Friday, July 13, 2012
Defining "Normal" and "Adult": A Declaration of Being Yourself
I'm sure many can relate.
The concept of "normal" was a mystifying one, made even stranger when I took AP Statistics. In studying averages, I thought about how arbitrary "normal" is. One of our main concerns in our teenage years is to be accepted by our peers--to be "normal." But this "normalcy" to which we strive rarely exists in a pure, attainable form: it is an invention of the faceless mass of society that conforms our expectations, goals, and perceptions of ourselves as inadequate. Much as the mean of a set of numbers (that's the number you get when you add up all the numbers in the set and divide it by the number of numbers in the set) sometimes doesn't even appear in the set itself (example: the mean of 1, 2, 9, and 10 is 5.5, which isn't a number in the set), so the norm is basically nonexistent if you try to point to a single individual as a exact representation of the norm in a crowd. (That last part is basically what applied statistics is all about. Don't you wish I had written this post before your AP test?) I'm sure most of us can think of the high school classmate whose social grace and overall peer acceptance we envied--but there's a good chance that that classmate would think of someone else if asked to do the same, and so on. No one thinks of him- or herself as the norm.
In effect, I was trying to be a concept that rarely ever existed in a crowd. I was part of the 99.99% trying to be the 0.01%.
If so many people are unique, not "normal," how meaningless it is of us to wish to be the norm.
At 23, I have long passed my teenage years, even if I didn't know when it happened--but I struggle with another concept now: that of being an adult. I don't feel like an "adult" at all. What does that mean, anyway? Does it mean working a passionless day job and saying a passionless prayer for the fact that I have a job? Does it mean marrying my long-time partner because marriage is what you're supposed to do at or by a certain point? Does it mean Sunday night spaghetti dinners, dinner talk about how work or school went, and routine sex on Friday nights? How does society define an adult, and how can I define the term myself so that I am comfortable with it?
The concept of being an adult is just like the concept of being normal--societal pressure to conform to a standard that no one can exactly define--which is why I find the idea that people will "outgrow YA in time" so laughable. Again and again I make the point that being an adult isn't necessarily better than being a teenager. I've met a lot of adults who I think are a waste of space, and many teenagers who I think should be heard by more people. If you replaced all the US Congressmen with a similarly powerful group of teenagers, I think there's a chance that a lot more things could be done.
This is what critics of the genre of YA lit don't get. "YA" is not a measure of quality. Your lifestyle is not necessarily better than mine; what right do you have to try and impose your lifestyle on mine? Don't tell YA readers that they're just going through a phase. Don't tell John Green and Melina Marchetta they'll be legitimate authors when they finally write adult books. Don't say people can't learn anything from reading escapist literature.
Why aspire to be "adult," to be "normal"--to be "them"--when it's better to strive to be the best me that I can be?
While I use terms such as "teenagers" and "adolescents" in my reviews, in no way would I consider myself its figurative antithesis, the adult. I am simply me, and I am on an ever-changing spectrum. Sometimes parts of me overlap with parts of others, resulting in similar interests and values. Other times parts of me differ from parts of others, and those are called unique qualities. That's my definition of personhood, irrespective of age labels. As long as I don't kill people and treat my fellow human beings like human beings, and as long as I remember that at no point in my life will I have learned everything there is to learn, then I'm proud of being myself and not trying to be someone else.
Age categories and other black-and-white labels are becoming more and more archaic. One's maturity lies on a spectrum, not in a series of stiff, unidirectional stages. YA literature can be read, enjoyed, and respected by anyone. If you tell someone they can't do or read something because it's not "normal" or it's not what an "adult" would read and that doing or reading so will limit my thinking or being, well, besides for thinking that you are a close-minded being, I am not really limited at all.