I've been thinking about how much I love being an adult.
I understand and agree with the folks a generation behind me who are hitting the big bad world yelling "ADULTING IS HARD!" . . . because in some ways, it is. You have to make your own money, clean your own clothes, and take care of your own self. And then, for a lot of adults, "adulting" means sacrifice--caring for someone else if you have children or other people dependent on you, realizing you have to do a LOT of un-fun things like work long hours if you want to make ends meet, making some hard choices about what freedoms you give up so you can survive or enjoy your life. Sometimes that's what growing up means--accepting reality and understanding your place in it.
But somehow, being an adult has led to very little sacrifice for me.
I've discussed the particulars of my life with people a few times lately and used the phrase "I'm basically living the dream."
Um, well a more ideal version of "the dream" also includes my writing career taking off in fiction as well, but other than that, my life is pretty much exactly what I always wanted.
And one of the things that's made me think about that lately is that I have been watching a lot of cartoons.
I haven't just been watching them, though. I've been watching them until 5 AM if I want, or watching them again with a friend to discuss a plot element, or laughing about them on the Internet, or checking out related materials made by other nerds. And I can do this while eating ice cream sandwiches, or while choosing to do so over other responsibilities. These are all choices I can make because I am an adult and I have no one shaking their finger at me to go to bed or stop "obsessing" because it's unhealthy, and if I screw up, I know I'm the one who will suffer, so I don't screw up.
When I was in high school, I got hit hard with probably the biggest cartoon obsession I ever had, which was my explosive love for Animaniacs. I taped all the episodes and made a handwritten episode guide in color-coded pens. Drew pictures of my favorite scenes. Bought nearly twenty tee shirts featuring the characters. Had tons of toys, and comics, and the music cassettes, and knew all the songs by heart. I even bought food items if they had the characters on the box, and I'd cut the art out and put it on my wall later. And I also took a lot of shit for it, with plenty of folks in my life questioning my maturity.
I wasn't mature then, of course. I was a teenager. But the cartoon silliness wasn't what made me immature, and it wasn't necessarily a symptom of being immature either. There's a common misconception that your interests or certain choices you make render you less "mature" than other adults, but I think "mature" is a murky, sometimes poisonous word. And it's often used by people who don't approve of someone else's behavior as a manipulative tactic to shame them for what they want to do. It's similar to how some misguided people use "that's not for boys" or "only girls do that" to push gender roles on people; if you're told that what you're doing isn't appropriate for who you are or how you want to be seen, you'll feel like you should stop.
But why do other people want to take stuff away from us if we love it? Because it's "for kids"? (How so, if we like it too and we're adults?) Because it's interfering with our adulting? (How so, if we're demonstrably fulfilling our responsibilities at no one's expense?) Because they don't understand the appeal? (I don't understand the appeal of alcohol, but I don't try to tell people they're not really adults if they like it, even when it DOES interfere with their ability to function.)
I went to college fully immersed in my lovely little cartoon obsession. I decorated my college room with Animaniacs stuff and had my entire collection of tee shirts with me. I hosted a chat room with AOL's community leader program which let me monitor the chat in the Warner Bros. online area, goofing around with little kids about the shows on the network (especially my favorite). It eventually kinda ran its course when new episodes stopped coming out. But I still love the show, would still sing along to the songs, would still love to show my favorite episodes to people who would be interested--though now it would be considered "old cartoons," haha.
I did pretty well in school, by the way. I received my diploma and ended up with a GPA of 3.56. (Not bad especially since I changed majors three semesters in and still graduated in four years, and none of my initial credits were transferable.) And I didn't have to drop what I enjoyed to get through college or move on to my adult life.
After that, I spent six years working in a bookstore. I never called in sick the entire time I worked there; I was rarely late and got a reputation for one of the best kids' specialists in the region; I generally worked about 36 or 37 hours a week and enjoyed an active creative and social life outside of work. And I watched a lot of anime.
At the tail-end of college, I started going to an anime club where we'd watch various shows together, and I really liked some of them. Before the days of the club, I had gotten really, really into a particular anime called Tenchi Muyo, and it was one of those things where I was just really on fire to see all of it that existed. I loved the characters and their interplay--it reminded me a lot of the kind of feelings I'd have for the relationships between characters in my own writing--and I liked (again) drawing the characters, introducing the show to my friends, and purchasing clothing that featured art from the show. I went to a convention as one of the characters once, even, and got a few cute toys and comics. It wasn't an incredibly long obsession, but it was a pretty good one. I had a few more favorite animes that I consumed very quickly and went to weird amounts of trouble to get additional episodes to (DiGi Charat, Kodomo No Omocha). I supported myself as a pretty decent grown-up while pursuing aggressive baking hobbies and gardening interests and lots of reading. You know. Adulting.
