This might be what a midlife crisis feels like. I’m not sure because I’m encountering this a little late. I wanted to have one when I was 45 but I didn’t have time. However, at age 59, suddenly deciding to sell my house, all my furniture and belongings, pack some clothes into my Jetta and move to Florida might qualify as a full-on, bona-fide midlife crisis. Blessed are the late bloomers.
We’ve all heard stories about men in mid life running off with their secretaries or buying fast cars. My sister joked that when her husband was turning 50 she was going to buy him a Porsche Boxter as a preemptive strike. She wouldn’t have needed to. He’s a great guy. But what do women in a midlife crisis do? Do they sell all their possessions and go live the life of a Professional Guest? Do they meet a cowboy named Rowdy and ride the range out west in Santa Fe? I’d like a fast car and a younger man as much as the next person, but I need to find me first.
This past winter in Minnesota threw me over the edge and I was done, absolutely done with living here any longer. I have artistic aspirations and not finding satisfying outlets for them in this state where half the year is winter and the other half is road construction. I want to write and paint and draw, walk on the beach in flow-y sundresses, feel the sand between my toes, and listen to music tinkling from seaside eateries. I want to go outside in January without having to put on five layers of clothing, unplug my car battery from its charger, start the sluggish engine, let it warm up for 15 minutes before creaking down the snow-packed driveway.
So I’m doing it. Selling The House and The Stuff. Nearly everything is sold. As I’m sorting through the last of my things, I’m discovering boxes of old photos of myself and drawings that I did when I was younger, less stressed out, less addicted, and more inspired. I’m thinking, I want to get back to that place…that place when I was full of dreams and romance with the naive notion that everybody was nice. I need adventure!
The adventure is already beginning. I had posted two of my drawings done more than 30 years ago on Facebook—two warriors, one a Samurai and the other an Ecuadorian Tribesman. Two days later, my New Mexico artist cousin, Sue, was sitting with friends at the Ocotillo Sports Bar in Carlsbad (where everybody knows your face); a place where she sits each day and paints wonderful, whimsical portraits of the bar’s patrons, landscapes, scenic small towns and more. She showed my drawings to the folks at her table from her mobile phone and one of the men expressed interest. She told me to call him.
And that’s how I met Rowdy. I half expected his last name to be Yates. Rowdy is a young rancher/art collector in Carlsbad with a drawl so thick I pictured him as a sun-wizened trail boss somewhere out west on a cattle drive fraught with danger—rattlesnakes, dangerous pothole-ridden mountain passes and swift-flowing rivers; where every man has his chore. “Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’…move ‘em out, get ‘em up, get ‘em up, ride ‘em in, Rawhide!” (whip crack here). I hope he looks like Clint Eastwood.
Rowdy has a place in Santa Fe where he displays art that he has purchased from around the country, especially Native American and historical art. He likes pencil and charcoal drawings so he wants to see mine. We spoke over the phone and from what I could understand of his conversation, I’m supposed to send them to my cousin. If he likes them, he’ll buy them and display them in Santa Fe. Santa Fe! That’s got to be the coolest, artiest place in the whole American Southwest. Or one of them anyway. Good exposure.
I feel sometimes like a butterfly emerging from her cocoon. For most of my life I did not feel confident enough in my artistic capabilities to even consider making a living from them. I measured myself up against my talented brothers and sisters and consistently fell short in my own eyes. Others have encouraged me and think that I’ve got some talent but there’s something about being in your hometown with your same family, your same circle of friends, same skeletons, that makes me wonder if I could ever break out of the “Isn’t-he-the-carpenter’s-son?”-type question. Isn’t she Dan’s sister? Isn’t she Janet’s sister? Isn’t she Bob’s, Candy’s, Dave’s, John’s, Jane’s and Elaine’s sister??? I feel like I need to leave and go to a place where nobody knows my name and start with a fresh palette. I think that’s when I’ll discover the true “me”—the art that’s always been in there will come out into the sunlight and bloom. It’s the old “geographical cure” theory and I hope it works.
As number eight in a family of nine, I felt like the “lost child”—the ignored, forgotten one. Too many mouths to feed. Too many other shining stars. I was sensitive, introverted, intelligent, chubby, a bookworm and a daydreamer. I got good grades in art and creative writing but none of it seemed to garner much recognition from my family. I was always stressed out from the drama at home with a contentious, over-disciplinarian mother and absentee father.
I think that’s where the chubbiness came from. Looking back, I was hardly fat but I sure thought I was. I was repeatedly urged to go on a diet. I tried dieting but nothing worked very well and I didn’t like starving. It didn’t seem worth it. I know now that stress played a major role in my weight issues. Cortisol can wreak havoc with your hormones and make you gain weight even when you do not overeat. When I was happy and stress-free, I lost weight. When I was stressed out and unhappy, I gained.
Either way, I didn’t try out for much in high school. Too afraid. Too insecure. Too shy. My brother was talking to one of his old high school buddies who was trying to remember who I was in high school. He remembered my sisters who were thin, pretty, homecoming queen court members, cheerleaders and popular, but could not remember me. My brother said, “Well, Sheryl wasn’t much of a standout in high school.” He was right.
There’s a Proverb that says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” In my heart, I thought I was unattractive, grossly obese, not very talented, and dull, therefore nothing special. My insecurities and unguided desire to try new things led me into early drinking, drug use and promiscuity. I lived for parties, boyfriends, and getting high. I was rudderless.
As a result, my emotional life was stunted. I grew physically and mentally, but emotionally, anything that was trusting, balanced, and self aware quit growing. I went through life existing, following and breaking the rules, but not very in touch with myself.
All that is changing these days. God knew what was in me, because He made me. I’ve struggled all this time trying to hang on to control of my life and it’s gotten me nowhere in particular. When I finally surrendered to Him saying, “Not my will but thine be done,” (actually, my words were more like, “Whatever you want, God… whatever you want.”) He took my life and gave it back to me in a far better way than I could have hoped or ever achieved.
I always thought that if I gave God my life completely, He’d make me go somewhere I didn’t want to go, or be someone I didn’t want to be. There’d be this big list of do’s and don’ts because that’s how I was raised in the church. Instead, I’ve learned the power of real grace, and that my job is to discover what my true identity is in Him. And if He created me in the first place, it was going to feel right.
It’s drastic to sell everything you own and I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, but for me, this is what I need to do. I’ve never been materialistic, although I enjoy material things for their beauty, efficiency or life-enhancing capabilities. But just as quickly, I like to move on. So letting go of my stuff isn’t all that hard. It’s just stuff. It’s beauty, people and experiences I crave.
Next week, I’ll begin my journey in Naples, Florida. But one day you might find me on a cattle drive in Santa Fe with Rowdy (or Rusty or Jack) some day. Or running with the bulls in Spain with Mario. It’s true, I’m a city slicker but I’m not afraid to get dirty. Well, not too dirty. I guess I don’t like camping very much. Bugs, sweat, damp-ground-camp-ground. The last time I went camping, I couldn’t breathe at night lying on a humid rubber mattress and the other campers told me I snored all night long.
Back to the beach. Nice, clean beach. Keep the cattle drive. I’ll do my “snore-keling” in Key West. But it was fun to get off on that bunny trail for awhile. I’ll offer my portrait services alongside my graphic design and see where it takes me. And maybe, just maybe, some day, I’ll be an artist in my old hometown too. Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’…whip crack!