I just finished reading The Discomfort Zone, an intimate memoir by novelist Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections). The passage I’ve transcribed below is one of the most accurate description I’ve ever read about what it feels like to grow up (or at least to try) and become an adult. (In its full context, it’s also about the redemptive value of art and its fundamental uselessness, but it’s the « growing up » part that resonated with me.)
« Adolescence is best enjoyed without self-consciousness, but self-consciousness, unfortunately, is its leading symptom. Even when something important happens to you, even when your heart’s getting crushed or exalted, even when you’re absorbed in building the foundations of a personality, there come these moments when you’re aware that what’s happening is not the real story. Unless you actually die, the real story is still ahead of you. This alone, this cruel mixture of consciousness and irrelevance, this built-in hollowness, is enough to account for how pissed off you are. You’re miserable and ashamed if you don’t believe your adolescent troubles matter, but you’re stupid if you do. […]
But when does the real story start? At forty-five, I feel grateful almost daily to be the adult I wished I could be when I was seventeen. I work on my arm strength at the gym; I’ve become pretty good with tools. At the same time, almost daily, I lose battles with the seventeen-year-old who’s still inside me. I eat half a box of Oreos for lunch, I binge on TV, I make sweeping moral judgments, I run around town in torn jeans, I drink martinis on a Tuesday night, I stare at beer-commercial cleavage. I define as uncool any group to which I can’t belong, I feel the urge to key Range Rovers and slash their tires; I pretend I’m never going to die.
The double bind, the problem of consciousness mixed with nothingness, never goes away. You never stop waiting for the real story to start, because the only real story, in the end, is that you die. »