Whenever I write a coming of age story, I have this moment where I sit back and wonder, “What gives me the right to give life lessons to other people? What gives me the right to make characters who grow and blossom when I feel like I’m still growing myself?” I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.
I read two coming of age books recently, both have stuck with me for different reasons. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven made me realize a few past events I’m still holding onto, despite being unable to change them. And Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin made me explore the idea of categorizing, and why we feel the need to define people (and everything). It also is a great book that explores gender identity (in case you or someone you know would benefit from that, it’s great).
With these ideas in mind, I thought: Hey, how can I be writing coming of age stories for young adults when I feel like I’m still changing? That can’t be right. I’m a fraud. I’m not an adult. I know nothing about life.
We have different journeys. No one journey matches another.
My journey of coping with survivor’s guilt comes through in Girl Nevermore. My scooter accident comes through in The Collapse. Heck, even the funny My Summer Vacation by Terrance Wade has a moment based on when I got lost as a kid.
These journeys might help someone. They might have a profound impact on someone’s life the way All the Bright Places and Symptoms of Being Human have made me reflect on the things I want to change. It is never too late to become better at being human, and it is never too late to grow.
With that being said, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the concept of impermanence. Even as an adult, I still hear the phrase, “What are we… in high school?” While your ability to cope with drama and abhorrent situations improves (it does get better), you will still encounter people and events in your life that make you feel… less than you are.
I’ve had bullies as an adult. I’ve had rumors spread about me. I’ve received passive and aggressive notes. I’ve had fights, arguments, and disappointments. The biggest difference between high school (which feels permanent) and now? I realize none of it is permanent. Impermanence means we can shift gears and leave negativity behind. We can quit a high stress job, stop talking to the negative people in our lives, and move.
High school feels endless. It’s four years of your life where you have a limited pool of potential friends and places to go. High school, however, is impermanent. It does end. It does get better. You grow older, you learn to accept yourself. Maybe you were the awkward kid in high school and learn to embrace that quirky weirdness as an adult (Hi, my name is Rachel. I’m a strange one.).
But if you are anything like me, you will still have moments of second guessing, of thinking you are not good enough. These are my bad days, and on these days, I cling to the idea of impermanence. What’s bothering me? Will it still be a problem in a year? Two? Can I do something to make it less of an issue now? I change my life accordingly. I destress, declutter, do whatever I need to shed negativity. Most days, I am happy with no complaints.
So… There you have it. I write coming of age stories because I’m still coming of age. I’ve been alive for almost three decades, and I still find myself growing, changing, being impermanent. And that’s a good thing, because if I’m always striving to be better, I will be better.
And remember: tomorrow is a new day.
With all this being said, if you need more immediate help with anything, please seek it out from a friend, a hotline, a parent, a grandparent, a cousin, a doctor, whoever will help. If the idea of “this will get better” does not help you, find something that will. Everyone needs help along the way, myself included. And… you know, go hug a cat or a dog or something fluffy. Burying my face in my cat’s belly* helps.
*do not try this with a cat who hates belly rubs