I miss the struggle. We have finally, after years of work, achieved a level of comfort that I find disturbing. For a long time, it seemed that nothing we did, no matter how big we dreamed, how hard we worked, how far we reached, rewards were hard to come by. Then, suddenly, it happened. We have money in the bank. We can afford to get around the obstacles that life throws in our path.
Granted, no one has come down with cancer or debilitating disease, events that would surely throw wrenches into our well-oiled machine. Those things are sure to happen, I’m sure. I expect that the halcyon days will come to an end.
At least that’s what I’m inured to. People like me do not get to enjoy the good life without negative consequences coming their way.
Or maybe they do.
I have no idea. For much of my life, tribulations have outweighed anything good that’s happened. A good job ended in drudgery and despair. Medical emergencies, car problems, and unexpected failures sopped up found, saved, and hard fought money. For a long time, hardship and woe followed me. I worked harder and reached farther. The American dream, that elusive and ill-defined object of many of our lives, was just around someone else’s corner, not mine. In bed at night, I dreamed of winning the lottery that solved all my problems. I hear all the time that money cannot alleviate all the plagues a person. But it damn sure solves the problem of being poor.
So, having lived in poverty for the first 40 of my 53 years engendered a fatalistic view of life that sticks with me to this day. In other words, despite our recent success, I know that there’s a shoe out there ready to drop. I’m just living through a spell that will surely end in disaster,
Fortunately, I have not sabotaged myself and don’t have plans to undermine my success. It used to be that I fulfilled my own prophesy. Bad things will happen, I used to think, and they’re going to happen to me, so I better just make them happen and swallow my medicine. I acted in ways that pushed the plunger before someone else did it for me.
But from the looks of it right now, we have joined the middle class in a time when that portion of the American population is shrinking. As long as Virginia keeps her job and I do my little bit to make something of an income from speaking engagements and teaching, we will remain on top. I get to write seemingly unfettered. But writing, my true love, doesn’t do a damn thing for the family pocketbook.
As I write, I’m beginning to think that maybe I am subverting my success. The last eight or nine months, I’ve woken in the morning without much will to do anything at all. I find myself walking around my house wringing my hands, wondering what to do next. I waste time, fill the empty hours with staring off into space, doing nothing productive. I wonder if, at the age of 53, I’m doomed to a life of low energy and apathy.
Every day, I resolve to myself to get moving, to do something that will increase my output. Write another essay. Query more agents. Rewrite the manuscript. Something, anything to keep this sense of futility and unproductiveness from eating up another day.
And each day, it’s the same. Life goes on around me. I fulfill the functions of a stay-at-home dad. The dishes are always clean. The rugs get vacuumed. My son gets his share of dad time. We have clean clothes.
But I get up late and do not mend harness. The basement’s a mess, but I hardly have the energy to think about it. The mess isn’t going anywhere. The yard’s mowed at fairly reasonable intervals. The hut in the backyard needs its roof and floor fixed, but it’s sort of like the basement. Those repairs will be there when, in a burst of energy, I will get them done in the hour and some it will take. The garden needs my attention, and once or twice a week, I dribble water on the roots of the tomato and pepper plants. I haven’t been a good gardener, however. Not even adequate.
Is it age? I wonder. I think of all the people my age who keep jobs, have hobbies, write magnificent things. I envy them. I wish I had the drive. But, for the moment, it is gone. I think sometimes my best days are behind me.
I sound too much like a depressed, superattenuated elderly American male whose ambitions fail. But I see possibilities. I am doing something every day, even if that something doesn’t fill the whole day. When I go to bed at night and review the day, I understand that I could have been reading, an activity that never wastes time. I should take up my camera and take pictures again.
And I get up in the morning, assuring myself that I will do something useful during the coming day. I read the newspaper and drink my tea. Then I pick up the computer and tend to my class responsibilities, check the E-mail (or lack of it). I query a few agents, look at my manuscript, and write an essay. All is not lost, I think. I produce something, even if it’s cleaning the bathroom.
I also know that soon things will break. I am getting sick of myself. I am feeling trapped and useless. In the past, I always packed a bag, changed a job, moved on to something completely different. That time is coming soon. I am not in a position to take up a backpack and head for foreign territories. The change will have to happen within the paradigm of being a worker and a father.
I don’t know what the change will be. Maybe I will finally get the discipline to write one of these essays every day. Maybe something negative will take place and I’ll find myself in the comfortable spot of having to deal with disaster.
My heart skips a little when I think of it. Change will put life on a whole new course. I just have to wait it out. It will happen. Happiness is on the way.
I keep buying lottery tickets, about one every two weeks, just in case.