Part Thirteen (Will Hubbard)
Can Adolescence Be Anything More Than Navel-Gazing?
by Kara Wentworth
She looks so much less gay since she came out.
Perhaps I was destined to move to Seattle.
“West” — Lucinda Williams (mp3)
At age 14, I chose silky soft Liz Claiborne khakis, white athletic socks, worn Simple clogs, my dad’s old crewneck sweater and a polarfleece vest to a professional photo shoot for the front page of a special New York Times section “On Teens.”
I find it intoxicating to scroll over links and see what they are, then to plunge onward, always onward, into the ‘main text.’ Let me assure you, Ann Powers’ article is a superior main text, well worth opening in a new window for now or later.
“Honeysuckle Rose” — Erin McKeown (mp3)
In Powers’ analysis, “existential uncertainty, shaky self-esteem, and the struggle to master your own destiny” are the perennial problems of teenagehood. What is different about our generation is that we feared this vulnerability would be used against us.
This is not the nihilistic denial signaled by the suicide of the rocker Kurt Cobain, who was a generation older than this current one.
It is a practical move, meant to clear space so that young people can get on with their lives. The typical teen-age problems — existential uncertainty, shaky self-esteem, the struggle to master your own destiny — persist, but teen-agers fear that their vulnerability will be used against them.
Kara Wentworth, another Stuyvesant freshman, feels this anxiety. “I’m really not liking school at all, and I feel like it’s time for a career change, but there’s nothing I can do about it,” she said. “I feel like the only motivation to do well is so my parents and other people won’t see me as a conventional kid.”
It has taken me days to wade through this brief excerpt. Thank goodness Donna Haraway doesn’t write about me.
“Hot Topic” — Le Tigre (mp3)
“Sexy Love (Blatta & Inesha Lilli Carati Mix)” — Mephisto Odyssey (mp3)
The pieces that are still true today, in my second adolescence that David Brooks’ op-ed recently labeled “The Odyssey Years,” are harder for me to make sense of. It’s as if I have blinders on and am unable to read what might in several years sound like an apt and amusing summary of my current emotional landscape.
I still don’t like what I’m supposed to be like as a 20-something year-old. I am still scared that my vulnerabilities (what if I can’t hack it as a grown-up? what if they figure out I’m faking? what if I couldn’t pay my rent and had to move back to the east coast and live with my parents?) might be used against me.
These vulnerabilities are borne out of the very same ‘typical teen-age problems’ Powers named ten years ago: do I really know who I am? am I good enough? how will the next years of my life unfold and how do I decide what I want?
The difference between then and now is that as adolescents, most of us lack agency. We can have deep emotions and desires and be pretty fucking sure we know what’s best for us – and sometimes we’re right. Often, we can’t do shitall about it:
no go back there and listen to my students talking about their weekend experiences. this is important. think about what is at stake, think about agency, or the lack of agency
As a teenager, I was over high school, “ready for a career change.” Today, if I’m over middle school, I can do something about it. I can start teaching high school. Or stop teaching altogether. Though the same doubts and fears may still be there, in my odyssey years, I have the power to make change.
And here’s the part that’s gayer than I was before I came out: I still don’t want people to see me as a conventional kid. Which is why I hope this article is the best shit you’ve read all week.
But I also feel slightly over the whole prodigy phenomenon.
And as I meander along like Odysseus amongst the sirens (and oooh, they’re pretty) I’m finding other reasons to succeed. Not just so people think I’m special (but admit it, you do, right?), but maybe just because I feel like it. Maybe because operating in a pleasure-pain model success brings me pleasure, and maybe, still, at least a little bit, and maybe always, so that mom and dad will tell me from 2862.05 miles away that they are proud.
Kara Wentworth is a performer, teacher and writer living in Seattle.
keepin’ it real real onstage
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
We couldn’t get enough Harry Potter, kinda.
Journey with Molly into the land of science.
The inquiry into the future of the album.
George passes on the story of the leg.