Saturday, April 27, 2013

Grown Up. Ness.

I'm terrible with names. Of people, books, places, movie stars, TV shows, songs, bands, restaurants. What I am good at is keeping in mind chunks of detail - phrases, associations, memories, plot points, actors, structure. The internet is a boon for someone like me because I end up using these fragments to get to what should have been my starting point - the name of whatever it is I was thinking of and consequently, looking for.
 
A couple of weeks ago, I was thinking of a movie I'd recently watched and fallen a little bit in love with. It's called Beginners, stars Christopher Plummer, Ewan McGregor and an extremely adorable scruffy dog - a terrier, I think? My search for the name took me to a well-written, equal parts matter-of-fact and contemplative NY Times review. The article closed with the movie's rating and an explanation for the same, 'Beginners is rated R...Grown up language and feelings.'
 
Grown up language and feelings. What a lovely phrase. And, for the last two weeks I have been thinking over and over and over again - what exactly does it mean? What are the words and feelings that constitute being an adult?
 
The language part of the question is easier to answer. The 'grown up' part of a vocabulary includes, but is not limited to - curses, euphemisms, polysyllabic words, jargon, terms that signify everything and nothing and rightfully become the fodder for games of bullshit bingo,  the forbidding artillery of academia, isms, all the phrases that help dissemble, obfuscate and hedge bets. On the brighter side, there is potential for nuance, precision, beauty, wit and arguments well constructed.
 
The feelings part of the question is one that I'm still grappling with. There are reams of psychological, sociological and possibly even spiritual literature that address the question of the tipping point between childhood, adolescence and adulthood. This is tricky terrain, an area that experts and researchers can still only theorize about. I have nothing to draw on but my own experience and observations, and a sneaking conviction that children are not always the simpler and more innocent creatures we presume them to be.   
 
In my book, grown up feelings would include certain varieties of love and loss that need not be more acute than those experienced by children, but are possibly more specific. The love for a romantic partner. Lust. Loss. Regret. Resentment, which is more complicated and insidious than jealousy. Bitterness ensuing from repeated or emphatic disappointment. Resignation. Pervasive anxiety, born of the knowledge of factors beyond one's control - although childhood is also rife with its own worries, some of which cause children to mature far too soon.  A sense of acceptance. Pleasure in food, wine, single malts, art, fashion, performances. Joy derived from the excellence of another and also from one's own personal and professional accomplishments. The satisfaction inherent in identifying one's limitations and pushing past them. New (age-old) fears.
 
Is it easier being a child? Possibly, although the transition to adulthood now occurs early and abruptly. Children remain children very briefly, and their spontaneity, truthfulness, fearlessness and ability to embrace and delight in the moment pass all too quickly. Have you heard anyone between the ages of 6-10 speak recently? Their savvy, world weariness and self possession is disconcerting.
 
One of my newly minted theories about growing up is that it is a process of  acquiring the vocabulary with which to experience, discern and explain the world in a more sophisticated, complex way. Grown up words allows us to articulate grown up responses to situations, to feelings, to thoughts, to beliefs. This is both pleasurable, and painful. Is it possible and even desirable to dismantle this architecture, to regress to an imagined childhood simplicity? Can religion, faith and art harness verbal and ideological facility to elevate the spirit? Or do they merely end up complicating the simple and simplifying the complex? 
 
Aha. There we have it. Complicating the simple and simplifying the complex. My working definition of being a grown up.

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