By Abbey Andersen
It all started last month when I bought a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle bath rug from the thrift store.
New in town, on an extreme budget, and in need of a few things for my rental unit, I headed for the back pile of the Santa Cruz Goodwill. Right away I picked out a tasteful lavender bath mat that would sort of match the shower curtain in my bathroom. But then, I saw it: a strangely shaped, bright green thing in the form of the turtle dude with the orange bandana—Michelangelo, for those of you in the know. Still with its original tag! What a find, I thought to myself in irony and nostalgic glee, and took it to the register. The lavender rug went swiftly back into the pile. Now, in my current modern-day California life, I step on Michelangelo’s face every time I get out of the shower. Cowabunga, dude!
Yet, in spite of this daily joy, I am troubled. Each ninja turtle foot-drying session is a reminder of my whirling uncertainty. As I examine my life as a 30+ grownup, what aspect is more disquieting to me: that I shop at thrift stores for home goods instead of Target or Ikea like any other self-respecting adult, or that I elatedly choose a tacky relic of my childhood, marketed for the bathroom of a 7 year old boy, over the much more discriminating and aesthetically pleasing option? Do I deserve to qualify myself as an “Adult”?
I. What is an Adult? Am I one?
First things first, we will consult the omniscient internet. Wikipedia states that, “Biologically, an adult is a human being or other organism that has reached sexual maturity. In human context, the term ‘adult’ additionally has meanings associated with social and legal concepts. In contrast to a ‘minor’, a legal adult is a person who has attained the age of majority and is therefore regarded as independent, self-sufficient, and responsible.” Ok, cool. Sounds like I am an adult—legally and physically speaking, in any case. But let’s read further.
“Human adulthood encompasses psychological adult development. Definitions of adulthood are often inconsistent and contradictory; a person may be biologically an adult, and have adult behavior, but still be treated as a child if they are under the legal age of majority. Conversely, one may legally be an adult but possess none of the maturity and responsibility that may define adult character.” Hmm, nothing about ninja turtles here. Seems to me that Wikipedia is saying the concept of Adulthood just sort of depends—a nebulous event.
What are things that most people associate with being an adult? I’ll throw out some words that come to mind: “stability”, “rootedness,” “career,” “comforts,” “retirement planning,” “upward movement,” “financial security.” Yikes—in review, these words basically have no representation in my current life. But perhaps I conjured up these associations so far from my world because, after all, this whole essay is intended to examine my troubles fitting into the adult bracket. If these things weren’t dubious in my life, what would I have left to write about?
For those who don’t know the author, perhaps a belated introduction would be useful. My name is Abbey. I was born in the suburbs of Portland, OR, did well in school, sheltered myself amidst homework, stuffed animals, and neighborhood friends, and never wanted anything to change. I went off to college, at first reluctantly, where I earned an art degree and met some folks who inspired me to travel. Then I got the bug.
Here’s what happened next: Yellowstone, Pennsylvania, Acadia, Costa Rica, coffee shops, couchsurfing with strangers, front desks, Lake Champlain, ice cream shoppes, Blue Ridge Mountains, magicians, porches, potlucks, plane tickets, palaces, farms, fires, forwarding addresses, ski seasons, Afrikaaners, art shows, nature centers, new friends, near-deaths, butterflies, big backpacks, smaller backpacks, small paychecks, two Boulders, being in love, bison, braiis, breakups, bakeries in the middle of nowhere, hiking shoes, dinner parties, mesas, melancholy, red rocks, rainforests, roommates, Montezuma’s Revenge, helicopters, harmonicas, holiday flings, homemade ukuleles, glaciers, gardens, gazpacho, vineyards, loneliness, reunions, road trips, mulberry sodas, school houses, kitchen school buses, sabbaticals, suitcases, tiny towns, unknowns, the cycle of lost and found, stories and stories and stories, ninja turtle bath mats.
