Once upon a time, there was a little girl who never wanted to grow up.
Peter: Would they send me to school?
Peter: And to an office?
Wendy: I suppose so.
Peter: Soon I shall be a man. (Teasing.) You can’t catch me and make me a man.
Peter: (Very seriously.) I want always to be a boy and have fun.
Wendy: That is your biggest pretend.*
The little girl wanted to stay seven years old forever because being a grown-up meant there was something everyone called “life” beyond childhood. As far as she could tell, “life” consisted of having to wear boring clothes, pay boring bills and do boring things like…going to the country club and sitting around listening to other grown-ups talking about boring things like “the stock market” or “mortgages” and other assorted boring subjects. (This ominiscent narrator has realised that she’s just betrayed exactly how upper-middle class the little girl’s upbringing was.)
Of course, that little girl is me. And yes, I know that “life” does not consist of health insurance and rent and being a paper shepherd in an office and that in fact, those “boring” things are only a fraction of what “life” really is. Hell, even as a seven-year-old, I had responsibilities to concern myself with: homework, chores, washing up, etc. “Life” has a duality to it: the routine, mundane everyday bits that include getting a paycheck and doing your laundry by yourself, as well as fun and adventures and play.
Except I’m finding the duality a little harder to hold on to these days, especially the playtime bits. It’s not that I don’t have adventures or enjoy myself, but each day, little by little, I feel my childhood slip away from me. God, listen to me, I’m only twenty-one years old and I’m talking about my “youth” as if I weren’t still living it. And perhaps I miss the golden days of elementary school precisely because I was acutely aware at that time and at that moment that it would be fleeting. Maybe I first got the idea from Disneyland, not in a marketed animated movie bildungsroman sort of way, but from the amusement park itself. I used to come home after a day at Disneyland, knowing I had felt fantastic, I had felt good (I didn’t have it then, but now I have the vocabulary to say that I was probably high), and distinctly felt disappointed in myself that I hadn’t enjoyed it more when I was at the park, in the moment, on the rides. So, the next time I went to Disneyland, I promised myself to live with a fierce sort of consciousness, to be aware of exactly how the space between my ribs, the hollows behind my eyes and the weird negative space between the arch of my foot and my ankle felt on the downward coast of a thrill ride because I wouldn’t be able to recreate it once I got off; I could only remember it.
I didn’t articulate it like that when I was seven, of course.
Life was simpler back then. (All of ten years ago.) It was. Emotions were vastly less complicated and pleasures were pure and unadulterated. Look at that word: unADULTerated. My life has become adulterated now, in every sense of the world. This isn’t a bad thing. There are a lot of brilliant and wonderful aspects to being a “grown-up” now. Like sex. Orgasms. Independence. Subtlety. The license to build and acquire pieces of my world that I like and the freedom to dispose of those I don’t. And love. Puppy love is enchanting, but it’s so vastly different from adult love.**
I think love is curious, because at least for myself, it is simultaneously so very much more complicated and so very much more simple than I thought it was. I remember falling in love with Teddy Bear for the first time back in London and the giddyness I felt was so reminiscent of Sunday morning breakfasts when I was nine, when summer sunlight was so tangible and happiness was little tingles running up my spine to burst excitedly at the base of my brain. That’s what I miss; as a child I used to fall in love with everything: a ride in a shopping cart while helping my mother choose groceries in a Korean market after church was contained as much joy as hearing Teddy Bear say “I love you” for the first time.***
When does that stop? When does “wide-eyed wonder” cease? People say it doesn’t and that’s certainly true, but the moment I became an “adolescent” things changed. I was probably about eleven or twelve when it came to that first Christmas morning I didn’t feel those ticklish sparkles cradling that place where my head met my neck. That’s really when daemons start to change shape less and less and are well on their way to becoming fixed.
The concept of “daemons” from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is really and truly BRILLIANT. They are physical manifestations of the soul, the part of us that shapes us individually, the aspect that falls in love, they represent the nature of play and about a billion other facets I haven’t yet discovered. Forget metaphor; daemons are allegory. The nature of play is to be practice for adulthood; little wolf-pups perform mock battles with each other to establish dominance and little girls play house to become future wives. (Apparently this means I’m only cut out to be a pirate, a warrior-princess or a seal.) We as children try on different shapes and lives for ourselves the same way a daemon shapechanges into various animals. Yesterday I was a rockstar, today I am an impoverished bohemian and tomorrow I will be a powerful businesswoman. Except it looks like “businesswoman” is my daemon’s final form and I’m not entirely sure I like that. Not that I don’t like what I do and I don’t find business and finance actually interesting (to my very great surprise), but I miss the luxury of changing my personality when I wanted to and playing with lives that aren’t mine.
(For the five hundred millionth time: WHY? WHY DIDN’T I WRITE HIS DARK MATERIALS? THIS WAS THE BOOK I SHOULD HAVE WRITTEN. AN ALLEGORY FOR GROWING UP? HELLO? ME!!!!! GAAAAAH!!!!!)
To Think Coffee tonight, I think. (Haha, think. Yeah, I’m easily amused like that.) No more sitting around in the apartment, eating, not moving, and getting fat. (I just saw a picture of myself taken at my Lou Reed Girlfriend‘s birthday get-together by her friend Dov and I thought: Oh my god, that is a blimp staring back at me.) Screw winter. Screw the fact that it’s snowing right now and about six degrees outside. (Spring, where art thou?) Be active. Remind me, be active.
Wherein lie all the footnotes or How I speak in parentheses or Why speech is limited in ways text is not.
- I may be martyred/murdered/stoned for heresy for saying this but: I find the 2003 film version of Peter Pan vastly superior to any version of the story I’ve seen before, on stage, on film and even (gasp!) in the source novel. Of course, I need to qualify that and state that each medium has its limits and the particular way a story is conveyed needs to be adapted to suit its possibilities and shortcomings (this is a habit I’ve developed as an English major; I can no longer simply said that I liked something or disliked it just because it appealed to me because everything needs to be supported by an objective argument). Perhaps it’s because I’m a visual person, and the media of film and graphic novels seem to be my preferred ones, but the lovely subtleties and nuances of the realisation of what being an adult means were so perfectly rendered onscreen. Like that beautiful fairy dance, where it was just play for Peter, but real for Wendy. SO AMAZING.
- Like Chester, I dislike the term “puppy love” because it’s pejorative and depreciative. As he said, “It implies that the love one feels as a child is somehow less than the love one has as an adult.” His response was to bring up a 8oz. drink vs. a Super-Gulp drink metaphor to illustrate the difference in capacity, perhaps also depth, but I think “childhood love” and “adult love” is more like a “hidden painting,” where there’s a picture that can be viewed and taken at face value, but when you look at it longer, you realise that suddenly the two lovers form a skull or the old hag is also a young woman. That is to say, love is all one concept, but our ability to see it and understand it fully takes time.
- The curious thing is, they say the parts of our brain that fire when we are in the first throes of love are identical to the parts that fire when we’re high on cocaine. This is yet another reason I should probably stay away from coke.
- Also, this can be interpreted as “childhood is like being addicted to cocaine” by some. (Namely me.)