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33, the vaunted l’age du Christ, or even the late twenties, with its New Age Return of Saturn, 39 seems like a somewhat outdated marker, the punchline of an old joke, the final threshold of true adulthood.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.