what matters?

Middle Age = Adolescence?

No, of course not. Middle age does not equal adolescence. But there are some similarities, at least in my life, which I first posited in my last post. Bear with me.

The Great Medical Drama of 2015 (which henceforth I will refer to as “GMD15”) first prompted this line of thinking. If I was going to lose my hair anyway, I thought, why not get the haircut I’ve always wanted? So I did. I went and got myself a blue mohawk, and I loved it, and I vowed that as soon as my hair came back, that was how it was going to be. So far, I’ve stayed true to that, though I’m not dying it anymore (it’s a pain in the ass to keep it looking good).

Anyway, beyond haircuts, GMD15 got me thinking about what’s important in life, and revealed to me that a lot of what I thought was important was actually bullshit. I’m not going to make a list here of bullshit items—instead, here’s a list of what I realized IS important:

  1. love,
  2. being kind,
  3. empathy and/or objectivity, depending on the situation,
  4. genuine connections with other human beings,
  5. self-care (don’t stop reading!), and
  6. creativity.

“Self-care” is one of those woo-woo terms that has no meaning until you realize that it DOES have meaning—“mindfulness” is another good example. . . . It’s such a dumb word, and yet what it signifies is so incredibly important. (Welcome to another linguistic/epistemological/existential crisis! My name is Kate, and I’ll be here all day!).

Let me clarify. Let’s get a little bit personal, in the name of trying to establish genuine connections with other human beings.

Graduate school made me into a robot. All I did was work, to the detriment of my relationship, my family, my friendships, and my health. I thought working was capital-I important, so that’s what I did, convinced that I was going to live a life of the mind, and that emotions were stupid. Early iterations of Liz Boyle, my mystery protagonist, even reflected this . . . dare I say . . . ideology. Emotions were stupid, and intellect could conquer all.

But then there was legitimately something wrong with my body, and I had all kinds of emotions about that fact, and I couldn’t intellectualize them in a way that made sense, so I had to feel the emotions as they occurred in real-time, which, after much agony and soul-searching, led to this new list.

THAT’S what I mean when I say that middle age, for me, is a lot like adolescence. It’s like figuring out who I am, all over again, but maybe minus the reams of bad poetry and general sense of doom/gloom (which I’ve worked to eradicate, ‘cause strutting around with a case of the surlies doesn’t do much for me anymore, although I did write a bad poem the other day).

Creativity is tied to everything that precedes it on that list, at least for me. For example, prior to GMD15, I’d all but given up on the idea of being a mystery writer, but I kept working, and now my first novel is going into line editing and has a cover design. I’d all but given up on the idea that what I do every day at work (I’m a writing professor) matters, because I didn’t end up with the coveted tenure-track job. . . . But I kept working, reinvested my time and energy into teaching and creating community with my colleagues, and now I can say that I’m happy at work. I’d all but given up on myself, too, but surviving that whole ordeal—which I’m being deliberately opaque about, since I don’t really feel like getting into it right now—brought me back to what matters. It brought me closer to my partner, and to my friends, and to almost everyone with whom I interact, because I’m not a robot anymore. I’ve allowed people–yes, PEOPLE–to see that I’m actually as vulnerable a human being as anyone else is, and it’s made life a whole helluva lot more meaningful.

So I guess, in some ways, coming out of GMD15 was like being born again, kind of literally and only if a confirmed agnostic can do such a thing.

I’ll end today’s post with a question: what transformative experiences have you had, during or after which you reevaluated your life and generated a new list of What Matters? How’d you get there? Was it easy, hard, or somewhere in between? Did it happen all at once, or was it more of a process? Indulge me, fellow human beings!


Published by kbirdsall

I write fiction, short essays, and the occasional academic article. I teach writing at a large university somewhere in the Midwest.

2 thoughts on “what matters?

  1. I have had a few of those transformative moments in my life, the last and most lasting of which was losing my grandfather. When Poppa died, I lost huge chunks of myself. I stopped feeling anger, I stopped feeling true joy, and I basically phoned in my life every day for months. I distanced myself from friends, family, my husband, my children, anyone who had half a chance of making me actually work toward feeling better. And, if I am being honest with myself, it has taken me until about now-ish to really allow myself to FEEL things again, to let people see me vulnerable, to take risks. Life is too short to continually play it safe, ya know? It’s been a process of almost three years now, and it has gotten easier as time has passed, as “they” say it does. Life sure does have ways of showing us what it’s really all about, doesn’t it?

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