Saturday morning, thank God, after a week that seemed like it would never end while simultaneously feeling like there just wasn't enough time for everything I needed to do. No doubt this sensation was brought on, at least in part, by an entire week of sleep disruptions: I had a couple of nights when I didn't get to bed until well after midnight, then a couple more nights when I hit the rack at the usual time but couldn't seem to stay asleep. On Wednesday, I had a particularly vivid and upsetting dream that took me several hours of daylight to shake off, and on Thursday I overslept, skipped both my shower and breakfast in an effort to get out of the house around the usual time, and I still missed my damn train. Then there was the day at the office when I was obligated to attend a two-hour, company-wide staff meeting that set me way behind on the day's agenda, and I had to stay late two other evenings to finish up the loads for those days. In short, all my usual routines went down the crapper this week. And speaking of the crapper, I had an incident involving cat shit that should probably go undescribed, since it's still breakfast-time for some of us. Well, it's breakfast-time for me, anyhow. Let's just say this feline excretory event didn't help my frame of mind any.
The whole month has been like this, really. To be honest, things have been off-kilter ever since my birthday.
No, wait. Stop. Don't go away. I promise this isn't going to be another whiny lament about me having achieved A Certain Age, as the refined ladies of another era might have termed it. It's simply an observation that life has been kinda screwy for the last several weeks.
There was my depression leading up to my birthday, of course, but much of that seemed to have dissipated by the day itself, and I had a generally pleasant fortieth. Unfortunately, the first head-cold of the season started manifesting right around the time I was sitting down for dinner with The Girlfriend and my parents, and by bedtime, it had me in its mucuousy grasp. My birthday was on a Tuesday, and I'd taken it and the rest of the week off, hoping to accomplish a few things around the house and maybe even write some fiction, which is an ambition I've neglected for far too long (I won't embarrass myself by admitting exactly how long). But it wasn't to be. Thanks to that stupid bug, I ended up spending the next two days on the couch in my bathrobe, watching Star Trek movies and drifting in and out of restless, fever-ridden sleep. (I had to restart The Wrath of Khan three times because I kept dozing off.)
I was still under the weather the following Friday when Anne and I drove out to Wendover with our friends Jack and Natalie for our most recent Rick Springfield concert. Feeling like my head was stuffed with fiberglass insulation -- along with an unexpected occurrence I don't think I want to talk about -- considerably dampened the experience for me. Rick is always entertaining, but some shows are better than others, and this performance wasn't one of the better ones in my book. (Don't misunderstand -- I did have a good time, and Rick is still my main man. I just didn't have quite as much fun as at past concerts. Not to go off on a tangent, but I think maybe Rick is starting to slow down after all, despite how good he looks... neither of the two shows Anne and I have seen this year were as long nor as tight as the ones we were checking out only a couple years ago. I don't know, maybe it's just coincidence, or perhaps I haven't been in the right mood on the nights of this year's shows. Or maybe Pony Boy was right, and nothing gold can stay. After seven concerts in the same decade, a certain element of predictability is bound to appear.)
I ended the week of my birthday with what was supposed to be a relaxing Sunday afternoon drive up Big Cottonwood Canyon. The temperature was warm and the sky sparkling, the leaves were turning a brilliant yellow, and I was actually getting some air movement through my poor, abused sinuses... a perfect late-summer/early-fall day. Until I drove over a rock the size of my old Happy Days lunchbox and messed up the transmission in my Mustang.
I came around a blind curve and there it was, right in the center of my lane. I couldn't swerve to the left because of oncoming traffic. I couldn't go right, or I'd have scraped the sheer cliff wall the rock had fallen from. And I couldn't brake, because of the jackass who was tailgating me at 40 mph up a twisty canyon road. (Apparently, Driver's Ed has changed since my day, as it seems everyone in the state now thinks they're supposed to stay as close as possible to the car in front of them. Maybe they're worried about getting lost.) In the split-second I had for deciding what to do, I imagined what might happen if I hit that thing with one of the wheels -- a blown tire and a mangled rim seemed likely, and possibly some damage to the rocker panel depending on which direction the rock moved following the collision. No, I had only one option: to try and straddle the thing and hope the Mustang was high enough to pass over it.
It nearly was.
The nose of the car passed over the rock without so much as a whisper, and Anne and I started to exchange a relieved smile... and then we heard a tremendous BANG and felt an impact somewhere directly beneath us.
I pulled off at the next turn-out and got down on my belly to try and see what the hell had happened under there. Nothing was leaking -- I'd half-expected my poor car to be exsanguinating a steady stream of oil into the dirt -- and there didn't seem to be anything dangling either. But I figured an impact like that had to have done something, so the relaxing canyon drive was over. And sure enough, the car started acting up on the way home. Basically, it had no power when starting from a dead stop, and the automatic transmission seemed to be having trouble deciding when it was supposed to shift, at least in the lower gears. By the time I reached home, I was in a complete dither, certain I was looking at replacing the whole trannie.
