Category Trail

Girl pondering in field

BEGIN EXCERPT So, how's everything else going?

Cathy V

As well as can be expected. Let's see... first off, the truck made it! And with minimal difficulties, no less. Of course, it did guzzle two + quarts of motor oil on the way out here, sputter after three hours of continuous use,
and lose the right windshield wiper, but hey! you have to expect these things.

The first leg of my trip was a Massachusetts / family & friends visit.  Things are copacetic back home.  My parents finally sold off their house and moved to Mason, NH, where they live in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE.  It's one of those places which takes a half hour to get to no matter how close you are to it...  Powell (my brother) has found a new flame after a series of random playthings.  The two are living together in my brother's house, so I think things are becoming serious.  Vivian (my sister) is doing fine; her job as an air traffic controller basically consumes her life.  Friends are doing okay (though they are each, in their own fashion, enmeshed in this small town).

The next leg was the Maryland visit.  Besides visiting your mom I saw the Denney's, a family I met on the cruise ship and kept in e-mail contact with.  I had dinner over their place one night, and spent the next day at the Simithsonian with Daniel (the son).  I think that, after a full day of careful exploration, I convered about 3% of the Smithsonian.  Damn that place is huge!  The last day was spent in quiet contemplation (namely, reading the puzzles book that was out on your dresser.  :-)

Right now I'm back in Mass, visiting some more people, though I think I'll take Sunday off (almost a Biblical reference there...).  Two days until I really start the whole IDA experience... we'll see how things turn out.  BTW, let me apologize in advance for any e-mail delays you may experience with me over the summer... I'm working off modems now, through other people's accounts, and I don't know whether I'll have any type of convenient access at the IDA.  

Keep smiling!  ;-)

Also, I'm supposed to ask you about the subject of feeling comfortable thinking about oneself as an adult rather than a kid. Apparently you've been thinking about this as well?

Indeed I have.  Okay, here's the backdrop.  The first week of the SCAMP program a pool party was held at the director's house.  It was basically an opportunity for people to get together and shmooze, and also for the long-term staff to scope out the SCAMPers.  Anyway, a lot of people have families and they brought their kids; most of the kids were teenagers.  

Because at that point people were still unfamiliar with each other, there were white rectangular stickers on which you could write your name.  In a moment of whimsy, I wrote "Peter Pan" on my nametag.  (This is a whole other story, by the way.  It turns out it led to a number of interesting observations, like the exact time people get around to looking at other people's nametags, how uncomfortable some people are not knowing other people's names, etc.)  

Anyway, I went to the party dressed in swim trunks, since it was advertised as a pool party.  However, most of the adults came in normal clothing => they never intended to get in the pool.  In striking contrast, all of the children took a dip at some point or another.  I was talking with an older gentleman, Norman Howes (a great guy, by the way) and he was commenting on how, when he was younger he used to love swimming but now he had lost the enthusiasm for it.  This struck a chord with me because I too was a water fanantic when I was younger, and I had seemingly no desire to get wet.

It was at that point a number of joint revelations came to me.  On a social level, there were two separate parties occuring.  The children and adults, though occupying most of the same space time coordinates, were engaging in two, almost disjoint, cultural interactions.  The adults' world was mostly inaccessible to the children, and they were uninterested in the youngsters' world.  Furthermore, there was a significant set of social pressures to conform to one group or another; there was a 16-17 year old girl for whom I had considerable pity, as she forced herself to sit at a table and follow the adults' discussion, but she longingly gazed at the playful antics of the younger children.  

I realized I stood on the edge of a large precipice.  As a (precocious) youth I had often noted the blind spot of adults to children.  In some ways it was helpful (it allowed me to pull off a number of stunts) but it other ways it was a detriment (since most adults instantly discount anything a child says).  [As an aside, it was during my childhood days that I vowed to listen to each person's ideas on their own merits, and not color them by the speakers age, education, etc.]  And a precipice it was, because once you've fallen from the high ground of childhood into the pit of adulthood, you can never climb back up.  :-)

Of course, I'm not saying that adulthood is a bad or even undesirable thing.  But people often mistake maturity for growth, adulthood for responsibility, and disillusionment for enlightenment.  Certainly these are associated... but they are not the same.  In a similar fashion, people assume that adulthood must be the abnegation of childhood, but there is a large difference between things childish and childlike (the latter containing desirable and even beneficial aspects of youth).  

So I asked myself, how do I want to live?  Do I fully embrace adulthood and leave childhood behind?  Do I cling to youth despite the obvious advance of years?  Both options had merit... and both seemed equally undesirable.  In a moment of ephiphany I realized I had never wanted to follow *either* course, not when I was younger, nor now when I was older.  As a child I never wanted to become an "adult" (if it meant ignoring children), nor did I want to stay an ineffective "child".  And now, as an adult I didn't want a regression to childhood (which was impossible anyway), but neither did I want to accept adulthood with all its flaws.

