Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Path of Skulls

Forty is a time to lose your adolescent self, but we don't.

Especially we men.

Oh lord we don't.

So what if your wife is pregnant for the third time, so what if your son is challenging you to foot races, so what
if the people at work seem like droids, devoid even of common sense as they compete so fiercely for a management position that could have been filled by a chimp.

You want to get out to feel wonderful again, to be wonderful again, to be the athlete, to have any number of beautiful lovers, yeah, to be the cock of the walk you seemed to be just scant years ago.

.First line of George Orwell's Coming Up for Air:

Marriage to the joyless Hilda was becoming a nightmare for George Bowling.

You feel that you are George Bowling, and you don't even bowl, but that is certainly what it feels like to you, George Bowling, golfer, respectable citizen, DagwoodBumstead , a little bit afraid of Blondie who is also nearing forty and is for the first time discovering that she is not all that happy in this domestic crapcan either. She too, might be scrambling throught the Yellow Pages looking for Dr. Kavorkian.

Is this all there is?

Marriage and I was not ready.

First child and I was not ready.

Second child and I was not ready.

Stress job at the college and I was not ready.

Wife knocked up again, and I sure as hell am not ready.

Where the hell are the three beautiful novels about Toronto when Toronto was so fine?

You gave up three beautiful novels about Toronto to teach students how to parse sentences.

Well, at least you felt useful. Poor students were largely idiots, the products of "open concept" learning, a cop-out if there ever was one, of letting the Alpha kids run things while you smoked in the faculty room.

You had met the head of the department, who would communicate by video and pride himself in not being "a grammarian."

Well what the f*ck are you doing as head of the English department? And where's your sheepskin? Sneaked into community college teaching after having been an announcer for a Montreal radie station now defunct. Sir Geroge Williams university for a semester, and you screwed that up too; those who can't, teach; those who can't teach, administrate.

You see the youngish colleagues around you and they are all the same way, a restlessness, a questioning of everything, a doubting of everything. "I know I want something, need something, but I don't know what the hell I want."

Garden variety mid-life crisis.

This is the time to pull ahead of the pack, this is the time to make you statement, this is the time to write that goddanm novel. You gotta do it by forty.

If you don't you never will.

Oh sure, there will be the palliatives, the little article in the local paper here and there. But the Big Book,she is not writ. Youngsters all around you cutting huge furrows, while you stuggle with the jubjunctive and the indicative.

"Take a sabbatical," says the Dean. "Fuck you," you mutter to yourself.

But you do take the sabbatical.

You behave foolishly.

You come back with an unfinished novel, even though the mighty presses are poised to roll at your command. The college has all the offset equipment and a huge budget. It was understood that you, as a star in the English department, was going to produce something fine. they had agreed to print your nevel on your name alone.

"Give us the book."

But there is no book, merely a first draft.

And you'd picked up a dose in Mexico.

You fuddle. You fudge.

Your wife wants to divorce you.
You can't concentrate on your teaching. You are not tenured, so everyone is watching you. The evaluations come in. Not doing such a hot job.
And there is someone new sitting at your desk now.

You start all the way down at the bottom again.


The students are still there, under the Chesnut tree, some even giving you applause as you pass, you had been a pretty good prof, but you are starting to know sin as not just an abstract. The teaching nuns were right. You've lost the strength of a hundred men because your heart is no longer pure.

Everybody in the world is after you immortal soul and some woman has got it.She is not your wife.

You thought you had pain before, but this time it's triple. It's not ennui, not boredom. You are about to lose everything you had.

And you do.

Lost the old tenure.

Losing wife and family.

Isn't forty a shit-kicker?

"It gets better on the other side," says Jung.

"Where? When?

And then it suddenly become clear to you.

You somehow sell your book.

It is published before you hardly know it.

Back on the street again. Back on Boogie Street.

"I am an artist, Martha," you say to your wife.

"Oh yeah? Here is the vacuum, artist. Get busy. What were you doing galavanting areoud Mexico thesel eight months while I took care of the childen?"

