I’ve been having a mid-life crisis for about six years. Ever since I turned thirty and realised that the trail of loose ends and missed opportunities and messed-up relationships and recreational brain-damaging was irrevocable. I wasn’t in the foothills of life, getting acclimatised, finding my feet, which is what I’d thought. This was life. And I’d blown it.
There was a craze among some of my friends for getting married and having children. It was genuinely shocking. They had careers and mortgages. I still hadn’t decided what I was going to be when I grew up.
I worked on a building site for six months and bought a second-hand Citroen Berlingo. I put a bed in it and a cooker and headed for the Outer Hebrides. My brakes failed crossing the Cairngorms. I survived. I carried on.
My baby sister had a baby.
I flew to Panama and slept on the beach with the crabs because I couldn’t afford a hostel, let alone a hotel. I came back and moved Earth with a spade to pay off my credit card. I realised I’d been doing my temporary gardening job for ten years. Ten years.
Friends got ill. Friends died. Friends younger than me died.
I got older every day. Every day life got more mysterious. If there was a plot I’d lost it. My primary school God wasn’t making any sense.
Anne of Green Gables, Jilly Cooper and all films starring Julia Roberts, road maps for my subconscious expectations, morphed into Zen koans. Icelandic productions with names like Of Horses and Men, where people slit ponies open and sleep in their stomachs, became strangely comforting.
I’d been merrily climbing the hill of existence, waiting for my happy ending, waiting to peak, and now, suddenly, I was over the hill. And the view from the top was not triumphant. It was terrifying. I’d been sustained by the illusion that one day the mysterious mess of life would tidy itself up into a neat story like, well, Anne of Green Gables, and I’d go on as somebody else, somebody who got a house and a career and maybe, probably, got married and had kids. Whose normal, secure life was enriched by the bewildering chaos of her early years.
But it was all a lie. There is nothing but chaos. I am flickering on the edge of it like a tethered helium balloon and nothing can stop my string breaking. Maybe tomorrow, maybe in ten years, maybe in thirty, maybe in sixty. But it will break. And then who knows what will happen.
Nobody, that’s who. Nobody. Not even my old headmaster. Not even Jilly Cooper. Not even God.
‘You are young, you are on your way up, when you cannot imagine how you will save yourself from death by boredom until dinner….But momentum propels you over the crest. Imperceptibly, you start down. When do the days start to blur and then, breaking your heart, the seasons?….The blur of cards makes one long sound like a bomb’s whine, the whine of many bombs, and you know your course is fatal’ wrote Annie Dillard, about being thirty five.
I was thirty five when I read her. Thirty five and skint and single and living in a shed less than a mile from my primary school. The sheer unfathomable pointlessness of it all was truly breathtaking.
So breathtaking I had to surrender.
Surrender feels good. I feel ten years younger than I did ten years ago.
I feel like I’ve been sweeping a sandy beach, sweeping it for years and years, trying to tidy it up, and just recently it has become clear that the tide is coming in, and the tide is going to move the sand anyway, in whichever way the moon says, and it has nothing to do with me, and all I have to do is put the broom down and lie on the sand and soak it all in. And love, and laugh, and sing. And take pictures of primroses breaking through the darkness on the first day of spring.
And the beach is not tidy, and it does not have a beginning, or a middle, or an end. What it has is music. Imperfect, shining, inexplicable music.
Anyway I’m dying, like a burning star, and so are you. Which is why I’m swallowing my ego and sharing this rugged home recording of a song I sang at one of those perfect, destabilising weddings. It’s by Gallagher and Lyle, a pair of skirt-wearing Scots in their mid-sixties.
It’s called Stay Young.