Who Am I? The Middle Age Identity

It’s been a challenging week over here on the good ship Fainleog.  I’m not complaining at all because it’s almost all self-inflicted.  Consider it the shadow side of growing as a person. I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone, but I’ve never known anything of real substance that I didn’t arrive at except through pain and sacrifice.  This is perhaps why feel good self improvement guides may be limited; you cannot grow except through hard work and dealing with a lot of difficult stuff.  The fact that it is by choice doesn’t make it any the less real.  Or easier. But you have to take faith that the sun rises again – until it doesn’t, at which point it doesn’t matter.

My son Stuart and I had a very tough time together sailing this fall.  I will keep saying ‘till I’m blue in the face that sailing brings out what is real.  We really got on each other’s nerves and many bad feelings came up, old hard stuff from his adolescence.  He still carried the rage he felt towards me for controlling and bossing and judging, and still carried my grief and pain at having the child that I so dearly loved turn against me and make me his enemy.

At my suggestion we saw a counsellor and worked out a lot of old pain.  The greatest relief for me was when he told me that although he hated me back then, now he is so glad that I rode him because it’s helped him know what to do and how to make a go of it as a man.  When I heard him say that, I broke into tears.  All those years of being the asshole, the tough one, the one the kids couldn’t stand because I demanded things of them, was finally acknowledged as being worthwhile.  It was so hard for me and so painful, but I knew it was the right thing to do, and I pushed my way through years of being triangled and alienated by those I loved the most.  Unfortunately, Tracy usually indulged the kids so it was left to me to set limits and expect things from them.   That made it three to one, and I wasn’t popular.   But I was in the right.   And I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Since the counselling, I feel much closer to my son.  And I feel a lot of old baggage has been left in my past.   It feels good to let that go, but it’s change and a transformation that takes energy.  There was years of hurt and resentment packed away, suddenly cast off.  I mentioned last week about how my relationship with Tracy is changing, how we are individuating and our roles are transforming.  It’s a good thing, but again, change takes energy.  At a physical level, this kind of change means actually rewiring your brain – changing neural networks.  Like running a marathon with your mind.

Transforming my relationship with my wife and son is a lot of emotional work in itself, and takes a lot of energy.   But on an even larger scale, my relationship with myself is changing in very profound ways.  It’s what I’ve wanted for a long time, but by god it’s tough.

It’s an old truism among counsellors that when one person changes, it changes everyone who that person is in relationship with. Tracy is bringing about change by taking us off our boat.   I’m responding to the (immanent) change by changing myself.   I’m not sure exactly how they are related but I can see the results.  It’s like another adolescence in a way.

This change is forcing me to look closely at my beliefs, values and assumptions about my world. I suspect it’s the last step in the unwinding of my old family life.  I went almost straight from my parent’s home to a family with Tracy.  We met at a young age, and my individuation was incomplete; I went from a partial me, to a me as a couple, to a me as father in a family of four and then five.  Three and a half years ago, I left the family of five to go back to a couple.

And now I’m looking at me as an individual again. Not that Tracy and I are going our separate ways physically, but in some ways, the liveaboard thing was a reaction to the many constrictions of a long domestic life.   I don’t need to react to that anymore so I’m willing to let it go.   The family is gone.  And unlike when I was that very incomplete young man who bonded with Tracy as a teen, I’m much more aware of who I am, as an individual.  My roles as determined by others, by relationships, are over.  Now what?

I find myself scanning my very young past for clues as to who I was. What did I love, what motivated me?  Although I’m a far more complex creature then I was as a boy, the essence is exactly the same, and that period gives me clues as to the nature of my heart.  After 30 years of being defined at least partially through relationships, the nature of self becomes rather cluttered if not actually obscured.   The challenge for people our age is to figure out who and what we are outside of relationships.

I think that a lot I’ve pursued in the past was a reaction to both the demands and constrictions of my relationships and so has limited utility in decided what to do now.  As a boy I was always wandering and exploring.  I was insatiably curious about my world.   I loved to create and analyse and know.   I loved writing.  To some extent I was a loner.   I hated restrictions of any kind, and would often skip school.  I was also shy and quiet. If that’s a rough base of my identity, how do I manifest those characteristics as an adult man?

I’ve seen a close friend of mine go through much the same process. He too married young and inexperienced, and a few years ago separated from his wife. It was a real struggle for him, especially trying to figure out who he was and what he needed as a separate individual.   He’s come a long way since that time, and now fiercely defends his new-found independence, which creates it’s own difficulties as he is reluctant to test the strength of his identity in a new relationship.  His concern is understandable as it can be difficult to maintain one’s “self” in a dyad, and the consequence of failure is a diminishment of identity.  We all want to be in a relationship and know love, but not at the cost of who we are.  How to navigate that remains a crucial challenge to all of us.

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Shoals of Marriage

I knew I shouldn’t have titled that post “A Successful Marriage”.  Not that it’s not, but it still feels arrogant to me; life is a process of evolution, adaptation, and change, and labelling something as dynamic as a marriage as a success suggests that it is finished, completed, like an oil painting or a novel, rather than a work in progress.

Ask me on my deathbed if my marriage was a success.

