A Broad View: Your mountain is waiting

Posted inCreative Voices

“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

By the time you read this, I will have completed my first week of college in more than twenty years. I’m turning 45 in a few months, firmly ensconced in mid-life. I don’t need college. Shit, I’m the mom who tells her kids they don’t need college. If they want it, they can have it, but I am certainly not espousing the compulsive college claptrap I heard growing up: If you earn a degree, job opportunities offering six-figure salaries will magically appear!

“You do your thing,” I tell my kids. “If that involves college, cool. If not, that’s cool, too. College isn’t for everyone, and a diploma is not the golden ticket to success I was told it was. It all depends on what you want to do and how you define success,” I say, emphasizing the “you” part, vocally bolding the word in service of inspiring within my offspring a wealth of self-determination and whatnot.

I don’t even mention the student loan abomination that chews into the bank accounts of legions of college grads now commandeering Starbucks counters. Magna Cum Latte, baby. Maybe it won’t be a thing when my kids hit college-age. I wouldn’t count on it, though.

As it turns out, I want to be a therapist in my middle-age, and that’s one of those things that requires a college diploma.

Before COVID, I was just starting to feel like an oldster at AccuWeather, where I’ve worked as a journalist for nearly a decade. We’ve been remote for two years now, so those day-to-day interactions wherein your thirty-something co-worker reveals they’ve never seen Seinfeld, or looks confused when you quote Bender from The Breakfast Club, haven’t served to remind me that whilst I may still feel like I’m in the game, to them I’m a decrepit Boomer.

Gen X, Older Millennial, Xennial, the difference is negligible. To Gen Zers we’re all Boomers. There was the time I tried to convince a group of interns that yes, I really did have to pay ten cents per text message but also? When I was your age, I carried around a pager and when it went off, I had to find this thing called a payphone and put a quarter into it so I could call the number that appeared on the tiny screen.

“Like those things they give you at restaurants that buzz when your table is ready?” one asked adorably. I may as well have been my grandma waxing poetic about a rotary phone.

So yeah, I was headed back to a place I had last been when I carried a pager in my pocket and said things like, ‘“My sociology professor is hella cool, NOT!” and “Dude, I am SO PSYCHED for the Pearl Jam concert!”

I don’t even know what Gen Z talks like, mostly because they don’t talk, they text.

I’ve been a journalist for more than twenty years, first in local news in Salt Lake City and then at ABC 7 in New York City, where I once had to tell Barbara Walters through her earpiece to wrap it up, she was going too long. It wasn’t so much the authoritative “WRAP!” I’d use on Bob Evans from Fox 13 in Salt Lake City as it was a timid “wrap?” I mean, who wraps Barbara Walters? As far as I’m concerned, Barbara gonna finish when Barbara is done, mmmkay?

I liked producing newscasts but it’s intense, stressful work. Each day consists of battling a deadline, and then at the end of your shift you head into a control room, put on headphones to coordinate anchors and reporters through an hour of live TV, and you must keep them on time down to the second. Fuck up and millions of viewers will see your mistake which, if bad or good enough, depending on whether you’re the viewer or me, will be uploaded to the foreverness of the internet. It is not for the faint of heart.

Last year, AccuWeather was down a few producers during COVID so I filled in for a 6-month stint and realized that kind of daily infusion of adrenaline is no longer my jam. Neither is management or any version of clawing up a corporate ladder. I prefer interviewing people and the quiet solitude of turning their stories into video stories for the network and online articles. Suffice it to say, I enjoy creating the content, not producing it. Telling other people’s stories is interesting work and I could do it well into my retirement years.

Still. Something was missing. Maybe my body was jonesing for the ol’ adrenaline jolt producing newcasts juiced my system with, after all.

I decided maybe I’d take a few classes at a local university. Just for kicks, nothing degree-minded, I told myself. Maybe some women’s studies courses. Gender and sexuality. I’ve always loved philosophy and history. I just wanted to goose my brain and see what’s what in academia in this millennium.

I’ve long harbored a fascination with Buddhism, awareness, and consciousness. It saved me from myself during a life crisis a couple years ago. My private guru list is long and varied. Sweet Thich Nhat Hanh guided me to Eckhart Tolle, whose work sent me to Adyashanti, who propelled me to the delightful Alan Watts, and then Sam Harris, a neuroscientist with a Buddhist background, who got me all hopped up on cognitive functions, which inspired eight months of sobriety over the past two years and sent me into a psychology kick that led me straight to Carl Jung’s doorstep.

To my surprise, Jung mentions Buddhism in conjunction with psychological insight enough to show that he believed checking out its tenets should be taken seriously in the study and understanding of the mind. Jung was not religious and neither am I. I fancy myself a secular Buddhist at most, and view it as more of a philosophy of self-discovery, not so much a religion.

As a recovering Mormon, I am excessively wary of all organized religions and abhor ceremony, ritual, or anything that whiffs of worship, including bowing to the Buddha himself. Like Jesus, he was just a dude. A seemingly super-smart, way cool dude who delighted in helping others but, like, chill with the supernatural, religious shit, man. The bible was written by a bunch of men how many years ago? Take the useful metaphors if you must but toss the rest.

Jung had a way of cutting through the excessive mystification inherent in any religion, including Buddhism, to reveal the true developmental nature of the teachings. Essentially, Buddhism can help facilitate an epic journey of self-discovery through mind development. Or mind deconstruction, depending on how you look at it. Buddhism plus psychology with a dollop of philosophy? Yes, please.

When my Jung world collided with my Buddhist world, the resulting shrapnel hit me squarely in the pre-frontal cortex: I want to be a therapist. For women. Of all ages.

That was how on Monday, French-kissing the age of 45, nervous as hell, worried about whether my jeans were in style because who can keep up, I found myself headed back to school.

Do I bring my laptop? I’ve never taken lecture notes on a laptop. Is that how the kids do it now? What about a notepad? How does it work?

You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.

25 minutes early, of course, I skulked around the classroom door like a robber casing a bank. No one was there yet, so I figured I’d casually hang out and wait for others to arrive before slipping in and taking a seat in the back. With five minutes until class time and no one, not even a teacher, anywhere to be seen, my first-day jitters ticked a notch closer to panic. Are kids this late these days? Sweat collected around my bra underwire as the time for class to begin came and went, and there wasn’t a soul in the hall.

I aborted my mission, ran for the safety of my minivan, and opened my computer. What was I missing? Where was everyone?

Five minutes of frantic typing in an attempt to get into an account that required a password that I had in a separate account and password reset fuckery later, I discovered my folly. Apparently, an email had been sent to the new college address I’d been assigned and had neglected to check in between dealing with old transcripts, admissions, work emails, Slack messages, personal emails, kids’ Seesaw and Classroom Dogo messages.

“First week of classes will be conducted on Zoom.”

My face was a greasy sheen of sweat as I logged onto Zoom from behind the steering wheel of my dirty minivan, carefully angling the camera so no one could tell that I was the Boomer dumbass who showed up to class 25 minutes early and was now Zooming 15 minutes late from the parking lot.

Henry had been the last one to use my computer, Zooming with friends while Robloxing, so I was logged in as HenFish4577 or whatever until I had the presence of mind to rename myself.

Finally, 30 minutes into class, Monica Danielle was present and accounted for. Not the auspicious start I’d been dreaming of, but a start nonetheless, and as a thousand internet quotes in a variety of fonts photoshopped onto sunrise landscapes will tell you, starting is the hardest part.

You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So… get on your way!

This essay was originally published on Monica Danielle’s blog, A Broad View, a real-time memoir about starting over in mid-life. You can keep up with her work here, or join her community at Substack.