Every now and then someone will ask me, “Hey Farai, what are you up to these days?” Sometimes they’re fans of my former radio show or tv work, or people who know me professionally, or friends. And my answer used to be a long description of all the work I was doing, or work I thought I would do next, or, generally, anything work related.
This is a picture of me jumping off a 30 foot high diving platform in a lake in a volcanic crater in Guatemala. I took two and a half weeks of Spanish lessons (NYC’s “Snowpocalypse” cut into my time away) and got a good jumpstart into taking more lessons at home. I also acted totally goofy. I mean, I was in a backpacker-heavy town and while a handful of the students were older than me, most were in their 20s, and there is nothing better for a midlife crisis than being around 24 year-olds who are like, “I am SOOOO OOOOOLD” and just getting a good laugh off of that.
I got to live with a Guatemalan family (and make them laugh with my horrible Spanish), eat fresh handmade tortillas and sinus-clearing chiles every day; take day trips to different cities; do some kayaking. I spent New Year’s dancing exuberantly to bad live reggae on a rooftop while fireworks exploded over the lake, hanging with an incredible group of people from dozens of countries. I got chased by feral dogs and braved some sketchy toilets. I had one huge backpack, which took me 3 days to pack because I wanted to bring EVERYTHING in my house. But I packed frugally (I thought) and realized by the end of the trip that I’d still brought too much stuff.
There was a business aspect to my trip, in that I know with surety that speaking Spanish will add to my ability to be a reporter, writer, and observer of the changes in America and the world. But I’m also in full-on, unabashed midlife crisis mode. Since I lost my job two years ago, I have learned so much about myself in every way. I made a conscious decision not to go back to a full time job right away, and while it’s not been easy at times it was by far the best decision I could have made. I spent a month at a fitness camp; went on a booktour for my novel; raised money for a reporting project (and learned, once again, just how little I enjoy raising money); drove through Arizona and Florida reporting on the tough times and tensions in this country; and also started a process of structured spiritual reflection with a wise, wonderful guide. It’s scary at times to go “offroading” in life. Our culture is structured so that getting promotions and amassing objects gets you kudos. Hopping off the beaten path gets you the side eye.
The reality is that I have more work than ever, much of it more private than public. The most public and exciting parts of my work are with the Colin Powell Center at City College, where I am a Leader in Residence. I’m helping students coordinate a March 16 conference on social media and social change… more on that soon. And I’ve also got a TV pitch into PBS, “It’s All Relative with Farai Chideya,” partnering with NOLA and with Lion TV. I’m looking at ways to fund additional radio broadcasts with Pop and Politics. I realize you can’t do everything, although I often try.
That’s part of my journey. A wise colleague once said to me, “Do less.” That’s a tough one for a workaholic like me, but our strange and challenging times have helped me relax a bit. Getting laid off took me from Plan A (i.e., full time job = master plan) to Plan B (find new full time job, and thus new master plan), and now I’m sort of at plan Z… the willingness to acknowledge I don’t have a master plan, and that’s okay. The more I talk to friends and colleagues, the more I realize that a lot of us are on Plan Z, which requires the patience to wait for and seize opportunity rather than pitching a bitch when things don’t go quite as planned. I may go back into a full-time job, to which there are many advantages (I say gritting my teeth paying another quarterly healthcare bill), but it makes me happy that I have more perspective on the tradeoff required by all forms of work, for self or others.
Many of my friends are around my age, in our early 40s, mas o menos, and we were like those racing greyhounds who sprinted out of the gate fast and made good time. Now, as we see more of the cycle of life, including loved ones’ illnesses and death, and the birth and growth of children, living well seems to mean more than accomplishing another goal. It means figuring out how to live morally, with an open heart, and to balance the need to aid others with your own needs.
So here’s to midlife crises; jumping off of high objects; and taking metaphorical leaps. Here’s to the folks you meet on the road and the friends who’ve had your back for years. Here’s to life in all its glory, even the sour that makes the sweet.
Here’s to a damned good 2011, and more.