18 November 2007

The Sound of Silence


A few weeks ago, I turned 39 years old, a mediocre age ultimately yet also one pregnant with possibility, as 40 looms beyond. I’m not sure whether it is accurate to label recent events in my professional and personal life a “mid-life crisis,” since 40 is apparently the new 30, from what I’ve read. But suffice it to say this autumn seems to have nurtured several turning points, forks in the road that deserve serious thought and consideration. Happening against the backdrop of the typical white noise of teaching, crescendos have been reached and receded from, decisions considered, made, dropped, or changed.

Unlike 33, the vaunted l’age du Christ, or even the late twenties, with its New Age Return of Saturn, 39 seems like a somewhat outdated marker, the punchline of an old joke, the final threshold of true adulthood. After 39, it is hard to deny that one is finally all grown up, for better or worse, even when one’s personal and professional lives remain interstitial, intermediate, traced out but not set.

I have no wife, no children, no mortgage, no Labrador. Yet I do have the ubiquitous student loans, a brand new car plus loan, several projects that simmer, monthly bills and daily obligations and distractions, but the outlines of the grand récit remain fuzzy. I have been imbued lately within my iTunes program, permanently set to shuffle, so one has no idea whether one will be hearing recent popular music of little value or be blindsided by a song that takes one back to key moments, other places and other times both joyful and sad. All I know is that memory remains vivid, charged with meaning, but also seemingly does not lead anywhere productive, at least in the short term.

The leaves have mostly fallen off the trees, darkness grows more elongated with each glowering dusk, yet we still have not had, in Cold City, our first real snow. Today it threatened, flaked a bit, large and chunky, for about 30 minutes, falling outside the window as I shuffled through papers and overdue bills and TIAA-CREF statements and extra syllabi and cards and reminders from the dentist that have slowly but surely been collecting in a large red IKEA plastic bin, where I have recently taken to throwing anything that comes my way via post or campus mail without a glance.

I sorted the catalogues and envelopes and announcements for student shows in September into recycling, filed bank and retirement account statements into their appropriate folders, shredded credit card offers and disposable personal correspondence, and put aside the truly urgent, the threatening cable bill and rollover notice and the call for papers and the letter of recommendation forms into a neat, red folder, and went to the supermarket. When I do choose to eat something recently, it is invariably comfort food: cheese quesadillas, corn dogs, bologna sandwiches with American cheese, homemade macaroni and cheese, or scrounging a meal at La Vicks, enchiladas or chile colorado.

As I walked down my quiet street from the supermarket, deep dark even though it was only 6:30, I sensed the world beyond my garret: the smell of wood smoke, one last resistant tree on the street with yellow ochre leaves, the wetness of the precipitation and the rising smell of soil. Fall used to be one of my favourite times, full of warm light and friends, the crispness of the days feeling vivacious, alive. Now, autumn seems the darkest time of the year, a black hole with the summer retreating into a distant glow, months of relentless cold and ice and chapped hands and lips ahead.

I thought such a change in seasonal perception funny, although like all things it is a function of embodiment, a certain time and place lending its peculiar flavour to the overlay of other memories: early dusk at Prestigious Eastern University, walking to meet friends for dinner, passing the various dining and residential halls, the streetlights and headlights bright on a wet street. Tonight, in contrast, and aside from my funny realisation, the only feeling I had was that my hands, gloveless, were remarkably cold.

I am attempting here to trace out an emotional mood without detail, a moment pregnant with possibility: I am a 39 year old light-skinned overeducated Latino gay academic man living alone in a familiar city yet also one not my own, at the cusp of change, at the fork in several paths, with a brand new car plus loan. And I am unsure and scared. That is all.

9 comments:

Vila H. said...

It's going around, apparently. (Shrugs.) Happy birthday anyway...

Anonymous said...

Quisiera abrazarte ahora y calentar tu alma, sé cómo te sientes, es un vacío que de pronto se apodera de uno, un pasillo largo con eco en el que nos preguntamos y ahora qué...
Besos en esas manos frías

Carol Guess said...

This lyrical post felt like a poem to me. It reminded me a bit of Timothy Liu's "His Body Like Christ Passed In And Out Of My Life" -- longing, memory, return but not rewind.