Things are evolving for us very quickly right now, and it’s proving a real emotional challenge for me.  After so many years together, we have seen our relationship change many times.  Good times and bad, there were times we were apart, times of enmeshment, times we were close.  But within the relationship what held us together was family; as a young couple it was a family of two, later it was a family of four and five.  In the early years the glue was young love; later, it was the responsibility and challenge of raising kids.

All that is over.  We are no longer young.  We are no longer raising kids.  We moved aboard Fainleog to transform our life to one of adventure and quest, following largely my dreams and my impetus.  But over the 3.5 years we have lived this lifestyle, for the first time in our marriage separation is occurring.  Perhaps separation isn’t the right word –  individuation might be more accurate.  What we are finding is that for the first time, significant differences are emerging between us.  As we age, we learn more about ourselves, especially when external issues like children are no longer holding our attention.

When we moved aboard, we dreamed of sailing off to some place tropical to live like gypsies.  What we didn’t count on was that Tracy wouldn’t be able to do that.  I’ve found a wonderful, adventurous spirit long buried beneath domestic responsibilities, and Tracy has realised that she needs a lot of comfort and security.  So I yearn for the sea and exploration, and she yearns for a stable home.

This is not insignificant stuff, in that we have discovered that we both need these things to be fully ourselves, and they are ultimately are not negotiable, at least not over the long term.  Unfortunately, they seem somewhat at odds with each other.

Right now we are scratching our heads over this.  It’s a completely new experience for us and we are not sure how we will navigate it.  I believe that it means more distance between us, and more individual (rather than couple) choices. I expect that we will be doing more things apart from each other, which in itself presents a challenge, as I know Tracy hates it when I’m away for long stretches at a time.

But that’s the thing when you live authentic, dynamic lives – there are no guarantees.  Our love and regard for each other remains the same, but love alone is never enough to make a fulfilling life.  There are too many aspects of self that need attending to, and relying on a relationship for happiness will always fail.  Primary love relationships are crucial, but insufficient.  The challenge is how to nurture that component while promoting all the others.

We have listed Fainloeg with Vela yacht sales.  I’m not sure where we are going after this, but I’ve suggested to Tracy that if our bus doesn’t sell we should convert it ourselves and go for a year-long trip through Mexico and Central America. That sounds like adventure all right, but without the things that terrorise Tracy so much, like waves and wind.

The idea sounds exciting to me, but anyone who is a sailor knows that it’s still insufficient: nothing in the world can compare with the experience of being on the ocean under a press of sail.  I’ve spent my whole life searching for happiness and meaning, and I’ve been lucky enough to find what I was looking for.  I’m going to lose part of it soon, but by god, I’ll be back.

This movie clip showcases what living life fully looks like for me.

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Completing a Novel

It’s the end of an era for me, and I’m not talking about living aboard; that change is sometime in the future. What I’m referring to is the near-completion of my latest novel.

It’s been a hell of a long haul. I’m trying to remember when I started this thing but it’s hard to think back that far. I think I started the research in 2005 or 2006. It took me two years to get all the info together, mostly because the locale and period I chose was very poorly represented in literature.

The setting is Rupert’s Land 1815-1816, and aside from Hudson’s Bay Company documents, there are very little first-hand accounts of the peoples and the region, of the kind needed to accurately recreate the period. Of course the local fur traders were all illiterate, so I had to rely on the few published journals written by adventuring gentlemen.
I wanted it to be very accurate, especially when describing First Nations culture. That part was especially was difficult, for the first Swampy Cree dictionaries didn’t appear until a hundred years after the period of my novel, and Early European opinions of Native peoples were deeply biased and racist.

Of course I haven’t written full time during that period. There have been long periods when I’ve put it down and carried on with my life. Writing is important, but it’s not the only thing I am passionate about and I’ve buggered off sailing and traveling for months at a time. And when you leave it for a long time, it’s that much harder getting back into the groove.

But I am so deathly sick of this book. I’ve rewritten it and polished it so many times I can see it in my sleep. Long gone is any excitement or novelty. It is old and hoary and I just want to be done with it.

But it’s been a very good process. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about writing fiction, and so the next book should require fewer rewrites. I’ve now completed 4 novels, and that accounts for a hell of a lot of writing. I’ve only published mag articles and one short story, but I know this book is publishable.

This wrapping up part of the process is a funny thing. The last bit of
work is particularly dull and the thrill of finally typing THE END is
muted by the knowledge that I am capping so many years of work. It’s a
glorious time and a sad time as well. You create, but then you must let

The hardest part is still ahead: the interminable process of looking for an agent or publisher. Rejection slips don’t bother me at all, it’s just that the process is so god-damn inefficient and clumsy. I am toying with the idea of self publishing, only because mainstream publishing has so little to offer the emergent author these days. It’s arguable that you could sell as many or more books yourself as could be sold by a publishing house obsessed with pushing predictable and well-known authors.

At the same time, I’m not concerned about the money as much as readership. I’ve had tens of thousands of people read my work on this blog as well as in all my magazine articles, so I already have an audience, but I believe that the book itself is important, as a work of art. I write to share ideas and perceptions, and to reflect the world to itself. I write to explore and illuminate, not to entertain, although I sure hope the result is entertaining.

I also want to create and share beauty. Maybe that’s the most important part.

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