There’s been a huge buzz about New Adult literature lately. And, whether you like it, lurve it, or could pass over it, you can find many erudite and frank discussions about it on the blogosphere. (Possibly some not-so-erudite ones, too.)
This is not a post about the newfangled (or is it?) genre of New Adult Fiction. Rather, this is a post on what it really means to be an adult.
If I close my eyes and mentally scan textbooks from days gone by and squint really hard and try to remember undergrad psych lectures, I could probably enumerate a handful of theories about the adolescent transition into adulthood. But between my undergrad years and now, there was grad school, and real life, and vague twentysomething years when deep, philosophical ramblings at 2am with a bottle of spirits in hand surrendered their own theories and proofs. I’m no closer to defining what it means to be an adult.
Time is this weird, elastic thing. One moment I’m sure I’m living the most grown up life and the next I feel seventeen again. Okay, I’ll probably never feel or look seventeen again. But you get my point.
While I was “back home***” for Mother’s Day this week sleeping in my childhood bedroom, falling into the old, predictable routines of daughterhood, I was contemplating the moment I felt well and truly grown up. And it was hard to pinpoint.
I took an informal poll via text. My long-married friends, without fail, said they felt like an adult when they gave birth. Another said she felt like an adult when she lost her mom. Another, when she signed her divorce papers.
I’m grateful to still have my mom around and I don’t have babies or an ex, so those don’t work as markers for me. So what were some markers? First “real job” post college? Well, that came later for me because I pranced around in academia for a while. First adult relationship to implode? Nope, that was just a continuation of a high school thing. First time I lived alone? Yeah, it sucked to be the only one responsible for taking out the trash, but I don’t think I can define my adulthood on it. The day I signed a contract for a home loan? In the moment, I probably really felt like I was an adult, but now, I’m not so sure. The day the grocery store clerk didn’t even pretend to card me? Oh my gravy, I can’t talk about this!
Honestly, I think my “I have achieved adulthood” moment came two years ago when my vet asked me to make the decision to put down my beloved dog. And, if I write about this much longer, I’ll be a sobbing mess because I still can’t believe that little critter isn’t waiting for me to quit dillydallying on the computer and come over to lavish all my attention upon him.
What does it mean to be an adult? Time, that stretchy and elastic old broad, is kin to Dame Experience; both are required to achieve adulthood. And, I suspect, if we quizzed ourselves along the way and scribbled down the answers, we’d laugh at the markers we pointed to in our early twenties as the defining “I have achieved adulthood” moment.
It’s Time and Experience that make life so fascinating. That make people’s lives so fascinating! To be able to tinker with characters’ lives, to help them achieve maturity, or to watch them struggle to puzzle it all out, must be part of the thrill for a writer of New Adult Fiction. (I know, I said this post wasn’t really going to be about that. But...)
Yet the plain old romance novel (without fancy appellation) has its own thrill. How many of you are like me? Hmm? Still kind of unsure how you got to be where you are today, and, despite all of your classically “adult” accomplishments, aren’t really sure you really and truly are an adult?
Y’all are my people.
And those are my characters--talented, awesome, accomplished, fun, funny, serious people who are still, at heart, trying to figure out where they belong. And to whom. (Oh yeah, that’s the best part about the plain old romance novel, forcing your characters to confront this question AND accept that there’s another person in the mix to make a muddle of everything.)
***The Warp, as my best friend and I like to call it, is the place where, no matter how aged or accomplished you are, when you’re there, you’re stuck in a warp of awkward, angsty teenageness.