Getting Older

 

Over Thanksgiving Break, I turned nineteen, and I spent the day driving through my hometown, searching for the small, mundane sights that make me love the city. I found a Lowell quote etched onto a Lincoln memorial, Kenyon following me everywhere. I photographed the willow tree where I wrote my first real poem. I visited the church where I illegally parked in high school (and, okay, sometimes still do), with Padre Pio as its protector, the patron saint of adolescence. I sat with the statue of a shark-headed girl next to an ice rink, a public art installation about femininity, anxiety, and recovery.  At an indie bookstore, I bought a collection of mythologies, and I couldn’t help but feel the day, maybe even the year, was my own mythology, both real and not real, somehow surreal, hyperreal.

Songs about turning nineteen always seem to say it feels bold and fearless, a complete embrace of everything, and especially of all emotion and ambition: Lorde’s “I’m nineteen and I’m on fire,” Hamilton’s “only nineteen but my mind is older,” The Summer Set’s “fighting the weekend war… forever nineteen somehow,” Bay Faction’s “so alive but so left out until now, I’m cruising.” There’s this expectation that youth means freedom and life itself, loud and full. Mostly, possibility: so much possibility you could run your fingers through it, throw it away.

And the flipside of this view, the unspoken secret buried beneath it, is that with age comes a loss of that possibility. Defining the process of “growing up” for a table of friends during finals week, I said, “In essence, it means making choices that preclude other choices. You move somewhere. You pick a career. You probably marry someone, and it’s probably monogamous. Your options for movement and change become limited. You lose something.”

 

 

Admittedly, I cried at turning nineteen and suddenly having less than a year of teenagedom left. Turning twenty terrifies me. Becoming an adult and finding myself unable to balance the wide disparity of interests I can have at Kenyon, the infinite options (I can still take whatever classes I want, join new clubs, study abroad for kicks, suddenly shift any path), terrifies me.

But maybe this is too simple. Driving through the city, I found myself not only remembering but redefining what I saw, how new experiences and (inherently with that) age linked these scenes in new ways. I knew more about the artist of the shark-headed statue now, and her own college experience in Athens, Ohio, less than two hours from mine. I drove and stopped at will how I never could have in high school. I decided to pierce the inside of my ear simply because I wanted to (how I really never could have in high school), and on the first weekend back after Thanksgiving break, in Columbus with friends, I did. This wasn’t just a historical mythology but an ongoing one, the process of a life.

 

 

At the turn into 2019, I made a resolution to do at least one thing a day that pushes the edge of what I consider comfortable, maybe as small as texting someone back when I’ve been putting the message aside, maybe showing someone a poem I wrote when I usually don’t share, maybe spontaneously taking someone to the park at midnight and watching the stars through my car’s sunroof. I decided to keep a list in my notebook, and to start the collection, I added a quote from Marina Keegan’s essay “The Opposite of Loneliness,” written when she was an undergraduate: “When we came to [college], there was this sense of possibility. This immense and indefinable potential energy--and it’s easy to feel like that’s slipped away. We never had to choose and suddenly we’ve had to… What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical… We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.”

In the weeks since I turned nineteen, I narrowed my choices, tightened the possibilities for my future self. I firmly decided on a major, then a minor. I started more directly planning a summer internship, thinking of an ultimate career. And, despite the loss of certain options--let’s be real, I’m never going to med school--I found other options I hadn’t before considered open, and within each option a myriad of subsets, new excitements and comforts and still so much possibility to personalize and make my own. Maybe aging doesn’t mean the loss of possibility so much as its redefinition, or new (maybe smaller, but maybe simply different) kinds.

During my first semester at Kenyon, I took a psychology class on Adult Development. If I could take one thing from the class, the professor said, I should remember that aging isn’t a simple process, but rather a chaotic and sometimes contradictory set of advances and regressions, losses and growths. It’s never too late to learn something else, or to adapt the skills you have, or to redefine what something means to yourself, and in turn, these opportunities don’t make you into someone entirely new. Instead, they work with your memories and other experiences to continue developing your identity; they become incorporated into your personal mythology like a layering, a constant and never-ending creation of what it means to be “you.” That, in essence, is what people are. In the end, it’s all we have.

Image Credits: Feature, Courtney Felle