Stuck in the Middle of Life: On the Value of Reading Books, Avoiding Nasty Weather, and Playing Guitar Indoors

This morning, I realized again that, just over two months ago, I turned fifty years old. Not that I make a habit of forgetting my age, but sometimes things hit you, and other times they hit you, you know? Imagine, for instance, thinking one day that you could stand to lose a couple of extra pounds, then discovering your entire wardrobe has magically shrunk three sizes overnight. Or perhaps you ask yourself, “Hey, who’s that paunchy bald guy taking up all that space in that family photo?” only to realize that it’s you.

Yes, you are the one taking up all that space. These things happen.

As with most things, this monumental reminder at first inspired me to want to take a nap. Once that urge passed, I then felt the need to stop and entertain deep, profound thoughts. It’s what I do.

Here’s a bit of relevant biography: Once I reached a certain point in life, I never considered age to be important. I don’t mean that in a “you’re only as old as you feel” way, either. I’m just lucky enough to not feel my age, whatever that’s supposed to be, and yes, I realize next year may be a different story. But I spent my twentieth birthday in the navy, my thirtieth went by without a sound, and forty arrived and left, barely uttering a word. Now fifty drops in on me like a wet load of cement, and suddenly I feel I have to pause for meaningful reflection?

This is why it really made me think: Along with being bludgeoned in the skull by the reality of the passage of time, I also realized I’m long overdue for a mid-life crisis. Not to be an alarmist, but I think this could be serious.

We’ve all seen what happens when a person reaches middle age. Breaking Bad’s Walter White had other things happening besides reaching that particular stage of his life, but it’s hard to deny that at least some of what he did was a last-ditch effort to walk on the wild side. The Heisenberg pork-pie hat? The sunglasses? All that creative use of chemicals to impress and subdue his enemies? Sure, he bought that sports car for Walter Jr., but it’s easy to imagine there was also a little wish fulfillment at play there. If all that could happen to a mild-mannered chemistry teacher, what was in store for me? Minus the meth-making, of course.

Don’t get me wrong. I took part in some downright dangerous stuff when I was younger. Despite growing up in Alabama, where the only person more reviled than the heretic is the football agnostic, I refused to pledge allegiance to either of the state’s football deities, Alabama or Auburn. This, by the way, is riskier than it might sound.

Up until the age of about twenty-five, I rode a motorcycle, even doing so in California for a while, demonstrating my manliness by opting to not wear a helmet. After getting out of the navy, I lived in one of the toughest areas in San Diego, National City, though to be fair, being generally averse to weather in all its forms in those days, I spent most of my free time indoors. Also, the band I was in played numerous gigs with Hell’s Angels in attendance—so, you know, I and every other musician on the California coast shared that distinction with the Rolling Stones—and I even bungee-jumped on my thirtieth birthday. Was it fun? Sort of. Would I do it again? Nope.

But all of these adventures took place, as careful readers will realize with the aid of some nifty subtraction, A Long Time Ago. These days, my life is pretty mellow. I spend most of my time reading, writing and working up lesson plans, and I still avoid nasty weather when I can manage it. It’s been about fifteen years since I’ve flown an airplane, I quit smoking at about that same time, and while my book collection could probably crush me to death if I somehow ended up pinned beneath it, I don’t think reading qualifies as a dangerous activity, not in a physical sense, anyway. The same goes for playing guitar, at least the way I do it now: in the privacy of my own home, with no Hell’s Angels present.

As I see it, there are four possible reasons I haven’t gone mid-life bonkers, shaved my head, gotten a sudden tattoo, started wearing leather, amassed a collection of enormous guns, or purchased a red convertible:

  1. I’m actually going to live to be more than a hundred years old and therefore haven’t yet reached my half-life. While that could be the case, it’s doubtful. Still, it’s fun to think about reaching that age and still being able to take my practical, eco-friendly flying car out for a safe spin.
  2. Another option is that, since I don’t have children, I’m missing those constant reminders of my progression through the halls of time. On a related note, not having toted those hypothetical children around until they reached the walking stage, I still have a somewhat functional back. (Yes, I’m grateful.)
  3. Or it could be that I never actually grew up. Now that I think about it, that actually seems the most likely.
  4. Lastly, the reason I might not have embarked on that last sputtering grasp at a return to youth might just be that I’m happy with the life I have now.

I’m going with a combination of three and four.