Who is That Guy in the Photo?

New York - Times Square - July 1977

The train leaves the station.

Now there is a clichéd metaphor!

And the train is still in the station. I have just sat and I am waiting for it to leave.

And the metaphor is weak. I am going from downtown to the airport. The real trip will start when the plane leaves.

My mind is still in the Mulholland Drive universe. Betty is the way Diane sees herself. The ending, an identity crisis, a reality too hard to face.

Whoever said that the mirror doesn’t lie forgot the beholder. And I find photos crueller though it is easy to blame the quality of the picture. The problem is when there are no good pictures.

The dude in the photos looks older than the one in the mirror.

Am I in denial? Denying that I am aging, denying that this could be my mid-life crisis.

If this is mid-life, then I will live to be very old.

At my age “what is the good life” is about the present, it is no longer aspirational. Dreams carry less weight in the equation. There are fewer potential outcomes to fantasize about. The imagined life as a professional hockey player is no longer unrealistic; it is impossible.

Same question, different perspective: Working to pay the bills cannot be written-off as a temporary inconvenience, a price to pay to get where I am going. The good-life is no longer something I am working towards, it is something I am working on.

Should I have been more impatient when I was younger? Was playing the long-game the right choice? How much time do I have left? Will it be quality time?

Ironic that at 56 I am writing immaturely.

Where would I be now if I had made different choices? My career trajectory changed after I met my second wife. What if I had not taken personal days to resolve issues at home? What if my confidence had not been shaken by what was said in the heat of the moment? What if I had divorced her earlier? What if I had kept the promise to myself to fail-fast if it wasn’t working out?

There is no answer to the what-ifs. I cannot relate to the person I would have been if  had gotten the next promotion. And there is nothing to say  wouldn’t be in a similar place. Not because I believe in fate but because regardless of who delivered the blow to my confidence I am the man that was vulnerable to an attack on my manliness.

But, what if?

We are attached to our identity and that identity is, in part, built from our experiences. Negating the past is negating who I am.

I chose the long-game. Take care of my obligations, make sure the children get a good start in life and enjoy the good life after. I have no doubt I made the right choices but I imagined myself finishing just as youthful as when I was making the choices.

Now I compare myself to men my age and older. I don’t find the me in the mirror looks young for my age. Never mind comparing them to the dude in the pictures of me. My self-image, my identity is being challenged and the ego is fighting back as hard as it can. I know that reality’s bitchiness will win but the battle is getting ugly.

I like to joke that I am immature because, when it comes to the school of life, I am a slow learner.

As I get older there are fewer options available. This is supposed to lead to greater serenity. Fewer options to miss out on, less anxiety about missing out on them.

But how do I manage the feeling about the options I missed out on? And I resist giving up on options. I am worried that it is giving up too early and that I am creating self-limiting beliefs. And that brings me back to the clash between the fantasy image of myself and reality.

I have J.S. Mill‘s autobiography on my reading list. I hope it is readable. Some philosophers are so busy being precise that their ideas are unreadable.

I like his ideas on liberty. I am hoping that this means his autobiography can help me work out a different view on goals. It is the way he worked a solution to lack of satisfaction of achieving his goals that fascinates me. A dissatisfaction that showed up when he was twenty. Big hairy goals. His turning an  appreciation of Wordsworth into a motivating factor interests me; the addition of a sense of awe into his life that made rest of his work worthwhile. At least that is how I understand it. I am hoping the autobiography can tell me more, teach me.

For now, the way I see it, it is about spending time on things without a particular end goal. The journey, not the arrival. Choosing an agreeable journey, choosing to be a traveller without a destination. A change in perspective. Turning my activities into something that repersents who I am instead of one that is based on who I want to become.

The change in perspective is challenging my identity. Learning that I am who I am today and not the person I might be tomorrow. Which comes back to accepting my past choices. And that I have fewer options for change. And that my future self will be older, more physically diminished until I no longer am. And that final day is getting closer.

