Mid-Life Somethingorother

July 11, 2007

Let me preface everything I am going to say with this: go out and buy Will Allison’s first novel, What You Have Left. I glanced through it at the bookstore and it looks splendid — plus it’s gotten fabulous reviews from all over the place.

But the thing is…I went to graduate school with this guy. I didn’t know him well, but what I did know of him was all good. He seemed to be both a lovely person and a lovely writer (and I probably couldn’t say the same for very many of the people from that period in my life!). And he’s obviously made a great success of his writing life, as well as having gotten married and had a daughter. Good on him. And I really mean that.

But.

Maybe everyone has certain aspects of their lives that they wish they either had lived or would live differently. Maybe we all fall victim to the comparison trap, where we look at someone else’s successes and wonder what in the hell we’ve done with our very ordinary lives. I used to joke in graduate school that people would go on to become successful writers, while I would end up with a mini-van and a “Soccer Mom” bumper sticker. Okay, I don’t do the bumper stickers, but my boys had a great soccer season this past spring, and I loved every minute of their games. Just as I loved taking my daughter to her dance classes and watching her recital.

But.

Sometimes I really feel like nothing I’ve done is enough. I’m not a good enough parent or a good enough wife or a good enough Christian. I haven’t accomplished all the lofty writing goals I had for myself back in the days when Will Allison and I shared an office. And I’m not getting any younger. For the most part, that makes me glad because I like my life and even myself better now than I did ten years ago, certainly. And I wouldn’t want to go back and re-live any of that time, thank you very much. But sometimes I long to do something truly wonderful, truly laudable by others. God, that sounds…petty…self-focused. But hey, it is my blog, so I can whine if I want to!

But that’s not it, really. I’m really not trying to whine here. Maybe I’m just coming to terms with the obvious fact that for every good thing we do in life, we turn down doing lots of other good things. I couldn’t have written a novel and have been the stay at home parent I wanted to be in this last decade. Maybe some people could have, but I know that I couldn’t have pulled it off. And I know, I know — I’m not dead yet. There’s still time. And lots of true accomplishment happens in life’s interstices, where we’re living and loving and somehow trudging through each day. I have a great family, a great church and great friends. To be sure, I have little to complain about.

But. I have to admit to more than a little jealousy. Not a pretty emotion, I realize, and not one I like to admit. Pretty human of me, damn it. Much as I try, I just can’t completely shake this whole being human thing.

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2 Responses to “Mid-Life Somethingorother”

  1. Andy Whitman said

    I can certainly relate to those sentiments, Beth.

    Just a thought … I’ve found that working on short pieces works best for a lifestyle characterized by constant interruptions and unceasing demands. In other words, motherhood (not that I would know about that one, precisely, but work with me here).

    I’m working a 45 – 50 hour per week job, attempting to be a good husband and father, and trying to find time for a social life, church, reading, etc. And given that, the writing opportunities tend to come in one- or two-hour installments at irregular intervals, sometimes days apart. I’m not going to write the Great American Novel (or probably any novel) because novel writing requires the kind of sustained activity and focus that I simply don’t have to give. But I can write short essays, album reviews, poems, etc. and usually accomplish something in the intervals I’ve been given. Would it be helpful to attempt short writing projects that can actually be accomplished in a week or two, even if you can’t devote any time or energy to those projects for days at a time? I’ve just found it more helpful when I can actually finish something, anything, rather than curse my inability to write my magnum opus. What do you think?

  2. Beth said

    I think you’re definitely right about short pieces (though I don’t want to give up my book yet!) I need to find more short projects — which is another goal I haven’t met yet. I would love to get together and pick your brain…thanks, friend.

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