inertia – a clever title for a moan about my midlife crisis

Having finally come up with a workable end to my novel and polishing it to a sparkle, I am now beset by inertia. I have spent every evening of the last week lying on the sofa watching the most dreadful TV series, so bad in fact, I cannot name it for fear I shall never live down the shame. It bores me to tears; the story lines are sentimental, the dialogue constructed by stringing clichés together and the acting is mediocre, or more kindly, not bad, but not scintillating, which probably has more to do with the script than the quality of the performances. I find myself watching the actor’s shiny foreheads and eyebrows more than anything else, looking for signs of Botox paralysis. Which made me realise that my inertia has more to do with the fact that I’m about to turn forty than the end of the novel.

For over a month now, my husband and close friends have asked repeatedly what my plans for the big four oh are. For over a month, I’ve made the same excuse; I don’t have time to plan a party, I have a novel to finish. Which was true, but also not the only reason for avoiding party planning.  I, like so many lines of bad Hollywood dialogue, am a cliché. I do not want to turn forty. And here is the reason:

In the About the Author section of my first novel, it says that Rachel Zadok was born in Johannesburg. She is thirty-three and lives in South London with her husband. Or something like that. I didn’t question it at the time but, lately, I think about my age and wonder why they thought it important enough to print. Why disclose an author’s age? Was it the significance of the number? Thirty-three does have spiritual connotations, being the age Jesus Christ was crucified. Will they print that I am forty  in the About the Author section of my second novel, due out next April? And, if they do, what does that say about me? That I have not been very prolific? That I did not live up to my promise? Am I that person – the one who once had the world at her feet and then took a giant step off the face of the planet?

Forty is, in the words of my friend Lisa, one of those bitch birthdays where one tends to do a bit of debit and credit analysis. To my credit, I am a well-read, well-travelled, conscientious human being who gives a shit about poverty, the environment and the state of literature. I am a good friend with a tendency for honesty that can sometimes cross the line into tactless. In the debit box, I can put reluctant and lousy housewife, mediocre mother, and still a wannabe author.

A couple of weeks ago, a writer I have recently befriended called me famous. Hardly, I scoffed to which she replied, you don’t even know how famous you are. Looking around my Nowheresville life makes me realize that my new friend may be deluded. Famous people do not have 35 people following their Facebook page, 95% of which are close personal friends being supportive. If famous people have blogs, they’re designed by PR teams and not hosted by Blogger*, and the majority of their hits do not come from Lithuanian spammers trying to sell Viagra and fake Nikes via the comments section. Famous people do not worry about whether they’re a burden to their agent, or their agent’s assistant because their contract got lost in the mail and they need a new one sent over. I don’t know what the life of a famous person is actually like, but I know this ain’t it. And while I’m not seeking the kind of fame that has paparazzi camped on my doorstep, I would like my work to be recognized. I want to be invited to literary festivals and, most of all, I like to be read.

Forty is a stock taking birthday. It’s half way to death more or less, and that makes one look back and assess how many dreams have been achieved. Tomorrow, I will cross that invisible divide between youth and middle-age and I am not the person I envisioned, or even close. By lying on the couch watching TV that bores me I have made the nights* leading up to my birthday drag. This inertia is an attempt to delay the inevitable. It’s Botox of the soul. And it’s rather pathetic and clichéd.


* No insult to Blogger intended, there’s nothing wrong with Blogger.

** As a mother, I can do nothing to slow the hours when my daughter is awake. Toddlers live full speed.


    1. Megan Kerr
    2. 8 years ago
    3. Reply

    Let me share your shame… As a passionate writer and without the excuse of motherhood-induced exhaustion, I spend more evenings than I care to admit watching Gilmore Girls. It's embarrassing, mawkishly sentimental, dreary, predictable, and as comforting as a bowl of salty buttery porridge.

    The taking-stock thing is always visceral – one's younger self was so critical, expectant, and yet had so little idea of what needed to be DONE to make life work – but I prefer to count the actual numbers differently. Instead of counting from 0, I count from when I had any kind of control over my own life, freedom to make my own decisions, a position from which to make those decisions count for anything. So in that respect, I've had maybe 16 years, maybe 10. And then suddenly the years ahead, being ALL autonomous, count for more.

    1. Hecate
    2. 8 years ago
    3. Reply

    I hope this doesn't sound patronising, but this sounds to me like post-project blues/blahs, a syndrome that should be in the DSMIV, if it isn't already. And it sucks having that coincide with a milestone birthday.

    I remember turning 40. I had wrecked two careers and my health, lost a house (falling out the housing market forever, apparently), lost a whole bunch of friends, lost every penny. I was desperate to start all over again, and it was too late, and the despair was staggering. At 30 I had been the President's Fellow at Princeton with a fabulous career for the taking, and now I was a complete nobody.

    The year I turned 40 was also the year everything changed. I picked up a new career in a new direction. I made some of the dearest friends of my heart. The world started opening up again. No Botox required. So I wait with bated breath to see what you do next, what happens next. Mazel tov!

    1. Rachel Zadok
    2. 8 years ago
    3. Reply

    I shall put Gilmore Girls on my list, who can resist salty buttery porridge.

    1. Mandi Smallhorne
    2. 8 years ago
    3. Reply

    40 is not middle-aged, not anymore. In fact, you're not middle-aged till people stop SEEING you, I think. Some people stop being SEEN at 25, shrinking into themselves and frumping down; some are still being fabulously SEEN in their 70s, like my globe-trotting aunt who had a holiday affair at (if I remember rightly) 72.

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