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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

my GenX midlife crisis


Item: Salon last week looked at a calendar and realized how old Generation X is getting and asked the question that naturally prompted, which is “How do slackers have a midlife crisis?”

Item: Today is my 44th birthday.

Therefore: This is the perfect time to start what I hope will be a regular new feature: weekly editorials in which I’ll rant and rave about whatever is particularly pissing me off at the moment. Mostly, I imagine, these things will be related in some way to movies, TV, and pop culture, because that’s what I’m always thinking about. Is this a desperate attempt to write some stuff that might go viral and bring in some new readers, some of which will hopefully decide to become subscribers? You better believe it.

See, women aren’t typically allowed midlife crises. Midlife crises are for balding, paunchy guys who buy red sportscars and start cavorting with women half their age who never realize how pathetic they look to everyone else. What do women get? Hot flashes. Which we’re not even supposed to talk about in mixed company. Sara Scribner at Salon offers movie examples for, respectively, the Boomer and the Xer midlife crisis, and they are Falling Down and Greenberg, both of which are about men. Because men are totally fascinating even when they’re doing nothing but sitting in a corner sobbing.

But I am having a midlife crisis anyway, because I’m stubborn that way, and because the best way to get me to do something has often been to tell me, “That’s just for boys.” Most of my midlife crisis revolves around a sweaty (non-hot-flashy) panic over trying to determine just how big an idiot I have been when it comes to this Web site. It’s superpopular, at least as far as one-(wo)man shows go. (It could be more popular, if I had the lack of ethics and scruples it takes to “employ” other writers without paying them and instruct them to write SEO-friendly copy that could fool Google into sending tons of traffic my way. But that’s a rant for another day.) It’s well respected. But when I made the decision, a little more than three years ago, to quit my other non-movie-connected freelance work and focus exclusively on this, I thought that might be just the extra push needed to get the site into another realm entirely. Like the one that would earn me even a meager living.

Go ahead. You can laugh.

Now I know that obviously my “problem” hasn’t been that I simply wasn’t putting in enough time or work or effort into the site. (Slacker pajama-blogger hours: 12 hours per day, most days, some days more. Even days when I don’t actually post anything, as on some recent Sundays, I’m still doing something behind the scenes. I cannot remember the last time I had a day where I didn’t do at least some work: checking and responding to email and Twitter, at a minimum.) Or maybe I’m still not putting in enough! People tell me: You should do a podcast. You need to be doing YouTube videos. You should have an app. You need to write a book. Possibly any or all of those things might work! Or not. The other option: Just give in and give up and find something else to do entirely. I’d hate for 16 years worth of work to suddenly be worth nothing, and I’d be forever haunted by the possibility that I quit just before it was all going to come together and become the thing I’d hoped it would be. (Celine in Before Midnight notes that women who Accomplish Things mostly don’t even get known for their work until their 50s. That made me cry for the unfairness of it, but also because it gave me a sliver of hope. Maybe all is not yet lost for me.) Also: I have no idea what else I would do with myself.

I think maybe the frustrating thing about my GenX midlife crisis is this: There is no metaphoric red sportscar out there. Scribner at Salon quotes Neil Howe (who has quoted me in his books on generational theory a few times):

The Xer in midlife is facing the opposite midlife than the Silent Generation. The Silent experienced claustrophobia. Xers experience agoraphobia — everything is possible.

Many roads are open, at least. A lot of them will be dead ends, except you won’t know that until you run smack into that dead end… or the superhighway could be just beyond a bend in the road that doesn’t look at all promising.

The beginning of my midlife crisis was, I suppose, deciding that I needed to come to London finally. (Living in London was something I had dreamed about since the first time I visited, in 1989.) I thought it might give me a new perspective on movies. I thought I might make new contacts, find related work, something. I have met lots of great people, but I’m still treading water. Maybe it’s too soon — it’s only been two and a half years. But part of my midlife crisis, too, is the vacillation between reassuring myself that it’s not me, it’s the sucky economy, it’s the shitty creative politics of the Internet (ie: no one wants to pay for anything), it’s the whole big world that’s the problem, not me — and worrying if maybe it is me… which cycles back around the question of just what it is I’m doing wrong, or not doing enough of, or not doing at all that I should be.

