Monday, August 06, 2007

Before and After 50

It’s been my habit for the past six years or so to produce ten to twelve stories a year that get posted somewhere. In practice that meant that I was usually working on a couple of stories at a time and that I would do some writing almost every week day.

In the latter-half of 2006, I slowed down. I told myself I wanted time to write some longer pieces – I’ve had a novel called “Way of the Courtesan” part way through for what seems like forever and I wanted to try and move it forward. I still haven’t finished it. But I have slowed down even further.

I checked today and the last two complete stories that I posted were in July and August of last year (“Christmas with Mary and Suzie” which made it into “He’s on top” and “Handjobs” which will be in the next “Best New Erotica”). Since then, all I’ve done is produce fragments – starts to longer pieces – revisits of older pieces – some flashers.

I’d like to say that this is a planned fallow period to allow for reflection and a refresh of my style.

The reality is that my life has sucked for the past year and I’ve had no energy left over to write with.

I turned fifty in January. Since then I’ve been ill with something non-life threatening but depressing. In true male style I left going to the Doctor for longer than was wise and now I need minor surgery. Nothing dramatic, but just enough to add to the general sense of that I have my own personal Dementor following me around.

Fifty is not middle-aged – no one in my family has ever lived to 100 – most die before seventy. Fifty is one of those “If you haven’t done it yet, it’s less and less likely that it’s ever going to happen” ages.

I’m of that generation for whom TA meant Transactional Analysis not the Territorial Army. I knew the colour of my parachute and how many habits successful people had – I even knew who moved my cheese and what I was going to do to the bastard when I found them, so I decided to put my psycho-babble facility to good use and review my life.

The results were as cheery as “Broken Flowers” or “Lost in Translation”.

Somewhere in my forties I really lost the plot. For a decade I’ve been largely absent from my own life – too many nights alone in hotels – too many hours working – not enough achieved to justify either – Dido’s “Life for Rent” came to mind as an apt description.

I have very few friends. I’ve never needed as many people as those around me seem to but I’ve now reached the point were the only person I care about in my life is my wife. And she’s the one I disappoint most often.

I’m just received the permit that allows me permanent residence in Switzerland. Instead of being a cause for celebration, I found myself wryly amused at the fact that permanent doesn’t imply as long as it used to and I began to be torn between whether to settle here or go back to the UK.

None of this is big stuff. I’m not dieing. I’m not in pain. I’m not alone. I’m not unemployed and penniless. I’m just not happy.

Convention has it that unhappiness is food to the artist’s muse. I’m clearly no artist. Unhappiness settles on me like a weight on my chest from the moment that I wake up.

If you’ve ever been in pain as a result of an injury, you’ll know how the pain is always with you.

It’s the first thing you are aware of when you wake. It’s the thing that keeps you from sleeping. You spend your day nursing it like a lover. You relish any distraction that makes you forget the pain but you know that most distractions are now beyond you.

Your life becomes about coping, about living with or despite the pain. But you know this is not a battle you win. Each day you grow more tired, less interesting, less engaged with anything but the pain itself. You become someone that it is not pleasant to spend time with. You have mood swings ranging from anger to unstoppable tears, both equally futile.

Well, unhappiness has the same effect on me as pain.

I’d hoped that writing could be my morphine but it turned out that writing needs me to be full of things that are bursting to get out, not drained of everything except self-pity. So I’ve been reading. I was a reader long before I wrote anything. The books help. They give me little time and space not to think about being unhappy.

I know I should be pulling myself together. The problem is that I’ve spent the past ten years pulling myself together and I only now realise that I was actually pulling myself apart.

This morning I picked up a pencil – something I only do when I know I’m headed for more thinking than writing – and slowly printed out the heading “THINGS I WANT TO DO BEFORE I’M 60”. Then I sat there. After an hour the page was still unsullied but I had learnt something. I’d asked myself the wrong question. Doing things is not the answer. Not at all.

So I rubbed out the heading and replaced it with “WHO I WANT TO BE”.

Now that’s an interesting question. That’s the kind of question that makes the unhappiness recede a little. I realised that the unhappiness comes in large part from a gap between who I am and who I want to be and that the unhappiness stays because I have no answer to who I want to be other than not the person who I am. I am not proud of anything much. I don’t love anything much. I don’t want anything much. Except… I’d like to be someone I like and respect.

At that point I put the paper aside and reached for the keyboard.

