ugly midlife

apparently i'm in the middle of my life. maybe on the lower end since lots of women in my family live to be in their upper '90s. but most of them haven't really been able to do much once they hit 90, so i'm thinking i'm right around the middle of the good years.

i've recently learned, through more than one counselor plus conversations with more than one friend, that we enter a second adolescence when we reach the age that i am (notice i'm not exactly advertising what that number is). one woman put it this way: when we find ourselves here, we start to think about all the things we didn't accomplish during our first adolescence and we try to figure out how to tie up loose ends, come to some sort of resolution. 

when she said that, i had an AHA moment, because lately i've been feeling exactly this way. i have a master's in teaching, and for a few years out of college i taught high school students. some of them were nice, a good group of them were brats, and their parents mostly hated me. at the time i blamed everyone else: i'm cool, i'm hip, i'm young, after all, so what's not to like about me? well, for starters (and what turned out to be enders too), i was rigid. too rigid. i wasn't a parent, and i didn't come to the classroom with the understanding and empathy of a parent. some of that i think was good for them, but some of it wasn't good for anyone, most of all me, because it turned me into a sounding board for their hatred and scared me away from teaching in the classroom after that.

my leaving the teaching profession coincided with our moving to a different state, so it was easy to transition to something new. i began working at a university in the publications department, and i thought i had arrived. THIS was where it was: sitting at a desk, editing articles, proofing the alumni mag, overseeing the course catalog. tedium. solitude. scrutiny. i could be critical here and everyone would praise me for it. 

fast-forward 15 years and here i sit, still using that critical eye, working what most of my friends would call a dream job: i set my own hours, i take the jobs i want to take, i'm my own boss.

the ugly side, though, is that i have emerged from a very long time underwater, working with my nose to the grindstone out of necessity, because this work does put food on our table and pay our bills--i have emerged on the other side, now for the first time in a very long time able to come above water and take a huge gulp of air, and i'm looking around realizing i don't see land anywhere. 

which way do i swim? toward a certificate in school guidance counseling? toward a desk job that pays really well and offers us the ability to actually budget for once in our lives? toward an online shop where i sell photos as art and clothes on instagram? (well i'm already doing the latter and it's loads of fun but it definitely doesn't pay the bills!) toward a new career in portrait photography? toward a mixture of one or more of these?

to me, growing older isn't ugly because of the new wrinkles i notice around my mouth (after all, those are from smiling so how bad could they be?). it's not ugly because those extra ten pounds have hunkered down for battle before they are leaving my hips. it's ugly because it is forcing me to look in the mirror and assess who i am, what i find important, who i want to leave this earth as sometime down the road. that is an ugly process.


  1. so many comments i would like to make, but this statement caught in my throat when i read it:
    "it's ugly because it is forcing me to look in the mirror and assess who i am, what i find important, who i want to leave this earth as sometime down the road. that is an ugly process."
    your ugly is so beautiful, friend.


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