Middle age falls into two camps, or so I thought: it is either the time you settle down, or a time you go completely off the rails, right? We all know what the latter looks like, don’t we? Good old MLC — it’s sure to go by that handle now because it’s so good at acting younger than is socially acceptable. I wonder if there’s an MLC emoji to go with; what would that look like exactly? Little red sports car with grin and thumbs up; kitten with come-to-bed eyes; mullet with a hard on? MLC is of course the antithesis of settling down; it’s a refusal to take middle age lying down — because sex with someone half your age obviously requires a stand-up performance.
Until today, I always thought of settling down as just slowing your pace of life; moving in with whoever you’ve fallen into a comfortable realtionship with because it makes financial sense and you really don’t have the energy to get dressed and drive back to your cold, lonely rented flat at one in the morning two nights a week, three nights a week, four nights a week, five nights a week… accepting that your waistline naturally increases with each passing year; booking the exact same holiday next year because that hotel served you bacon that was just the right side of crispy and eggs that didn’t run into your bean juice; looking forward to your Friday night takeaway earlier and earlier in the week, until it becomes the only thing that gets you out of bed on a Monday morning and then wishing you’d chosen anything but the predictable order that the staff know by heart, that you eat way too fast, that sits heavy on your chest and gives you chronic heart burn that keeps you up all night in place of the sex that is now just a distant memory. If that.
It’s a phrase that seems so innocuous, inviting, even, but if you really think about those two words, they’re loaded with hollow regret: settling, as in giving up chasing your ‘best life’, saying ‘it’ll do’, accepting that life didn’t quite deliver all it once promised in the dazzling rush of youth; and down, as in lowering your expectations, downgrading on that ‘dream house’ or ‘dream job’, becoming an undervalued, underwhelming, undermined underachiever. Yesterday a couple two doors down got married; they had their reception on the back garden, which meant The Spice Girls at full volume was the soundtrack to my evening. I’d guess they’re in their fourties and Brit Pop holds some nostaglic value, transporting them back to that age of optimism that never quite delivered. This morning I was up early to walk the dog and noticed the ‘Just Married’ banner on their door and call me cynical, but I did mutter under my breath, ‘what a waste of money’. They had always seemed perfectly happy: him smoking at the front gate before his shift at B&M, while she locked up and got the car started. I give it a month before the resentment kicks in — before she starts to ask, ‘what kind of husband can’t even drive’?
While I am most defintely at the mature end of middle age, I cannot really put myself into either of these two categories. As with most aspects of life, I find myself questioning where exactly do I fit? I thought I was in the second camp, mostly because I live by routines; I’m a creature of habit, but recently I’ve found myself kicking habits quite by accident, in the way I sometimes kick the dog when she gets under my feet. Did I mention that last month I had builders in installing a damp course? Well, I was dreading this because it would mean several weeks of chaos and the thought that my fastidious cleaning regime would be impossible to maintain was almost unthinkable. The first couple of days were the worst; I clung to my customary need for order, bleaching the kitchen and bathroom, removing all trace of their muddy boots and hands; I cursed their casual disregard for tea towel etiquette, shaking out the balled up shroud which they insisted on cramming down the back of the towel rail and hanging it, lovingly to dry. They would move the kettle to the plug by the sink and I would replace it to its home next to the cooker. On the third day, things started to slide — it was my usual day for dusting and vacuuming the back bedroom, but what was the point? It was cluttered up with boxes of books and DVD’s. On the fourth day, I did change my bedding, but when it came to hoovering, the thought of getting down on my knees to reach underneath the bed seemed quite absurd. And so it went, my standards slipping day by day, until, in the end, I felt positively liberated. I’ve realised that the kettle never should have been under that work top in the first place, by the sink allows the steam to release much more feely. For three nights I was without internet as the plug sockets were all hanging off the walls; initially I was outraged — how dare they cut off my life support without even notifying me. I never could have imagined spending my evenings anywhere but on the sofa in front of the TV. Now I’m spending more and more time upstairs; it’s so much lighter and warmer and the bedroom walls aren’t covered in bare plaster. And I’m reading so much more.
It’s not only my domestic habits that have been transformed either. I have always vehemently rejected out of hand the idea of self-publishing; it was all about the recognition for me — I needed to be ‘discovered’. So I would routinely make time in any holiday from work to sift through lists of independent publishers, read their ‘About’ pages, buy books from their websites, and finally, send off emails or online submissions, knowing full well, the very best I could hope for was a rejection twelve weeks later telling me not to give up hope because ‘it just wasn’t quite the right fit for them’. A friend pointed out that with my determination (everything I ever put my mind to, I accomplish) self-publishing was a no-brainer. And I had an epiphany (or was it the beginning of my MLC?) Yes! I thought — she’s right! Didn’t I run all those half marathons? Didn’t I get my time down to sub two hours? Didn’t I finish the Robin Hood full marathon after three failed attempts to get a place in the London race? Didn’t I go back to college aged thirty and then on to Uni and am I not a qualified teacher? Didn’t I eventually walk away from that abusive narcisist of an ex and stay away for good this time? Didn’t I travel from Chang Rai down to Bangkok all on my own? And haven’t I written six novels?
And so, tentatively at first, I started to look into this self-publishing lark. I paid a Nigerian graphic designer I found on fiverr to create book covers for all my novels. Once these started to take shape, I could, for the first time, visualise my work in print. Next I signed up to Kindle Direct and started the ball rolling on getting my latest book out to a global audience. And although I have always been very skeptical of commodifying my writing, because I’ve always seen myself as ‘an artist’ and believed that commerce is the very antithesis of the creative process in much the same way that the MLC is the antithesis of settling down, I decided to … BUILD A BRAND. I chose a pen name (something I’ve toyed with for years), designed my website, set up social media pages with the terms ‘author’ and ‘writer’ in the profiles. I may be completely delusional, but I’m excited about something that isn’t a TV box set for the first time in years. Did the YouTube channel cross the line? Absolutely. Was that book trailer with the cut out figures coloured in with highlighters a DIY project too far? Most definitely. But at least I’m in charge and that feels pretty empowering.
They say, don’t they, change your name and change your fortune.? While I’m absolutley not superstitious (except when it comes to a certain black and white bird) I can’t help wondering if there is something in this because earlier this year, I did change my name by deed poll from Rachel to Rae. And with those three letters it would seem I’ve also shed some pretty unhelpful baggage as well.