What I wrote is not autobiographical – my life is too ordinary to make good fiction - but it captures something of how I’m feeling. It’s not really prose and I’m not skilled enough to turn it into poetry, but I wanted to share it here because it helps me walk around the question “WHO I WANT TO BE” and get some perspective on it.

One thing I do know about WHO I WANT TO BE is that the answer includes “Someone who writes things worth reading” so I’m going to turn back to writing for a while. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes


(C) Mike Kimera 2007

Before I’d fucked my first stranger because she was near and warm

Before I’d paid to fuck my first whore because she was on offer and I had an itch to scratch

Before I’d let pornography fly-post my imagination with images that break people into parts and holes

Before all that there was Cassie

Who looked at me as if

the sun rose and set on my smile,

all the heat and heart of love was at my fingertips,

I was and always would be, all she desired

Cassie, who smelt of sunshine and cotton and tasted of honey and salt

Cassie, who had thick, heavy hair that she let me lose myself in

Cassie who kissed and caressed and sighed but who wanted us to be virgins in our wedding bed

Cassie, who was more than I deserved and less than I could live with

Cassie,who I walked away from without a backward glance, refusing to acknowledge, in the soft sadness of her sobbing, my own loss.

Now I ache for the wholeness of before, itch beneath the barnacles of after and pray for the strength to close gap between who I am and who I could have become.


Amanda said...

i have been wondering about you, Mike. sorry to hear about this ailment and more than sad to hear that things aren't as you'd like them to be. i hope you find what you seek, and that you do actually seek. i liked your before piece also.

Anonymous said...

One thing I do know about WHO I WANT TO BE is that the answer includes “Someone who writes things worth reading”

You have already accomplished that! I have checked your blog nearly every week for the past several months hoping you had left a new post. I have found and read as much as I can of what you have written. You are by far my favorite writer of erotica, and I'm certainly not alone in that regard.

"I’d asked myself the wrong question. Doing things is not the answer. Not at all."

In what way can we define ourselves other than by what we do? You may imagine a brilliant story, melody, or painting, but if you don't somehow get it out of yourself for you and the rest of the world to experience, does it really exist?

Reaching a new decade in age and having a medical issue at the same time is a double whammy that would make anyone have a "crisis" whether it's midlife or not. Take care of yourself, literally, and please keep writing. You are good at it.


Nikki Magennis said...

Sorry to hear you've not been well.

But I'm so very glad to hear you're writing.

“Someone who writes things worth reading”

- yes. You are. May I add: 'someone whom readers wait patiently to read more of'?

All best wishes.

Betsy said...

Mike: can I suggest something? Others here are covering it I won't repeat.

I'm approaching 60 fast, and was suffering from depression...for years...undiagnosed. New writer here..but expanding OUT of erotica. Love it, but it's like eating chocolate each morning at 8am.

My point? Carl Sagan said something I have remembered for years: "To know a deep thing well." That was the essence of happiness and fulfillment for him.

Reading is just about the best thing you can do...for depression, and a light dose of antidepressant if so prescribed. I started "Tristram Shandy" and tried to keep going...Breathtakingly funny (he died of consumption, Sterne) but it broadened my level of humor...he's truly funny and laughter is a good medicine. He suffered depression all his life...But, he was one of the funniest men around...and what a gift of laughter he left us!

You are a fine writer..and I think you apply naturally what Sagan more of it. Keep writing, but perhaps reading for enjoyment right now is as important.

"Who I want to be" is always answered in the course of life. 50 is a awkward age for men. And women. The issues of this age seem to be universal. Take care of your health because it is easy to slide into neglect.

Keep writing because it will bring you that answer, maybe in the ways you couldn't imagine right now.

We may be little vampires, but your writing means something profound to us.


Anonymous said...

I think you're asking the right question: WHO I WANT TO BE. I believe that unhappiness is inevitable if you don't know any answers to that question.

I think another question worth asking, which might help you answer the first: WHAT I LOVE TO DO. Make a list, check it for similarities between items (Julia Cameron's "Vein of Gold" exercises are a good way to find such similarities -- so is posting items on blogs / forums and asking for help finding similarities).

It's good to hear you thinking and feeling and moving forward.

All the best on your heath.

And all the best on finding out who your fictional guy used to be through innocent Cassie's eyes, and on reclaiming the parts of that guy that you want to claim for yourself.