Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Peter Pan Complex, Jane Austen Style


For a little over a year, I've been reading Jane Austen novels and writing round-about life lessons that only sort of have something to do with the book.  This particular goal has been one of my most formidable- as odd as that might sound.  I learned about choosing reason over passion, choosing to be authentic in relationships, choosing to be vulnerable and take risks on people, and choosing to let go of those things in the past that can really hold back my present.  These are not small life lessons.  These are things that have shaped the way I look at myself and interact with the world.  I'm not saying I've mastered all or any of them.  I'm just saying, they're a big deal.

I thought Northanger Abby wasn't going to be such a big deal.  Austen wrote it to be a parody in response to the gothic novel- which was in vogue at the time- and to discuss the commercial aspect of marriage, which also happened to be in vogue.  Her heroine, Catherine, isn't exactly heroic.  The first line of the book reads, "No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine."  Her family's a little crazy and over crowded, with a moderate income- neither destitute or wealthy.  There is nothing romantic about an average economic state.  Catherine herself "bloomed" later than her peers, led a sheltered adolescence, and reads books better than she reads people. And that is her tragic flaw.  She prefers imagination over reality.  So much so, she creates a story in her head, leading her to believe the father of the man she loves murdered his mother. This ends up being false and Catherine goes home feeling embarrassed and mourning the loss of love. (Don't worry, it's  Jane Austen novel, they end up together in the end).  

In my younger days, ages 16-21, I'd definitely say I could related to Catherine.  And I think that's why she's one of my favorite heroines. It's the same reason I unabashedly listen to Taylor Swift all the time occasionally.  It brings me back to those days when I actually thought life was like, well, a Taylor Swift song.  True, life seemed to be much more interesting back in my Catherine Morland days, but it was also much more disappointing.  As it turns out, unreal expectations hardly ever get met.  It's a lot like what I wrote after reading Sense and Sensibility- letting reason prevail over passion.

Catherine and I learned the same lesson- life isn't about drama.  And I don't mean the reality TV, screaming and fighting, sort of drama.  I'm talking about the romantic kind of drama- the kind that happens when you let your imagination trickle into your reality.  The kind where you think life is going to be like a romantic comedy, or that no one will notice if you suddenly start talking with a southern accent (yes, I was weird).  When Catherine learns this lesson it marks the end of her adolescence and the beginning of adulthood.  And after re-reading my previous post about choosing reason over passion I realized I, too, began to leave behind that wonderstruck, eternally optimistic, head in the clouds, girl behind.  I left her behind for a grown up realist whose mantra seems to be, "low expectations, no disappointment."  And that's just... kind of sad. So here we've reached the main point I'm taking away from this book- growing up really really sucks.  I quite miss believing my life was going to turn out like a best selling novel.  And there is a part of me that very much wants to ignore credit card bills, insurance companies and FAFSA applications, in favor of building a fort, turning on a flashlight and reading Charlotte's Web until I fall asleep.  

But there's a second part to this.  True, growing up can be truly awful, but it doesn't come without some redeeming factors.  Yes, I have obligations that I really don't want to deal with.  Yes, the "fantastical" part of my identity seems to be waning in favor of a realist with low expectations.  It seems to be easy to forget the tumultuous embarrassments and let downs I was subjected to when my imaginations seeped into my real life.  Because, like I said, high expectations rarely ever get met.  So redeeming factor number 1: a cooler head makes for less embarrassment and disappointment.

And let's not forget all the amazing things I get to do now that I am an "adult" (I still can't own that term completely)- things I dreamed of doing before this growth spurt.  I get to be independent.  I get to travel.  I get to spend my money on whatever I was (for better or for worse), and no one gets to tell me when to take a bath or what time to go to bed any more.  Adulthood is truly something else.

I really didn't want to write about this- the sadness of growing up.  At the end of Peter Pan, there's a line about the grown up Wendy that reads, "You need not be sorry for her. She was one of the kind that likes to grow up. In the end she grew up of her own free will a day quicker than other girls."  I am not that girl.  I didn't want to write about this, because I really don't know where this leaves me, or anyone for that matter.  Growing up is not an option, it's a reality.  I can't change the fact that I have bills to pay, I don't want to go back to confusing fantasy with reality, and I'm certain I'll never be eight years old again. The best you can do is appreciate and acknowledge that person you used to be- that dreaming, optimistic girl that believed in fairies and world peace. You can accept that you are not that person anymore.  And most importantly, you can smile because you got to be that person for a while.  And maybe, you can build a fort out of pillows and blankets in your closet and read Charlotte's Web by flashlight- because you're an adult and no one can tell you not to. 

2 comments:

  1. UGGGH YOU SHOULD WRITE FOR A LIVING.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think Dan is seriously on to something!

    ReplyDelete

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