(I’m 14 years old here. In my gold lame jacket and feeling very ABC)
There are so many sentiments a large enough percentage of my peers share with each other that I don’t that I inevitably feel like I’m looking into their lives from a dark shadow in the shrubbery outside with my night-vision goggles on. When I talk about these things I don’t understand, I can feel peers feeling either pity for me or judgement from me. There is cause for neither. But there’s no question I am uncomfortable in the world I live in and always have been.
These things scratch at my brain like tree branches in a wild storm. It hurts, but not in a way I can ever adequately describe. I don’t want to be like everyone else, I want them to see like ME. There are a number of things that make me feel painfully otherly.
One the the most recurring themes is the penchant adults have for worshiping what they see as the innocence and magic of childhood. I used to think people worshiped childhood because they had great childhoods full of wonders and things mine wasn’t filled with. I believed that only people who were allowed to fully be children could be nostalgic for childhood. That people like me who had never really been allowed to have a childhood free of responsibility and grim reality were the only ones who couldn’t understand the cult of youth. But then I noticed that people with equally difficult and responsibility laden childhoods often worshiped this ideal of youth they’d never experienced for themselves and I reasoned that it was because they were longing for a thing denied them. But tonight I saw a little further into the living room window of the myth of the magical childhood:
That free-wheeling tree-climbing smug club of superior living and supposedly free thinking and dreaming that adults abandon in order to follow rules, lose all magic, and pretty much die. Apparently.
I’ve got such messy thoughts about all of this. Thoughts that may not make a lot of sense. Thoughts I haven’t vetted for cleverness or approval.
The first is that you don’t lose anything with adulthood that you aren’t tacitly in agreement with losing. If you feel less magic in the world because you started taking on responsibility then it’s your laziness or willfulness that has let magic go.
(I say this as a person who doesn’t believe in fairies or dragons but who believes absolutely in the everyday magic of natural science as well as inexplicable beauty and wonderful weirdness)
You only lose in adulthood what you are complicit in losing. If you lose your sense of wonder then you didn’t have that much wonder to begin with or you didn’t value it enough to hold onto it as you grew. Can’t have been that great if you let it go with the onset of adult ambitions and responsibility.
I just said the same thing twice because I think that first thing is possibly the ONLY important thing.
People talk about innocence. I never had that. Sure, I was a virgin until I was 17 years old. If that’s what you mean by “innocence” then Lord have mercy on all you people. I knew all about sex and what it looks like in reality and what it actually MEANS when I was – I can’t remember a time I didn’t understand about sex. If by innocence you mean that you weren’t aware of the real horrors in this world – you’re fucking fooling yourself. Children are super aware of the horrors of the world, they are sensitive to it in ways adults become immune by exposure. That’s why they see monsters everywhere. THERE ARE MONSTERS EVERYWHERE. They just don’t know the specifics yet of the very real danger they’re sensing so they come up with creative explanations for it. But in the end it’s not cute or quaint, that childhood explanation for horrors they feel but can’t name with newspaper headlines. Adults just want to believe that kids don’t know shit.
Let me tell you, I know kids. Yes, me, the person who doesn’t treasure the thought of spending any time I don’t have to with children, I UNDERSTAND CHILDREN. We get each other. Sometimes I think it’s because I must have never stopped being a child in some way. But the truth is that children aren’t innocent magical beings full of endless joy and love. They live a confusing existence in which they know EVERYTHING by instinct but don’t have the words for any of it yet. If you talk to kids like they’re adults they still GET YOU. In fact, I swear they love you and cling to you for talking to them like they’re simply other humans instead of precious vessels of adult wishful dreaming. I’m not making this shit up. Call me a kid savant. Whatever. I will never seek out the company of children because I’m not interested in watching my language or trying to preserve their parents misguided desire to perpetuate beliefs in ridiculous and often creepy crap like Santa Claus when there’s so much real cool stuff to celebrate like the existence of such things as platypuses.
Kids love me. They always have. Because I don’t keep up weird pretenses with them. They’re sharp humans with just as much of a capacity for suffering and love as adults but with fewer experiences and words to help them articulate their feelings. It’s fucking frustrating.
My son has had a loving and somewhat sheltered childhood with no abuse and he is just like me. He’s never had a moment’s innocence. I tried protecting him from harsh reality and thoughts but he already knew about kidnapping and sex and murder and death and suicide by the time he was 3. These are things I tried so hard to shelter him from because I was so unsheltered as a kid but he taught me that some of us, if not most of us, are born knowing most things on a primal level.
I hear so many adults talk like being an adult kills their sense of wonderment and imagination. A dear friend was talking about this tonight and, as usual, it brought up such a visceral sense of disconnect for me. That I’m alien to this experience and thinking. I have exactly the same amount of imagination now as I did when I was a child. I have exactly the same amount of curiosity and sense of wonderment at things now as I did as a kid. In fact, I believe it has become greater, sharper, and richer as I’ve aged. Knowing MORE, learning MORE, and experiencing MORE has increased my sense of excitement and wonder. I have an incredibly curious mind that is constantly exploring ideas, thinking up the most ridiculous and/or creepy questions and thoughts. The more I know, the more questions I have, the more I want to know and explore.
When I was a child I was hindered by a sense of powerlessness and the darkness of my life got in the way of this supposed freedom others experience in childhood. But as I was emancipated from my parents and I began to meet the world on my own terms I was also free to explore it in earnest. I was free to think thoughts I was too afraid to think when I was young. I was free to do with myself as I pleased and that agency allowed so much more power and creativity in my viewpoints and my experiences than I ever had as a kid or a teen.
As a mentally ill person I am frequently grappling an appalling darkness in my own body and mind but even this cannot shake my innate curiosity and enjoyment of exploration of thought and the world. I am freer than children. I am freer than adults who are nostalgic for childhood.
There is nothing you let go of as you reach adulthood that you aren’t complicit in letting go of from your childhood. If you’re not feeling more free as an adult than you did as a child then it’s you who are setting yourself limits on what you can achieve and do and think and imagine. The one thing that responsibilities like having a family and a job do is limit your time. That might make free-thinking and creativity harder to harness (understandably so!) but that’s a function of the choices you make as an adult and not the fundamental limitations of age.
My mind is completely free. I can’t share half of it out loud because the world, and YOU, can’t handle it. But there is no thought I’m unwilling to explore. No impossibilities. I see magic in the ordinary and I believe that if you can’t see magic in the ordinary then all the things you think you miss and love about childhood have already been wasted on you.