It doesn’t help, either, that on the personal side, I’m having no better luck. Clearly, the Man of My Dreams was not in New York. If he’s in London, he hasn’t shown himself yet. Couldn’t something go right for me? Is that too much to ask?

Goddamnit, midlife crises suck.

But I’m gonna take a big scoop of umbrage at the conclusion Scribner at Salon comes to about us GenXers:

Many of the great artists and thinkers of our generation have withdrawn. We barely hear from them….

If we can’t… step into politics, business and other kinds of leadership, we’ll deserve our reputation as the generation that never quite showed up. Rather than the sound of silence, we should be hearing our voices – and they should be loud and angry.

Never quite showed up?! We’re here. We’re trying. We can’t figure out what we’re doing wrong. Or maybe it’s not us at all.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

posted in:
maryann buzz
  • Jay Matteo

    Thank you for sharing. I think the editorials are a GREAT idea! Good luck.

  • This isn’t a midlife crisis, this is just the sad realisation that blogging actually sucks. Being the same age, I have several rants on my own blog about the same thing, but so do younger bloggers. “Oh woe is me, life is so unfair, everyone is doing better than me, they have more likes, they’re more popular, they make $1000s more from affiliate sales, they aren’t even that good, oh why, why, why can’t I?” Except none of these people are as successful as they want you to think they are, and it’s useless to compare what other people are doing with what you are doing yourself anyway.

    Want to know how the big name movie review blogs got ahead? It’s simple. They crossed Google, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter’s palms with lots of silver. They had a massive advertising budget, and yes, they got lots of gullible morons to fill up their sites with content for free. You know how that works. Then they harassed and spammed the shit out of everybody so their names were known, before selling out for freebies and access, and destroying their credibility.

    But even the big name movie review sites aren’t making that much money in the grand scheme of things. They may just be breaking even once you take out all the advertising fees and followers they’ve bought.

    My advice is to blog as a hobby. I’ve been writing as a hobby off and on for 20 years and never made a penny out of it. Yes, my writing sucks, and nobody cares about what I have to say, but I don’t care either. I just do it for the fun of it.

    Unless you have a physical product to sell, trying to get money from blogging is utter folly.

    Get a cat. Eat lots of chocolate. Life away from the internet is even better.

  • Melanie

    Looking forward to the rantings. Love your smart commentary and your new web-site is a joy.

  • RogerBW

    Happy birthday!

    What films tell me about female mid-life crises is that they’re to be laughed at, and that they involve desperate searches for a husband. So this won’t be those two…

    Free drives out good just as cheap drove out good. (If you want a pair of shoes that’ll hold together for more than a year, you have to pay Big Money for hand-made that’ll last the rest of your life — because cheap and nasty drove moderately-priced and reasonably-well-made out of business.)

  • Hebbie

    I vaguely recall you mentioning Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish with regards to getting subscribers to pay. One thing they’ve been doing that I found to be interesting is ‘Full transparency’ with regards to just how many readers they have vs. income (with plots and everything). I must say, I’m terribly curious what your numbers look like (and I pay you, not them… yet).

  • Rod Ribeiro

    You are selling a product that is made for people who value their leisure time. We aren’t many. Most people have no leisure time and when they do, they don’t want to think about it. Plus blogging works on an honor system, and honor isn’t big right now among the upper classes. Denouncing the ugly side of the system also tends not to be popular.

    So, given those constraints, I think you are immensely successful.

    Happy birthday! Here’s something for your crisis:

  • Rod Ribeiro

    Nothing is actually free… some  services aren’t paid with money anymore. I can’t recall the author, but this is spot on: “standardization is the price we pay for things we can afford”. That goes for movies and, apparently, movie reviews as well. Sad.

  • RogerBW

    Yes, well, some services are paid for with personal data (anything to do with Google)…

  • OnceJolly

    Internet subscriptions have certain features that their print analogs didn’t have.