I quit the job in 2006 and moved to Tampa in search of administrative work. I was tired of retail and wanted to make better money, and that worked out pretty well. In the meantime, my friend Jeaux, aware that I had a soft spot for both anime and inspirational sports movies, said to me one day, "I have something for you. It's an inspirational. sports. anime." And then Eyeshield 21 happened. I have no idea how they made a story about American football so appealing, but they did.
After watching as much of the anime as I could get my hands on, I turned to the manga because the story was ahead of the show in Japan (and was different in some important ways). I was so into it that I read scanlations--copies of the Japanese comics that translators would scan and translate so English-speakers could read them. They were unofficial and imperfect, of course, but since no English version was available, that was what I had to do to find out what was happening. (I bought the English versions when they came out in my country.) I blabbed on a forum and discussed it with Jeaux and got really excited when my friend Jessie actually found merchandise for me (since it was nonexistent in America).
And then one time when the next issue came out in Japan and the quarterback broke his arm during the big game, it kind of wrecked my whole day, and someone I was hanging out with told me not to get so involved with a pretend football game, which wrecked my day worse. I mean, people get really invested in real sports even though they're fighting a "war" that's completely made up for entertainment; it's kind of weird to me that if you get invested in fictional happenings and let them affect you, you can be condescended to and snotted at. C'mon now. I write things. I've always written things. It makes sense that I'd get pretty into it when other people write things. I seem to have managed to get really into this thing and spend a lot of time on it while continuing to write books, make content, and hold down a job--which is a much better job with fewer hours and higher pay than my last one.
I'm still pretty in love with this franchise but the run is complete. There are no more comics. Nothing else to see, you know? So it's hard to maintain enthusiasm when there's nothing to talk about anymore and nothing feeding the fire. I still get really excited about it when I get to show it to someone else, though. Over my birthday vacation, Meghan was interested in the actual football games going on, and somehow we ended up watching cartoon football too. I was so happy that she got really into it too and wanted to watch more than just the first couple episodes. I've seen the first few many times while showing it to people, but it's always really exciting to get to watch it with another person who hasn't seen it before.
Since Eyeshield, I've had a couple little minor jaunts into cartoon fandom; Adventure Time was a pretty big one. I marathoned a bunch of the episodes after references my friends were making on Facebook made me think this was a show I needed to see, and, well, you know, the rest was history. As I've mentioned before in other posts, I love that there is implied queer content and some gender weirdness amongst other kinds of weirdness. I also let Jeaux get me into Avatar: The Last Airbender a while back; we'd watch a few episodes every time he came over, and went through the whole series that way. When a second related series came out--The Legend of Korra--we watched that as it was coming out every week, and we were both really into it.
I know people who are really into live-action shows. Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead are two extremely popular shows that I've never seen because I think the violent content would really upset me, but holy crap, like everyone I know watched those! And nobody seems to question their maturity when they are really into shows that involve a lot of killing and a lot of swearing and a lot of sex. Weirdly enough, other live-action shows with a science fiction or fantasy theme, like Doctor Who and Firefly, have a huge following but mainstream society still likes to tell those people that they're childish because they like shows about things that don't/can't happen. (I don't know why this doesn't apply to The Walking Dead, which is a show that involves a lot of zombies.) I don't watch Doctor Who or Firefly--I couldn't get into it for some reason--but I've noticed this weird assumption that people who like SF shows or animated shows are less mature and less acceptable people than those who like the realism-based shows.
But what exactly is this maturity thing that people seem so obsessed with telling me I can't possibly have if I devote time and energy to consuming cartoons? What milestones or achievements, exactly, have I failed at when it comes to adulthood?
I don't drive a car and I don't have a partner or kids. Those are things people generally expect adults to do, though attitudes vary. At least by my age--thirty-seven--some people are starting to acknowledge that maybe the choices I've made are deliberate life choices rather than inability to grow up enough that another adult would want to start an "adult" life with me.
But what's especially interesting to me is that maturity is often discussed in terms of independence; that you have achieved "maturity" if you are supporting yourself on your own terms (with or without a partner) and making responsible choices about the future. This doesn't work very well when it comes to, say, people with illnesses or disabilities who need help to live their lives and who by these definitions can never be mature. Yeah, I'm pretty sure you can still be mature and yet need help to live. There's also the fact that when elderly people lose the ability to take care of themselves and need assisted living, they aren't called "immature." Independence isn't the same thing as maturity. What exactly is it, then?
