I am the least suicidal person I know. The word "suicide" seldom springs to mind in reference to myself. I would not even know how to go about it, not properly anyway, never having had sufficient interest in the subject of my own death to look up the most painless--or preferably the most fun (me, the bon vivant of the gallows)--way to off oneself. Even in my days and nights of darkest despair--and there have been a few that were very very very dark indeed--even when I have consciously wished to be dead or never to have been born--the thought of my actually doing the fatal deed has seemed preposterous.
So, first, this is not a suicide note. Just to set the record straight. (Neither is it a "cry for help," thank you.)
There are times, more frequent now the older I get, when my detachment from the idea of self-slaughter--to the point of ignorance--strikes me as rather unfortunate, since in principle I can accept suicide as a rational and, in some cases, even honorable choice. It is a point of interest to me that the wisest words on the subject--at least the wisest I have come across--come from comedians, not tragedians or philosophers. Bill Maher said something once to the effect that suicide is man's way of telling God, "You can't fire me; I quit!" Doug Stanhope once compared life to a movie, and if you get halfway through it and it has sucked for the first hour, nobody's going to blame you for walking out in the middle. But like George Carlin, I "couldn't commit suicide if my life depended on it."
Suicide requires a temperament I do not have. And I call myself a pessimist. Still, I am a cheerful pessimist. I suspect suicide requires a certain form of optimism--that death at least will not be an anticlimax--but I'm inclined to go with the Peggy Lee song "Is That All There Is?":
"I'm in no hurry for that final disappointment."
So why do I bring the subject up? Well, a couple of days ago, I wished to myself (but aloud) that I were dead. I have wished the same thing before when my life was especially calamitous, and I have many times observed that I was ready to die, if need be. But readiness is not a wish, and my life right now is not calamitous.
What I was reacting to was the feeling--no, more than that, the recognition--that now, turning 57 next month, I am well past my prime. Yes, yes, yes, I know people who have started love affairs in their eighties (my father, for instance) or, like Penelope Fitzgerald, started a glorious literary career at age 58 or, like Grandma Moses, began a career as a painter in her seventies. So it's not the age thing I am talking about.
I have seen Harold and Maude, like, six or seven times. I mention this only because I'm aware that I still have a good 23 years before I am "just marking time."
It's something different than the age thing, though arguably related to it. I sense a loss of momentum. Slowing down is not an altogether bad experience--I rather like most aspects of it. But my self concept has long been the image of myself as creative, sexual, free, experimental, evolving, and actually accomplishing something, and these very qualities are the ones in peril.
I keep trying, though: arguably, blogging can be justified as some kind of creative expression--and really you don't want the details on my present sex life.
Having been more or less sedentary for the past twelve years makes me feel considerably less "free," "experimental," and "evolving" than I was in my thirties and early forties, though I'd have to say I am now much freer than I was in my Christ-haunted teens and early agonized twenties--which, when (rarely) the temptation to envy the youth of my students arises, serve as a reminder to me that, no, I do not want to return to my youth--or usurp anyone else's, that whole stage of life being just too fraught with insecurities and fear of the future.
Changing residences this past summer was a nice small move in the right direction for me. Like a houseplant, I benefit from occasional re-potting.
I still feel that I accomplish something as a college teacher, but most days it's hard to look out at smug blank faces and think that it is much that I'm accomplishing--even though on occasion, rather frequently these past couple of weeks, in fact, individual students have made a point of expressing their appreciation for what I do.
More worrisome, for some time now, I have been at a loss to name anything likely to make me happier than I am when I am fast asleep--an ardent young lover? yes, but it boggles the mind; travel? nice, but probably not; money? sure, till it's gone; bingo? oh Christ no! Exercise? A good idea, a very good idea, in fact.
I have a dog, but he is old, too. It worries me to think of my outliving him, though it's asinine for me to hope otherwise. He is, even as he slows down too, a source of instant hilarity for me. I have wonderful friends--my one "blessing" is and always has been friendship, about which I feel romantic and always hopeful, ... but they too are slowing down and seem as a rule more inclined to sink into comfortable furniture for glasses of wine than to embark on a road trip to watch cage fights in another state or seek out the world's scariest roller-coaster or dance all night to house music. I have a job I like. I have an income--as well as a growing credit-card debt ... which, happily, no heirs of mine will ever have to lose sleep over. My body is feeling the pull of gravity. I have lived to see the nation's first African-American President, but am left with the lament, a la Peggy Lee again, "Is that all there is to a black Commander-in-Chief?" I have lived to see Avatar in 3-D, three times, and I have to say that it was well worth staying alive for. At the very least I outlived the Bush years, which is something.
Do I wish I were dead right now? Not at all. As I said, the thought came and went a few days ago. It was a springboard for, naturally, some thoughts on my mortality, some self-examination concerning my qualms over the subject of suicide (fears of missing the Clash of the Titans remake, I suspect), and a trial walkabout in the new shoes of being an old man--they're still tight, these shoes, they hurt, in fact, but in time, I suspect, they will break in just fine.