The International Writers Magazine: Middle Age

Old and In His Own Way
Mike Blake

To make the same mistake twice is failure. Where had he heard that quote? Or read it somewhere (he’d gone through so many books lately). He wasn’t sure if those were exactly the words, but that was the gist of it, and he remembered having been struck by them – almost like a blow – painfully.

It was the inner, eating hurt that came from a sudden realization, a truth. It occurred to him that he had made the same “mistake” not just twice, but many more times. There had been repeated failure over the years; he had never been able to surmount the problems in his head. He still didn’t like to look at them that way, but now he didn’t bother to deny the fact that he had difficulties getting along. If you looked at the last twenty years of his life, it had always come down to what he could have called “spinning his wheels” (another quote from somebody, concerning him). He knew he had never been able to get traction on anything in life, or maybe it was that he never put forth the required effort. At times, it occurred to him that he didn’t and never would have it in him; it wasn’t in his nature to apply himself, wholeheartedly, to even one thing; he was too fickle in his everyday choices.   

With increasing age, he found he was more honest with himself, though age and “wisdom” didn’t necessarily provide him with any answers as to how to get on in a more productive way. He almost never got “geared up” for anything anymore, as the anticipation of an inevitable letdown came with it. Why bother with excitement? That was for kids. Though there were still moments when he felt like a big kid; his exuberance surprised him, made him laugh. Where had that come from? As if a little of that youthful spirit from the past had been tucked away in his subconscious, a trapped pocket of refreshingly pure air just released. He hadn’t entirely given up on himself, if only for these occasional moments. If only for the briefest of times, he could say that he actually enjoyed “life”, or perhaps accepted is the better word. He accepted the conditions of his existence, and wanted life to continue, the term “life” being general enough to suit his good feeling. He relished every one of these easy and stimulating moments as medicine to combat the much greater and ever-growing shadow on his days.

He couldn’t remember a day when that shadow hadn’t been present at some point. Perhaps it grew as the time passed, with his knowing that he had less of it by the day and, the feeling at the core of him, that he would be largely ineffective in however he chose to spend it. How could he not be a failure in the end? When he thought about his dreams, ideas and powerful feelings – his life inside his head, in other words – he realized how little of it ever saw life in the external world. How little of his inspirations and desires was ever brought to fruition outside of his “inner stage”? How many captivating little dramas had played and run their course in his head, to be replaced by new scenes (for he was never short on strong impressions)? It seemed you went to the grave with the best and worst inside you.   

His written attempts to share something of that inner world – books worth of words - had been just a meager sampling here and there, an attempt to seize the moment, as it were. The fact that he kept writing meant that he was never quite satisfied that he had gotten it down right; he was destined to come up short, no matter how inspired a start he had. With his writing, he could accept that, convinced that his difficulties weren’t any more or less than what other writers experienced; it was all part of the creative process. Yet outside of writing, his failure – and he could think of no other word for it – to achieve any stability in his everyday life, any respite from the inner turmoil it produced, clung to him in what could only be a debilitating way, it weighed on him almost every day out of the starting blocks. And the weight mounted, even with those temporary (and necessary) releases.

Now he was at what was considered middle age and he wondered how he could put up with another perhaps thirty to forty years of that dreadful build-up. He saw no signs of “seeing the light” or of a lessening of his burden, and he had no reason to believe that this would occur. He had groped along for so long now and found that the best you could hope for at the end of a day was a laugh to relieve the tension. Illumination, his ass. Something in his gut and a warm sleep, that was about it. He’d made it through another one. How often, when still a kid, had he heard older people say that, and it annoyed him somehow, as if they weren’t really going all out, or had given up in some way. At that age, he didn’t want to hear that life could be seen to be that limited. There were still all kinds of possibilities then. But now, when he caught himself thinking the same “old way” at day’s end, he felt his age more than at any other time. Some more troubling thoughts to sleep on.

Mike Blake <

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