Last week I introduced my End of an Era series: here. Mostly what I'll be talking about is how everything ends and it's sort of the worst and sort of the best, and Part I is all about teenagehood.
"I'm seventeen and I'm crazy. My uncle says the two always go together. When people ask your age, he said, always say seventeen and insane."
-Clarisse, Fahrenheit 451
My birthday was about 4 months ago, and suddenly I'm 20-years-old which means that after seven years of idealism and romanticism and recklessness and danger, I've finally run out of teenagerism.
The world is super obsessed with teenagers and I think it's because we recognize that teenagers are sort of half-fey magical creatures of evil and beauty, and that their wonder and alien-ness and lightning-fast metabolisms are all bound to wilt and fade with age until they become ~regular adult humans~, which is boring and highly non-magical.
Part of the beauty of teenagehood is that it's so ugly. It's all zitty and noisy and sticky and painful, everything is unmanageable and hormonal and overwhelming. It's so full of everything. And it's impossible to replicate or to preserve. That's important. Teenagehood exists for a few glorious, too-bright years, but then it's gone. Transience is a really seductive thing.
Another part of teenagerism that's really infatuating is the in-between-ness of it all. You're old enough to do grown up things like get a part-time job or read Proust or borrow the Honda on the weekend, but you're still young enough that nobody really holds you accountable for anything. You're allowed to be both a child and an adult at once; the teenage years are so paradoxical and I love it. That said, I certainly don't believe that my years as a teenager were the "best years of my life" by any means---it terrifies me when people say things like that---but being a teenager was really important to me. Teenagers can get away with anything---violence, stupidity, lust, depression, laziness, love, cruelty---because they're young and hormonal and passionate. Nobody expects teenagers to be level-headed and diplomatic and smart. Mostly teenagers are expected to be slobby and pervy and bitchy, and everyone is kind of fine with it.
Furthermore, teenagers are given everything. Teens are supposed to be "finding themselves," so they kind of have free rein of the world: the arts are at their disposal and they're encouraged to create, they're encouraged to experiment and find what they love to do, they go to school to learn about whatever they want, there are clubs and committees and organizations filled with empowered youth, they're taking dance classes and guitar lessons and playing tennis, they're arguing about politics and religion and fair-trade coffee, they're blogging about fashion and poetry, they're in boy bands, they're Tweeting, they're Instagramming, they're going to the mall and reading both Sarah Dessen and William Faulkner and they're learning about meiosis and drinking Mountain Dew and putting on lipgloss and staying up all night, they have strong, limber, velvet-skinned bodies to run and dance and have sex with. IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL. YOU GUYS, IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL.
I'm so afraid to "grow up" because adults really aren't allowed to be reckless and dangerous and romantic. You grow up, and suddenly creativity is childish, it's a waste of time, it's a hindrance. Growing up in 2014 America is all about Success! and Power! and Money! and Starting a Family! and Taxes! and Dieting! and Wearing Sensible Shoes! Even though I don't feel like I'm getting any older, numbers matter in the world and the distance between 19 and 20 is a chasm.
ii. High School
I was never really the quintessential teenager from Disney Channel movies and YA novels: I didn't go to many football games or school dances, I wasn't on student council or debate team or the cheerleading squad, I didn't have a high school boyfriend or an eating disorder, I didn't really rebel against my parents or get a bellybutton ring or a tattoo. Instead, I chain-read Wasteland comics and Tom Robbins novels on the stairs during lunch, I went to Postmodernist feminist colloquiums and argued with my health teacher about contraceptives in high school, I walked around the forest at night looking for ghosts and werewolves with Katie and Zack, I wrote little cartoons about cyborg ninja grrrrls and viking biker gangs, I told the girls next door that I was a mermaid looking for a boyfriend to take back to Atlantis with me, I wore silver lipstick, I Googled fire ants endlessly, I went to the library on the weekend and checked out guides on lucid dreaming, I avoided everybody.
On the other hand, I was 100% pure Teen Grrrl: I painted my fingernails with purple glitter, I went out for burritos and crinkle-cut fries at 2 AM with my friends, I watched Gossip Girl and argued with my mom and had crushes on boys and went to concerts in the park and got A's on essays and took Tylenol for cramps.
I was owlish and standoffish and cynical, obsessed with teenage culture but uninterested in actively participating in it. I could never really figure out how to identify with average teens, I had such a hard time talking to people my own age because I was so nauseated by small talk, but we never wanted to really talk about any of the same things. I could never figure out what everyone else cared about (it sure wasn't Sailor Moon or Alphonse Mucha or the hibernation habits of bears), so I was a talented observer but never really an insider. Still, high school was where I met some of my best friends and did some of my best work and formed important opinions that I still have. High school graduation freaked me out because it wasn't just high school itself that was ending, it was the person I'd gotten used to being in high school, it was all my habits and rituals and routines---putting on makeup in the girl's bathroom because I always woke up late, doing Creative Writing assignments on Sunday nights, passing out newspapers to the art hall with Kaitlyn, trying to distract Mr. Vawdrey with Portal or Zelda in AP Stats, going late to French class and being lectured about taking off my earphones, drawing comics about the Periodic Table in Chemistry, writing in the Boy Book on the bleachers with Kait, walking home from the bus stop with the elementary school kids and getting their advice about boys---it was familiarity and comfort that I was losing. That was hard.
On the last day of high school, Kaitlyn and I walked around touching the lockers and sitting on the steps in front of the auditorium and saying embarrassing things like, "This is the last time I'll ever sit on these steps as a high schooler" or "this is the last time I'll ever drink boxed chocolate milk as a high schooler." We could feel the End of our high school Era happening, and even though we certainly didn't want to stay at Lone Peak High School for another second, it had been this big factor in determining our lives for three years and suddenly it was about to be taken from us and the high school Era would be over. It was sad. Ends of Eras, even when they're good, are sometimes sad.
iii. Peter Pan Syndrome
I'm a little bit worried that I'll be stunted as a teenager forever because my whole entire personality is based on the hallmark teenage characteristics: I'm hyperemotional and vaguely misanthropic, I'm irresponsible, lazy, obsessive and self-obsessed, sarcastic, gossipy, pouty, antagonistic, self-righteous. As a teenager, my big, messy personality was sort of permitted by the laws of hormones and the movie Clueless. So I'm worried for what will happen when I'm still naive and starry-eyed as a 20-year-old, or as a 30-year-old, or as a 65-year-old. Will I actually grow out of my PMS-iness and somehow become level-headed and docile and calm and easygoing? That seems unrealistic, and moreover, depressing. I may be furious and devastated and morose 90% of the time, but the brief rays of psycho-joyfulness and euphoria seem worth it. I'm not interested in apathy. I'm not interested in composure. I want GLITTER and I want FASCINATION and I want LOVE and I want DEVASTATION and I want GORE and I want MAGIC.
"Something's bubblin' up inside your holy head."