Infinite Midlife Crisis

If I were to try and trace the beginnings of my midlife crisis–such as it’s been–I imagine I could source its origins back to early 2008, when I was deeply unemployed and desperately depressed enough to seek help via a depression study I heard about in a radio ad. I’d been in a deep funk for months, the kind of constant emotional turmoil and pain that was reminiscent of the darkest depths of heartbreak I’d experienced at the crash-and-burn of romantic entanglements, or the bleak apocalyptic despair that inexplicably overwhelmed me during my first semester at college, when my personal uncertainties about the future manifested in the certainty that mankind as a species was doomed. A chronic self-medicator, I’d eschewed therapy and prescribed chemical assistance for the depression that had been my bane for most of my existence, from at least adolescence onward.

That depression, which the octogenarian head of the study would later refer to as “profound,” consisted of some fairly straightforward talk-therapy sessions, some very “Parallax View” computer memory tests, a little bit of cognitive conditioning, one of the scariest blood draws I ever experienced in my life (the slightly daffy, possibly incompetent nurse couldn’t seem to locate any of my admittedly pale veins, and I doubt GPS tracking would have helped her), and the administration of a drug that may or may not have been akin to Lexapro. It was a blind study, and of course no one could tell me if I was in the control group or the experimental group, so I had to take it on faith that I was actually getting help in that regard. I drew my own conclusions when, within two weeks, I started to feel like a human being and not a shambling meatbag full of simmering anxiety, swampy self-pity, bitter resentments and societal rage all swirling in my personal shame spiral.

Equally important, my wife noticed too, which was fantastic because my moods were not exactly contributing to harmony in the homestead, as you can imagine. Our son was a toddler at the time and my inner lethargy and emotional muck-wallowing meant I could barely see past the tip of my dick, much less offer any meaningful parental assistance. So in the nick of time, and while I had the time, thanks to unemployment, I took some action–mildly absurd action, it felt at the time, but at least a research study seemed like an interesting thing to do–and managed to rescue myself from ennui and maybe oblivion in the bargain.

There were still plenty of challenges to come–shitty jobs and worse bosses (but at least I was working again), personal setbacks, life shit, plus while things got easier at home, they didn’t suddenly become perfect. Magic pills they may have seemed, but even magic takes effort to keep working. I’ve remained on medication ever since, and fortunately I react well to what I’m on–no noticeable side effects and no recurrence of major depression, which is a big deal considering that in those early years I was still augmenting the meds with alcohol and drugs, self-medicating my mid-life away.

I suppose phase two of this crisis made itself known in earnest around 2010, when I was deep into popping a constant stream of unprescribed (at least to me) painkillers while simultaneously rekindling my long-shelved love of funnybooks. I’ve written a bit about this before, but I blame Ed Brubaker, particularly his Sleeper, Incognito and Captain America, in re-igniting this fire, to the degree that I began reworking a straightforward but stagnating (and still not quite finished) scifi novel I was writing into a superhero-stuffed opus involving Nazi scientists, atomic-powered sex goddesses, human-ape hybrids, ultrasecret agents and all manner of mid-20th-century craziness (gimme a couple more years and a few more books in between and I promise you it’s on its way).

The drug and alcohol abuse went the way of the dinosaur, but the reborn passion for comics didn’t. Good timing, too, because somewhere in there my wife bought me a Kindle and I discovered the joys of comixology and digital comics in general (if you’re a Luddite print-freak who takes issue with this, I respect that, but I still selectively collect when I can, and I only got so much shelf space). Not to mention the fact that Marvel’s complete takeover of Summer blockbuster cinema also coincided with all this, and suddenly my deep middle ages are a pretty incredible time to be a fan of well-made escapist entertainment.

Don’t get me wrong–I still enjoy serious grounded arthouse drama onscreen and on the tube and on the printed or computerized page–but if I have to be honest, 40-something me seems to crave, desire and appreciate the indulgent fun of alternate realities and costumed crusades more than adolescent me ever did. Which makes sense, seeing as I’m more or less the same age as a lot of my favorite creators of this material.

I’m also fortunate that, in creating and publishing my own superhero-centric fiction, I’ve discovered a whole vast narrative prose subgenre, much of it of great quality and sophistication. From Austin Grossman’s “Soon I Will Be Invincible” to Mike Leon’s “Kill Kill Kill” to Casey Glander’s Gailsone series and on and on, there is just a wealth of this stuff to be found on Amazon and elsewhere at very affordable prices and it’s a shit-ton of quick-reading fun that covers a lot of ground, from balls-out satire to sharply human drama to blood-soaked action.

