I’m driving from Pittsburgh to New Orleans because I might be having a midlife crisis. This is stupid, mind you. Not the driving to New Orleans, which is always a good idea, but the midlife crisis. I’m 39, I’ve published a bunch of novels, I’m an associate professor who’s recently earned tenure, and I’ve just been granted a one-year sabbatical.
I’m told I have it all.
And yet, the day before, I’d been sitting in my house, staring at my calendar and panicking. I’m out of contract and I want to write something new, something challenging. But I’m ricocheting between a half dozen ideas, none of which feel right. I’ve also been struggling, post-tenure, with the idea that I have no more ladder left to climb. What am I supposed to do with myself, now that I can do whatever I want?
As if by fate, I stumble across the perfect writing class in a city I love with a passion. I’ve always been terrified of writing personal narrative — of exposing my vulnerable underbelly. As someone who can’t resist a challenge, this means I’ve become obsessed with writing it.
Conveniently, New Orleans is close to an old friend, who has very recently become more than a friend. That said, it’s complicated, and not in the ironic sense. There’s the distance, his recent divorce, and our demanding careers anchoring us in our respective cities. I’m not even sure he’ll be able to see me, because he’s got a huge work event and I pulled this cockamamie scheme out of the air yesterday.
I tell myself I’m doing this for the writing course and not for him. It’s not entirely delusional. After all, I’ve built my life’s sundae on career and creativity, and romantic relationships are the cherry on top I often have to forgo. Sometimes I’m sad about this, but I can usually distract myself with book deadlines or stacks of papers to grade.
To keep from ruminating while driving, I call my friend Loren, who I met my freshman year in college.
“Hey Kiki,” she answers, using her nickname for me. I tell her I’m somewhere in Tennessee, and why, but…