Friday, August 04, 2017

Being rather than becoming

A strange thing is happening to me at midcareer: I find myself increasingly worried that I've lost something I once had or was good at: my writing isn't as lively; I'm not as creative; whatever was once interesting about me has vanished.

Objectively, I know that this is ridiculous. I mean, sure: it's possible for a human person to stall or lose her edge, but it's more likely that this is just an exciting new port of call for my personal cruise ship of anxiety and insecurity. When I was younger, I feared not being smart enough, not having interesting ideas, not being able to turn my vague intuition to some kind of account. These days, though I still start in an incoherent muddle, I feel pretty confident that my hunches will pan out and that I can complete any project once begun. Some of the work I've done in recent years is clearly superior to my first book, and on good days I dare to believe that I've hit some kind of scholarly stride.

And yet, alongside this sense of relative contentment is the nagging suspicion that while some things might be better, surely they've come at the cost of other things. I keep feeling that my writing has lost whatever distinctive voice it once had, and wondering whether the better ideas have displaced the better writing. And then I worry that even my greater contentment with my work and the number of projects I'm immersed in might themselves be signs of how boring I've become, with work crowding out the other things--I'm pretty sure there were other things!--that once made me an interesting person.

I mean, I never labored under the delusion that I was cool, in the way that matters to twenty- and thirty-somethings, and the invisibility that some middle-aged women complain about is more a relief than a loss. But I suppose I'm not free of the vanity of wishing to believe that I am, in whatever minor way, an interesting person. And now I've . . . lost that belief in my own fascinatingness. I'm just an academic. I write, I go to the gym, and sometimes I buy pretty things and make fancy drinks. Occasionally I read a novel or see a movie.

In almost every detectable way, this life is better than the one I had at thirty or even thirty-five. I know I was not happier writing those lively and eccentric sentences, much less wondering where my career or personal life was going to go. But apparently I need to feel a little lost and inadequate at every stage--so now I'm feeling nostalgic for my own earlier lostness and inadequacy.

Worst. Midlife. Crisis. EVER.