My grandmother, who is twice my age, is always threatening to die. “Yep,” she tells me, in that matter-of-fact way that only wise old people can, “I’m about ready to take this show on the road.”
It amuses me when she says it, and saddens me. But it also stops me in my tracks because if her predictions are right, and my math is correct — then I’m officially middle-aged.
This is it. The notorious half-life point. The infamous midlife milestone that lands men in the bucket seats of exorbitantly priced sports cars and spins women into torrid affairs with beefcake boy-toy trainers, neither of which sound like torture exactly, but …
But over this?
Forgive me. I thought middle age would be different. With all the credit it’s given (or blame it’s bequeathed) for sending forty-somethings into existential marriage-busting, job-quitting, marathon-training tailspins, I just thought that becoming halfway-to-dead would be more dramatic. More disruptive. More electric.
I always assumed that balancing atop the very fulcrum of my own personal timeline would be all-consuming, wholly engrossing, 100 percent distracting. Maybe I secretly hoped it would.
Because the reality of middle age is disappointingly, even disturbingly, dull. The worst thing about finding oneself midway through life — about being, to paraphrase Macbeth, so deep into one’s own journey that wading backward would be as tedious as slogging on ahead — is that there is no bracing transformation. No seismic shift. No perceptible metamorphosis at all.
The worst thing about it is the feeble floppiness of being neither here nor there.
No longer an idealistic youth but not quite a seasoned sage, I live a sort of un-extreme existence full of demi-delights and semi-successes. I have most of what I ever wanted but can’t yet sit back and enjoy it. My obligations and responsibilities are at an all-time high, while my energy supply is dwindling, so I do most things in my life half-assed — if I even put that much ass into it.
Friendships, fitness, family … career, culture, current events … I’m now smart enough to understand the value of these things but still too stupid to properly cultivate them. I’m of an age when I can afford nice stuff — like the overpriced exercise class that I’m finally cunning enough to cheat my way through (“I don’t have to do those ghastly mountain climbers, do I, really? I’m middle-aged.”).
I rather thought I’d be a master of something by now. An expert. An ace. I may have even convinced some folks that I am. But if reaching the apex of your own personal history doesn’t promise proficiency, it does inflict blinding self-awareness, forcing you to admit that your know-how is merely smoke and mirrors, more luck than pluck, more stunt than sweat. And that your long-prized ability to do “everything in moderation” is truly just a failure to commit to anything worthwhile.
So is middle age more fun than a stairwell full o’ Slinkies? Um, no. It’s an awkward stage, to be sure. But there are no stunning surprises. No soul-howling revelations that threaten to send my life spinning off in some dangerous new direction. To be honest, I can’t even summon the energy to get depressed about the whole thing.
Wow. Look at that. Even my midlife crisis is half-assed.