Friday, August 24, 2007

My failed attempt at a midlife crisis

I’ve been writing nonfiction books for a long time – and after 12 years and $1/2 million in gross sales, it finally dawned on me that something wasn’t right about it.

You see, since I make much of my living as a writer, the advances and royalties for each of my books have always gone into the general fund, to pay for things like heating bills, dental appointments and kitty litter. But one night, it struck me that while writing books was something I did in my quote-unquote spare time, I’ve never done anything substantial to reward myself for it.

So, I hatched a plot. The next time I got a contract for a book, I would get something I always wanted: a white Ford Mustang. Something where, every time I slipped behind the wheel, I would go, “ahh, I earned this by writing a great book”. Soon I was explaining to my spouse of nearly 30 years that since I already had a trophy wife, I needed this car to have a proper midlife crisis, and she enthusiastically agreed.

So over the past week, I got some great news: word of a two-book deal from Amacom for my latest projects, one a book of humorous business fables, and the other a new project on the psychology of giving people feedback (more about that later). After a suitable celebration, I did the math: after tithing to charity, taking care of the IRS, and doing something nice for my sweetie, I could afford a couple of years of payments on the car of my dreams. So off I went to the Ford dealer, with trade-in estimates, pricing figures, and a big smile on my face.

It turned out they had the perfect car for me: a white former rental, equipped exactly as I wanted, for a great price. So I got behind the wheel, took it on a test drive, and loved every minute of it, until it dawned on me: I was getting a headache.

I flashed back to two years ago, when I rented a Mustang convertible for my 50th birthday. I loved the car, but all that weekend I had an eyestrain headache from what I felt was a distorted windshield – so much so that I reported it as a defect when I returned to the rental counter. I was hoping this was just a problem with one car, but unfortunately not. Mustangs have very short, curved windshields, I am an old fogey who has astigmatism and wears bifocals, and for some reason the two of us don’t get along.

Not quite willing to give up, I decided to rent a Mustang for one last gasp to try to make it work. I would adjust my seat, wear different glasses, whatever. I *wanted* this car. When I shared this with the salesperson – a great guy at a great dealership – he checked with his management and graciously loaned me the car I was considering for the evening.

So off I drove, bound and determined. I raised my seat. I lowered my seat. I wore my old “driving glasses” without the bifocals. I tried to stare straight ahead and avoid the curved parts of the windshield. No use. Splitting headache. Finally I found something that sort of helped – looking off to the side periodically. But soon I discovered that (a) it’s a really, really good idea to look straight ahead while you are driving, and (b) now my neck was bothering me.

So, I lost this round. The midlife crisis will have to wait. But in the meantime, at least I’m getting the opportunity to publish a couple of really great books – stay tuned!