Me and My Blog
I’m trying to keep my mid-life crisis alive. It started with a lot of hope. Some of that hope has been fulfilled. I can’t go back to my pre-crisis self. But I’m not sure how to go forward.
I’ve been enjoying my crisis in fits and starts for four years now. In mid-2007. I was a recently tenured history professor at Claustrodemonic U., finishing my second book manuscript, irritable, sullen, sleeping poorly and plagued by headaches. I had a research leave coming, and knew I wanted to take some time off. I told some people that I needed to “figure out how to enjoy my job” (it looks so good on paper: flexible hours, self-direction, travel opportunities, stimulating challenges. What is the problem?). I told other people that I needed to salvage whatever I could from the detritus of my soul, and figure out how to live the second half of my life properly. I told most people that I’d just be starting my next research project—a “long-term” one.
Within days after sending in my book manuscript, I realized that my biggest problem was not my job, but my marriage. The next couple of years were a kaleidoscope of divorce, sex, travel, romance, introspection, tarot, a new neighborhood, some psychedelic drugs (entheogens, they like to say now) and expanding my reading list to include novels, Jungian psychology and neuroscience. All in all, a pretty stereotypical mid-life crisis, lacking only fast cars, alcohol and younger women. But it was exciting and worthwhile. My headaches are gone, I sleep well, am less frequently irritable or sullen, and I am more inclined to see life in terms of possibilities rather than problems to be dealt with.
But as things settle down, I realize that I am still confronted with the problem I started with: how can I enjoy my job? I have learned how to keep my job contained so that it rarely seeps out and contaminates the rest of my life. I am also better at going with the flow of the parts I enjoy. But every now and then, when I am not vigilant, it does seep out of its box. I have even caught myself planning my future entirely in terms of articles and books to write, papers to present and classes to teach. And, by the end of the semester, I sometimes start to get irritable, avoid people and sleep badly again.
Fortunately, I can usually recognize the symptoms pretty quickly and stuff work back in its box. But these episodes also remind me that I still haven’t learned to enjoy my work. It is only a job. All the hope and promise of meaning and insight that had once inspired me to start that 7-year training were now pretty much gone. Even the recognition I receive for my achievements does not really thrill me. Now it is just something I do that takes up nearly half of my waking life. I can keep on stuffing it in a box. But it will always find some new, toxic way to seep out. I need to engage it, to integrate it into my life. I have these skills, this experience, this extensive knowledge. Surely, it can mean something?
And so, here I am, trying to figure out why history matters.