Just Like a Real Grown-Up

Photographering. Like a big boy.

I fancy myself an adult when I can. It’s an alluring notion. That I am grown up, and capable, and that, as such an upstanding and able young man, I do grown-up things. What are grown-up things? I’ve developed theories over time. It’s taken me decades to even formulate the concept of an adult beyond that which I developed when I was 5: people who are taller, louder, bossier, and occasionally provide me with sustenance. But now I see them (no, no: us?) as people who take charge, who read and drink wine and exchange witticisms and eat succulent dinners, often prepared by themselves or people in tall, white hats. They have expensive, enigmatic, aloof hobbies which they share with other mustachioed or beret-sporting adults. They do adult-things. I want nothing more than to permanently break into this racket.

The first step, I thought, would be handling my shit. The most grown-up feat one can manage, after all, is continuing not to die. Being on my own was the way to achieve this: with literally no one else around to pick up after myself, and no capability nor particular desire to dole out the money for someone else to do it professionally, I would have to take care of myself. I would clean, and cook, and dress myself. I would wear Big Boys’ clothes which I purchased myself with my own money, and make sure that they matched. They would not be covered in sweat and beer stains. My apartment would, somehow, through effort or sorcery, be regularly scoured. I would figure out a way to cyclically feed and water myself, and maintain my biological functions.

My heart continues to beat. My brain goes on working. My lungs rhythmically pump air through my body: I have not perished. One point in the adulthood column!

After managing this miraculous feat for a few months, I realized I had to set the bar a little higher. Simple survival wouldn’t do. Dung beetles and hyenas and big stupid monk fish regularly manage to not die. And I’m probably somewhat more capable than a monk fish.

Just look at how employed I am!

How about a job? Well, I have one of those. Other adults also do this thing that I do at the same location, and hundreds of small people treat me with some degree of culturally-mandated deference. I’ve not been fired or taken to task for crappy performance, but this job is maybe a fraction of the difficulty of when I used to do it for free in university, so I have difficulty getting an ego high off of it. I get a paycheque, but no absurdly inflated sense of self-esteem. What’s the point?

So then, maybe I need some hobbies. What do adults do in their off time?

Adults travel! They go to far-flung corners of the earth and intake exotic foods, exotic beverages, and exotic sights. They explore, and become greater, more open, and more worldly people. They use the word “sumptuous” to describe food, and also architecture. They interact with locals, bargain for rare treasures in humid open-air markets that smell like saffron and fish, and explore the deepest, most cloistered spots on the Earth. I travel. I’m practically a jet-setter! Then again, I spent much of my Eurotrip drinking through every old-World capital, and it’s hard to characterize getting wrecked adjacent to the Louvre as some feat of maturity. By a similar token, most of my South Asia travel is basically living out the world explorer fantasies I’ve had since I was a child, grown out of a loamy soil of Carmen San Diego and later the Amazing Race.

Hong Kong New Year's Dragon Says: "Keep deludin' yourself!"

I try to think of the hobbies I regularly engage in and cast them in adult terms, but it can be difficult. This blog, for one: I write! I create. I am a creator. I produce provocative, engaging flourishes in the English language and ship them out into the world for mass consumption. And you, the reading public, in turn give me your adulation. Of course, I’ve also been doing this since I was 13 via Livejournal, and thus I cannot escape the spectral, haunting notion that maybe my writing is basically just a slightly more aged version of the horrific slurry I produced as a teen. And writing a particular niche blog in a particular niche style for an audience of dozens (no offence, as you know I love you) can take the wind out a little.

Suddenly my other hobbies rear their heads. Whenever someone asks me what I like to do, I start off confidently, suavely: I study languages. I listen to music and go to concerts. I do photography (no, no, more pretentious: I am a photographer. No…no! Photog). Partway through the paragraph, though, things tatter and fall apart. My hobbies explode from my mouth, and I try to reel them back in with addendums and caveats. I watch a lot of TV (but its HBO and AMC, I promise!). I draw and cut out little people on paper and move them around (it’s a serious animation, mostly controlled by the actual director of the project!). I play board games (strategy ones, no really!). I play video games and watch movies and go to trivia nights…

Tiny Korean Fisherman has no doubts about his adulthood.

