My Beautiful Wickedness


Thinking about 53.
October 23, 2007, 8:39 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

It was a long night for me. I just couldn’t sleep and so rather than continuing to work (which is what I really should have been doing…my house is turning into a firetrap with all the piles of ungraded student papers stacking up), I got sucked into existential crisis. Or as close as I get to same, having learned long ago to stay away from the canyon rim as it’s all too easy to jump on over and I have obligations to others that require my full presence right now.

I feel care-worn and tired. I have never been someone who is happy walking on an occupational treadmill and I thought that choosing an academic life would give me sufficient variety in what I do that I could avoid this dull feeling. This semester, though, I am in a situation where I have to be on campus pretty much every day (oh, boo hoo…), locked in meetings that don’t accomplish anything even in an incremental sense, which means that the non-classroom “work” of the job — that is, the grading, the preparing for classes, the advising, the reading extra books and articles to enrich the classroom discussion, and even the interaction with my peers — gets shoved onto my family time. No joking, I’m working 7 days a week, and I’m working anywhere from 10-12 hours a day. Everything is suffering. I’m aching all over because I haven’t gotten any exercise and I eat wherever and whatever I have the opportunity to eat. I’ve missed fall. I have managed to keep up with the bare minimum of household work, but I haven’t had much fun.

It occurred to me last night that in ten years, my kid will be off to college. While that doesn’t mean my life as a parent has come to a close, it does mean that it will change pretty dramatically. I spent some time wondering how I was going to get from here to there with any part of me (the me that I would be if I had the time and money to be…the person who would go to more evening events rather than running my kid to dance class three nights a week) still alive. I can foresee emerging from my full-contact parenting phase with a shell of a marriage and no idea of what I actually want or need for myself.

It’s not that things are bad. It’s just a touch on the grey side.

When I got up, I resolved to do something about it. Just some little thing, kind of like turning your cap inside out to provoke a rally. It’s still unusually warm here and today the wind is like a wall, blowing the clouds like clipper ships due north. Migrating birds unspooled as I drove underneath them. I rolled the car window down and turned the radio off so I could hear them; I was trying to get a little more connection, breath in this vaporous life and hold it in my lungs. It wasn’t working. The color outside was not bleeding in, not a little bit. The streets were a rain of locust leaves, yellow shredded trash, the carp of urban leaves. Unexpectedly, though, a small maple leaf blew in the window. It was yellow with small red spots, the color of a Gala apple. I brought it up to my cheek, the smoothness of the surface and the sharpness of each edge, cool and slightly damp.

Maybe the provisional answer is that you just have to keep the window open at times like these and hope that something blows in.

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4 Comments so far
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Delurking to say that I think so. Things blow in at opportune moments. And the fact that you’re a baker must also help, perhaps? I always feel more connected when I make time for that, which is very rarely these days.

Comment by Krista

I think you are right, and about both halves. Some people are going to seek an entire life of nothing but those moments, but anyone who accepts responsibility in their life – anyone worth a good goddamn – is probably not going to find those things all of the time. It is those little moments of joy, combined with the more tenuous rewards of living a life of commitment and responsibility – that allow you to go on. But there is also the part of being open to those moments when the leaf blows by and I think a lot of people close the window and stop looking. Those are the people who wind up burnt out at the end.

Comment by Gerald

On the parenting/marriage thing:

I once read one of those Christian marriage books (I think I’ve read about 4 million of those, they just interest me), which highlighted what you’ve described as a common problem.

If both parents perform “full contact parenting” for the twenty or so years that children are in the house, without giving ample attention to each other in an adult capacity, they end up almost like strangers living in the same house, once the kids move out.

This book was very strong on the idea of “date night”, and taking time for the marriage. It made a lot of sense to me.

As for work, my wife is in a similar situation. It’s killing me watching her have to work so hard with such long hours, but I don’t know what we can do about it.

Comment by Slartibartfast

I know how hard it is teaching at a small college. Mom used to work 14-hr days on campus. I really sympathize….

Comment by Nick Dupree




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