The Secret to Being an Adult

There are many things about adulthood to complain about, but one of the biggest to me is the little amount of time it lends to reading.

There are so many other things demanding to be done – a whole life to keep up and house to maintain and friends who require proof of life – that reading gets pushed to the back burner. This wouldn’t bother many people, but I am a bookworm through and through.

I didn’t start really reading until I was in third or fourth grade. I could read, but it was halting and I didn’t enjoy it. Then I got a copy of The Secret Garden, and for years I didn’t stop. At youth activities, I sat in a corner with a book and occasionally glanced up, usually to glare at whoever had dared to disturb me. I could sink so deep that I didn’t hear a word of what was going on around me and people had to say my name several times in my ear to get my attention. My favorite refrain was, “Let me finish this chapter.”

Mothers with a list of chores and schoolwork to complete don’t hold kindly to cliffhangers. Rarely did I get sympathy for the people breathing their last breaths or coming one step closer to victory on the page.

Then I discovered that I, too, could craft stories. I wasn’t very good at first (okay, it was atrocious, but so are all beginnings) but I have come a long way.

I don’t get much time for either pursuit lately.

However, it rained all day yesterday. This encouraged a general air of laziness about the house, and I yielded; despite the laundry and dishes that needed to be done, or the painting that I seriously needed to complete. I had a new book that I had been catching snatches of for two weeks, and I was done with waiting.

That book is The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente. It is also the third book in one of my all-time favorite series.

It’s not even just the story, but Valente’s style of storytelling. I melt every time.

If you want to have a decent conversation with me, your best bet is to talk books. It doesn’t matter if I’ve read them or not, or even if we really have the same taste in books. I’ll listen. I’ll add input. If you do a good job, I’ll even add whatever you’re talking about to my reading list. That list is ridiculously long, and our library, snob that it is, doesn’t carry the majority of the works there.

Another fact about me: I rarely buy books which I have not yet read and fallen in love with (unless it’s a sequel in an established favorite series). The shelf space in my room is valuable real estate.

Eventually the family returned from their ventures and Mom cast a dubious eye over the house. Reluctantly, I closed up Fairyland and affected industry. And for a little while I wallowed in despair as I tallied up the short list of work I had accomplished. I have fallen into the world’s habit of measuring success by physical achievements. It wears on me every day.

Slowly, I am coming to realize that my to-do list will never be completed. I am also trying to learn to accept that sometimes I just need to sit down with a good book and take a little time to unwind. Science has proven that those who read hold a distinct advantage over those who do not.

How do you take a step back and breathe when your world feels like it’s reeling out of control? How do you slow down for a moment when your list of obligations is beating against your heels, threatening to overwhelm you? How do you determine what is really a priority and what can be abandoned in favor of better things?

Little by little, I keep coming back to the only answer that holds true: God. I rush about like a mad person, wailing about how I’ll never get it all done, while He watches with a shaking head and beckons me closer. I’ve caught glimpses of what it is like to put Him at the center and let Him be my gravity. I know for a fact that He can ground me and set me on a steady course. But I keep pushing away, setting myself spinning into space in the process, because I don’t want to be weak. I want to be strong enough. I want to prove that I can manage at least this. I am a big girl. I don’t need holding any more.

That’s growing up. It’s putting boundaries to the world that used to go on past the hazy edges. It’s discovering gravity, and fear, and doubt, and pain. It is also defining, by those trials, true joy, hope, and courage. It is taking a tape to yourself and discovering the measure of your character. And then setting up a plan to get bigger, stronger, bolder.

It’s never settling, even if that means nausea and discomfort and tripping over your own feet. I’ve come to realize that you never stop learning. The secret to adulthood is that we (yes, we, Phoebe, not they) have no idea what we’re doing, and we’re all making it up as we go.

Maybe someday I can be more excited about that than terrified.

For now, I’ll leave you with this and prove why you need to read Valente’s work:

“You can’t argue with something that’s written down,” she said (…). “If the heart of my fate is a book, there’s nothing for it. Once it’s written, it’s done. All those ancient books say ‘so it is written’ and that means it’s finished and tidied and you can’t say a thing against it.”

Oh, but September, it isn’t so. (…) So it is written, but so, too, is it crossed out. You can write over it again.You can make notes in the margins. You can cut out the whole page. You can, and you must, edit and rewrite and reshape and pull out the wrong parts like bones and rind just the thing and you can forever, forever, write more and more and more, thicker and longer and clearer. Living is a paragraph, constantly rewritten. It is Grown-Up Magic. Children are heartless; their parents hold them still, squirming and shouting, until a heart can get going in their little lawless wilderness. Teenagers crash their hearts into every hard and thrilling thing to see what will give and what will hold. And Grown-Ups, when they are very good, when they are very lucky, and very brave, and their wishes are sharp as scissors, when they are in the fullness of their strength, use their hearts to start their story over again.

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