I have decided to decide that there are various ways of growing up.
An instinctive and reasonable way of looking at ‘growing up’ is to see it as a sort of transformation. In ‘growing up’, a person is changing, becoming something else, and becoming something new and ‘other’. In conventional, connotational best-practice, a grown-up life might include the reality (or appearance) of restraint, responsibility and self-control. Such a life trajectory swings towards stability, maturity and relational stability (stability that is both relative and related to relationships). This is usually seen as a necessary and positive, even noble, thing; by embracing what I would like to call ‘serious living’, a person can open up their life to different modal avenues, experience important milestones (promotion/houses/marriage/births, etc.) and better relate to other ‘serious livers’, thus fitting into society more easily. By growing up, then, a person boldly sheds the nonsense of their past and of their childhood, creates a secure future (or the hope of one) for themselves and for those around them, and leaves skittish folly to their offspring or, perhaps, to their nostalgia.
And a person can thrive on this base-line of grown-upness. Life need not be too predictable if one is careful (careful enough to be spontaneous); one can keep room for different pursuits and interests if one is intentional with one’s time, and can have a wonderful life-story with all the trappings and scaffolding required for conventional confidence and social pride.
However, back to that skittish folly…
(Well, first, a brief interlude:)
A man I have had deep and important conversations with once told me something about myself, as though it were a casual, obvious fact, applicable to all, and as such, also to me. He said of me, quite simply, and matter-of-factly: ‘there is nothing to fix’. I imagine he has no idea how revelational and revolutional such a statement could possibly have been (or perhaps he knew perfectly well!). ‘Wait, WHAT?’ was my internal reaction to his words. Nothing to fix. Could it be true? What unthinkable relief, if so. This was his world view, in fact, and one I would like to adopt (and one which, when in the better version of myself, I have indeed begun to adopt). Around myself and the air around myself, I have positioned the words, cutting and sticking the breath in their atoms like dancing syllables around the art installation of which I am the central piece, moving them about, seeing how they look. There is nothing to fix. It’s a phrase that can make a person laugh out loud; after all this striving, this tension, this wanting to be different, this criticism of ourselves and of others; it’s all bollocks. Of course, it’s good to improve, to see short-comings in ourselves that we can re-configure, to identify behaviour that needs adjusting and which we can get a grip on, but the realisation that in any given moment we are exactly as we are meant to be (and so is everyone else) is both shocking and massively liberating.
Well then, here’s an idea: what if growing up isn’t about fixing yourself, but about honouring what you are all along, and learning to indulge without shame in deeply taking care of your own needs?
Perhaps one important part of growing up isn’t related to your public life at all. It isn’t the snippets of stabilising snapshots you put out there, for people to grip onto and understand, to orientate you by, filling in your blanks with their imagination; it isn’t that you are married, or not, or that you have grandchildren, or not; it’s something far more internal (and I am remembering now a discussion I had with someone just yesterday about introverted and extroverted expressions of self; what aspects of your true self you put yourself out there or not; “It is up to each person to recognize his or her true preferences.” – Isabel Briggs Myers, whose website states that ‘One person may feel very orderly/structured (J) on the inside, yet their outer life looks spontaneous and adaptable (P). Another person may feel very curious and open-ended (P) in their inner world, yet their outer life looks more structured or decided (J).’)
I propose that an important and often-neglected aspect of growing up comes out of a crucial self-awareness; it comes from the systematic knowledge of what makes you happy and what doesn’t, and blooms into practice via the application of that knowledge in real time.
It’s knowing what makes you feel good and what doesn’t; it’s knowing that going around with a nagging sense of doubt and anxiety which may be misdirected (maybe towards yourself) may be because you have neglected to do something quite simple (you haven’t messed about on the piano for four days), or that you feel on top of the world because you’ve done that thing that always makes you feel on top of the world (you spent a bit more time outside). It’s working out what your patterns are, and working with them. For my own part, I am a highly demanding individual but mostly in quite whimsical ways; that is, I require a lot to keep myself in good working order; to be specific, if I neglect one of five-million creative outlets that I’m interested in for more than three or four days at a time, I feel sad in an insidious way that doesn’t particularly identify itself as having an obvious cause (one of the worst kinds of sadness), and if this is left unchecked, I begin to accidentally hate myself and the world, quietly and glumly, without necessarily being able to articulate to myself what’s going on. This is clearly ridiculous, but it also isn’t; I’ve simply identified at this point what makes me happy and what doesn’t, thereby putting quite a hefty sort of power into my own hands in being able to make sure I remain in love with the world. God help me if I don’t listen to music for more than a day, or if I forget to use my voice around the house, or dance, or if I don’t write anything at all (etc.).
In a few conversations with friends recently, the same topic has crept up; this awareness that what most of us need is to connect with what we loved as children. If you loved splashing paint around aged five, it might make sense that you’d be happy doing something visual and hands-on as an adult, too… If you loved lining up your crayons in rainbow order (ahem!), maybe lining up your clothes in rainbow order as an adult will also give immense satisfaction… If you liked zooming toy cars around plastic garages and over rubber roads, maybe you should go and watch some Formula 1… If you liked being on your own as a child, or in quiet places, maybe working as a member of a huge team in a busy, high-stress work environment isn’t going to be a good plan… The point is, you know what you like when you’re little – when nothing seems too frivolous, ‘selfish’ is barely even a concept, and fun seems obvious.
To grow up properly, maybe we need to regress a bit.
My personal political manifesto that my best life will, in part, resemble a cross between some kind of bohemian ‘school of life’ and, well, playgroup (rife with mess and action and storytelling), may explain to an extent why I found myself, at the weekend, in festival mode, sitting in a teepee with sage infusing the air, while the rain pattered thickly onto the canvas (I think this is one of my favourite sensations in the world; rain on canvas while you are underneath, warm and cosy), telling a group of people about the recurring conversations I have had with the lion I often meet in my dreams, and how we have journeyed down into the centre of the earth together, all while an enthusiastic woman played a steady rhythm on a hand-held drum.
Almost unrelatedly, I am hoping to see myself soon in Alice Through The Looking Glass, Tim Burton’s sequel, released here on Fri. I shall be prancing around on screen in a corset and huge bustling skirt in London’s docks at the beginning of the film, when Alice returns from her travels (filmed in Gloucester with a huge paparazzi audience at the set consisting mainly of those desperate to catch a glimpse of the Depp-Meister). Maybe a dash of childish absurdity, then, is the way forward, and not just in terms of getting bigger and smaller and bigger again (a bit like the otter my friend spoke of in that same teepee at the weekend):
Quite so, and now for a cup of tea!