Thursday, May 13, 2010

Growing Up

There are lots of great things about pursuing an academic life - about going to graduate school and then becoming first a tenure-track and then tenured professor. Not among those things is the fact that pursuing an academic life can actively get in the way of one growing the fuck up.

I spent most of my morning "taking care of business." This involved 1) setting up phone, internet and cable for the new house, 2) setting up the discontinuation of service with my current cable company, 3) calling about getting my carpet in the upstairs stretched, 4) setting up an appointment with an accountant regarding tax stuff. Upon completion of these tasks, I thought to myself, "Self, you're actually doing grown-up freaking things. How totally weird." (Of course, BFF noted that I'm not really a grown-up because I have neither written a will nor contracted hemorrhoids, and those are the markers of truly being an adult. I say, if hemorrhoids are required for true adulthood, I hope never to be an adult.)

Actually, that's been something I've thought to myself throughout the home-buying process. That suddenly I'm actually a grown-up person, when really for most of my 35 years on this planet I haven't been.

One of the things that resulted from my choice to pursue an MA and PhD and then tenure-track employment back-to-back (though obviously the t-t gig was partly luck and not totally "choice") was that I made choices (sometimes conscious and sometimes not so much) that kept me from growing up. In order to achieve my academic goals, I postponed or avoided things that might tie me down or root me in ways that would be difficult to change. The reality of this profession is that we need to stay mobile in ways that are often contrary to embracing adult responsibilities and adult roles. It strikes me, now that I'm finally putting down roots through the buying of a house, that I'm also finally becoming an actual adult.

One of the prices I paid (and I'm not saying that all people in academic careers pay this particular price - just that it was the price that my academic career exacted in my own life) in order to excel in this profession was to avoid the sort of milestones that typically signal that a person has grown up. I didn't marry. I didn't have children. I didn't buy a house. I didn't take vacations - like real vacations paid for out of my own hard-earned money, as opposed to those subsidized by piggybacking them onto a conference or by my parents. I didn't work at a real "career" until I was 28. Even once I did work at a real "career", I kept myself mobile in order to have the potential to change jobs. The reality is this is not a "normal" trajectory for growing up. Most people grow up by the time they're in their mid-to-late-20s, via one or more of those markers. And growing up means things like putting down roots: being place-bound, being bound to other people who are not hundreds and thousands of miles away.

Again, I'm not saying that my experience here is identical to the experience of all people who pursue academic careers. Lots of people get married, have children, take vacations, work in real careers, buy houses, before they go to grad school, get tenure-track jobs, or achieve tenure. Or they do so during that time. But I didn't. I couldn't. Not if I wanted to be a professor, not in my particular situation.

So here I am, at 35, growing up, when many of my friends already accomplished that 10 years ago or more. (Seriously, by the markers I've noted, I have friends from elementary school who were grown up 20+ years ago.) And it's a weird and daunting thing to do, after having lived for so many years avoiding attachments, responsibilities, and obligations - avoiding, totally, growing up. After so many years of knowing that "growing up" could be a significant hindrance rather than an accomplishment. It's a weird thing to do to put my growing up ahead of the job, or ahead of the profession. It's a weird thing to think that doing these things isn't, in some weird way, breaking the rules.

Getting to hang with my former student today, let's call her E., and befriending BES... through those friendships I see the ways in which I've stunted certain kinds of growth in myself in the service of academia. And while I try to counsel them in ways that show them that they shouldn't do what I did, I do kind of feel like I'm in no position to advise them, since I'm only becoming a motherfucking grown-up like right now.

That said, there's something kind of cool about growing up and knowing that this is what I'm doing. There's something cool about growing up consciously, rather than having it happen without me realizing it. It's nice to be able to experience all of this now, knowing that I'm not just doing the "done thing" but rather that I'm making choices and decisions and things that are making it happen.

That said? One probably would be better served by growing up a hell of a lot earlier than at 35 years old.


Anonymous said...

Heh. I know exactly what you mean by this (although I married, and a while ago now, I think because we never had kids, there's less "adult"-ness associated with it than there might be. And even then, I was 30 when I married, which feels sort of delayed compared to some people. And we spent three years of the marriage in different places, which baffles anyone not in academia).

This post also kind of articulates one of the things I find very very odd about going back to school - it's yet again postponing adulthood. And I think it's even weirder because while I'm 15 years older than most of my classmates, it feels like only maybe 5 years of those actually count as adulthood, so I'm not nearly as grown-up compared to my classmates as you'd think. And it's also weird to watch my 15-years-younger classmates getting their adulthood all lined up in a way I never did. There's a blog I read by a very lovely new lawyer, who is a brilliant interesting person, but also baffles me completely because she's 25-26, married, employed with a big firm, living in a new American-dream house, with one kid and one of the way. I mean, when I was that age I could scarcely get myself to class on time. It's just really weird to compare our lives. (And unproductive, of course, but you can't help it, sometimes.)

(That all said: I don't really think one has to have all these material trappings to be a grown up. But I still get what you're saying.)

helenesch said...

I have really mixed feelings about all this--though I am really feeling a lot of these same things right now (at 41, I'm just buying my first home). But doing this without a partner, without kids, and at a somewhat older age, it somehow feels *different* (or maybe I just believe that it's different) than it would if I were to have done this earlier, in the more socially expected way.