Alanis Morisette is on the radio: "I am here. To remind you of the mess you made when you walked out the door..."

"What is your problem, you ask the wife.

"You," she says.

Briefing for a descent into hell.

And only a year ago, you thought you were in a nightmare.

Hank Williams died at twenty-nine, after achieving seventy years' worth of any singer's normal career.

A false goodbye, a life is shattered.
There lies the story on the rose.

And Hank Williams did it all in his twenties.

Gone by 29.

What is the message here?

That you had somehow escaped the path of skulls?



general jack ripper said...

I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A
year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think
about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me.
There are no more books to be written, thank God.

- from the opening of Tropic of Cancer

Why so glum, Ivan? Take a look at Henry Miller - he didn't even get started until he was in his 40s. Plenty of time yet, old man!

ivan said...

Thanks for the encouragement, General Jack.

I do recall really enjoing Tropic of Cancer. Maybe it was the guy writing love notes to an apple core that got me.

I am nowhere near the ability of Henry Miller, or the incredible Oscar Wilde, say, but something somebody said during Ocar Wilde's American tour really started me thinking on the way of all artists:

"Hey, Mr. Wilde.
"I hear you're a real esthete."

Something of the horse's ass in all of us.

fringes said...

Wow. I have to know: is this you talking or a narrator? When you stumble over some writers' blogs (followed you from Flood), it's hard to tell if it's a personal entry or a fictional narrator talking in a posted draft. If this is you, I'm hooked.

fringes said...

If it's a narrator, I'm stil hooked, but tell me anyway.

ivan said...

Hi fringes!

I spent some time in the glossy magazine business and what I learned was that only the well-researched piece is the one that may be truly interesting.

So yeah, you have the autobiographical content. Then you read all the books you can on the so-called mid-life crisis. Then that stunner of a novel, Coming Up for Air--you'd think Orwell wouldn't write anything like that--and then something kicks your ass and you use ten per cent of what you had originally intended to write, steam it down some more, and you have something resembling a readable blog.

I am flattered by your interest.
Thank you so much for being inerested.

Ah,uh, it more or less happened that way.

Sela Carsen said...

Fascinating. What is it about watching someone's life go to hell that intrigues people? I'm a little disturbed at the tendency in myself. But then, if it wasn't such great writing, I wouldn't care so much. Beautifully done, Ivan.

ivan said...

Oh Sela, you're a doll, as always.

Cool new logo.

Thank you for your gracious comment!


MissWrite said...

Quote: That which doesn't kill us, makes us stronger. End Quote.

...and then we write about it.

It's not over until it's over my friend.

ivan said...


Nice one!

Loved the (prescient?) Yogi reference.

You not a writer for nuttin'!

Shesawriter said...

Ivan, your voice in these blog posts is absolutely fascinating. Keep it up!

ivan said...

Something of Minerva in those fascinating eyes, Tanya.

Damn writing process.

I can't seem to put anything together unless I

a) Alienate at least one famous

b) Leave myself short of money so I can't drink or smoke

c) Make sure I work in 90 F heat with no ventilation.

I think you have supplied the answer:

Try to write good no matter what.

thanks for the compass point.


Jaye Wells said...

Ivan, where's the memoir, my friend? You've got the material.

ivan said...

Hi baby.
The "memoir is really my third novel, "Light Over Newmarket."
You can click right onto it (just above)...I was too dumb to convert it into word so I could send it around, but the novel is there in its entirety if you have the patience to read 45,000 words off a screen.
How's your presentation going?


Meander said...

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

hey. i think this is a song we all sing. i am now 41. you are not alone...

ivan said...


What a gas!
I don't think I'm J. Alfred Prufrock yet, but the poetry is fantastic and evocative.

Yes, I have met the mermaid.

Poor cossack.

Armand said...

this is such a wonderful line and really shows off your sense of word play: feel that you are George Bowling, and you don't even bowl...

I also like the fact that it's a goofy line amongst some very sober thoughts.



ivan said...

Hi Armand!

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