Thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of life
My intentions for a number of years now has been to write a “second book” as a follow up to my first one. This second one would be about middle age, the non-linear journey from forty-something to sixty-something. It seemed a natural progression and obvious companion to How To Say It To Seniors that defined the developmental journey of the last phase of life.
So far, for reasons big and small, that hasn’t happened. While my intentions are good, my distractibility has a life of its own. To an outsider, this may seem an all too pat excuse for lack of discipline. But to a writer, distractibilty presents very real and inconvenient roadblocks to the creative process. For me, one huge distraction has been the working title.
I know it sounds strange, but over time, I’ve soured on my longstanding working title “Riptide.” While it remains a good metaphor for the whipsaw emotional currents of middle age, it doesn’t reflect the degree of unpreparedness that Carl Jung affirms in his quote about the transition.
This is no small matter. We falsely assume our success in the first half of life is ample preparation for the middle crossing. And then the mid-life tsunami of complexity and uncertainty washes over us and we realize we were never close to being prepared. The game has changed, utterly changed.
So in an effort to find a title that acknowledges the magnitude of this unpreparedness, I started toying around with ones that were certain to be a commercial kiss of death. One pre-poisioned title that seem to linger for consideration was immediately condemned by my friends and colleagues. “You’re crazy,” they said. “No one is going to publish much less buy a book about middle age adults that has the words suffering and middle age in the title. Don’t bother. It’s too grim and dark.” They advised me instead to find a more positive and hopeful title. But I just couldn’t do it. I knew what I wanted to say about mid-life and the title needed to match the narrative. So braking ranks with the commercial process, I am opting to follow the creative gravity of material.
I am also breaking ranks with the ongoing debate over the validity of the “mid-life crisis.” Not my call. I am more interested in a fresh pass at decoding the experience of midddle age to find new insights about how the game changes and what type of suffering follows it. But my ultimate goal is to figure out how the information from this decoding can be used to develop coping strategies that, among other things, reduce the suffering.
So with eyes wide open, I am going noncommercial with the both the title and how the book will be written. The new working title is “Unprepared for Suffering: Notes on Middle Age.” The new process for writing the book will harken back to an earlier time in publishing when authors developed their books through series of articles that eventually evolved into a single document . I’m going to do the same thing, but not with articles. I’m going to do it with a string of interconnected blog posts. They will have the feel and flow of a journal and operate as a background narrative to my other work of leading caregiver support groups, building and teaching online courses, and being camped out on the front lines of aging.
Eventually, this inventory of posts will coalesce themselves into a single document with a self-destructive title and be available in a self-published format or through an online course. And it will be what I have wanting to say about middle age for a long time.
Like my first book, I believe there is clear and dominate agenda that switches on in the brain and takes control of the psychological wheel house during the middle crossing. The life stage marching orders it brings with it are profound, compulsive and will not to be denied.
Added to this change in the brain’s coding, there are other factors that arrive in the second half of life that deepen the uncertainty and complexity. This is why I calling this book development chain of blogs Stuck in the Middle because that what it feels like to take the middle journey. That’s where the purpose and direction come from. That’s where the suffering comes from. That’s where the game plan for how to survive comes from. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The first order of business for decoding the experience of middle age is something called ‘’Sensemaking.” This breakthrough decoding process is applicable whenever our understanding of the world has become unintelligiblle in someway. Let me repeat this impressive fact. Sensemaking is the antidote to unintelligible encounters with the world. So hold off on what you think you know about this concept until you have had a chance read the next installment of Stuck in the Middle.
In that installment, we will look at T.S. Eliot’s insight about the dangers of missing the meaning of an experience. We will also take our first pass at sensemaking to restore the meaning of middle age in a different and I believe for more useful and literary form. Among other things, it will confirm that the middle crossing is first and foremost a quest, a shoving off from familiar terrain to places you’re not sure you want to go. But go we will one way or another. Stay tuned…
We had the experience but missed the meaning. And approach to the meaning restores the experience in a different form.