We watched a coming-of-age movie last night I would recommend in spite of a few too many movie-familiar turns and improbable detours. It also has a political subtext which seemed to me as plausible as any other for JFK conspiracy believers. The film is An American Affair.
My response to coming-of-age books or screen versions is often a surprise to me. If the events seem too close to mine I feel robbed. If they seem too other I might feel shut out. It may not be the story at all but my receptivity at the time. It's one of those mysteries I'm happy to leave unsolved.
This one set me off thinking about the few memories that still cling to my bones since those formative years. What happened to all the rest? Could I even bear it? Imagine the wondrous moments seeing/hearing/apprehending for the first time. How we meet the natural world and have it colored by the fear or welcome of a parent’s voice. Imagine if we could recover that early aha when Dick saw Jane run on and off the page.
I think of the complex behaviors devised to protect us from the shame of stumbling and bumbling. Conformity pulls us toward anonymity. Being the last one standing in a spelling bee was almost as bad as being the first one to sit. The risk of being oneself, even glimpsing that shadowed person is continually being played out. Coming-of-age is the still-happening age of becoming.
Coming is just a part of coming-of-age. My experience was not so much an earthquake as a series of small seismic events. I was a slow starter out of the gate, but by age 21 found myself married, moved from N.Y. to L.A. and a pharmacist.
In other blogs I’ve written about my first job and other entrees into the adult world such as the emotions shared with grown-ups the day President Roosevelt died and a ten-day bicycle trip around New England at 16 with friend. Each of these was a beginning journey from home to which I would never fully return. Having matured perhaps too fast, my late teen years would make a fairly dull movie. It’s taken me a lifetime to claim my youth.
Some of us may have lit and explored all the rooms in our mansion early on. I suspect most of us are not yet fully at home in the attic or basement. Where's that flashlight? Ain't it fun?
Actually, no, not always. More than likely we live with our myth, the small fictions that seem to serve us well enough. We tidy up the canvas with omissions, erasures and vivid remembrances that never quite happened. That we grew up at all seems a drama enough; if not a conspiracy of time and place, at least a series of contingencies that have taken us this far. Glories and defeats, like scraped knees, are scarred over with Band Aids worn emblematically.
We have to make do with whatever still clings. Yet there is so much flesh we cannot reach wrapped around that etched bone. It’s as if we hear a faint lyric but not the music that went with it. Or is it a symphonic wave still resounding and the words that have vanished?
There is still soft clay to be sculptured. As long as we can see and hear. the tape is running, the camera is loaded. The shapes and sounds are us walking into a moment we will never forget.