Growing Young

I’ve been making a lot of confessions here lately, and here’s one more: I was a pretentious teenager.

I wasn’t pretentious on purpose, and if you had suggested to me that I was, I would have been offended. It wasn’t that I was fake, really. In fact, I’m not sure that anyone can really be fake during adolescence, a time period in which bodies and minds–and therefore identities–are in such a wild state of flux. But Teenage Shanna was deeply invested in being taken seriously, and that meant being serious. I mostly skipped out on young adult fiction and set up camp in the classics. I remember a conversation (I can neither confirm nor deny that it was during interviews at the Miss Rodeo Texas Teen pageant) in which I touted my favorite authors as Shakespeare and Dickens. And meant it. And could back it up with specific texts. What sixteen year old says stuff like that? I thought the Harry Potter books were beneath my notice, and I arrogantly refused to read them. And though I was less strict about it, I also aspired to love serious movies the most.

I skipped out on a lot of other “normal” teen activities too. Like dating (not that there were any interesting offers anyway, but I didn’t mind). Or going to prom. That was all silly teen frivolity as far as I was concerned. One of the less mutable aspects of my personality, which I inherited from my parents and especially my dad, is a really low tolerance for drama or absurdity, and that was already cemented into place by the time I hit my teens. So I avoided the drama (a little too proudly, I might add) and I probably missed out on a lot of fun too. Of course, I didn’t see it that way at that time.

And anyway, I had plans. Big plans to make big dreams come true. Another immutable characteristic of mine is obsessiveness, and as a teenager, I was singularly focused on becoming a horse trainer. I had always been horse-obsessed, but as a teenager, I virtually lived in the fantasy that I was going to become a game-changing, world-famous horse trainer. When I got my first horse, Tigger, I would ride him for 2 hours a day, most days of the week. I would ride in the blazing heat and the freezing cold. I would ride in the mud and in the dust. I was serious about being a horse trainer.

I was serious about almost everything. That was the problem.

Having fun was at best a secondary or tertiary priority for Teenage Shanna. And that was even more true for Young Adult Shanna. If I had been invested in being taken seriously as an adolescent, the cultural distinction of adulthood made that even more true. At least, for a while. But then came that time period in which my dream of being a professional horse trainer began to crumble under my feet. I was simultaneously finishing my Bachelor’s in English, where there was nothing distinctive about my literary tastes. And I had definitely by this point established that I was not nearly as into serious film as I had tried to be. All of that seriousness, and where had it gotten me?

I think that’s when I started to unwind a little. I did silly things. I bought a sock monkey (as an adult!) at a Cracker Barrel store because I had always wanted one (it’s sitting on my bookshelf right now). I read the first five Harry Potter books (that’s all that was out yet) the week after finishing my senior year in college. I admitted to myself that I liked summer blockbusters and action movies better than dramas, and especially superhero movies, which I had always liked anyway, and most science fiction, even when they were silly, campy, and ridiculous. I started painting my toenails. I never missed an episode of Stargate SG-1. Or Stargate Atlantis. I started listening (occasionally) to pop music.

And gradually, I got here. Where almost half of my biggest bookshelf is occupied by children’s and YA fantasy/scifi books. Where most of the movies I own are my favorite Disney musicals or superhero flicks. And where last summer, a free trial membership to Marvel.com’s digital database got me hooked on comic books. Where I have a classic Thor iPhone case. Where I wear my Batman t-shirt pretty often. Where I ride horses (when I can) because it’s so darn fun. Where I take a gazillion pictures of my dog because I like to.

It’s not that I’m not serious about things anymore. In fact, I spend most of my time reading and writing and thinking about and doing serious things. But now that I’m a grown-up, I’ve come to realize that life’s a whole lot better if I don’t take myself seriously all the time. And so maybe I am a 29-year-old with a comic book obsession, and maybe I can talk books with 12 year olds at least as well as I can with my professors. Maybe I do get silly-excited about some movies (ahem, Hunger Games and Avengers). But you know what? I sure am having a good time. And the best part is that I’ve reached a point in my life when I no longer feel any compulsion to justify my choices or my preferences. It’s a good place to be.

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One thought on “Growing Young

  1. I was an awfully serious teenager too (though maybe not quite as serious as you were). I’m glad you’re learning/have learned how to have fun. And, as we’ve discussed in detail, I was a Harry Potter snob for way too long – but oh how I love those books now.

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