1,000 Words of Self-indulgence

I’m not trying to make excuses for myself, but I think my main problem right now is that I’m having the 18-year-old’s equivalent of a midlife crisis. That sounds kind of ridiculous, I know—what do I have to worry about, being a carefree youth or whatever I am?—but I think it’s that same sense of mortality and a biological change, except kind of on the opposite side of the age spectrum. My main freakouts are about going to college, moving away from home (both in the narrow sense of my family’s house and in the broader sense of San Diego), becoming part of The Workforce, and that terrifying harbinger of losing touch with everything that has been the foundation of my life up until this point. My childhood is only a small part in the ultimate arc of my life, but right now it’s all I’ve got, and I’m scared and stressed about leaving it behind, and what I see as a fairly dramatic change in my goals and priorities and lifestyle. I’m concerned about my ability to handle responsibility, and my ability to measure up, academically and socially. My ineptitude at my current teenage summer job—and that new (to me) notion of having to do something you might not like in order to pay the bills—has been a powerful reality check and dose of culture shock, and feeds my insecurities about being successful and content in one of my privileged, middle-class, white-collar opportunities after I get a degree or two.

It hit me a couple days ago that this could very well be my last summer in San Diego, and that touched off another flood of concerns and notions of mortality, mostly centered on whether and how I’ll remain in touch with the friends I’ve made here. Part of me, the self-hating voice I’ve been giving too much rein, points out that I’ve made very little effort to keep them and make myself likeable anyway; part of me insists that I need to move on to the next stage in my life, whatever the consequences; and part of me points out that if I’m that good friends with them, we’ll stay in touch whatever happens. I mean, yeah, I want that very much. But I can already feel changes from where we were two years ago, and I don’t like to think where we’ll be four years from now, when we are unquestionably Adults in Real Life. I don’t know whether our adjusted sensibilities will hold—we may just be stories to tell our respective children (or my cats), the way my mother’s high-school friends are. To think of that happening in a few years’ time to people who are very central to my life now does make me afraid for the future, a bit.

And I fear how I’m going to change. Everyone changes as they age. I’m concerned that my values will shift, that my priorities will adjust, though that’s often a natural process as different things (like a family, for example) start to become important. But I worry that things like truth and justice will cease to be important, that I’ll focus too much on making money as a measure of success, that Ihlbrock’s prophecy will come true and the taxpaying adult won’t care about the illegal immigrants anymore. I worry that the girl who blogs snarkily about senators and sweetly about strikers and tree-sitters will become the woman who works in a corporate office and wears a suit and supports establishment centrists.

I know that I don’t have to be that way. My parents didn’t turn out that way by any means. But people keep telling me that it could happen, that it will happen, and I don’t want it to.

I don’t factor getting married and having children into my life plan the way many people my age simply assume it will be part of the future. But I wonder what that would be like, too, and though I could never imagine being in a committed relationship, I think maybe it would be nice to adopt a couple little Chinese babies and teach them what it is to be good people. I want a daughter who trusts me, a son who doesn’t think I’m stupid. I want, in a dumb way, to do my part to make the future of the world a little better and more encouraging. Maybe. But that’s weighty, too, and I worry about it, of course. Could I find the balance between a child-supporting salary and professional fulfillment? Could I make peace between radicalism and family values? Would I make my adopted progeny as neurotic as I sometimes am?

No. I wasn’t going to do the self-bashing thing.

Right now I’m just a child. I can go to a grown-up doctor and get a prescription for the Pill, I can fill out a ballot in a statewide primary, I can run the trash compactor at work. But I’m an innocent, untried, wide-eyed kid who’s fucking terrified of this huge world stretching out before her. Where suddenly the choices aren’t just which elective to take or whether to practice violin, they’re everything. Billions of minutiae I can’t rely on my parents or my teachers or my friends for. I feel alone, and in a way it’s positive and exciting. But in another way I see myself going under so easily and I’m just worried I’m going to drown in the badly-metaphored sea of independence.

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