From the outside it looks steady.
It looks resolved. Sitting heavily in a chair, with settled opinions and stodgy shoes—there’s something unbudgeable about the middle-aged person. The young are dewy and volatile; the old are toppling into fragility. But the middle-aged hold their ground. There’s a kind of magnetism to this solidity, this dowdy poise, this impressively median state.
But on the inside … You’re in deep flux. A second puberty, almost. Inflammations, precarious accelerations. Dysmorphic shock in the bathroom mirror: Jesus, who is that? Strange new acts of grooming are suddenly necessary. Maybe you’ve survived a bout of something serious; you probably have a couple of fussy little private afflictions. You need ointment. It feels like a character flaw. Maybe it is a character flaw.
For all this, though, you are weirdly and unwontedly calm, like someone riding a bicycle without using his hands. You’re not an apprentice adult anymore. You’re through the disorientation period, the Talking Heads moment—“And you may find yourself in a beautiful house / With a beautiful wife / And you may ask yourself / Well, how did I get here?” You’re through the angst and the panic attacks. You don’t yet have the wild license of old age, when you can write gnarly, scandalous poems like Frederick Seidel, or tell an interviewer—as The Who’s Pete Townshend recently did—that “it’s too late to give a fuck.” But you’re more free. The stuff that used to obsess you, those grinding circular thoughts—they’ve worn themselves out. You know yourself, quite well by now. Life has introduced you to your shadow; you’ve met your dark double, and with a bit of luck the two of you have made your accommodations. You know your friends. You love your friends, and you tell them.