Still uncertain as to what I should do, I decided that I should first reacquiant myself with the aspects of youth.  So, I mosied on over to the children's group and joined them.  After the initial "shock" had subsided (An adult is coming over here.  Did we do something wrong?  What does he want us to do?) I was able to connect with them.  I talked with them.  I played with them.  Soon everyone was having a grand old time (and despite not getting in the pool, I still got quite wet from all the water games  :-)  I also got some strange stares from some adults.  A few were wondering what the hell I was up to; one concerned father thought I was hitting on his 15 year old daughter; still others ignored me as they would anything which acted like a child.

The party flew by, and everyone went their separate ways.  On the drive home I decided that none of the traditional paths were suitable for me, so I was (once again) forced to forge my own.  After much other cogitation (which I will spare you) I have decided that I will think of myself and call myself a "young adult".  It has just the right connotations of what I want to achieve.  Namely, someone who is poised on the edge between both worlds, accepted by both but belonging to neither.  But I must remain vigilant to prevent the almost automatic social transformation from "young adult" to "adult"...

As far as being comfortable with my maturity goes, I think I first became aware of no longer feeling like a kid when woke up early on a Saturday morning with nothing to do for the first time in years, eagerly turned on the TV, and realized that none of the cartoons interested me. It then occurred to me that I don't like playing with dolls much either. I tucked these thought in to the back of my head to let them simmer for a while.

I don't remember how long they sat there, but a significant amount of time later I was discussing with someone what sort of guys I am attracted to and I realized that I have a bit of a problem with guys who are completely immature, but I am also not attracted to guys who have all the trappings of maturity. I also realized that I saw a widening gulf in experience, insight, and emotional competence between, for instance, the average incoming freshman and myself.

It was a big day in my life when I realized that I was looking for a woman instead of a girl, too.  Maybe what I'm really looking for is a "young lady"...  :-)

These aren't the only ways I've changed, but for me they are what makes me more grown up than kid.  I'd rather be me than the old me,

Heh, heh, heh.  I can see that you are taking ambiguity lessons.  I assume you mean rather be me than the [previous] me ?

Curiosity -- what defines being a young adult and an adult for you? You referred to some of the things which people associate with childhood and adulthood and that you felt as though you fit into neither, but you never described what these words mean to you, or, more importantly, what are the defining qualities associated with these states.

I haven't really formed a full-fledged prescription of what a "young adult" is.  However, I do have a good idea of some of the things which would define it.  For a long time I've felt that people cast away their childhood too readily, seeing only the negative aspects to being a child as opposed to the positive.  So, for example, being childish entails:

  • Capriciousness, in the sense of fickleness, a lack of focus
  • Selfishness, in the sense of "My way!" "Mine!"
  • Emotion, in the sense of tantrums
  • Inexperience, in the sense of "Do this for me!"

to name a few.  But those same qualities can also be childlike:

  • Capriciousness, in the sense of spontaneity
  • Self-interest, in the sense of honest evaluation of need
  • Emotion, in the sense of empathy, connection
  • Inexperience, in the sense of constant learning

Furthermore, there are other childlike qualities that are clearly non-adult:

  • Curiousity, in the sense of that everything is new and wonderful
  • Enthusiasm, in the sense of extended focused energy
  • Seeing, looking at something for what it is, not what you expect

So, I would say that my vision of a young adult would at the least encompass all of these things, i.e.
  young adult = childlike + !childish
There would be specific counters to cull the positive aspects of childlike behavior while avoiding the negative of childish...

  • Responsibility (to avoid the capriciousness above)
  • Altruism & Generosity (to avoid the selfishness)

... but also to avoid the negative overcompensations of adulthood.

  • Emotional rejuvention (i.e. the most emotionally stable function is a constant, something to be avoided.  Mood swings are good in moderation).
  • Avoidance of arrogance (i.e. I've been doing this for longer than you've been alive, you whippersnapper!)

The lists go on and on.  In particular, there is the whole genre of adult ossifications which a young adult should *not* be.  I think that, given time, I could probably carve out a good definition this way, but my philosophy of doing things like this is more holistic.  I'm looking for a science and not a technology.  I'd rather sum up what a "young adult" is through a few fundamental precepts with wide spectrum of applications than to simply define its values on the spectrum.  (This allows a greater flexibility when encountering new situations... and it's easier to remember, too.  :-)

Alas, I do not yet have this "essence de youth".  




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