I’m so fucking sick of myself I can barely stand it.
Having no other words for this stage of ridiculous angst, I’ll call it a mid-life crisis. It’s more of a mid-career crisis, though, and my whole generation is going through the same thing. In fact, judging by posts on Facebook and other social media sites, this “I don’t know what to be” disease is actually affecting more than just GenX. In my limited view, I see a few reasons for this:
1. The Spector of an Uber Public Life
What is it about this suddenly-public life social media brings that causes us to freeze up, to question and limit ourselves? I’m totally stunted in my tracks for fear of being misconstrued, misinterpreted, misrepresented and therefore mistrusted. I’m personally stunted in my writing life (but since the dawn of the Web, we all writers now). I fear my children will be embarrassed by what I write. I fear my husband will think me wothless or he’ll worry about me (which is worse). I fear the neighbors will be uncomfortable around me if I “bare my soul” in an article or two. I fear the effect my writing may have on future job prospects. I fear I will write myself into a type-casted corner. I fear so much, I write nothing. I can hardly write this blog post. I’m afraid you’ll dismiss me as sour grapes, cynical, whiny or just plain worthless. Why do I fear any of this? Because I do it to you.
2. Compassion Fatigue
People used to read the newspaper to “stay informed.” Now we scroll through FB and Twitter or ESPN and CNN with the same primal drive for current knowledge. When I see a post like this one, I have to push it aside. I make a quick judgment and dismiss. “Oh,” I think, “That person is struggling and shouldn’t really show that to the world.” The judgment doesn’t stick, of course. I can’t keep a running tally of all the “pathetic” crap everyone posts. But the fear I’ll be seen as a needy crybaby keeps me from sharing any of my angst with you. If I can’t share my angst, I end up not sharing anything. Which means I don’t write at all. Staying neutral/silent also keeps me from finding support and comrades-in-arms who may help me overcome all of this self-doubt. It’s like I’m the big tough guy who won’t let himself have a good cry, standing in a room of tough guys who just need someone to shed one tear so they can let it all out.
3. Too Much Experience
How did I get so cowardly? I used to brave. Or stupid. Or, maybe being brave is stupid and I’ve jut gotten to a point in my life where risk isn’t worth it. I’ve gone through many a horrifying repercussion for sharing my thoughts in the past and I hate being ostracized. My latchkey-on-steroids abandoned childhood and teenage years left me with an irrational avoidance of feeling alone. Then, I got online in 1988 before I was prepared for the cutthroat culture the Internet was at the time (I know you think it’s bad now. It was way worse then, believe it or not). Social media just brought with it more trolls. They aren’t the trolls of the early ‘net but there are more of them and some of them are real sociopaths. It’s too much to take sometimes. As I get older, I keep having to ask myself, “Is it worth it?” “No” is the answer that keeps coming back.
Staying silent is the better decision. I tell myself the American obsession with achievement and notoriety is a trap. It’s better to live quietly to keep one’s loved ones safe and out of harm’s way. It’s better to never “air dirty laundry” or risk impropriety. Yet I feel false. I am miserable. I write in my journal everyday, but sometimes I suspect its simply an exercise to keep me silent.
It’s all about money. Maybe. I think: “I should just stay in consulting and try to make that work or get a job in tech/webdev and forget about writing which is an art and artists are poor and being poor sucks.” I often wonder what I’d feel like if I won the lottery. Or when my parents are gone and my children are grown and I feel free to write about my experiences. But worrying about money is just another shelter, another excuse not to be brave. Or it isn’t. My kids need shoes and food, just like everyone else’s kids. But how many shoes do they need, really? And do we have to eat out so much? I’m at sea. I have no idea how to live in the middle class. I feel like I want for more money now than I ever did when I was growing up with nothing. When you’re poor you have no hope of “having it all.” Stuck here in the middle middle class, I feel like if I just got a regular job in tech like I used to have, the big house with the n-square-foot kitchen and the African Safari for the family is in almost my grasp.
But then I’ll have the prettiest house and the nicest lawn that won’t be enough to cover up my broken dreams.
5. Dreams Suck
I’d say I’m “Internet addicted.” I’m not, really. I’m just white-knuckled terrified of forging ahead as a writer. It’s do or don’t time for me. I’m on the motorbike and I’m at the top of the stunt ramp. I’m just staring over the edge. Please, someone push me.
We all “don’t have time” for dreams. But really, we have time. We’re just not using our time correctly. We’re all going through this mid-career (mid-Web?) crisis because we can’t focus. We’re pulled in different directions. We don’t know where to direct our eyes or our thoughts. Newspapers had distinct sections: e.g., Local, National, International, Op-Ed. When we were done reading, we felt safe in the sufficiency of our knowledge. After that we’d go to work or move on to our leisure activities. Now the information never ends, and I never get to my work or my leisure activities.
I can say I don’t have time because keeping up with the world takes up my time. I can also say the kids’ schedules and my side paying work (when I get it) take up all my time. Giving out free advice to every schmo that wants me to “meet for coffee” takes up my time. Volunteering in my community, writing a hyperlocal blog, being there for friends in need, interrupting my writing to go pick up my kid from school because she doesn’t want to walk in the rain, organizing the house. Yet my dream of being a writer nags at me. I just can’t seem to take the jump. Dreams suck. They haunt you. They won’t let you go. As much as I long to be a chill, super-underachieving Eurotrash pothead, this stupid dream of being a writer won’t leave me in peace. Why can’t I just live in obscurity? Why does this ridiculous writing motor keep revving up, wanting to go for a ride? Can’t it see that I’m busy? Can’t it see that I don’t have a helmet, or body armor, or rain gear to weather the inevitable crashes and the storms? Dreams don’t care about you. They only care about their own fulfillment. I feel like I’m a pawn to mine. I resist and resist and that loud motor still keeps me up at night. Now it’s so loud I can’t breathe.
In The End
I have nothing more to say. I hate myself. I hate this doubt, this fear, this ennui, this cynicism, this patriotism, this hope, this yearning, this embarrassment, this past, this present, this unknown future. All of it. When will I give myself permission to be the pathetic, needy, vulnerable, untrustworthy, selfish, narcissistic writer that I am? When will I see myself as worthy, compassionate, solid, generous, talented person that I am? When will I ever write?
Please. Someone push me.
Photo credit: Isabell Schultz on Flickr