It gets gray here around 4pm. When I walk the dogs we all make our way tentatively until we get to the park. Then they take off in great loping circles and I stand among the trees and watch. One of the dogs is blind, and he very sweetly reminds me that it makes no difference what time it is when he runs. He has the same velocity no matter what light.

One of the scariest things about academia is how easily a temporary space (office, campus, town) becomes permanent. Or feels that way. Surrounded by students who are often optimistic about escape, about a future not yet set at midpoint, it isn't always easy to continue inventing optimism for oneself.

cero said...

When I was in school I never cared about graduation but now that I am a professor I long to graduate.

When I was younger than I am now I thought that by the time I was in my forties my greatest danger would be that I was on my way to becoming Yeats' "sixty year old smiling public man" (from Among School Schildren). That is, I though I would be so established.

However, it was actually somewhere in my mid thirties that I fell adrift and I have been ever since. It occurred to me today that it may be that Yeats' 'public man' is the exception and that perhaps this sense of dislodgment is what happens at a certain point, irrevocably.

Un poema que por lo famoso no llega a ser cursi:

LO FATAL

A René Pérez

Dichoso el árbol que es apenas sensitivo,
y más la piedra dura, porque ésa ya no siente,
pues no hay dolor más grande que el dolor de ser vivo,
ni mayor pesadumbre que la vida consciente.

Ser, y no saber nada, y ser sin rumbo cierto,
y el temor de haber sido y un futuro terror…
Y el espanto seguro de estar mañana muerto,
y sufrir por la vida y por la sombra y por

lo que no conocemos y apenas sospechamos,
y la carne que tienta con sus frescos racimos,
y la tumba que aguarda con sus fúnebres ramos,
¡y no saber adónde vamos,
ni de dónde venimos!...

-R.D.

cero said...

I am back with more lyrics. This is CUESTA ABAJO:

[Translation of first stanza:] If I have dragged with me through this world / The shame of having existed / And the pain of no longer being / Beneath the brim of my hat / So many times hidden / There leaned out a tear / I could no longer contain.

Si arrastré por este mundo
la vergüenza de haber sido
y el dolor de ya no ser,
bajo el ala del sombrero
cuántas veces embozada
una lágrima asomada
yo no pude contener.

Si crucé por los caminos
como un paria que el destino
se empeñó en deshacer;
si fui flojo, si fui ciego,
sólo quiero que comprendan
el valor que representa
el coraje de querer.

Era para mí la vida entera,
como un sol de primavera,
mi esperanza y mi pasión.
Sabía que en el mundo no cabía
toda la humilde alegría
de mi pobre corazón.
Ahora, cuesta abajo en mi rodada,
las ilusiones pasadas
ya no las puedo arrancar.
Sueño con el pasado que añoro,
el tiempo viejo que lloro
y que nunca volverá…

Por seguir tras de sus huellas
yo bebí incansablemente
en mi copa de dolor;
pero nadie comprendía
que si todo yo lo daba,
en cada vuelta dejaba
pedazos de corazón…

Ahora, triste en la pendiente,
solitario y ya vencido,
yo me quiero confesar;
si aquella boca mentía
el amor que me ofrecía
por aquellos ojos brujos
yo habría dado siempre más…

You can watch Gardel himself sing it on Youtube. It is not pasting for me but it is googleable easily and really worth it, *such* milonga.

Anonymous said...

Autumn IS a black hole. The days are getting seriously shorter especially since daylight savings time is over, and especially since you live in a cold, dark, northern place. A little angst ain't a bad thing; this won't be your last identityh crisis, but go somewhere sunny and south when this semester's over, Oso.

And we're everyone of us older than we've ever been before. It sure beats the alternative.

--Going on 60

Ms.PhD said...

The one that will really bake your noodle is, would you have been melancholy without academia? I think I was this way before academia, but perhaps because I don't wax lyrical on my blog, I get labeled 'negative' for thinking these kinds of thoughts.
Yours are prettier.
Anyway just dropped by to say, you're not alone.

Maggie said...

It *is* going around. These past few weeks have been about the saddest I've had in awhile.

I've missed your blog-voice, oso, so I hope despite, or because of, your time of transitions you'll keep posting.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I'm 38, recently veered from tenure-track track, and think it may have been a mistake. But academia, melancholy, all too familiar, and this intransigent adulthood is -- well, it's unbelievable.