And that final day is the inevitable final destination. And becoming a traveler makes life about the journey, not the destination. Because all the other goals are just stops along the way. Regret, missing out, mortality are no longer an issue.

What about the mistakes? I have made some bad decisions that I cannot rationalize away but they don’t bother me that much. Slow to act. That has been the biggest recurring problem. There is time yet. Until there isn’t.

Akrasia is an idea I came across when skimming some texts on Greek philosophy. Self-subversion, acting against one’s better interest. The concept seems to be used most often when talking about addicts though I remember reading someone hypothesizing that Bill Clinton had a self-destructive streak and, every once in a while, someone will bring it up about a star that will blow up there careers after each success.

And then there are the twin fears: success and failure.

Some dress up akrasia as a weakness of will. The word weakness say a lot about the thinking of the speaker. And it doesn’t address fear-based self-sabotage.

I think there is something more to akrasia than its definition. By definition it is not rational.

Hume argued that passions and will could not be overruled by reason. I guess that is true. I have not found a good argument against. If it is true then weakness of will does not exist. It becomes irrational will. I wonder where that would fit in the debate on free will.

Ataraxia, the Greek version of nirvana. I get the feeling that is what I am aiming for. But that feeling comes from my superficial understanding of it; it can mean what I want it to mean.

It is my nebulous goal. Defeat akrasia, attain ataraxia. Sounds intellectual. Pseudo-intellectual, fake profundity.

Ataraxia, my traveler goal. Not the destination with the perpetual where-next problem once you arrive. You’re never as lost as when you get somewhere and don’t know where to go next. The traveler breathes in, breathes out and moves on.

It is easy to underestimate the value of the journey, to see it as a logistics problem. Listen to someone talk of a trip. It is the journey, the things that happened, the people met that are told. Who wants to hear a long list of been-there and done-that. Funny how, if you don’t have the been-theres and the done-thats, people will look at you incredulously and lecture you on having missed the purpose of going where you went. Even while they nod in agreement to the cliché “it’s about the journey.”

You can travel forever but once you’ve been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, it is done.

I think of Bro. The golden boy with the big stories. He didn’t realize his perceived destiny, got slapped in the face by life and fell off the cliff. He still hasn’t gotten up. He has been down for so long that I wonder if he will ever try. He survives on bitterness and spits out anything that could change the taste in his mouth.

The traveler goes places, does things. Aimless wandering is not a journey, it is restlessness, it becomes the goal. Am I restless? Am I conflating travel with journey? Meaning with meaningful? I guess that is where being in the present moment comes in and my metaphor starts to fall apart.

Being present takes away the need to keep moving. It is also a way to take the focus away from where I am going. It frees me from the goal.

Being in the moment is freedom. Taking notice of where I am is neutral, free of judgement. It is what it is, now. Not before, not after, but now.

Our feelings about the past are not as strong as those for the future. The dread of a future pain is greater than the memories of a past pain, even if the future pain is substantially less than the past pain. The anticipation of a future pleasure can be a great pleasure itself.

Does moving into the now make time more symmetrical? Is it like moving closer to the middle of the see-saw?

Is this part of the aging crisis? Less to look forward to and the memories are unsatisfying? Is bringing it to the now an adjustment of the perspective? Allowing for the awe of the moment?

I am going in circles attempting to philosophise my way out of my age crisis aiming at a stoic version of the serenity prayer hoping for a magical bullet in J.S. Mill’s biography while forgetting Hume’s argument that you can’t apply reason to emotion.  Montaigne has an essay called “That to Philosophise is to learn to Die.”

All this rambling to complain that I am struggling with the fear of having missed out. Yet missing out is inevitable. There are too many choices.

Options are overvalued. Too many options makes choosing difficult.

I started this train of thought thinking about how my age crisis is about adjusting to a new identity, that of an older man; a new part, the fifth age. Then …

The train has arrived at the airport.

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