Mid-life has brought with it the usual changes in my physical and mental state, but the most surprising has been in the way my brain works. Last summer, I decided to make my daughter an iconic garment worn by a certain British science fiction hero from my own youth. Authenticity required the garment to be knit, so I found a copy of Knitting for Dummies and taught myself. Sounds simple enough, but it verges on the miraculous.
Behold the miracle!
I’ve been crocheting since the age of eight, when my grandmother showed me how to both crochet and knit. I readily took to the former but completely failed to grasp the latter. In the intervening decades, four other people have tried to teach me to knit — two of them more than once — without success. Something about my brain simply did not get knitting.
But this time I have had no trouble figuring out on my own — from diagrams, no less! — something that years of wonderful personal tutoring couldn’t get my brain to comprehend. The process wasn’t without setbacks; I unraveled and redid portions of the first foot several times, but the remaining thirteen (it’s a very long scarf) went along rather nicely.
With several hundred rows under my belt, I feel so confident that I’ve since undertaken two additional knitting projects and figured out how to purl. And I still get a ridiculous thrill every time I think about the fact that I’m knitting. So what if my middle-aged brain can’t recall where I left the car keys or the name of my first-born child? It finally gets how to knit!
Today I am celebrating my half-life birthday, the 45th anniversary of my arrival on this planet. (I figure 90 years is a reasonably optimistic goal to aim for, and it’s not as though I’ll get in trouble if I actually overshoot it.) The number and the birthday itself don’t bother me; as a matter of fact, I find it rather exhilarating to think of myself at the top of a long, steep slope: the going should be easier from here on out because I’ll have gravity in my favor.
No, the real struggle I have is with the midlife crisis that settled in on me a while ago like a dense, enervating fog. The first stage, which I have dubbed “The Year of Living Regretfully,” was spent in exhaustive (and exhausting) retrospection and analysis. During this discouraging period, I examined nearly every decision I ever made and found that I did rather poorly in all but a handful of instances. (There are reasons this kind of experience ought to be reserved for the dying: it just about does you in, and after you’ve been through it, death seems like it would be a welcome relief.)
Recently, I seem to have undergone a mysterious seismic shift into a more energetic phase, which has both good and bad points. Instead of poring over past actions or pondering future possibilities, I find myself wrangling with a “Damn the torpedoes—full speed ahead!” mentality that verges on the dangerous. I spend enormous time and energy dissuading myself from all sorts of crazy-stupid actions. A part of me has reverted to invincible adolescence, leaving the rest of me to ride herd on a bewildering progression of bizarre impulses and cockamamie ideas, all of which seem unbearably attractive when they cross my mind.
Remember the long, steep slope I mentioned above, the proverbial hill that I have now crested? Today I have the most insane urge to let go of the brakes and hurtle toward the bottom, hell-bent for leather. I just hope my wiser self will prevail enough that I wear a helmet.