The restless middle.

It’s been a strange bit of time, lately. (Isn’t it always, though, in a way?) I often get the feeling these days of being stuck in between one thing and another, or of waiting for something, or of an itchy feeling like I’m ready to run. As though there’s a soundtrack playing music quietly that makes you feel that something is around the corner, not having revealed itself just yet. And you get antsy waiting for it. A heavy restlessness.

The restlessness has some apparent causes that I won’t get into here and now. But it’s such a pervasive feeling, almost like a physical sensation, that it refuses to be broken up by logic or planning. (In any event, planning and I are on a break.)

Rob Bell did a podcast about something like this: “An Anatomy of Restlessness.” He touches on all of it, the whole feeling that has been lurking at my shoulder for a while: the guilty feeling at not being satisfied even in the midst of such a lucky life. A gut feeling that “the cloud has moved.” A stirring like in the first days of creation. The difference between the forms (the material facts of life that surround us) and the spirit that animates them: even if the forms haven’t changed, and they used to satisfy, they may no longer, once the spirit has moved.

Rob has some questions that I found helpful, and you might too, if this restlessness thing is following you as well:

  • Is the restlessness calling me to do more, or to do less?
  • Do I need to walk farther into the thing (whole-ass it, as Ron Swanson might say), or step away?
  • Is it about accepting that the situation is fine, or is it about recognizing that it really isn’t good enough?
  • Is there another challenge to take on, or is rest calling?
  • Is it about new birth, or about doubling down on what already is?
  • Is it about finding a break, or finding continuity?

For me, the answer to a lot of those questions is: yes; both; sometimes. Do more, yes, but of the right things. Let the others go. Walk further into the right things; step away from the things that no longer fit. Take on the challenges that get me excited; walk away from the challenges that only cause the joyless stomach ache.

It feels a great deal like a trip through the middle. If I take a stroll to look around at the smattering of pieces that make up my life, I can tell that the kinks are getting worked out of a few of them. Others are marinading, not ready for prime time. Others are hopping along in their juvenile way, learning to ride their bikes. Others are extremely good at the routine, doing it so automatically that they forget how they got home in the evening. And so on. It’s not glamorous, and it has a way of sagging, just as the heavy middles of so many novels do, sandwiched unceremoniously between sparkling beginnings and ends.

But in novels as in life, I might be better off to lean into it, to give the middle a bit of a sense of character. Give it a pizzazz all its own. Welcome it in. Because it’s a piece of the life, too. The restlessness, the middle, all of it, every day, forms the whole. Some day this, too, may be a joy to recall.

This morning, I took a moment to write down all the changes for the better that have happened in the last year: all the successes, learnings, adventures, small and large joys. Damn, what a year. It still feels like the middle. Just a little sparklier.

“But then time came for us too. We weren’t who we used to be but we also weren’t who we would be next, either. There was this awful in between. And we had to stay in it for so long.”

Welcome to Night Vale,” episode 152

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