When I say these things, the other party nods patronizingly. These are not the habits of advanced and highly effective adults, but rather of basement-dwelling neckbeards in their late teens and early twenties.

I sink, as I often do, into a self-pitying well of neurosis. Will I ever grow-up? What does it even mean? Will I have to buy a car, and maybe stop playing video games, and also quit all of the childish things that I derive perverse amount of enjoyments from?

At work, while often stewing about these things, I receive numerous compliments from my co-workers about my preparedness and capability. That I seem constantly vigilant and ever-prepared to educate at a moment’s notice, and can quell a class of squalling children with little more than a few teacher glances. Well, sure, it may look that way, but that’s mostly because I have an enormous amount of free time on my hands. And because I have adapted to the last-second style, “Oh, and here’s a few hours of work due in twenty-three seconds!” style of organization in Korea. And because… I bluff it.

I learned long ago that children are remarkably capable of detecting fear and weakness, and thus have found ways to eradicate its signs from my person. Even when I’m nervous or tired or likely to fall prey to the kids should they turn, I appear constantly stern, ever-watchful, and controlled. They know I am human and possess human emotions, but they believe that I have suppressed them through concentration and cyborgism and maybe through killing happiness. I appear unswayable, and mostly because I simply act as though it’s true, and thus people believe it.

Meditate the immaturity away.

I think that maybe this is the key to my adulthood in the future. If I simply lay claim to it, if I simply make it look like I know what I’m doing, who’s going to question it? People who read this blog, maybe, but there’s only so many of you. If I can fool people into believing me a capable, effective pedagogue, I think I can probably hook them into thinking I’m not a feckless child.

Adulthood achieved.

[Both portraits donated by dear friend and superior photographer, Nancy Amaya]

17 thoughts on “Just Like a Real Grown-Up

  1. This strikes such a chord and then some!! I am training to be an EFL teacher at the moment and a part of me thinks that I will just never ever actually go and do anything with it because I’m not a proper adult and will always need someone looking over my shoulder checking that I’m not just sitting, rocking slightly, and dribbling.

    I also think that I’m not even approaching adulthood despite being 23 – although, as you mention, I haven’t died yet despite living without parental supervision for several years now. Maybe that’s the secret…..

    Excellent post though – I am so far in to my swirling swamp of non-adulthood that I find it very difficult to articulate how this actually feels. Part of me wants to become an adult but is certain that I will always be a fraud in disguise, and another part of me will actively fight signs of said encroaching state (and any desire to describe food as ‘sumptuous’) for as long as humanly possible. 😀

  2. It’s taken me 56 years to figure out that I don’t want to grow up. I tried it …and hated it. I like your comparison to dung beetles and monk fish who manage not to die. Some days that’s all I can manage.

  3. Yep, I agree that the “fake it til you make it” method is probably best. It has the benefit of making you actually do grown-up things without the downside of drawing attention to the fact that you have no idea what you’re doing. Most fellow adults I know confess that this is their preferred way to go about being a grown-up.

    Also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PadmMZDXoqQ

    • Hmm I think that link to “Whistle a Happy Tune” makes it sound like you seem afraid of being a grown-up, which isn’t what I intended. Just wanted to show that there’s a soundtrack to faking it til you make it. A jaunty soundtrack, at that.

      • Au contraire Michael.

        Allow me to paraphrase a novelty t-shirt that paraphrased somebody I’m fairly certain was at one time or another an adult: I drink, therefore I am (an adult). If Descartes said it, and the Party Hut said it, it’s probably true. Besides, how many non-adults do you know that wear argyle sweater vests, hmm?

        • Party Hut is a pretty reputable source. I guess I can trust it, and by extension, you.

          Lots, unfortunately. Some of my more stylish Kindergarteners used to rock get-ups that were frighteningly similar to my own.

  4. Funny, I read the last picture caption “Meditate the immature way” and I thought you are really digging on funny-sarcastic, but then I read it the second time and it is a really serious caption. 🙂
    So seriously, this is a cliche, “you are what you think.. you are!”, but I agree. To heck with what other people’s perception of ourselves. The important thing really is what we think.

  5. I thought I knew some adults but then they were my grandparents who had passed before I was born; surely Sheila and Harry were no adults, just older than their 9 children!

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