    A print subscription would typically include arrangements to get the finished product delivered to the door, while an online subscription requires that the subscriber make her own arrangements for “delivery” via an additional subscription to an ISP. With bundling, I’ve lost track of what these services go for these days, but it wasn’t long ago that the monthly fees for broadband service were similar to the fees for a subscription to the local broadsheet and several monthly magazines. It’s perhaps not surprising that there is resistance to paying additional fees for content, even if ISP fees don’t actually go to content providers.

    The other big change is that niche services like this one aren’t, in comparison to a “good” broadsheet, particularly price competitive. I’m in a small urban centre (less than a million people) and the broadsheet tends to be thin. Go to a bigger city, and the newspaper isn’t any more expensive, but it tends to have substantially more content and a much broader focus than most blogs are capable of.

  • RogerBW

    If you don’t discriminate on the quality of the content — you just want “film reviews” and “sports news” and so on — then the newspaper does look price-competitive.
    If you want “film reviews from someone who knows more about film that what’s in this month’s studio publicity pack”, a small number of dollars a month is very good value.

  • OnceJolly

    Quality is subjective, but in any case, I’m both a subscriber to this site and someone who thinks there are critics worth reading that work for traditional newspapers.

  • Danielm80

    If you are going to write a book, MaryAnn, you should write an epic about a clever and resourceful woman who fights off trolls. You can say it’s autobiographical.

  • Rod Ribeiro

    Not only that. Ads, for one, have been around for much longer — I think over-the-air TV has always been free. Crowdsourcing the content is another way to go (Foursquare and the likes).

  • PJK

    Congratulations MaryAnn (a bit late I know, but it is my summer holidays now so I guess I can be forgiven for that).

    Of course this just reminds me of my own 44th birthday on Friday, so does this mean I can also have my Mid Life Crisis now?

  • singlestick

    Slightly belated happy birthday wishes. The dilemma that some going through mid-life crises brought to mind a line from the poet John Ashbery’s “Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror,”

    “Tomorrow is easy, but today is uncharted…”

    The economy, along with changes wrought by the Internet (among other forces), does present new challenges. But hopefully there is also here new possibilities. Best wishes in your ongoing adventures.

  • A print subscription would typically include arrangements to get the finished product delivered to the door

    Ah, but part of that price also included the taxes you pay to keep your local postal service running, and to build and maintain the roads the postman used to bring a print publication to you, :->

  • I don’t have exact figures, but I get somewhere around 100K to 125K unique readers per month, and only around 250 have become subscribers. And most of them are paying only $1 per month, because I let those who had previously subscribed at that level continue.

  • What I’m doing here cannot be done as a hobby. And I have no interest in doing it as a hobby. You cannot have a full and rounded appreciation of what is happening in the film world if you see only one movie per week.

    I also see no point in writing stuff that no one is going to read, and that no one cares about. If that works for you, great. But it’s not for me.

  • Oh, meant to say, too, that the particulars of my situation aside, I suspect that many Xers are wondering the same thing: *Did I make the wrong choices for my life and work?* Not that we could have known we were making bad choices years back: it’s just that so much work has disappeared (at least as paying work). For a different particular from my life, in the 1990s and early 2000s I was making solid, regular money as a freelance copyeditor, but that work has all but disappeared. CE jobs have gone away, to a large degree (which you’ll notice at many corporate sites and even in books published by big publishers: they’re often riddled with spelling and grammatical errors). I never could have imagined that — quite the opposite, in fact. I would have figured that publishers were always going to need copyeditors. Turns out, not so much.

    But thank you for confirming that, yes, I made bad choices. :->

  • And here’s something else about doing stuff “as a hobby”:

    “Within a group of talented people, what separated the best from the rest was how long and how intently they worked.”

    It’s the so-called 10,000-hour rule, as popularized by Malcolm Gladwell: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/sportingscene/2013/08/psychology-ten-thousand-hour-rule-complexity.html?mbid=social_mobile_tweet

  • OnceJolly

    For a variety of reasons, I suspect that advertising also played a more significant role in covering the cost of content (print and otherwise). I PVR at least some of what I watch and then FF through the commercials. Probably a little disingenuous of me to criticize others for taking content for free…

  • Paul

    I was in the same boat as you. My first job out of university was editor. How was I to know that this was a profession largely destined for the scrap heap (except in its managerial incarnation as process manager/publicist)? So it may have been a ‘bad’ choice in terms of outcomes, but I’m not convinced that it was a bad choice in terms of choosing something that, at the time of the choice, represented a poor option.