Phew! It’s been a helluva decade—one with no retirement plan in sight. Do all these valuable experiences, this “worldliness,” make me an adult? On the contrary, some might consider such a vagabonding lifestyle a sure sign of youth. Most of us go through that awkward shift in the college and post-college years, where everyone still call us “kids” and we still eat Captain Crunch on Saturday mornings before we go to work at our non-career jobs to pay off loans and start making our way up the ladder. For me, a serial late-bloomer, this shift seems to still be in suspension. I haven’t made it to the other side. Sure, my tastes have evolved somewhat—these days my breakfast bowl is more
likely to be filled with locally made yogurt and fresh-picked fruit than Captain Crunch. Now I do things like own a car and pay for insurance and find history to be an interesting subject. On the other hand, I just bought a ninja turtle bath mat.
The truth is, I am skeptical about being considered adult-like. I suppose my problem with it, and the reason I hold on to these vestiges of childhood, is that being an adult seems rather grim. It seems to put freedom and silliness at risk. If I start decorating my bathroom in matching colors, shopping for Fiesta dishware at Macy’s, and dressing myself in pant suits, then what’s next? In no time I’ll be tied up in a mortgage, booking Carnival cruises for my measly two-weeks of vacation per year, and throwing Tupperware parties on the weekends. I will enter the world of brand names, and never look back. Eventually I’ll stop laughing as much, stop riding my bike around, curtail the art making and the adventuring and discovering. My precious ukulele will turn into a dust-collector in the corner. Wait, not quite—there will be no dust because I’ll dutifully clean my house every Sunday afternoon. It will be written in my planner.
Ok, so this may be a gross exaggeration of what it is like to concede to Adulthood. Anyone who knows me knows that I am unlikely to turn into a white-picket-fencer. And anyone who is a genuine adult and/or a white- picket-fencer, happily or not, would probably take offense to such negative connotations. The fact is, we all grow up. I already have in many ways, and I’m still Abbey at my core. But the question is—how do I embrace the adult- ish things I am starting to desire, while not giving up the adventure and whimsy that bring me such joy?
II. Why in Tarnation Do I Even Want to Be an Adult?
Here I am fresh on the scene in California, barely coming off a long “sabbatical” from paying work, just like so many other winter/spring seasons in my past, and waltzing around buying $2 novelty bath rugs for my temporary living quarters. On one hand, this method of living has allowed me to do incredible things I would not ordinarily have time for, nor encounter the means to while staying in one community year-round, with a full-time job. I have been genuinely happy doing it this way for many years. On the other hand, I know I am capable of more.
What happened to the straight-A student, Valedictorian Abbey who, after high school, everyone assumed would go on to become some kind of successful professional? As it were, the reformed “Dabblin’ Abbey” seems to have taken her simple art degree on the road and abandoned the world of traditional academia and higher education altogether. Then again, who said “higher education” is a thing you get by staying in scholarly institutions, as opposed to interacting to an unrestricted degree with the world? Dabbling, at large.
As a more specific example of my lifestyle, let me explain how I ended up in Santa Cruz. Last Fall, I began the application procedure for a trip leader position with a travel tour company called Backroads. It was quite a process, and involved several intense interviews, as well as having to teach myself bike mechanics in preparation for the final day-long hiring event I’d been invited to in Berkeley. I spent a month in Alaska with dear friends prior to that, learning about bikes from YouTube and losing sleep with anxiety. This was a bigger challenge than I’d ever attempted in my “career,” but it seemed like the position encompassed exactly what I’d been building upon through my years of travels, a way to turn my passions into something more. Finally, with my stomach in knots, I went to the interview in early February. I met lots of people who rode bikes, answered a slew of guest service role-play questions, and smiled until my face hurt. The next afternoon, I had an email in my inbox thanking me for coming, but informing me that I had not been hired.
Rejection! Pure and simple rejection. I wasn’t good enough. Or more positively, “it wasn’t the right fit.” Ultimately, my attempt to filter all my collected life skills into a real job had failed. I was not born to be a Leader— not in this sense, anyway. But of course, as always, through failure lies opportunity. Discouragement was one thing I felt, though it was shrouded in relief. There was also the nagging panic—NOW what? I went to stay with a college friend of mine in the mountains near Santa Cruz, welcoming the reprieve of familiar company, and using the visit to develop a new plan.
