Sunday, March 4, 2012

Musing: "We're grown-ups now, and it's our turn to decide what that means."

Thank you, friends who read XKCD. I was partway through writing this before I remembered this comic and how utterly perfect it was for my line of thinking.

I was sitting on my back steps today, blowing bubbles and crunching through candy in the sunshine, and thinking about childhood again.

One of the major themes in one of the books I read my senior year of high school (Brideshead Revisted by Evelyn Waugh, in case you're interested) was a second childhood in the midst of adulthood.

(I shall briefly Google and see if I can find the quote for you)
(This might be it. I know it's one of the ones I was thinking of.)

"In the event, that Easter vacation formed a short stretch of level road in the precipitous descent of which Jasper warned me. Descent or ascent? It seems to me that I grew younger daily with each adult habit that I acquired. I had lived a lonely childhood […]. Now, that summer term with Sebastian, it seemed as though I was being given a brief spell of what I had never known, a happy childhood, and though its toys were silk shirts and liqueurs and cigars and its naughtiness high in the catalogue of grave sins, there was something of nursery freshness about us that fell little short of the joy of innocence." (1.2.18)

This isn't exactly what I mean, but some of it is there.

I may be utterly mistaken, my darling audience, but I feel like I've aged a lot in the last couple of years. The shining indolence of adolescence is behind me, and now I have to find my place in the adult world. Which is, by the way, an utter myth and a joke.

That's not my point, though.

My point here, as much as I have one, is that life ages you according to experience, and eventually, I think you have to make a choice: to live as a grownup, aged and serious and jaded, or to stay a child.

And by child, I hope you realize I don't mean being childish.

I spend a lot of time around children, and I've noticed repeatedly while laughing at their antics that I could learn a lot from them. Somehow, when people grow up, they forget that it's alright to be joyful and exuberant and ebullient. They lose the wonder and openness of childhood.

I find that the harder and more complicated my life gets as I enter adulthood, the more I survive by remaining child-like.

Yes, this is possibly psychological regression, but that's fine. I didn't want your help building my blanket fort anyway!

Yes o.o

The moments I can think of that I've been the happiest or most peaceful are those that I'm probably behaving very much like a six year old. Playing on the playground in the snow, blowing bubbles, twirling in my ginormous skirt, singing my delight over an unexpected brownie, etc.

I've been told by multiple people that I have this mysterious way of finding pleasure in stupid little things (give me a mountain dew and a bag of sour gummy worms, and all is well in the world), and it's not that I do it intentionally, it's simply that stupid things make me happy the same way that they did when I was little. It might just be that I've grown much more Epicurean (that sounds better than hedonistic, right?) in recent years, but I think if you wait to be happy for the huge things, you'll be waiting a long time, and there'll be a lot of missed opportunities.

Bubbles pop, yes, but they're shiny and pretty and awesome, and they feel insane when I pop them every single time, regardless of how old I am. Things don't have to be permanent to be valuable.

I'm talking about retaining the freshness of youth without the ignorance and pettiness children constantly exhibit. I think the only way to make growing older tolerable is to hold on the purer joys of being alive. Without caring about looking ridiculous.

Have you ever watched a small child run? They look absolutely absurd, but they also usually have a look of utter rapture. When was the last time you saw someone over about twelve with a look like that over something simple?

The world doesn't get less amazing, guys. We just get acclimated and take it for granted, and by the time you really notice that, it's often to late to change.

(5/9/12) UPDATE:
I wanted to add this excerpt from The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer. I'm rereading it, and I love this quote from the main character, Harold Winslow.

"When I was a child, I used to look at adults half with confusion, half with envy, trying and failing to imagine the nature of the mysteries to which they'd been initiated, the pleasures they were keeping to themselves. Have you ever watched the swings of moods that toddlers go though, the way they act as if they're attending their own funeral of the axle falls off a favored toy car, or the rapturous expressions that show up on their faces when they suck on sweet things? Though the memory's fading, I can still remember feeling like that, and I thought being an adult would be even more like that--that the emotions that make us human got more intense the older you grew. Even at the age of ten, simple surprise gifts could be enough to make me feel like my heart and my brain were both about to burst. I couldn't imagine how people even survived to the age of twenty when such pleasures were lying in wait, out in the world.

But that hasn't turned out to be what happened--instead, my own father tells me that he thinks I'm turning into tin. Something inside of me is dying, and I don't know what to do to save it; something inside me is slipping away, and somehow me memories of what you were as a child have come to stand in for all the things I want to keep alive inside myself and don't know how."