I said this was going to be the next blog entry. And lo, it is.
I’m not going to link to the AO Scott essay, not because I don’t want it to get hits but because a) I don’t care and b) I’m lazy, and I closed that tab hours ago. But this started because someone else linked to the essay, and I read through it and rolled my eyes out of their sockets, put it back in, muttered imprecations about how this fear that men will stop being Men, leading to the death of maturity (and presumably implying that women are immature and overwrought, which is hilarious because so many of these essays are overwrought) and the downfall of civilization as we know it.
I read, I bitched, I sighed, I rolled my eyes, and then I went on to do other more interesting things. Like trimming my toenails.
But something did stick with me, mostly in the form of Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and C.S. Lewis quotes, which I give to you here, respectively:
Adults are just obsolete children and the hell with them.
Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.
So, there you go, in case you were wondering. I thought of this, and then I thought of all of my friends who, in the midst of doing taxes or filing paperwork on a house or a car or some such, or bringing in contractors, or selling a house, or moving, getting a job, dealing with losing a job, filing for unemployment or health insurance. I thought of all of them and how often I hear the rallying cry of “How do I adult?”
You don’t. Not really.
I studied history. I studied anthropology. Did you know, and perhaps you did because this information is widely circulated now, that adolescence was a created phase beyond the mere fact of physical and hormonal changes? Ascribing a set term of years to it where you could make mistakes without the consequences an adult would face is a separate concept that has sprung up, and there have been lots of times when a person simply went from childhood to adulthood on their whatever-eth birthday. We still do it, though we pretend we don’t. When you’re 17, you’re expected to do stupid things, drive too fast, eat unhealthy foods, make poor dating decisions (but always good sexual decisions, for some reason) and generally live without fear. When you’re 18, you’re expected to decide on a college or get a job, and choose the career path that your life will take from then on. Presumably involving a house, a partner, and kids. Does anything happen in that year that would make this an easier decision? Not really, no. Not physically, our bodies don’t actually stop maturing till we’re in our early twenties. Certainly not as a result of any experience American or, as far as I know, any other society gives us. We learn how to make good decisions by making bad ones, and that takes a hell of a lot longer than 18 years for some people. For others, it doesn’t even take that long.
So, what is this, the “death of adulthood”? What is adulthood? I submit that it is a myth that we could damn well do without. A lot of people spend a lot of their lives being miserable over what it means to be an adult and whether or not they are complying with some ever-changing set of strictures. Some people tack the word “responsible” in front of it, as though that legitimizes imposing a concept onto others that in many cases eliminates frivolity, whim or impulse, and deprecates emotional satisfaction as being least important of one’s priorities. Personally, I think the world would be just as well off if we focused on responsibility and left off the adult part, but clearly that means I’m immature and childish. Or something.
Adulthood is a myth that needs to die. It puts the emphasis on an arbitrary age, set of obligations, and mode of behavior and thinking and feeling, and I don’t know about you but I don’t much care for the idea of someone else taking it on themselves to police what I think and feel. If we’re meant to All Be Adults Here, what does that even mean? Does it mean responsibility? Why can’t we just say, let’s all be responsible people. Does it mean compassion and listening skills? Then why not say, let’s all listen attentively and with compassion? Children can have responsibility too, we give them pets to teach them about responsibility, we encourage (or some of us at least encourage) them to develop listening skills and to have compassion. Does this mean that when they’re magically 18, suddenly those efforts matter, and they didn’t before? That does a lot of very mature children a great disservice. Is the compassion two girls showed when they gave the Homecoming title and its accompanying social status to their much-mocked friend somehow less because they’re not legal adults? Do we actually care about this?
Legal adulthood is a useful tool, I’m not saying it isn’t, because it gives us a guideline by which we can set laws, regulate behavior for the safety and improvement of society. It also gives young people some sort of structure as they make mistakes and learn about themselves and the world around them, and that’s also good for developing humans. But this notion that you have to stop being a child, or being childlike, when you become An Adult is ridiculously stringent, and held by ridiculously strident people, and it’s damaging. It’s vastly, painfully damaging to people who constantly want to Be An Adult and who, in a crisis, still want to call home and have Mama tell them it’s going to be okay.
Full Disclosure: I totally call home and whine to my Mom. A couple three months ago when I had an electrical fire and the boyfriend was working long hours and I think going away for the weekend, and something horrible had happened in the country, and work was overwhelming, and my dentist had found cavities and scheduled me for fillings, and I called home and whined to my Mom. And then I felt better. Shocking, that.
No one came and arrested me for violating the terms of my adulthood. The house did not burn down. My teeth did not fall out. The world did not end because I called home and sobbed to my mother. But I did feel better.
I had brownies for breakfast the other day, too. Because my boyfriend came home from work and wanted brownies, so I ate brownies with him. Being legally independent, living under your own charge, in your own home, with your own kitchen and with no one responsible for your dietary habits but yourself, that means you get to eat the occasional brownie for breakfast if you want to.
I’m sure people like AO Scott, or even Homer, people like that who lament the death of adulthood (usually inextricably linked with the death of patriarchy and Real Men) would have lamented that brownie. They would be sad that I watch cartoons some mornings, or read Harry Potter, or listen to Sesame Street records now and again. They would lament that I wander around the house without pants Like A Toddler, and that I don’t make my bed (oh lordy that argument), and that I occasionally make baby talk or throw pretend tantrums at my boyfriend. Who does the same to me. Hell, they’re probably in the camp that thinks he and I should long since have gotten married. To this I say “Eh. Too lazy can’t be bothered.” and also “None of your damn business.” But I am unmarried and have no children and sit on the couch in my underwear and t-shirt and eat ice cream and watch cartoons, and therefore I am immature and not really an adult. You know what I also do? Pay taxes. Pay my bills on time. Hire electricians. Show up on time at my job and leave, well, a little late these days. I even cook healthy meals most of the time and keep a clean house, with an equitable division of labor with the boy. These are actions of responsibility, not adulthood. I purchased medical insurance, have no student loans (!!!), and I suppose I could pay off my credit card debt in a lump sum but I’d much rather grow my savings and pay it off incrementally. I have investments. It doesn’t get much more Arcane and Adult than having investments. Multiple! I did this in order to be prepared for the future, because preparing for the future is sensible. It is not, however, the sole purview of the mysterious creature known as the Adult.
How do I adult? However the fuck I want to. As should you.