Friday, February 15, 2013

Deep Adulthood (Warning: Major Midlife Crisis Post)

It took a while, but most people my age seem within the last couple of years--around attaining the age of 40--to have finally entered the realm of consciousness that impresses itself on me as Deep Adulthood. In certain of these instances such frivolities and other immature tendencies as may have lingered into the middle and even later thirties have all of a sudden, if not disappeared, become far less pronounced or significant as characteristics than they were formerly. This effect is most pronounced in women who both work and have children and men who have very serious jobs, though it is discernible in most people who occupy a position in which a plausible degree of responsibility for the maintenance and functioning of society is implied.

Needless to say I have not attained, as an overall character, to this state of being. I might not even have noticed this if my circumstances frequently put me in social settings with other middle-aged child-men or women, but they do not, and my complete inability to sit with the grown-ups and talk about the business/ career landscape, real estate and home maintenance, the various abilities and excellences and successes I am inculcating and spurring in my children, and the like, is becoming even more conspicuous than it already was. In my formative years I doggedly dedicated myself to avoiding most of the experiences and challenges that lead people to this character in middle age, both because I lacked the wherewithal at the time to begin combating with them effectively, and also because I was certain I was 'above' needing to cultivate such qualities. This is how such people as I am, who intuitively seem inexplicable, can come to exist.

(My 'b' and 'm' keys are sticking, so that hitting 'b' usually either results in nothing or 'bbbb' and I have to go back and make a correction in either case. This is also causing me to be extra irritable).

For educational purposes, the following are some the major avoidances I made in the past to arrive at my present state:

1. Failure to assert any positive or strong character in my natural/childhood family (i.e., parents, siblings and other near blood relatives). I have opted instead since the age of 16 on to keep distant from them as much as possible. The problem is not that I did this, but that it originated out of a consciousness of weakness and inability to thrive in my native surroundings rather than strength or superiority. I thought that over time events would mitigate this impression of weakness and reveal the truth to have been, if not other than this, than at least more complicated than what it seemed. But this has not occurred. Probably it never does.

2. Resisting all training and other practical education. I don't know why I could never commit to this or focus in on anything I might be able to do. I don't want to give the lie that I was any kind of swaggering rebel, but it is true that I never ingratiated myself with my teachers and bosses or anybody else likely to be a mentor because I was lazy, sullen, lacked personable qualities, and had nothing interesting to say to anybody. Consequently I had no leads to getting on any kind of interesting career track. Obviously I was warned about  this, but it made little impression on me, or I interpreted it as somehow hostile to my amour-propre. It is true that the options usually presented to me as realistic were never very appealing, so it was easier to brush them aside.

3.  Avoidance/inability of dealing with competent/demanding men. This is probably the biggest and most damning one. In my 20s I was so ill-equipped, and even ashamed, to contend with serious men, especially where the work world was concerned that I evidently decided that I just couldn't do it at the time--because I was an artist, or something--took a job where essentially everyone else was female, and figured I could work through my issues by reading more, or something. This problem never quite resolved itself, though various developments seem to have worked somewhat in my favor to enable me in the ensuing years to pass as not quite so obviously execrable. First, and this is no small matter, the dramatic, and frankly shocking, increase in sad-sack males in the population since 1997 has made everyone who is not utterly wretched look less bad than they in fact are. Similarly, the ongoing recession and employment crisis since 2008 have I think made most people, men in particular, somewhat more forgiving of people in low and unexciting professions, especially if these have been able to stay off public assistance, primarily due to terror that they (the judgers) could find themselves in a similar position. Also my wife and children give me a certain amount of credibility as a real person that I lacked as a 25 year old. I could probably handle the screaming and cursing and personal criticism of a more manly work environment better now than I could have then; but I still don't have any of the kind of hard skills that would make other men like me, or that would allow me to ever rise much above the bottom of the organization. The main appeal I can make at this point is something like, 'I've proven over time that I'm not a complete fuckup,' which is at least more than I could have persuasively said 20 years ago.

I was going to tell a couple of stories to illustrate where mistakes were made in developing my character but they are rather involved and I am on the eighth day of this post and need to wrap it up tonight so I am going to skip them.

4. There is a scene in The Best Years of Our Lives which as I grow older becomes much more damning and devastating to me. Peggy (Teresa Wright, the dead actress that I have a crush on almost as if she were a real person), is defending the guy she's in love with, Fred (played by Dana Andrews), who at the time is working as a soda jerk at the drug store, saying something like (I can't find either a video or transcript of the scene right offhand) "He won't be satisfied with working at the soda fountain all his life' delivered with the unstated but utter assurance that of course she would never tolerate such low ambition, and that Fred surely knows and expects this. It actually is hard for me to watch this scene now. Of course we don't know how the future plays out in the movie, nor, it should be added, did the filmmakers know that in 1946. However, now that we have nearly 70 years of intervening American social and economic history to guide us, I think we can safely project that: I. Peggy will be a good wife. II. Assuming Fred does not become an abusive alcoholic who becomes incapable of holding a job, enough opportunities should be opening up within a few years that he should easily be able to support a family and raise his social status, make his wife proud and maybe even earn the respect of his in-laws. He has a chance anyway.

Seeing as it's Valentine's Day, I think I ought to send out a few Valentines:

Oh, Dianne. You are slaying me, girl. The Lennon Sisters might not be Tiger Mother types when it comes to academic prowess, but I bet they don't have much tolerance for blatant underachievement either. Especially Dianne.


Yes, you too.

Sybil Seely!

And Sybil Seely taking a bath! Oh my God.

1 comment:

Gil Roth said...

Y'know, you can consider yourself a near-complete fuckup and a fraud and STILL advance in a career. I mean, *I* can, so other people should be able to, too.