I have no idea. Because I've mostly only heard it weaponized to tell people they're not doing it right.
Is it about foresight? Realistic assessment of what you need to survive, and being willing to put aside selfish or impulsive desires to meet your needs and the needs of those who depend on you?
Maybe, but rich people get to eschew those expectations all the time. They can indulge because they have the extra padding that lets them take vacations or buy expensive toys or take risks or not work as hard sometimes (in some cases). They're still considered "mature" most of the time--it's assumed to be the right of the very successful to play more than the rest of us.
But when my version of playing involves getting really into a cartoon, I'm probably not really an adult. Certain kinds of entertainment are considered inappropriate for adults to enjoy, and if you DO enjoy them, you actively lose grown-up points.
I propose that we start deducting maturity points from people who weaponize maturity.
The latest full-scale plunge into cartoon madness that I have undertaken has been, of course, Steven Universe, as anyone who follows me anywhere has probably figured out. I've seen all the episodes (and get super excited about new ones as this is an ongoing series); I bought the video game for my phone and played it to completion; I downloaded the songs and put them on my mp3 player; I'm collecting the comics; I now own two tee shirts. (I like buying shirts of stuff I like. It's part of the cycle.) And I like seeing what the other fans are doing. I'm not into reading fanfiction or creating fan art for this, but I've been having fun with, say, reaction videos on YouTube. It sounds kind of mind-blowing that anyone might want to watch a YouTube video about someone else watching a show, but it was really entertaining for me (plus I got to see the episodes again); it's so much fun watching the ones where something really shocking happens and people flip out. (If you watch the show, you learn which scenes cause people to lose their minds, and it's really funny.) Plus it's sort of like you're watching it with a friend, even though you don't know each other. I've already kinda dragged a bunch of my friends into this (Mike, Victor, and Jeaux started watching it because of me, and now they've seen all the episodes too and are really jazzed about it), but I didn't actually get to watch it WITH them. Boo. That's part of the fun--sort of making it a social activity.
People are noticing how crazy good this show is, which is kind of nice because in the past I used to feel like I was enjoying my favorite things sort of in isolation (except for the few friends I had who liked what I liked as much as I did; sometimes I scared people off). People are posting videos that discuss stuff like "holy crap why is this show everywhere now? THIS IS WHY" and even a PBS video about how important this show is to presenting alternative versions of family for today's kids (and, like, maybe the rest of us?). But I don't think a television show (or comic, or book series, or movie) has to set itself up as a message-dumping contribution to society before it's acceptable for people to enjoy it without people who don't enjoy it rolling their eyes at the supposed immaturity of its fans.
One of the reasons I really like being mature and being an adult is that I can now give the finger to those people. I don't have to listen to people who are older than me or in control of some aspects of my life and just accept that someone else's limit should be my limit. I'm not eight years old begging to spend my allowance on Pocket Popples anymore. I'm not eighteen begging for a ride to the Warner Bros. store so I can spend my part-time job's paycheck on Animaniacs merchandise. I'm thirty-seven, and yesterday I threw my paycheck at Season 8 of House, M.D. on DVD just because I could, and last night I read a John Grisham book and then watched a bunch of Adventure Time on the Internet until I fell asleep in the chair, and last month I dumped a decent amount of cash on a tee shirt website so I could walk around with Steven Universe characters on my chest. It's really interesting to me that I spent my youth hearing messages about how I needed to drop certain interests if I wanted to earn respect and be regarded as mature, but really for me growing up was about learning that what I wanted was okay.
People who like cartoons (or other things they liked as children) can actually come into maturity bringing those interests with them. I did it. And I consider myself to be living the dream. I've had the same great job for eight years but I only have to work there 28 hours a week, I make what I consider to be very good money, I have enough time for my personal projects (like writing a book that sold and will also lead to more money), and my interpersonal relationships are satisfying and enjoyable and pretty much everything I could have imagined when I was a kid. I love having my own place and making my own rules and being in charge of nearly all of the choices that affect my everyday life. I love that adulting for me has not led to accepting that the rest of my life won't be very fun.
My adulthood is ABOUT fun. And it's festooned with cartoons and nonexistent bedtimes.
Most of the people who roll their eyes at that can keep doing so for as long as they like. They're not going to convince me that adulthood is about letting others control you in slightly more insidious ways than they did when you were a child. I love my adulthood. My childhood self would be thrilled with who I am now.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm about two and a half hours away from a new episode and I gotta go watch people screaming and vibrating on Tumblr.
Oh, and maybe getting some work done. It's not all fun and games over here.
But most of the time, it is. ;)