I also really resisted the idea that it was "time" for me to buy a house because I couldn't become a real "grown-up" without doing so (upon learning of my purchase, a colleague has actually said to me, "oh, now you're a grown-up!" and I find myself really irritated).

I guess it just seems like there've got to be some ways in which we are grown-up, and would be even without owning homes.

It feels a bit like buying a home means entering into the culture of adulthood, since part of what it means to be an adult in our society is home-ownership .(We can talk about our lawns, home maintence, etc., with other "adults"--things that I really couldn't or didn't want to do before.) In the grand scheme of things, I think this is silly--it shouldn't matter!

The rootedness might be a different issue, but my own sense of buying is more a recognition that I *am* rooted here, and not so much an attempt to put down roots.

Anyway, I'm not sure I've said anything coherent here. But these are clearly things I've been thinking about.

life_of_a_fool said...

I agree with a lot of what helenesh said. I always get irritated when people equate these trappings of adulthood with actually being an adult. Maybe this is defensiveness or irritation on my part because I haven't achieved any of these milestones. But, also, I feel like I am much more of an adult, in mindset and attitude, than plenty of people who are married, have kids, have houses, etc. but also seem incredibly immature. Of course having these things would change my life significantly, and maybe I would feel differently then. But, I think of adulthood more of a state of mind than as easily measured by these factors. And for that, you don't necessarily need the trappings (which also isn't to say they're entirely uncorrelated).

None of that, however, takes away from your accomplishment of home buying! That is awesome, however you define it.

Dr. Crazy said...

All of the ambivalence that you all are expressing in comments is *exactly* what lies beneath this post of mine. I'm right there with you, my peeps. On the other hand, doing this does make me see the ways in which doing it *sooner* would have been.... good. In a lot of ways. Not that I could have done, or that it would be the right thing for me then, but....

Oh, hell. I dunno. All I know is that the Cleveland Cavaliers break my heart, and I want them to make a miracle happen but, because I'm a native Clevelander, I have absolutely no faith. Fucking Cleveland. Fuck.

Prof. Koshary said...

Right there with you in spirit, Crazy. I certainly haven't grown up yet, judging by the rubric you lay out. And I won't for a while yet, unless the academic job market is unexpectedly kind to me.

And, although I'm not from Cleveland, I understand perennial sports heartbreak as a native of Hometown. Fucking Hometown Baseball. Fucking Hometown Football. Fucking Hometown Basketball. Really, fucking Hometown baseball! I renounced it all years ago, and yet I still feel bad every time they lose. Some ties never fully break.

Anonymous said...

I am very, very old.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I don't think I'm ever going to be the kind of grown-up you talk about, since my area is high-cost. But I'm working on the emotional part of growing up -- mostly I'm fine, but one or two aspects of my life froze somewhere around age 24. Realizing THAT at age 40 is pretty messed up.

PhysioProf said...

What's the fucking point? We're all gonna fucking die anyway, and once we're dead, we're just as fucking dead no matter how "grown up" we were when we kicked it. "Growing up" is for sackless fuckbags who are afraid of death and think that somehow "growing up" is gonna stave off death. IT AIN'T!

Ann said...

I think a lot of the markers of adulthood that you mention are also achieved too young in life. They're not guarantors of grown-up status, and when people seek them too young they frequently screw them up (marriages, kids, home ownership, etc.) because they acquired these status markers before they were really ready for them.

So, here's to "late bloomers" like you, Notorious, New Kid, etc.

Kris Peleg said...

My kids are convinced that I haven't grown up yet. That's with one in college. and houses we have.
But leaving a good job and hauling the family to the States for me to do a phd in my late 30s? whimsical. maybe that's what keeps me from appearing grown up.
And this fulbright thing in Bangladesh, oh my, hardly the way grown-ups behave.

Anonymous said...

i feel like we're blurring the line between conventional and grown up.

Terminal Degree said...

I hear you. I feel like my 20s were a decade-long delayed adolescence, because my parents still helped me out financially sometimes. (Not that becoming independent/adult is all about money, but their occasional financial help meant I just didn't feel entirely like a "grownup.")

I think that for academics, our paths are pretty "normal." I bought my first house at 35, got married at 36, and will have my first kid at 39. (Oh, and I'll never be able to retire since I started saving for retirement so late!)

It is weird to me that I have acquaintances from high school whose own kids are about to start college, though. Sometimes I feel like I'm about a generation behind.

pocha said...

I don't equate having children or buying a home, or laying 'roots' in a particular place with being a grown up. Interesting post.

Rokeya said...

This was an intense post for me to read and I had to come back to it. I share others' critiques of equating various rungs on the heteronormative narrative of materialist progress with "growing up." I generally don't associate anything involving property ownership with having "made it." What's interesting to me (and I see this coming out a little bit in the comments) is the extent to which we internalize the idea that the age we are ought to correspond with visible, discernible "proof" of having grown up. For me and many in my community, being queer/having non-hetero notions of family means that the "proof" is not only less transparent, but some of us have purposely chosen to live otherwise. So it's not a matter of aging and later recognizing some delayed adulthood and thus warning others against our choices so that they can have what we opted out of, but rather redefining what it means to be an adult in the first place.