So this is what 40 feels like, is it?
If you’d asked me a year ago, I’m not sure what I’d have told you about how I felt at the thought of turning the halfway marker and heading for home. (I’m working on an average lifespan of 8o here. Anybody who knows better about the avergae lifespan being shorter can keep it to themselves. I bet you never get invited to parties….).
I was trapped in a job that did nothing for my soul except eat it, with little to no hope of escape. I was unhappy about the flow of my writing career– I had become becalmed, and felt only isolation from my peers. My family life was happy, at least: I have a truly beautiful and wonderful wife, who is the central happiness around whom the family revolves, and my kids are the perfect combination of delightful and insane. But as good as it was was as good as it was going to get, and once I left the house it really wasn’t that good at all. Truth be told, I was spending more and more time not leaving the house: my sick days were piling up, my lunches were long and my leaving times earlier and earlier, and once the front door shut behind me, the last thing I wanted to do was drag myself out to spend time with people I knew weren’t that happy to see me and weren’t heading in directions I wanted to go.
39 wasn’t a particularly good place to be. The prospect of spending most of the last half of my life in the same situation wasn’t even depressing. It was just… numbing.
Then it got weird.
For the first thing, I escaped my job. Out of the blue, a position in arts administration became available, and bugger me, I got it. By the skin of my teeth– my gaffer will cheerfully admit they took a chance on me, and thankfully, cheerfully admit it’s worked out– but I was able to walk (Walk? Fucking RUN!) away from my soul-destroying job (the one I ate to find comfort from, the one that had helped me gain 20 kilograms, the one that had my wife begging me to stay home most Mondays so I wouldn’t come home so miserable and depressed) and start again.
Six weeks after I started I was on a beach, helping to install a sculpture exhibition. I spent the week of my 40th birthday administering the first art exhibition I’d ever curated. I’ve spent the last month organising 2 art exhibitions; 3 writing talks; an online writing group; liaising with the Navy, local yacht club and three bands regarding our Australia Day celebrations; and running a Nanowrimo region. I travel a third of the time that I used to, actually speak to my colleagues, oh, and enjoy going to work. It’s not too mad a claim to say that I saved my life by finding this job. Not too mad at all.
Added to which, somewhere in amongst all that, I turned a corner in my writing career. Perhaps it was the change of heart that came with the change of job, but suddenly, I forgot to give a damn what people thought of me. I forgot to get caught up in the politics of the scene. I forgot to keep in touch with people, and in doing so, went a long way towards learning who the people were that wanted to keep in touch with me. The only thing I remembered to do was take joy in the writing act itself. I wrote a novel this year, and a bunch of poems, and drew some cartoons, and none of them will see the light for a while, if ever, but the novel’s good, and the cartoons were fun, and I like poetry.
And I have no idea what the rest of the world is doing. I haven’t read a blog for nearly a year– sorry to those of you who have blogs and are taking the time out of your lives to read this. I apprecaite your interest. But when it comes to reciprocating, for the first time in a long time, I’m too damn busy, and it’s good. I used to read blogs to keep away from writing, and now I’d rather write. My peers interact with me when they want to, if they want to: the lovely people at the Australian Writer’s Marketplace commissioned me to write an online SF course during the year, and I’ve had a constant trickle of communication from friends and colleagues that I’ve accepted on its own merits rather than going out searching for it. I’m more balanced, obviously, and happier. But I’ve also shucked away a lot of dead wood, a lot of former friendships that I had to realise were dead before I could comfortably offload them. Life is lighter now.
And now I’m halfway through another novel– the Father Muerte one I mentioned at the start of November. 51 000 words, to be reasonably precise. I’ll be finished it by the end of January, by which time it’ll be something like 2 years since I’ve seen a short story in print. But I’m even writing them again: I’ve got some markets I want to try, and a rewrite that an editor is asking for, and strangely, the writing life is enjoyable again.
So, cliches about life starting and blah blah blah aside, being 40 looks pretty good so far. My happiness isn’t perfect– I’ve got an awful lot of excess weight I have to lose; I’m in pain a fair bit of the time, although I’ve come to live with that; and seven of us in a house on a single wage means we won’t be seeing Rome any time soon.
But I am happy, and that alone is a massive change of outlook from a year ago.