Andropause for Thought: Writing to Relieve a Mid-Life Crisis

andropause mid-life crisis writing

This essay was written by Christian Green.

Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.

You see, I’m trying to be a successful writer, but keeping the news to myself during this precarious early phase, so I won’t look too foolish should I fall flat on my face.  Sure, there have been plenty of acceptances. In fact, for two months now I’ve been making a living as a full time freelance writer, having been laid off from my manufacturing job last March.

The Beginning of a Crisis

I’m bursting with pride and an almost overwhelming need to tell the world all about it, but this urge is currently offset by a superstitious dread that such a display of hubris could make the whole delicate structure collapse.

There I was, five years ago, easing into a comfortable middle-age, yet feeling restless and vaguely dissatisfied. There was a nagging suspicion that I was not doing what I should be doing.

The disconcerting realization gradually dawned that what I was experiencing was the legendary male mid-life crisis. The phenomenon for which some wag coined the term, ‘the andropause’.

I proceeded with caution. I’d heard of men reaching this difficult age. Suddenly realizing that the clock is ticking, many panic and start to indulge in reckless or simply embarrassing behavior as they vainly try to recapture a long-lost youth to prove they are still virile and dynamic. Such attempts often seem to consist of chasing after girls young enough to be their daughters, or dressing in wildly inappropriate teen fashions, or acquiring a Honda Fireblade and hurtling off to become another road traffic accident statistic.

Fortunately, my crisis didn’t seem to be advising me unwisely. To my great relief I concluded that I was being nudged in a more responsible and creative direction. The direction that led to my unfulfilled ambition to be a writer. Since childhood I’ve enjoyed writing. Over the years my efforts had appeared in various amateur publications but, held back by a lack of confidence, I’d never tried to climb higher. As the years passed my vague longings had been placed firmly in the background by life and all its attendant responsibilities and distractions.

The Beginning of a New Career

Then, a few years ago, I wrote and submitted an article to a semi-pro journal devoted to my favorite writer. The piece was published and I was paid. It felt good, and something long dormant awoke, yawned and stretched in the dusty recesses of my mind.

I realized I wanted to build upon this unexpected success but didn’t know how. I felt gauche and naïve, lacking any clear idea of how to develop and present my work. With impeccable timing it was then that I happened across a flyer listing a new course at a local college: Professional Writing. It seemed that a benevolent fate was giving me a little shove in the right direction. The prospectus intrigued me and I signed up.

I’d realized that my restlessness wasn’t necessarily about a yearning to write. I was doing that already for my own amusement. No, it was about wanting to be a writer.

To produce work good enough to be accepted and published and to get paid for it. I didn’t want to write for the trunk, hoping for posthumous recognition as a genius. I wished to succeed while still breathing. I wanted the satisfaction of learning a skill, to enjoy applying that skill, and to make money out of it; a secondary income which might, if I was sufficiently hard-working and fortunate, become a primary income. A heady prospect indeed.

I plunged right in, and found to my delight that the course suited me well. It was completely practical, offering an unpretentious nuts-and-bolts approach to getting published. The aspiring writer was given the tools to do the job; how he chose to apply those tools was then solely up to him. Before the course ended I began to place my work.

I found that writing for publication rather than for myself reinforced some general life lessons; patience, reliability, self-discipline, organization, analytical thinking, objectivity.

I learned that, although effective communication is obviously important, the second most vital aspect of writing is marketing; presenting a professional plumage, and displaying to attract an editor. I also discovered, the painful way, why it’s not good practice to pester editors, even when I’m haunted by visions of my submissions yellowing in some dusty in-tray.

I learned to sever any emotional ties to a piece of work after submitting it. After all, you may have carefully raised and tended your flock, but once they’ve been packed off to the butcher their fate is out of your hands and all you can do is get on with raising the next litter.

I toughened up and gained the nerve to offer my work in the marketplace. The results were encouraging. Of the first sixteen unsolicited articles submitted, fifteen were accepted. On the back of these efforts I began to receive commissions. Often the wait for a response is long and frustrating, but I have the satisfaction of knowing that I’m capable of producing work to the required standard. That’s a real confidence booster.

Each acceptance is like an injection of rocket fuel; I can’t wait to get to the next project. It’s addictive.

Looking back over the last few years, I can see that I’ve developed in both capability and outlook. I find that I’m seeing the world in a different way, paying more attention, noting details I might once have overlooked.

The Beginning of a New Future

So I’m forging something useful out of my mid-life crisis. It’s pushed me into attempting something fresh and challenging which can actually earn me a living. Fulfilling and profitable, it’s a useful crisis, a handy andropause. It’s given me a second wind at a time when it’s all too easy to flag.

Soon, when my still shaky business is on firmer ground, when I’ve picked up a few more clients, I’ll feel able to blow my trumpet about what I’m doing, heedless of any superstitious fears about jinxing the outcome. I’m too thrilled to keep it to myself much longer. It’s the excitement of possibilities. The broadening of horizons. The feeling that I’m only just beginning to see what I’m capable of.

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Christian Green is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a number of U.K. magazines and online.  He lives with his wife in picturesque Lincolnshire, England. Check out his website.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Isaac Torrontera

 

The “What About Bob?” Approach to Reading: Baby Steps

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

Bill Murray is my favorite actor. Favorite movie is Rushmore. In case you’re interested. Before that, though, in the early 90s Murray starred in What About Bob? He played, Bob, an obsessive compulsive patient that sought care to bring him back to a sense of normalcy. Right after Bob starts treating,  his new psychiatrist leaves on a family vacation and Bob tracks him down. Watch the movie if you haven’t seen it, but the part that I want to reference is that the star psychiatrist (played by Richard Dreyfuss) had just recently released a book called Baby Steps. In it, he emphasizes taking small steps, “baby steps,” toward normalcy. You can be the judge of the success of the book on Bob, but the thought spawned an idea. There are a number of small steps we can all take to revive our reading pleasure. Here are four:

1. Get back to basics and read for fun as opposed to intellectual stimulation.

There are a couple of different ways you can do this: (1) Remember your favorite book from your childhood and take the time to re-read it now through the lens of your present experience and intelligence; or (2) Scan the list of best sellers and go after a good story being consumed by the masses. Either way you should pick a book for interest as opposed to picking one because you want to challenge yourself, at the outset. After a book or two following this pattern your brain will probably be sufficiently warmed up to take the next step, if you are so inclined, but stepping things up to a more difficult book is not something you have to rush into.

2. Make it a regular activity, but tell yourself you just have to start and you can quit whenever you get bored.

Starting is more than half the battle. Once you pick up a book your tendency is toward curiosity and a desire to see the story unfold. Turn your mental focus toward picking the book up and reading a page. Once over that mental hurdle commit to do it daily.

3. Keep a book handy. Life is full of waiting and reading can help make that tolerable.

Read in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, read while you wait for a table at a restaurant, read while your significant other is watching a marathon of wedding shows, read before you go to bed, read for five minutes at lunch, and read for a few minutes before you head out the door to work in the morning. All of these opportunities add up. Having a book with you lets you seize the reading moment.

4. Focus on finishing something. There is no better motivation than the feeling of accomplishment.

Some days I leave a full day of working hard feeling like I got nothing accomplished. There is peace of mind in truly finishing something, even if it is as simple as mowing the grass or reading a book. Reward your mind with a little nugget of satisfaction in the process and make a commitment to finish at least one book. Use your success as a catalyst to spur additional exploration.

What “baby step” can you think of that you could take to get back to reading for pleasure?

Photo by Paul Jarvis.