Midlife is the brainchild of editors Sarah Chan and Jhenifer Pabillano. Learn more about its creation in their introductions to the book below.
2020 saw the world shift abruptly with COVID-19. Here in Canada we witnessed the pandemic spreading through Asia, then Europe, and eventually take hold here in North America. Various stages of lockdown and quarantine ensued amid political instability and a racial reckoning. Individually and collectively, we were challenged to adapt to new, shifting circumstances.
Inspired by a draft of Leanne Brown’s introduction to her next cookbook (she is featured in this anthology), I remembered that I too am a writer. In fact, a whole network of friends and I come from a background of student journalism from our time at the Gateway student newspaper at the University of Alberta in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Our time at the Gateway defined our lives in many ways.
I had an impulsive idea to write and create as a collective again. Following a call to Jhen Pabillano, a friend and former Gateway editor, we developed the concept further and pitched an anthology themed around midlife to our friends. The Gateway friends who still gather for dinner at holidays; who sleep over at my house; who I call to see when I travel. The pitch wasn’t to revive the Gateway—it was to reclaim ourselves as writers, with a conscious decision to ensure equal representation of female writers.
We arrived at Midlife. Pun intended. We were all faced with the untimely reconciling/reflection of our lives because of extraordinary COVID circumstances. We also added an unnervingly tight deadline, emulating the time pressures of past newspaper days. Midlife wisdom: if we were to draw it out, it would never get done. So we did it, from concept to printed anthology, in four months. A testament to the professional grown-ups driving this bus.
Through the process of creating Midlife, it became apparent that we were all craving connection, friendship, and community. Despite gainful employment and impressive achievements, imposter syndrome, questioning, fear, uncertainty, discomfort, and loneliness are consistent for all of us. That said, so are the curiosity, pursuit of purpose, and delight we have found in said connection and community.
I hope you will feel a kinship to these Midlife musings. If getting older has taught me anything, it’s that life’s journey feels both long and short, infinite and finite. From your highs to your lows to your many questions, rest assured that you are in good company. Certainly not alone.
When Sarah called, I had been thinking about midlife. I was (and am) very tired. I had (and still have) a full-time job, an overworked partner, two children, aging parents, and the pandemic to worry about. Barring any grievous changes, I had 30+ years of work ahead of me and a lifetime of family issues to handle, not to mention my own inevitable decline. Was this all there was—an endless series of middling problems to solve with ever-diminishing energy?
This was not original—one of the main realizations of midlife is that we all find we are ordinary humans with common problems. But there was nothing I could read about midlife in these exact circumstances, a moment that would never be repeated in the same way again. Has anyone gone through midlife when the online world dawned and transformed much of our lives? Has every generation felt a creeping fear of climate change growing in their souls? How many have been trapped with their thoughts on these issues during a pandemic?
I wanted intelligent, Canadian reflections on what was happening and what our thoughts for the future might be. And when I considered who I wanted to hear from, the friends I had met through the Gateway always sprang to mind. These were some of the sharpest, funniest, and most perceptive people I had ever met. What were they thinking? How were they navigating this life stage, at this moment in time?
So when Sarah called, I was more than ready. We moved fast and sadly couldn’t include everyone, but we rounded up a far-flung group through emails, Zoom meetings, and Slack channels. We were like Danny and Rusty in Ocean’s 11, calling on our band of thieves for one last heist. Some refused the call at first. But “could we do this?” soon became “how could we not do this?”
When we started, the works themselves were intended as gifts to each other. But the act of creating these works gave us another gift, demonstrating to each of us that we were more than the definitions loaded onto us by midlife. We remembered each other in our Gateway days and reminded ourselves that we still have what we had back then: curiosity, humour, and a willingness to try unusual things. And we are, after all this time, still intelligent observers and good writers.
Now we have assembled these words, the realizations we have come to, the things we have lost and found. It may have been a gift to each other, but now it is a gift for you, too. May you find comfort and joy here for midlife in the 2020s.
Copyright 2021 The Chan-Pabillano Initiative