And then there’s TV. I mean, seriously, just between Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. alone it is truly a great time to be a fan of this stuff, weekly doses of genuine comic book awesomeness beamed straight into my eyes for free! And if you’re a true Marvel fan who checked out on S.H.I.E.L.D. in the early, pre-Winter Soldier portion of its first season, I strongly urge you to give it another shot because not only did it come screaming to life after that shot in the arm in the back half of last season, it’s come roaring out of the gate in season two with a kind of confidence in its characters and storytelling that makes it seem like everyone on staff over there started taking the creative equivalent of supersoldier serum over the Summer. Seriously, last year Arrow was my favorite piece of pure entertainment on the idiot box, but so far this year S.H.I.E.L.D. is just crushing everything in its storytelling path. But I digress.

I guess my point, if I have one, is that there are certainly worse ways to “suffer” a midlife crisis. My life is better than it’s ever been. I’m writing, I’m creating, I’m being a better husband and father than I ever thought I could, and in between, I spend a lot more time with superheroes than I do with drug dealers.

So my Bukowski and Hunter Thompson-worshipping/emulating days are behind me. I’m not going to buy a Harley, have a tawdry affair, go on a wild bender, quit my job and run off to an ashram. Or at least, I won’t as long as I can keep getting my superhero fix.

3 thoughts on “Infinite Midlife Crisis

    • Whit–I love Game of Thrones though it is one of the most stressful shows I’ve ever sat through on a regular basis. It’s unsettling not knowing when and how terribly a beloved or even well-liked character is going to die. At times, it becomes almost predictable in its intention to subvert most traditional ideas of good triumphing over evil or the outcomes of heroism vs. treachery. But terrific acting, characters, setting, the rare piece of fantasy material that’s so grounded it almost feels like historical fiction (but with dragons!). In short, I think it’s great, terrifically ambitious and at times emotionally frustrating and painful. But that’s less criticism than it is an acknowledgment that they’re doing exactly what they intend and while I can take it, I sometimes just want to be cuddled and loved by my entertainment, instead of waking up psychically traumatized on Monday morning. But there’s almost always something to talk about when it’s over, once the stunned numbness had worn off.

      As for Walking Dead, well, the most honest answer is that I have managed to stick with it for all four seasons, through some of the most frustrating, often unsatisfying, and occasionally infuriating storytelling and character motivation I’ve ever seen in such a wildly popular show (at least since Lost finally went off the air). It’s made all the more frustrating by the fact that it frequently shows flashes of brilliance and the possibility of what the show can be when firing on all creative cylinders. There have been whole stretches (season 2, on the endless farm, in particular) where I was more or less hate-watching and hoping for improvement, or a single episode of genius in the midst of a spate of messy narrative stumbling would be enough to keep me going. I could go into specifics–the characterization of the Governor, the yo-yoing waffling behavior of Rick, the annoying terribleness of Shane, and so on–but the truth is, it will always hold a special place in my heart because Ash loves it and it’s one of the few shows we watch together (though he reads comics, he doesn’t give a shit about any of those comic-book shows I love). I know, I know, it’s a brutal show to expose an 8-year-old to, but he’s not prone to nightmares or getting freaked out and we have a lot of fun with it. He’s also collecting the incredibly well-made action figures and he takes extra special care of them. It’s pretty adorable. And like I said, there’s moments where the show is firing on all cylinders, and it has rewarded my patience by doing it more and more often as time has gone forward. So I’m probably with it til the bitter end.

      My favorite show in the entire history of the medium so far, though, by a country mile, is Breaking Bad. Ever since my long-gone manager gave me the pilot months before the series premiered–a pilot so good I watched it at least five times, showing it to everyone who’d sit through it with me–I was hooked. It was the wildest, most confident, most fully realized pilot I’d ever seen, and throughout it’s run, it was the most consistently written, knuckle-bitingly thrilling, beautifully acted and brilliantly constructed piece of TV storytelling I’d ever experienced. At its best, it was as if the Coen Bros. were crafting series TV at the height of their powers, and at its worst, I never saw an episode that I didn’t at least thoroughly enjoy, and that usually drove the long-form narrative forward in deeply satisfying ways. Even when the central character became so loathsome I all but prayed for his terrible comeuppance at every turn, I was never less than enthralled, sucked along in its wake. Even The Sopranos had some seasons and stretches that were less than I wanted them to be, but I never once felt that with Breaking Bad, a show that hit me so hard in my sweet spot that I wasn’t even sad to see it go, because it had told its whole story so unbelievably perfectly in my eyes.

  1. That was fair. The only side note I can make quickly (I’m supposed to be working right now) is that I may be alone in the universe for enjoying Season Two of WD as much as I did. I found the Shane/Rick triangle conclusion (especially the tracking shot of the herd approaching in the darkness to be truly awesome. Otherwise, I completely agree with your take on WD. Was it just me or did every scene in Westbury look like a 1970s-era Hollywood television backlot production. The extras wondering around with nothing to do apparently always took me out of the storyline. At its worst, the scenes approached “The Planet of the Apes” 1974 TV series in sheer fakeyness. But I am always drawn to those moments of Zombie Greatness such as the last season’s “Big Lots” premier. Wonderful stuff. More later.

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