Sunday, April 6, 2014

Being a Teenager

This is a guest post by my 17 year old daughter Emma 

"Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behaviour. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry."

– J.D Salinger (The Catcher in the Rye)

When I stepped over the precipice of innocence into adolescence, into the supposedly terrific and terrifying teenage years, during which (if one believes ‘Little MissSunshineI was to acquire all the suffering that would shape whoever I turned out to be, I had certain preconceptions that have proven mostly, wildly inaccurate.

Firstly, I believed that I would become cool. If anything, I have become less cool, enmeshed in the claws of Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek and Doctor Who. Secondly, I believed that I would become corrosive and irrational. Instead, I maintain fluid diplomatic relations with my family. Thirdly, I believed that by the end of it I would know precisely who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. Of all my widely inaccurate expectations, that was pretty high on the delusional scale.

At some point in the past two years, I reached the terrifying conclusion that I have one life; one chance to do everything right, and it was absolutely terrifying. My teenage years haven’t given me one iota of wisdom about myself. I could tell you about the Cold War and The Beats Generation of artists and writers in New York City, but when I’m asked to say two things about myself I am rendered uncharacteristically speechless. I think that most people my age feel more or less the same way, and while it’s comforting not to be utterly alone, it doesn’t exactly help.

I believe that there’s a myth about adolescence as being uncoordinated and illiterate when it is anything but that. It’s during these years that we must make the choices that determine the rest of our lives, and that’s a lot of pressure to put on sixteen-year old shoulders. It’s a swirly whirly vortex of different ideas. We struggle with religion, with consensus, with sexuality, with the very foundations of our moral system, and yet at the same time we’re expected to learn things about maths and geography.

I’ve catapulted between cynicism and idealism and then challenged the basis of these categorisations; I’ve changed my mind about what I believe in dozens of times. I’ve wondered about God and been more than a little horrified by the crimesof those who came before me. I’ve read a thousand books; I’ve thought a thousand different and contradictory things. Honestly, I feel like an old woman already.

I’ve also memorised Pythagoras’s Theorem, learned how to motivate imaginary employees, and sat bewildered by the difference between diverging and converging plate boundaries. I am a person constantly in flux, but while I’m at it why shouldn’t I decide what to do with the rest of my one single precious life?

Being a teenager is hard. It’s one of the most difficult thingyou’ll ever go through. It’s so hard that some people don’t make it to the other side. All the same, it’s a brilliant time. It’s like when you’re on a rollercoaster and you’re slowly edging up to this massive height and your stomach is sick, you feel like you’re going to fall out and smash into a million pieces as people look on while eating peanuts and candyfloss. But, once you get to the top there’s a relieved, exhilarated sort of excitement slamming your heart against your chest. In the end, the triumph of reaching that giddy height is worth the slow and painful ascent.

I suppose that being young is simultaneously the worst and best fate imaginable. You’ll look back with nostalgia to your legging-wearing, Adidas-sporting days, but there isn’t enough money in the Western economy to persuade you to do it over. You’ll be terrified that, no matter how badly you did it the first time around, you might mess everything up even more spectacularly if given a second chance.

Even if I don’t reckon I’ll ever settle definitively on the one thing I want to spend my life doing, by the end of my teenage years I think I’ll have an idea, a murky inkling I can somehow grope my way to. It isn’t anything as concrete as a career name, but a dim sense of something indescribable. I think that one day I’ll take a blind step down the road of my life and it’ll feel like I’m finally headed in the right direction. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.


Copyright:  Emma Tobin 

April 2014 

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