    I slid into related fields, mainly through picking up on the DTP boom quickly. At one point I was the production editor of pretty well the only newsstand magazine in the UK produced entirely on computer. But in the end, when a compelling reason to come to Japan rolled up, it wasn’t hard to throw it all in and switch to teaching (something I had never had any interest in doing). Nowadays I may not be the most passionate teacher in the world, but I’m a hell of lot less jaded than most of my colleagues. At least partly because I have a relatively secure, rewarding job.

    The point is that as individuals we have to make choices based on incomplete information. From a societal point of view, it’s actually not that efficient to make us shoulder all the risk. Societies benefit from having a large proportion of the workforce working. If the market is shafting that process through whatever means (and at present it’s the unbalanced power of big corps with their zero-hours contracts, unpaid content providers etc) then they suffer fractures, not least from the widening income gap. See The Spirit Level for a very clear explanation of how this damages everyone.

  • Paulliver

    I hear you. I’ve been teaching ESL in China for eight years, going on nine. I started just to support my writing habit, but it turned into a career.

  • Paulliver

    I understand how you feel. I’m 40+, divorced, and making less money than anyone of my generation in my family (except for two cousins who married money, so don’t need jobs). I’ve been writing fiction since the 1990s and only managed to publish scattered short stories and articles. I ended up teaching English in China to support my writing habit, I thought for two years, and it’s turned into eight because I discovered I liked the job and like making more money than I spend.
    You should read “Black Swans,” which, among other things, points out that there are some jobs that make decent salaries for decent work but will never make you “rich” and other jobs that make a few people A LOT and the vast majority almost nothing, which would include the arts and sports. Guess which catagory blogging is in? Welcome to the Internet Economy.

  • BrianJKelly

    Hope you find a good solution. You have my long-term support in any way I can!

  • AA

    Happy Belated Birthday! You have my support as well (literally, even though I can’t get my login to work). I very much appreciate your take on movies and the industry itself.

  • Email me and we’ll figure out what your login problem is.

  • Kathy_A

    Happy belated birthday, MaryAnn! (Wanted to let you know that this recent subscriber appreciates your work and looks forward to reading it all the time!)
    I’m a 47-year-old Xer who is also going through a midlife crisis, and have been for the past few years. I’ve had bariatric surgery to get healthier than I was, began working on my MLS three years ago (one more year to go–woohoo!!), and took my first trip abroad last year (something I’ve wanted to do my whole life).
    Reading that Salon article makes me realize that I am really an Xer cliche. As soon as I finish my MLS, I’m hoping to get a job with the opportunity to move my way up the ladder to become a manager ASAP. My fellow-Xer sister doesn’t see me as a manager, but I really want A) more money, and B) more responsibility. My teacher in my summer class asked me after class if I was planning on becoming a public library director, and when I told her that was my ultimate goal, she said that she thought I’d be a really good one, which was music to my ears! So, I am planning on “stepping up to the plate and doing something,” as the article says.
    I’ve been treading water at my current company for 21 years, just trying to earn enough to pay off my loans and get enough to stop living paycheck to paycheck. My crisis is manifesting in me spending money on ways to improve myself now that I’m finally earning enough to put a bit aside. Retirement isn’t for another 20 years, and I’m just crossing my fingers that I’ll have enough not to live on catfood when I’m 70.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Perhaps this is the Norns’ way of telling you to get started on that great novel you keep putting off writing.

    Perhaps there is someone you see each day whose lifestory is just begging to be written down but for some reason, you either never do it or don’t see you as up to doing it. .

    Perhaps this is Frigga’s way of telling you to take another crack at those screenplays you have in your head.

    Of course, if you really wish to indulge in self-pity, think of all the great writers who were never acknowledged as such during their lifetimes because their work was not published until after they were dead — a list which includes, of course, both men and women.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Happy birthday, MaryAnn.

  • RogerBW

    Hear! Hear!

  • LaSargenta

    Yes! Happy Birthday (a bit belated.)

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