Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Problem with Middles, in Lives as well as Stories

Working through the middle of a story

You would think that when you made it to fifty years on the planet, you'd come to at least some measure of self-comfort and self-acceptance. And sure, I guess that's true, but where on the scale that 'some' lies isn't where I'd thought it would be.

When I was younger, the term 'middle aged' always seemed to speak of being settled and a certain degree of complacency. I should have known better. Middles are never comfortable places to inhabit.

Look at stories: writers refer to "the muddle of the middle" for a very good reason. Middles are inherently unsettling places in stories. Our heroes are mired in conflicts, nearing the all-hope-is-lost section of our narrative.

While our lives may not be a story, they are certainly a collection of stories, and right now, all of mine feel spectacularly unbalanced and confusing.

All the roles I have taken on are shifting and I'm not sure where this will lead me.

My role as a parent is changing dramatically, and in a short stretch of time. For the past 20 years, one of my primary identities has been mother to two children. While I will always be their mother, they are no longer children in their own lives and in the eyes of society. My relationship with them is changing, has been changing, will continue to change.

My very body is changing to reflect that external shift with internal ones. I have been Maiden. I have been Mother. I am becoming Crone. And while I have a role model for this stage in my life - my late beloved grandmother - it is still unfamiliar territory.

It has been a lifetime since my husband and I were new lovers, learning each other's secrets, hopes, and fears. We have become as comfortable as Sunday jeans and a faded chamois shirt. Our challenge will be to hold onto that hard-won ease as we find ourselves a primary couple again.

And even as my role as parent changes, so does my role as child. My mother passed away a year and a half ago. My father just celebrated his 91st birthday and while he is still a force in my life, several years has seen this child take on more and more of a parent role in our relationship. There will be a time when I am no longer anyone's daughter. And yes, I do realize how blessed I have been to have a parent as an active part of my life at fifty.

Maybe the ground beneath our feet is always quicksand and we spend so much of our lives' energy pretending or hoping otherwise. All I know is everything is changing so much faster than I feel like I can manage.

I know in stories, what comes after this dark moment, is clarity. So I will muddle though the middle of my own story, and stay hopeful about what lies ahead.


  1. Jane Fonda gave a TED talk, (TED: "Life's Third Act), stating that due to an added 30 years to our life spans, we now have two middle ages. The one you've just entered is the first, since you are physically comparable to someone in their late 30s, early 40s, 50 years ago. the second is quite a ways off. Old age, as your father has proven, doesn't start until the 90s.

    You are a powerful woman, at the beginning of success in your new career and embracing change.

    Everything you mentioned about the turning point in motherhood is true, but then, someday, you'll have grandchildren which will make up for all of this current turmoil.

    The fire of young lovers will never return, but having your partner as your best friend is so much more fulfilling.

    1. Thank you, Susan. I do feel pretty powerful most days. It just struck me how many transitions were happening all at once. And yes, having ones partner as a best friend is a wonderful thing. I feel very blessed. Hope all is well with you and your family.

  2. How do you find writing YA as an older author? I am s a YA writer of similar age and quite like having a foot in both camps, immersed in the issues of younger people as well as navigating my own mid-life territory.

    1. Elizabeth - thanks for stopping by. I think it helps to have teenagers. I've spent much of the last decade immersed in teen life. Some of the best education in understanding the lives of young people happens in driving carpools. :) And if you ask my friends and family, I never really grew up.

      I do like having that 'food in both camps' as you say.

    2. That would be FOOT. Darned typos!

  3. Typos are also one of the gifts of hitting the middle years -- one that keeps on giving no matter how carefully I write anything. :)

    What I most appreciate about this passage in life is having the time and the space to explore and experiment creatively. We're so busy when we're young that there is never enough time to do it all, so by the time we do get some creative time we're too tired to take advantage of it or enjoy it. I've probably grown more creatively in the last ten years than in the entire forty that led up to it. I think we also lose a lot of that fear of making a mistake or doing something silly that can obsess us when we're young. I mess up almost with pleasure now, because I understand that I learn the most when I do.

    I also don't miss being a youngster; those years were pretty miserable for me and I hated myself and the world, which now I don't. I think being older is much more calm and peaceful in every way (except health problems, which I consider the payment part.) When I see older women trying to recapture their youth through spackled-on cosmetics or plastic surgery, it mostly puzzles me. No matter how young they make their face, it never matches the rest of their body. It seems sad and desperate, so it's an obsession I'm glad I didn't inherit with age.

    1. I'm with you, Lynn. I wouldn't go back in time, even if I could. The ability to laugh at myself and not get caught up in all the drama around me has been one of the greatest gifts of these years. And yes, the ability to explore and be creative without worrying so much what others might think is also a beautiful thing.

      I'm proud of my silver hair and my laugh lines. :) The silver I've had since I was 17, though now it's definitely more salt than pepper.