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.

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