Part of me seems to always seek to analyze, even as some other part remembers the spark of a childhood fascination, even in the week before stepping squarely into mid-life. So it was a week or so ago when I found myself next to a runway at a small community airport, hearing engines turn, sputter and gurgle, as lumbering machines came into view. I watched as they turned onto a strip of tarmac, listened to the gurgles increase pitch to a deep, powerful growl and stared as the machines ceased to lumber and became intently purposeful, ripping into the distance as they broke away from the ground and pushed into a cloud-laden late-June sky. I watched as they seemed to transform again, now simple, graceful, diminishing silhouettes, vanishing into the blue haze as silence bellowed back.
So, how is it that a man, a week before his birthday, winds up here, indulging a fascination that was never really forgotten, but put aside? To realize that it’s never really gone away. Reality might have made me hide it—possibly even from myself—but it was still there, now emerging in full force, as I think crazed, impractical thoughts, like blowing money on flying lessons instead of mutual funds.
I guess this is where the tales and analysis of mid-life crisis comes in. But what is a mid-life crisis but a re-emergence of childhood dreams that had to be set aside? They may not be practical, of course, or even wise, but I think they keep us alive. Or, possibly more accurately, they keep us living.
On this note, I have to think about one of my other passions in life and how it, too, was put aside for some time, but when life broke down and reality decided to give me a series of slaps, I turned back to it and credit it with helping me survive.
Music was once the central focus of my life. There were the other interests and fascinations, of course—writing, books, photography, history, philosophy and things that go fast—but for a long time, music was what I did, either as a musician or engineer. But it, too, had to be closed off, mainly in pursuit of something more lucrative, but also because most of the people in the music business are the dregs of humanity (why the arts inspire both the best and worst of us is another subject). But it was shuttered and, I thought, part of the past, as I headed into a career as an intelligent, fairly well-educated man who spent most of his days typing away in a beige cubicle while struggling against the pain.
Then it was ripped away. The job was cut and the pain proved it was part of something much deeper, much more serious. It was part something that would eventually come very close to killing me.
At some time during this low point, through all the pain and questioning of every choice I’d ever made in life, I wound up going back to music and playing again. But I did not go back to the instruments on which I spend countless hours learning and honing my skills, but I chose the one I first wanted to learn but never had: the guitar. So, why would I choose that? Choose to start again? Is it that the childhood fascination with that particular instrument never really went away? That it is what my father played for a time? Or possibly that the instruments I had spent a great portion of my life playing were too associated with the dark side of the music industry, and that I wanted to learn something new? To start a new journey with no intentions of making a career with it or worrying if people wanted to hear it, to simply remember the sheer joy of learning to make something make noise? I guess it was an amalgamation of all these things, but it gave me something. It gave me a focus to get through the time, something to look forward to, to keep progressing, to wake up each day—even in a hospital bed—and look forward to taking a guitar in my hands and making some noise. I’m not sure I would have pulled through without that. Without having the fascination to keep going, exploring and re-awakening that part of my mind—which also lead to scribbling thoughts in a notebook again as well. And, possibly, even to watching planes scream into the sky on an early summer Sunday.
So, with that, I survived. I can’t say if I would have survived with having something of those dreams re-emerge, but I’m certain that, even if I did, I would have changed, lost something human in the process. That, I believe, is what we have to protect in us and remember they’re still there.
I’m spending my days back in a cubicle, now—this time a gray one—and I’m not really fond of my time there. But now I notice that I still look up when I hear a plane overhead, I still notice Venus and the stars when I arrive home at night, I still write for the fun of it, and I spend some time making noise with a guitar everyday before heading among gray, lightly padded, bolted-together walls. And tacked to one of those walls—serving as a reminder of many things—is a single, red celluloid guitar pick.