I have to admit to myself that very little of my life has gone according to plan. It would be comforting to claim that this has been for the best. But it has been, such that this is now.

I find myself circling back to old desires that were somehow discarded along the way – like a dream where you are traveling with a baby and then suddenly you’re not. There’s no panic, no regret, just wonder: I wonder how that slipped away so quietly.

Things never look entirely the same when one returns to a place stamped in memory. Buildings are smaller, people are less attractive – or more so. A novel we remember as almost finished is a half-page of notes.

“I want to be a fireman” is an hour’s deep impression, not a long path through childhood. I’m not expressing an original thought when I say that significance warps our perception of time.

The common advice for rekindling a sense of desire is to try to remember what you enjoyed doing when you were younger. What you were doing when time seemed to fly by. But I think the problem is that our memories are biased. We remember what is reinforced. What is stamped in our memories under personal or cultural pressure.

In the past months, I’ve been sorting through notebooks and computer files. So many times I’ve stumbled over declarations and confessions that I don’t remember writing. Poems and outlines for projects that are so like soft-boned babies that somehow slipped away in a dream. These are flashes of desire. The signposts of paths not taken.

Yet.

Where I come from, the words most highly valued are those spoken from the heart, unpremeditated and unrehearsed.
LESLIE MARMON SILKO

Maybe the greatest privilege of this time of my life is the time to circle back. There is a roundness that comes with age, a natural and new returning like a second orbit with a slightly different perspective. And a slightly different perspective can change everything.

A decade ago I left a thousand and one eggs on a blog with the same name. I’d forgotten about them. These things – now uglier and more beautiful than I’d understood. These flashes of desire that I recognize as genuine.

I have a plan to circle back.

These days I’m under far less pressure and I’m excited by
the rough roundness of eggs,
the ugliness of hatchlings –
the fearlessness of flight.

I have been wanting a sea change. Craving one, actually.

Watching for signs from my body: what causes stress, what releases it. I’m trying to carve pockets into the days to focus on intentional redirection.

But this time there can be no packing up and moving house. There’s no new job, no new relationship, no new discovery of a foreign country. This time things are different. It will take more effort. It will mean more deliberate choices.

I read an article yesterday that related the findings of Norwegian scientists who claim that people lose their drive (which they defined as the combination of grit and passion) at the age of 54. Decline, they call it. And have several suggestions to prevent it from happening. God forbid we lose our competitive edge.

I am 54.

I have long thought that the idea that people “slow down” in terms of curiosity or ambition is absurd. I think this because I have been teaching teenagers for over 20 years and know that there is a huge part of my modest sampling of the human population who are pushed through life: life happens to them. You are pushed to graduate from school, find a career, start a family, etc. Then there comes a time when nothing comes on its own. There’s no next predetermined rung on the ladder that society is pushing you up.

Believe me: society stops pushing you up. Your family no longer has set milestones for you. No expectations. Neither do employers, communities, researchers.

I believe the men and women running marathons and swimming the English Channel at the age of 70 are the same people who were pulling themselves up all along. The minority perhaps. And who knows, I may discover that I’m not even among them. Maybe this is when all is revealed: what in me is intrinsic, and what is contextual.

There are so many factors not taken into consideration when people draw conclusions about “grit and passion” and aging. There is a wisdom that comes at mid-life that can alter the appearance of grit – and temper passion, knowing the price it can demand.

Sometimes there’s a realization that your bluster and arguments – no matter how clever – will not change anyone’s mind at the dinner table. You are a storm in your own teacup.

Sometimes we realize that neither our victories nor our failures rearing our children really made any difference with regard to their victories or failures.

Sometimes we realize that all that applause we thought would fill us, doesn’t. All the spinning of the wheels isn’t getting us anywhere.

Just as countries measure their production and profit – not their sustenance – we as individuals measure our “wins”, not our contentment. So much so that contentment is not only undervalued, it is disdained. Maybe ambition changes into something we refuse to recognize. Something that looks less like profit.

Maybe we observe history being forgotten and realize that there is value in every present moment and that betting the now against a legacy is a strange act of an even stranger faith.

I’ve been craving a sea change and am trying to find a spell.
A narrow creek. An eye of newt.
A single branch of knotted pine.
Five silent terns, and a hooded gull’s cry.

It is a private act. This conjuring.
This particular ambition.