How Not To Waste Your Life

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Content advisory 18+ In America, guys approaching or just past 40 (In Russia it is 30, according to my friends) are always having what is known as "the mid-life crisis". I never had it because I never grew up and never wanted to deal with anything as boring as 'adult responsibilities'. Well, I jest, but maybe it says something about me that for my last Happy New Year gifts, I received a new bicycle and boxing gloves (I will be 69 on 8 May).

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Alas, the sober truth is that I am having my mid-life crisis now. It probably doesn't mean that I will live to be 138; however, I notice for the first time that my elbows ache like hell after a long weight-lifting workout; same with knees and ankles. Too many years spent jumping up and down at basketball. Also, my stomach keeps ballooning out. Mostly flatulence and bloat, and I don't know which is worse: farting all the time or just getting fat. So I am taking pills to alleviate the gas. Charming, huh?

Other than that, and the fact that I get grumpy when the weather is cold, I am in great shape. So there is no crisis, right?"

"O sages standing in God's holy fire
as in the gold mosaic of a wall,
come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
and be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away, sick with desire
and fastened to a dying animal
it knows not what it is; and gather me
into the artifice of eternity."
W. B. Yeats. Sailing to Byzantium

So. Sick with desire and fastened to a dying animal, huh? Maybe there is a problem (sorry, a 'challenge') after all? But my own has more to do with making allowances for the inevitable in the context of fully enjoying a life that has turned out relatively well. This despite many early indications that it would not.

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I live in a world of self-imposed stress because I want it that way. I am, effectively, still in Moscow because it remains the source of all my business. The only difference is that Moscow now sits in my office here in this village, rather than me being in Russia and riding trains and running up and down the city every day. I joke with people that "I am too busy to get sick" or "too busy to die." Gallows humor, to be sure, but I sort of mean it. I am just sorry that my 'heart' (spirit), which is so abundant in its desire to live on and on, is indeed "fastened to a dying animal."
It's so much better now than when I was a young man, dancing drunkenly on a table top, splashing booze into everyone's face, and imagining this meant that I was a POET. And if, as the mirror tells me all too often, I am no longer a bargain for the young ladies, suffice it to say that I am now a better man. The psychologists call it, I believe, 'self-actualization.' That's what I have achieved somewhere along the way. The other thing it means is that I am free to die without losing my sanity because of failing to live the life I was given.

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And that’s where I think this mid-life crisis business kicks in with many men. As for women, I cannot say. It would be easy to dismiss their side of the coin by saying that it's all about when they start to lose their looks and sex appeal (assuming they had it in the beginning). But the world has changed, and I think that for women it's a lot more complicated than a case of the bloom going off the rose. Besides, both sexes can keep up appearances now for much longer than in the past. Credit better nutrition, better healthcare, more attention to fitness, cosmetic surgery, and the decision (which impacts women especially) not to reproduce so early or so often.
With men, it was always a matter of baldness setting in, a complacent-looking paunch perching itself just above the belt buckle, and fear of losing virility. Also, we should factor in the age-old notion about the man being the 'hunter', the guy who was supposed to go out there and 'make it happen' while his good old gal kept the fires burning at home. Feminists pooh-pooh this idea now, but it was true for thousands of years, and I doubt that ANY woman -- even a card-carrying Feminist --would be proud of having a male "significant other" or “partner” (as they say nowadays) who, being called upon to defend her against a would-be rapist, would offer to suck the guy's dick instead. Just to keep the peace.

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How do you tell a bird it can't fly? When a man who in the past has thought himself a tad more than adequate suddenly or gradually (doesn't matter) has a traumatic experience or succession of deflating mini-experiences which inform him that he is no longer the meatloaf of the marketplace, it can really do a number on him. To make matters worse, this harrowing realization may coincide with his wife's indifference to his advances. Let's face it: if we are going to talk about marriage, the word 'boredom' cannot be left out of the conversation. Or maybe she is too busy with the baby. Or maybe her own jets need firing and she's on the prowl herself.
Anyway, he's worried that he's over-the-hill, and so what does he need to do? Prove Himself! And how can he do that? Have an Affair of course! But not just with ANYONE. I mean, since he is trying to prove something urgent not just to a woman but to Himself, he must secure a CONQUEST! But since it's a Mid-Life Crisis we are talking about, it won't do to have a roll in the hay with his wife's fat cousin or pay for a rub-and-tug at the local massage cabin. No. He must win the heart of a young woman! He will pay, of course, but since men realize that they are always going to pay one way or the other, he rationalizes it, writes it off as a donation on behalf of his newly rediscovered youth, vim and vigor, O Holy Erection !!...

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And that's about the sum total of a mid-life crisis, right?

I don't think so. I think it's about something deeper and far more painful than whether or not you can bed your secretary. (excuse me, Personal Assistant.) Many men, including myself, who can summon up a hardness in his ‘member’ upon demand, is left afterwards to deal with the impotence that rules his soul.I think it has to do with the creeping angst that occurs -- and clings like one of the blood-sucking tics that fasten themselves onto the country dogs out here where I live. This angst that accompanies your growing awareness of yourself as being precariously positioned in a disposable culture -- one to whom the city billboards constantly shout, demanding you look up at images displaying everything you are NOT. A culture that worships youth and pays no heed to voices of experience. It is the shattering epiphany that exposes and sneers at your irrelevance. Now half your life is gone and you are... WHO? You are WHAT? (Sorry, we can't H-E-A-R you !!! WHO?")
But maybe the crisis comes about, not from the silent sound and subtle fury that wants to bury you under the general pop culture and mass production stampede. No, maybe it's because you have not been prepared -- or prepared yourself properly -- for life. Maybe it has nothing to do with your sagging tummy (or boobs) or uncooperative penis. Maybe it's because you have not prepared and built your soul in the right way.

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Did I really say that? Built your soul? Yes, I guess I did. Consider this short poem which has haunted me for many years:

"Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year's horses
blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life."
James Wright

What does the author mean, what can he possibly mean "I have wasted my life." ?? I have come to believe that, as the years go by, a large number of us -- inflated with an ego as we humans are -- begin to despise ourselves, knowing, as we do, the very mean and unheroic quality of many of our underlying motives. And thus the so-called mid-life crisis comes about when the EGO, yours and mine, totters under the assault of certain unpleasant emerging realities. Existing only in the realm of competition and the Bottom Line, we are fine as long as we have our legs under us, but when something in us falters, there is no sense of harmony or serenity to come to our rescue. We rise and fall as ego-maniacs.

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The speaker in the poem (The poem is called "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota") is able to see, in this privileged moment, the unadorned perfection of natural simplicity, utterly ego-free and so, to borrow from a critique by the poet Patricia Hampl, he is able to "rinse" himself (great word) of his ambitions, his pride, his shame, his grudges. He understands that he has never really seen the world before. Only his ultimately frustrating and embittering illusions. Stripped of all that burdensome gear, he becomes, at least in that moment, enlightened.
Can it be that a mid-life crisis comes about only because a man -- or a woman -- far from fearing the failure of his/her sexual equipment, is really caught in a seizure of angst because something in him understands that, so far at least, he has wasted his life?

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(more to come)

===Eric Richard Leroy===

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