I’ve been having a mid-life crisis since the age of around twenty-five, and probably some time before that, having been previously taught to always round up to the nearest ten, and really where do you go from there? Were we to try and pathologize it, I guess something like “persistent existential tic” might come close, a kind of background uncertainty nibbling away at one’s resilience, which with FORTY on the horizon has taken on a certain heftiness that I have been expecting to materialise for a while now.
One reason for this recent lingering malaise is that I always assumed that by now I would have some kind of idea what to do with my life, although based on current arithmetic I feel more like that joker Prufrock, counting out his coffee spoons. Perhaps nobody really knows what they’re doing, at least not in any consistent way. That certainly seems to be the running theme in pretty much every work of literature I have ever read, so I'll take that as my answer.
Flicking through an old notebook, I found an observation written in pencil and circled several times, which read:
“Today’s barista (the one with the infected earlobe) referred to her life as a ‘cosmic fucking joke’ while serving the woman in front of me. I wanted to know more, but the social anxiety kicked in when it was my turn to order so I just made a weird sort of noise with my throat and pretended to read the headlines on the courtesy papers.”
Reading this I recalled the encounter and the strange kind of expectant pleasure that accompanies the thought of bumping into someone else’s existential anxiety. Honestly, it’s a territory so familiar to me now that the thought of discussing it with a total stranger, a fellow high functioning pessimist no less, is genuinely exiting. If I’d been the lookout on the Titanic, I can well imagine the palpable sense of relief when the iceberg finally showed up. “Well thank God you’re here,” I would have said, before calling down to the bridge crew to explain that the entirely predictable yet terrible thing was finally happening. Thank God.
Were I a braver man I might have paused to ask the barista a thoughtful but not overly insensitive question. As it was, instead of using my waiting time to craft such a question I spent it, as I always do, quietly rehearsing my order so as not to hold up the line or inadvertently offend someone with an indelicate attempt at casual humour. Just today I was in a meeting where a colleague announced that for International Book Day her daughter was wearing an inflatable T-Rex costume in homage to the Big Book of Dinosaurs that she was proudly working her way through for a school project. Without thinking I wrote “spoiler alert: they all die in the end!” into the meeting chat, forgetting that it’s best to fight such urges when amongst uncertain company. There was a flickering sort of silence followed by the chair announcing, “Well, er, I guess we should probably make a start.”
But that was funny, right? Wasn’t it?
At any rate, the swirling forces of entropy have made themselves known today, and with them the persistent existential tic.