Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Longing for Adulthood

When I was about seven years old, I wept anguished tears over the fact that, one day, I was going to grow up. The recollection is clear. I wailed and gnashed my teeth as my mother made bootless attempts at consolation.

What could she say? It's not as if this was a ghost in the basement or closet monster. The passage of time is not a fiction. She couldn't very well say, "Now, darling, that won't ever happen to you."

There is every justification in the world for a child to be terrified of growing up. Adults are presented as the walking dead or unfeeling oppressors in most children's books and movies. If there is a savior to come, it is usually in the form of the children's own untapped ingenuity or aid from a grown-up who managed to retain their childlike wonder. (But those people were always sort of melancholy in the end, weren't they? Having seen their lives pass them by, helping the children out of some pickle is their last ditch to cheat the Big Clock.)

Through the hysterical pleas, Death never played a title role in my anxiety. My fear was that I wouldn't know "How to Do It", how to be responsible for things. Who would feed me? Where would I live? I terrorized myself with visions of Dickensian poverty, bare feet, tin cup in hand.

I don't know how I escaped this dread-fueled eddy, but eventually I did. Perhaps I passed out.

Afterwards, I began to look forward to growing up, to the freedom of making my own choices, to learning "How to Do It."

I'm 35 now (middle way through my 36th year) and for the last five years I've grappled with the idea of what it means to be an adult. I am also more exasperated at my generation's desperate grasps to remain children.

There is a pervasive fetishization of childhood as the Elysian period, the salad days when we wanted for nothing and were free to express ourselves without consequence. Passion and pain, agony and ecstasy were the order for the day and what a thrill ride it was!

Adults try to recreate that lauded bygone era by rediscovering the "inner child". Announcing that they will live each moment to its fullest regardless of what anyone else thinks, wearing forced innocence on Elmo tee shirt sleeves in defiance of the coming grey hairs, aching joints and ennui.

Jeez. What a bummer, yo.

The thing is, these bids to remain in a state of childlike exuberance feel more and more cloying. To exist in the fleeting realm of childhood is painful and narcissistic. Children HAVE to have a little narcissism as they are growing up - it's like a downy spotted coat on a deer. That dominant sense of self is what keeps them alive to a degree, it helps to develop perspectives and fend off competition for affection or food.

We grow out of this, though, and the world changes us, for better or worse.

And thank God, really. There are moments of incredible joy and excitement in childhood. Do we forget, though, our own petulance and the intense moments of tedium, selfishness and boredom?

This clutching at childhood as the apotheosis of self fulfillment stinks of fear. Fear of Death, sure, but even worse, fear of being ignored. Fear of irrelevance. The 30-45 year old set is suffering a massive mid-life crisis, as we are shoved over the cliff of marketable demographics.

I'm not talking about owning and playing video games, reading comic books, or even buying some Red Hot Rod. Go. For. It. If it is something that gives you pleasure, enjoy yourself.

On the other end of this is the dour and scolding face of old world Grown-Up-Hood - the twisted child of "Father Knows Best" and cultural reinforcements that wag their fingers and yoke us with words like "Obligation" and "Responsibility". This is no time for fun and games. This is time to get serious. Hide those tattoos and pay your societal dues.

A House + A Car + A Pet + A Baby = Adulthood.

Some folks yearn for this, and are trained for it their entire lives. The unpredictability of youth is stored in the hope chest upstairs and only remembered on occasion...after a few sips of the good Scotch.

This is also stultifying.

But does it exist? Do either of these extremes actually exist? How do I live as an adult? Though forced Myopic Childish Exultation or Forbidding Grown Up Sense of Duty?

Neither. And Both.

If anything is crazy making, it's the longing for an absolute and final arrival into this world. I am troubled by resolutions and the tug of war between the Child and the Adult. You might not feel this directly, but we can look around and see evidence of it in our advertising, in our entertainment. Icons that support a cultural unease with age and identity.

Discovery does not end at the age of 25. Sure, the discoveries might come fewer and farther between...but it's not like we're discovering that we shouldn't eat Pine-Sol. There is never a time when we won't discover something new to like or dislike, something intricate, frustrating, or enticing about other people.

I will certainly die. And I will certainly fall in and out of relevance as I age.

There will never be a time without Tedium or Failure. There will also never be a time without Passion or Excitement. And taking responsibility for the Tediums and Passions might be the most grown up thing a body can do.

1 comment:

S. E. Johnson said...

"If anything is crazy making, it's the longing for an absolute and final arrival into this world."

Magnificent, yo.

Add to Technorati Favorites