I want to get into the dualism/spectrum of childhood/adulthood, for just a moment here. To arrange my opinions in such a way that I can justly say “yes” to the right things and “no” to the wrong things. This issue is bound to become larger as culture swings wider from cycles and rites of Nature. I might as well offer yet another icebreaker.
On first appearances, you might forgivably assume that my way-of-thinking on childhood/adulthood is loosely based on Peter Pan; and my mode-of life, on Neverland. If you were less observant, you would go even further, and assume that I had taken regression or Eternal Childhood to be my entire philosophy of life. So for the record, let me state: I am twenty-seven and no longer a child. But what this entails- the end of childhood- is not for me what it is for others.
Sadly, it’s rare that anyone has actually read Peter Pan, the little jewel left to us by J.M. Barrie. The Disney travesty has overtaken its memory and left behind none of its wisdom. The real Peter Pan, including the prequel Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, confronts the End of Childhood with the same urgency and anguish that the Epic of Gilgamesh meets the inevitability of Death. Not only the End of Childhood, but something larger we’ll call the Golden Arc of Life. It meets squarely and openly, though pangs and fantasies, all of the questions that should arise when one follows too perfectly and too closely this Golden Arc of Life. The kind of questions and raw feelings that would be openly discussed were we not shamed, by peers and culture-at-large, into quietly accepting this weird, near-universal trajectory; into quietly accepting undesirable desires and predetermined choices. It does not have to be this way: you do not have to stop doing the things you love…
There is something so searing and immediate about Barrie’s mythic interrelationships: between Peter, Wendy, the Lost Boys, long-forgotten parents and hated grown-ups, Captain Jas. Hook, Tinkerbell, Death, Neverland, Pirates, Memory, Time.. between everything and everything else. You simply have to read it. The book is full with inexplicable passages that stop and haunt any reader in for just a “light read.”
“Sometimes, though not often, he had dreams, and they were more painful than the dreams of other boys. For hours he could not be separated from these dreams, though he wailed piteously in them. They had to do, I think, with the riddle of his existence. At such times it had been Wendy’s custom to take him out of bed and sit with him on her lap, soothing him in dear ways of her own invention, and when he grew calmer to put him back to bed before he quite woke up, so that he should not know of the indignity to which she had subjected him.”
Peter sobbed through his nights; Wendy cradled him. Their rapport, here and elsewhere in the book, is so real and necessary, but somehow has no counterpart in the real world. That is to say, their relationship is uncategorizable and nameless in our world. I think this goes for most of those relationships and interrelationships mentioned above. They belong to a reality, called Neverland, where all the presumptions of the Golden Arc of Life have evaporated, leaving behind only new freedoms and elation. They are, nevertheless, real needs— needs forced into remission by a lifetime of shame and shoving and dinners with extended family.
Peter Pan, though, is mostly nostalgic. This seems obvious when taken superficially, but even when taken to its heart, Barrie fully limns nostalgia, “our pain,” at its most tragic. As in all tragedies, he ultimately aquiesces to its fate and unavoidable meaning; he watches Wendy, John, and Michael grow up and lose their divine spark to forgetfulness. I want to get beyond that nostalgia, beyond the desire to return home again, beyond that dead-end meaning and forgetfulness. I want to bring those buried needs and questions to life again, to react with the proper amount of outrage towards circumscription by the Golden Arc of Life. Against, for example, the evil suggestion that skateboarding and enthusiasm are unbecoming of a man of 27 years.
Childhood was, for me, a Kodak-happy period, still teeming with suggestions, still immediate in my memory. But I do not think children are perfect creatures; models citizens of a utopian neverland, pure beings, or kneehigh noble savages. They are, instead, in a process of totalizing growth. Growth-for-growth’s-sake, as John Dewey would say. This is what makes them superior, in some sense, to most adults. Most adults stop growing after childhood, or adolescence rather. They become content with their measurements; and once this happens, Death sets in. This is the basic physiology behind the Golden Arc of Life, and it is not a good thing. It is a process you should have trouble accepting; just as you should be chilled by Wendy, John, and Michael’s forgetfulness.
As I’ve said: I feel, very sincerely, that the absence of playgrounds for adults, even for springy adults in their twenties, is a sure sign of the Fall of Man. I mean this without the slightest echo of irony. I think there is a subconscious, though active, drive among adults to belittle the virtues of childhood; virtues that should be carried with us as we adopt the virtues of adulthood. The world has a whole gauntlet of checks and admonitions in order to prevent the larval human from assuming his greatest glory as Homo Ludens— Man, the Player. (Thanks to John at Chiasm, for reminding me of this beautiful keyword in an email).
Remember the joy of running wild in Macy’s or JCPenny’s; finding one of those gorgeous circular racks and hiding in that secret lightwell in its center? That lightwell is everything; the slacks and blouses are there for its sake, like bricks to a smokestack. The adultworld and the department store just have their priorities backwards, their colors reversed. Chances are, even you think I’m just being cute. But I’m not: I just want explanations, and effectively, the transcendence of all age-behaviors.
Check out the real Peter Pan