When we were growing up, there were only a few “coming of age” stories. They were revered novels like Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird, and they were written by authors who had grown up, learned everything there is to know about life, and then gave us a very specific, experiential road map. We read them, we resonated with them, and we quietly and unsuccessfully tried to transform ourselves into Scout.
They went like this: Girl (is child) doesn’t know about fill-in-the-blank. Girl (is child) learns the hard way. Girl (is adult) now understands complex emotional issues and calculus and is ready to enter Adult Society.
These stories are great; they helped us understand the Big Transition, the path from child to adult. But they didn’t tell us the whole story. As sophomores in high school using the roadmap of our coming-of-age novels and our parents, who obviously knew everything there was to know and had no new lessons to learn, we were sure that the day we turned 18 we’d finally have it all figured out. Then we turned 18, mumbled “shit,” and thought, maybe when we graduate college…? Then we graduated college, said “shit” a little bit louder because our parents weren’t around this time, and started to realize we might be in this coming-of-age thing for the long haul.
That realization, partnered with our increasing ability and desire to self-publish our thoughts and milestones, started to shape a new media landscape where we’re all coming of age, all the time.
I was listening to a podcast by Leandra Medine (Queen of the NYC fashion hub Man Repeller) and she was talking about her view of being “cool.” She talked about her feelings now, and used Man Repeller articles she’d written in the past to trace her opinions over the last seven years. The very thing our parents and high school counselors warned us about – everything is permanent on the internet – is creating its own story of our personal growth. We’re self-publishing, changing our minds, and hitting publish again. And because for the first time all this change is recorded in explicit detail, we’ve become addicted to the coming of age story.
We don’t want a complete, beautiful, finished package. We’re starving for the progress report because we know nothing’s ever as “finished” as it seems. We’re more in tune than ever with the grand arc of our stories: our friend on Instagram announces that she’s taking a job in LA with glamour and excitement, but we know there will be “this is harder than I thought, here’s what I’m learning,” Instagram posts coming down the pipe.
We’re raptured by other people learning the same way that we are. Shows like Girls and Broad City, podcasts like Millennial, and movies like Francis Ha are proving to us over and over again that there’s more to learn, that no one else is really getting this either, that it’s not just me. We don’t have the luxury of looking back over our lives, picking out the two or three most important lessons, and weaving them into a captivating story. But we have an entirely different luxury: we get to weave it all, record it all, and learn the whole time.