Meekly, I wade into middle-age melancholia

I’ve felt my age a lot this year. It goes beyond the pain in my arthritic knees or other physical foibles brought on by age. Every day I discover something I thought was solid has turned to liquid and I’m drowning in uncertainty.

The words of the late Joan Didion haunt me; in the preface “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” the author wrote she “had been paralyzed by the conviction that writing was an irrelevant act, that the world as I had understood it no longer existed.”

This echoes in my bones and blood.

I struggle with fits of what I have come to call “inertia.”

This is not a medical term as far as I know. I just can’t move. I don’t move. My brain screams at me to move, but my body refuses.

Sometimes I sit on the edge of my bed with my feet on the floor and all I need to do is stand up, yet I don’t.

I am overwhelmed and underwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed by all that can still go wrong. I am still a novice teacher. I worry all the time that I’m a slip away from being unemployed.

My bosses assured me this is not the case. My mentors tell me the first year of teaching is hell no matter your age.

But I come from corporate America, where they really were out to get you — not you, personally, but you as in your salary and benefits.

In corporate America, you are a line item on a spreadsheet. Most corporations are run by greedy hustlers and shakedown artists. They are not creative enough to come up with good strategies or innovations to make their companies better.

So, they get shifty and cut jobs to make it look like they’re sound managers of the stockholder’s money.

Meanwhile, the products they make get worse and worse and the customers’ complaints become Hamlet’s “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Anger sneaks up on me. The other day a friend casually mentioned a weather story they saw in a corporation I used to work for.

I snapped at my friend. I did not want to hear anything about what that business was doing or publishing, who was employed there, or who wasn’t.

The ferocity of my response surprised me. I thought I had processed those emotions. I thought I made my peace with the fact that the time in my life when I supported myself as a writer had passed.

God bless the Marion County Express, for my friend Steve Woodhouse still allows me a place to publish my words in print. That is a salve to a wound much deeper than I thought.

I don’t mean to dismiss my new life as a teacher. I challenge myself in ways journalism never did. I like it. Some days I even love it. And other days I want to go out the back door, get in my van, and never return.

That’s good, I think. I don’t think you can do jobs like writing and teaching unless they upset you sometimes. Frustration is the brain’s way of reminding you that you want to do the job right.

Still, I burn. I had more stories to tell. More bylines to earn.

I knew I would lose that job someday. I knew when I got laid off in 2008. I looked over my shoulder for 12 years, always expecting the call to tell me I was finished.

It came, and despite all the worry and preparation, it hurt. It still hurts.

My therapist tells me that “forgive and forget” is overrated, at least in the cheap greeting card way people throw it around.

Somethings will always hurt, he says, and that’s OK.

I know this much: the anger does not hurt as much as my knees on a cold day, and both can be eased with a couple acetaminophen, a glass of tea, and a Johnny Carson rerun.

Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney is a Marion County Gazette columnist.

Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.


  1. Ng says:

    I am glad you still write. I enjoy your writing immensely. Your paragraphs are a salve to my wounds because I know I am not alone in my suffering. Thank you


  2. Deb says:

    Inertia: most powerful force in the universe.


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