Oh, God… I’m Going Back to School: What Happens When the Midlife Crisis Hits by Hali Morell

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I’m not a “school person.” 

This is how I started my personal statement when applying to graduate school. Was it smart to start with that? Maybe not. Did I submit it anyway? Yes, I did.

The last six days have been unusual. When I found out that my father’s “mild” Alzheimer’s had caused him to fail a driving test, leading him to surrender his license, I was whipped up into a tornado of self-analysis. You’re forty-eight. You go to work, come home, sit on the sofa, binge-watch Real Housewives, eat unhealthily, knit for a bit, and go to bed. Is this really how you want to spend the rest of your life? Is it enough?

I mean, these are appropriate thoughts for someone my age. I just didn’t expect them to crash through my entire body at warp speed. If there was something else I wanted to do, I needed to do it…and I needed to do it immediately.

Believe it or not, watching mindless television has never been so mindless for me. In fact, it’s been the opposite. Sure, it’s comforting to escape into a world where grown women are throwing drinks at each other and pulling weaves out of heads, but it’s not distracting enough to take away all of the “shoulds.” You should be more productive. You should keep generating brain cells. Should you really be spending three hours a day playing solitaire? What else should you be doing in this moment?

Upon hearing the news about my father, the “shoulds” flipped into “wants” and “coulds.” What more do you want? If you found out you were going to lose your mind in ten years, how would you want to spend them?

What I want, if I’m truly being honest with myself, is a master’s degree in writing. Why do I want that? I don’t really know! I should probably know, right? All I know is that I want to immerse myself more in the things I love to do. I mean, if there were a master’s degree in tapestry weaving, sign me up! In the world of available things to actually “master,” writing is one of the few. It would be great if this were the end of the story. If everything was just this simple. In my anxiety-filled mind, body, and spirit, nothing has ever been simple. The hours I have spent since I was a child analyzing, dissecting, negating, and ultimately failing because I didn’t even start…it’s just exhausting! Allow me to walk you through five minutes of my thought patterns and you’ll begin to understand. I learned from a great writing mentor to refer to my inner critic as “The Committee.” It’s a group of people perched above me, taking any opportunity to tell me why I can’t do something. 

Committee: School? Excuse me while I burst into laughter. Are you kidding us? You don’t do school; you never did!

Me: I know, but maybe it’ll be different now that I’m an adult. I mean, yeah, I hated school as a kid, but I could at least try it, right?

Committee: Yeah…right. Come on, you know all you want to do is sit on the sofa and “decompress.” That’s your word, not ours. Ours are more like “lazy,” “unmotivated,” “worthless.” 

Me: But it’s online! I can do online, right? I don’t have to worry about other people judging me.

Committee: We’re just going to stop you right there. You know you’re your worst judge. “You’re your own tough boss,” right? That’s what the occupational therapist told you when you were eight. You’ve certainly dragged that label around with you for forty years. 

You get the idea. It’s ugly in my head…super ugly. 

What keeps bringing me back is this haunting image of myself kind of fading away while sitting on the sofa holding a pair of knitting needles, with yogurt-covered almonds falling out of my mouth. I could so easily just accept my life as it is, not try the things that freak me out, and dissipate into the universe. That would be the simple way to go. It’s safe and predictable and super fucking boring. I know exactly how every day is going to go. My world is very small because I’ve structured it that way. So, another forty years of predictability or a couple of years not knowing what I can do but seeing if I can at least do something else? 

The Committee tells me I’ll fail, I’ll give up after the first assignment, I’ll crawl back into the cave and cuddle up with the yarn and the Housewives and the almonds. For this moment in time, I have enough drive to tell the Committee to kindly fuck off. I mean, just shut up! 

I’ve surrounded myself with paperweights and signs that read, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” So, I need everyone to just quiet down so I can move forward. 

It’s nap time for you, Committee.

 

Hali Morell is an actress, writer, and teacher. With a bachelor’s degree in acting and a minor in creative writing, she has written and performed two semiautobiographical plays as well as a one-woman show. She is a member of the Cat Writers’ Association. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Avalon Literary Review, Borfski Press, Broad River Review, Evening Street Review, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Forge Journal, Grub Street, The Paragon Journal, Pendora Magazine, The Penmen Review, and Tower Journal. Hali has attended the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and studied with Karin Gutman, Monona Wali, Mark Travis, Terri Silverman, and Frank Megna. Alongside her writing partner, she helps run memoir writing/talking council workshops called The Missing Peace. When not writing about navigating the world’s anxieties with humor, she teaches and facilitates two to three twelfth-grade Rites of Passage trips per year.

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