What follows is an imaginative, elaborate leap from a totally innocuous statement made by Fuller in a recent conversation we had. I’m using it as a springboard to digest the idea of what it means to be an adult. I use Fuller here for the sake of framing that exploration, not as an indictment against anything he may or may not have intended in making the statement.
In other words, we always cool, dude.
Although he didn’t state it this explicitly (and I’m only inspired to frame it this way because it was presented in a chapter in Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture, the 25th book I’ve read this year), Fuller argued that returning to boarding schools would retard all my recent growth, on the premise that I’m an adult, and adults certainly do not – and indeed, perhaps, cannot – work at boarding schools.
Let’s take a look at this syllogistically:
- Canelli is an adult.
- Adults don’t/can’t work at boarding schools.
- Canelli doesn’t/can’t work at boarding schools.
Now let’s consider a variation on this.
- Canelli is an adult.
- Adults need to experience [certain rites of passage, e.g. mugging].
- Canelli needs to experience [certain rites of passage, e.g. mugging].
Casting aside what I’ll blithely accept as Fuller’s flattery (i.e. he just wants me to move to the Baltimore area, like I said I was going to do last fall, so he’ll throw out a bunch of arguments in favor of that to see what sticks), I’m not sure how I feel about this.
I was going to start out by saying that I accept the first premise, that I’m an adult. But then…what’s an “adult?” I don’t intend that as a pretentious doubt, but a legitimate concern. I’m genuinely uncertain about how to relate to that concept. I accept it insofar as it entails taking responsibility for my life and the consequences of my beliefs and behaviors, but I reject it if it necessarily includes distinct manifestations of “adulthood,” e.g. drinking alcohol, going to brunch, talking about the weather…see, I only have a limited sense of what adults ought to do. I certainly don’t have working, experiential knowledge of what adults do do. (For instance, I’m inclined to laugh at the poop pun there.)
In terms of age, I qualify as an adult. I’ve been mediated to have a social playbook for what follows that designation. If we take that to its most basic iteration in America, “adult” translates to these duties: job, family, leisure. I have to work to make money to support my family and create space for “necessary” leisure. I have to find a solid work/life balance. I have to be interested in certain things, say….craft beer and venison (fuck me, I don’t know, man). At the same time, in the age of arrested development, “adult” at this point is nested in “adolescent,” except that the purported “adult” gets to be condescending to actual “adolescents” (with “actual” in this statement being just as dubious as the concept it’s qualifying). There’s a superiority granted to the adult (let’s drop the inky air quotes at this point) even as that adult is expected to not really have grown up all that much; the adult is still an adolescent, the adolescent is still a child, the child is still a baby, the baby is still a fetus, the fetus is still a sperm, the sperm is still a desperate hope in…
We’re always what we were even as new expectations arise for who we are. Who we are is who we were, and who we were is who we’re locked into being. But I don’t want to get lost in a convoluted semantic game (see: ALL my writing).
Back to the premises and their conclusion. I’m not an adult, so the first premise is out, collapsing the syllogism and its conclusion. Still, I might agree – proudly – that adults don’t work at boarding schools. In fact, I’d argue adults don’t work at all. Adults slave away. They let their work take them, and they defer their life until some vague later that they forget to get back to and instead accept illusions of that life in the form of numbing leisure and alienated desire. Okay, so maybe there are adults at boarding school, but at least where I last worked, there were also, and in greater numbers, human beings. What do these strange creatures do? They live, which is to say, they create.
So let’s create a new syllogism, which still works from a specific concept as a premise, but it’s one that feels more liberating to me, without as much of an implicit ought:
- Canelli is a human being.
- Human beings live, i.e. create.
- Canelli lives, i.e. creates.
Now what specific social reality follows from this conclusion is up for grabs, but there’s no need to put arbitrary limits on it based on a particular way of understanding what it means to be of a certain age.
Put simply, I am not an adult, and I’m cool with that.