree with this internet commentator.

    1. Oh I like this one. And it’s very timely – though I didn’t mention it above, I’ve been running the notion through my mind that the most valuable activities in my life are the ones I do to do. They are ends in themselves, not rungs on a questionably angled ladder.

What are your thoughts?