When I was a furiously ambitious young man, age was the enemy. The idea of getting older terrified me. It felt somehow like failure. I felt like I was in a crazy race against time to become a raging success before the universe realized what a terrible mistake it had made in making me, at various points in my young life, the head writer of The A.V Club, a Scribner author three times over, the co-author of a coffee table book with my childhood hero “Weird Al” Yankovic and, for thirteen strange episodes, a dude who would fly to Los Angeles from Chicago every weekend to tape a poorly rated, increasingly reputable basic-cable movie review panel show from a network that would soon give the world Mad Men and Breaking Bad, opposite a host who would eventually give the world the Oscar-winning screenplay for 12 Years A Slave.
I felt like I had to get everything that I possibly could before I became old and withered and broken and sad and the world wouldn’t want me anymore. When you grow up with nothing the way that I did, it fills you with an emptiness that you try to fill with money and success and validation until you come to a point where you realize that those kinds of superficial things not only don’t fill that hole, but oftentimes make it even bigger.
Then I got older and two things happened, more or less simultaneously. More or less everything that I was afraid of would happen professionally happened. I quit The A.V Club for The Dissolve and then I got fired by The Dissolve. I went back to The A.V. Club with my tail between my legs with the consolation that at least they’d let me bring back My World of Flops and then they killed that column for not being popular enough less than two years after its return. I didn’t sell enough books on Scribner for them to want to continue to work with me, and, needless to say, I’m not on television anymore. It's hard to believe that I ever was.
The other thing that happened was that I got older, and slowly but surely acquired the skill set to not only survive things that would have completely destroyed my younger, pathologically status-obsessed self, but allowed me to thrive, after a fashion. I was terrified of getting older as a young man. Now I see age as a blessing and a gift. It’s given me a wonderful sense of perspective.
I've always been a cranky middle-aged man. I've just aged into it organically at this point.
I like being a middle-aged man. I used to look at people in their twenties with envy and jealousy, as people that I desperately wanted to be. Now I look at people in that age range with something closer to pity. I know firsthand how difficult, if not impossible, it can be to be happy at that age. I know all too well the downside to ambition, how it can destroy, taint and corrupt as well as inspire.
I have become something I’ve always treasured: I’ve become a man with stories. I have become a man who has lived. A man who theoretically has something to say. A man with the kind of prestige that comes with self-publishing, blogging and begging strangers for money on the internet in hopes of staving off the equally terrifying specters of homelessness and a day job. I welcome my scars and my wrinkles and my hard-won sense of self-acceptance. It’s taken me a long time and a lot of wandering to finally find my home professionally. Now if you’ll excuse me, this weird, weary old man is going to rest his cyber-bones here until one of these young whippersnappers comes along and kick him out.
Support Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace