Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On finally growing up

(Published in Business Standard on July 25, 2014)

At the ripe old age of 42, I can finally say: I’m not even close yet! I have no desire to either, perhaps because I’m haven’t found the right incentive, but more probably because I still have no idea what growing up means.

It’s not the sort of thing that keeps me up at night, either. I’ve only been wondering because the other day I bumped into a cousin who asked what I’ve been up to. He may well have been asking the way an American asks ‘How are you’—a purely rhetorical device that is the opposite of an invitation to tell them how you are—but I got all literal and told him. He recoiled in horror and said: “What! Grow up. Aren’t you supposed to behave like that in your twenties, not your forties?” I looked at him with genuine puzzlement and said, “Why?” It appeared that neither he nor I had a good reason for why, but he muttered ‘Bad girl’ under his breath anyway.

Clearly, I don’t know what growing up is supposed to entail. So I did the responsible thing: I googled it. I got 183,000,000 results, one of which was a wikiHow page on ‘How to grow up: 22 steps (with pictures)’. I was very excited about finally having clear visual aids, but found that it just involved some cartoon people whose enormous manga eyes seem to say ‘I’m all grown up and calm, but I’m not going to tell you how or why, you immature loser’.

Lots of websites say the same old stuff about moderation—apparently adults must schedule feelings of fun—and a lot about saving money and not blowing off work to play Halo with your college friend. They all want to herd you into the matrix of settling down and starting a savings plan and a family and a mortgage, home, getting health insurance, and taking care of your body.

Well. What about that New York Times article by Pamela Druckerman that everyone was passing around the other day, ‘What You Learn In Your 40s’? It’s a great article. You should read it. The most insightful thing it has to say is:

“There are no grown-ups. We suspect this when we are younger, but can confirm it only once we are the ones writing books and attending parent-teacher conferences. Everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently.”

I’m delighted to have this confirmation of a longstanding hunch. When we say the words “Grow up”, what we mean is “Recognise that your body isn’t what it used to be.” At least that’s what I have to assume from all the websites lecturing you about not drinking too much, or diversifying your sexual portfolio too much, or tossing too many jobs, or only doing what you like. It’s just weird: when you’re a child they tell you that you can do whatever you want when you grow up; and then, when you’re an adult doing whatever you want, they tell you to grow up.
If I were more paranoid, I would think that they just don’t want you to do these things.

The single certainty in life being death, I’d have thought that grownups are those who plan for dying by getting in a satisfactory amount of living. In my own humble opinion, that should involve work that you like, and kindness, and merry amounts of alcohol, and playing in an amateur band, and the kind of nightlife that makes your cousin back off muttering ‘Bad girl’.

But I have no idea. I’m just winging it.

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