Midlife crises come in many styles, but I think they share a common root: the sufferer approaches a certain age and realizes that they are living someone else’s life. The fortunate find a way to realign their lives and connect to their true life, the less so fall into bitterness and depression or commit wild acts devolving into a second adolescene.
From the outside, no one may see that the life is the wrong one. It was certainly that case for me. I owned my a growing small business, had an increasing national TV presence as an expert in my field, lived in a custom-renovated home, was president of my industry’s national association, had an amazing group of friends and enjoyed a wonderful relationship with my family.
All at the age of 36.
And yet I wasn’t happy.
I tried to tell myself it was because of the money. The business was only three years old and it generally takes five years to become profitable. But I knew that wasn’t the reason. Money doesn’t really ever worry me. I always find a way to survive.
So I tried to tell myself it was the marketing that depressed me. I hated the constant need to sell myself. For all that I like to perform, I am an introvert. Pushing myself and my business exhausted me and that was what made me unhappy.
Okay, that was true but it wasn’t the real reason for my unhappiness.
The truth was that I was approaching forty and heading in a direction that would only take me farther and farther away from my teenage dreams.
At twelve, I decided I would live in southern Europe at some point in my life. At fifteen, I decided I would be a writer. One of my favorite authors, Charles de Lint, had his first book published at 32. I’d do the same. To a fifteen-year-old, that was a lifetime away.
And yet 32 came and went with only one small publishing credit in an anthology. By 36, I was no longer even writing fiction. All my creativity was focused on expanding my business.
I wasn’t living the life I wanted. I’d let circumstances lead me. I hadn’t take charge. If I kept going this way I’d combust. I’d fall into bitterness, sabotage my business and do something crazy, or both.
Faced with this future, I found the strength to do what I had to.
I dug out my teenage dreams and made them reality. I sold my house, gave away my clients and passed my TV appearances onto a colleague. I said goodbye to friends and family and crossed the Atlantic, landing in southwest France.
More importantly, however, I reconnected with my muse. As a teen and in my twenties, I used to “see” fairies all around me. Did I believe they really existed? Maybe, maybe not. That didn’t matter. The important belief was that I could superimpose my innerworld over the “real” world.
As I child, I’d greet the spirits of the forest near my house with all the reverence of a meeting royalty. In university, I greeted the hob who lived in the tree in the back alley every day on my way to class. And as a budding artist, I put these stories on paper, telling myself and others about creatures like the young fairy who lived in the cedar swamp at the back of my parents’ property.
That’s the person I am. Not the small business person, not the TV personality, not the head of a national professional organization. The person who did those things was heading for a breakdown. I, on the other hand, was heading in the other direction.
So, that’s how I ended up writing my first novel in southwest France, then later finding love and a new home in San Sebastian in the Spanish Basque Country.
In my adopted city, I rediscovered the world of fairies, like the twig man who lives in an empty construction site and who spends his days in quiet contemplation of the passing traffic, or the batboy who lives in a hillside park that overlooks the river and the city’s Old Part, or the troll and goblin youth who hang out on the city’s beaches drinking themselves into a stupor like any group of young adults.
Unlike in my previous life, I am in no rush to find success. I have a day job that I love and so don’t pressure myself to turn writing into a profession. Right now the writing itself is the goal. As long as I regularly connect with my fairies and tell myself their stories, life is good.