Luckily, the damage wasn't nearly as bad as I feared. The rock had merely bashed in the transmission oil pan and crushed a solenoid inside. My dad was able to beat the pan back into shape, and the solenoid was inexpensive and easy to replace. Good as new. But as you may recall from last spring, car problems tend to really get me down, and I had a bad couple of days.
This is running longer than I planned, so I won't bore you with all the rest of the things that have irritated, overwhelmed, or depressed me since the rock incident. And I concede that quite a few good things have happened as well: Anne and I introduced some friends to the joys of silent movies at The Organ Loft; we drove down south with Jack and Natalie to take in a couple plays at the fall season of the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City (this used to be an annual getaway for the four of us that stopped following the arrival of Jack and Nat's sons, but we're going to try and reinstate the tradition now that the boys are older); and Jack and I went stag to see the creative duo at the heart of the power-pop band Fountains of Wayne when they played at Salt Lake's newest hip music venue. Despite those unquestionable positives, though, I've been feeling an increasing sense of frustration and anxiety over the past weeks. As I said at the beginning of this long ramble, my life simply feels... off-kilter. I don't know how to explain it better than that. Things just aren't right.
The title of this entry comes from the song "Passionate Kisses" by Mary Chapin Carpenter. She's asking if she isn't entitled to a number of life's simple pleasures... a full house, a rock and roll band, pens that won't run out of ink, and cool quiet and time to think. I've long identified with this song, but that verse, that last phrase in particular, resonates especially strongly with me these days, because it seems to be the one commodity I don't have much of, i.e., time. Specifically, time of a certain precious nature, when I am relaxed and free from anxiety and obligation.
I don't know how things got to be this way. It wasn't so long ago that I had endless afternoons for wandering through toy stores in search of the latest collectible action figures, or for driving around with my sweetie, or for writing or blogging or simply being. God, I used to spend hours working on stories, lost in worlds of my own imagining and feeling like that was exactly where I was supposed to be. But now... now it doesn't matter what I'm doing or for whose benefit, I am constantly aware of a clock ticking, a deadline or appointment approaching, always feeling the pressure of a to-do list that never seems to get any shorter, and lamenting more and more frequently that I have become a very boring person. I cringe at the thought of social engagements that ought to be pleasures. I even have a hard time with movies these days, because I often find myself thinking that I ought to be doing something more productive with the time I'm spending in front of the screen. Movies. My refuge and my love for longer than I can remember. I can't tell you how depressing that is.
My life isn't supposed to be this way. I can't even recall any more what I used to imagine my life was going to be like, but this damn hamster-wheel existence I find myself trapped in certainly wasn't what I had in mind.
I know this entry is sounding like the sort of midlife crisis cri de couer I promised it wouldn't be, but trust me, this really has nothing to do with my birthday or whatever the calendar says my age is. It's something I've felt intermittently for years now... and every once in a while, I've just got to get it off my chest. Not that it does a lot of good to even talk about it.
Thanks for your patience.
[Addendum: It occurs to me that my various loved ones and friends could possibly misinterpret the "social engagements = obligations" remark above. So, to be clear, I am not complaining about the time I spend with people or their desire to spend time with me. These are good things in my life that I have no wish to give up or change. My frustration basically stems from a lousy work/life balance. I have a good job that I like, but my office's long business hours, coupled with the time I spend commuting, place me home on most nights somewhere between 7:00 and 7:30. After I eat dinner, I have maybe an hour in which to try and be productive before my brain completely fogs over, and most nights productivity doesn't happen anyway for one reason or another. So I end up feeling more-or-less constant pressure to get caught up, and guilt because I'm leaving too many things undone or half-finished... and me being me, I tend to beat myself up for not doing a better job of managing it all better. And then it's time for bed and -- lately, at least -- a really lousy night's sleep, and then it's up and at 'em to repeat the whole cycle over again. I've been keeping this schedule for over four years now, and it's starting to really grate. You wouldn't think working a mere hour or two later than most everyone else would make that much of a difference, but it absolutely does. Social activities are virtually impossible on a work night, and my body -- never a paragon of athleticism, I must admit -- has gone completely to hell because any kind of exercise regimen is just too damn hard to squeeze into an already tight schedule.
Basically, I'm tired of getting home so late and never managing to accomplish anything, night after night after night. I'm tired of not having a life. I know everyone says or feels that to one degree or another... but I personally feel it very keenly. It's not healthy, either physically or psychologically. And lately the situation has been exacerbated by a lot of other things -- my birthday, the problems with my car, the realization that certain ambitions are becoming more unlikely to pan out and that I'm not the man I used to think I was going to be -- and, well, I just need to scream once in a while. Thoreau never imagined blogs, or he might have written that "quiet desperation" line differently... ]