Normally my plan consists of scooping up interesting seasonal work over the internet, often in the snap of a finger, and heading off to do that. As a backup, I fill the gap between paid work with stints of work-trade on farms, or I might buy a plane ticket to some other hemisphere. This time, with short funds and a spell of strange luck, I was unable to secure any of those things. After a month staying with my gracious friend, it seemed that the time had come to concede to Santa Cruz. I found a place to sublet for three weeks (which turned into another month after that, then another), stumbled into a bit of volunteer work at a farm next door, began exploring the town on my trusty bicycle Bernadette Blue, and found that—as it turns out—I really quite like this place: lush and colorful vegetation, citrus blossoms, succulents, bike paths, sandy beaches, blue skies, farms everywhere, extremely friendly strangers, and some serious sunshine. Employment opportunities began to emerge, with a local farm-to-table catering company
and an offer from the neighbors for summer farm work.
And so, the cycle begins again. It’s back to dabbling, for me. I tried my hand at lining up something new,
something bigger, something to build up my skill set. But that didn’t take and now I am back to the old ways. Catering and farm work will be the source of income that supports my exploration of this new place, and maybe— hopefully—an exploration of my adult potential. Are catering and farm work things that adults do in their professional lives? Maybe if you owned the catering company or the farm. I do not own either. I am merely a hired hand. As much as I fit in and feel value in working around good food and the other people who sustain themselves in such a realm, that “hired hand” status still heckles me from the back bleachers of my conscious, throwing rotten tomatoes at my stage of good things. Am I just a pair of hands? Am I just a pair of feet, standing on a ninja turtle bath mat? A turtle, in a half-shell? My inner adult hopes for more.
III. What Has Prevented Me From Becoming Adult-Like?
My wardrobe used to consist of ill-fitting pants and t-shirts. I claimed “Burlap Sack” as a style, for a bit, and always told my friends I’d sooner be married in a white sweat suit than have to step into a frilly dress. These days I wear nicer tops and sweaters, and even dresses—but 90% of them are second hand, and have prints of strange flamingos, vintage sailboats, or drawings that I made with Sharpies. Because I am rarely in a spot for longer than 5 or 6 months and because I maintain a minimalist approach in order to stay mobile, my collection of possessions (including my wardrobe) tends to mutate, to ebb and flow. I leave things behind, and when I arrive in a new spot, I utilize what already exists there. Because I don’t own any furniture, I often find myself renting fully furnished places—which often include a set of linens, comforters, dishware, wall décor, etc. Due to this practicality in my life, though convenient, it has never been necessary for me to develop a strong sense of style.
Style, I am beginning to feel, is an important part of self-identity. And self-identity is an important part of growing up and becoming an adult. With this lack of commitment to a particular style and an inclination to adopt each new setting as my own, I maintain the adaptability to settle in anywhere with ease and comfort, and to be happy wherever I am. I don’t need my own home to feel at home. However, I may also be inhibiting my ability to feel like my own, definitive person. A sense of self comes from within, of course, but I am realizing that the form it takes on the outside is also a valuable piece of identity. Adults are assumed to have some sense of refinement in their style, whether “style” describes their wardrobe, house décor, or perhaps simply their presence and mannerisms. And “refinement” is not necessarily a synonym for sophistication in this case, but for assurance and consistency.
Why might I want to be considered “professional” in my style? By and large, the world seems to still recognize me as college-aged. Almost every time I move somewhere new, people ask if I came here “for school.” As any 30+ gal would be, I’m flattered and delighted that I look young enough to be mistaken as such. Perhaps my glasses are partly to thank, masking the subtle crow’s feet beginning to creep out from the corners of my eyes. The cherubic rosy nature of my cheeks, which plagued me as an adolescent, might be paying off now that I’m 30+, and those feral curls haven’t changed much since I freed them from the ponytail I sported all throughout high school. I look deceptively youthful.
Yes, there are also the Sharpie dresses. But sometimes I worry that my physical appearance isn’t the full reason strangers assume I am young. After all, my introductions often include a disorganized attempt to explain myself and my reasons why I am where I am (probably just moved to town), where I came from originally (all over, really), what I am doing (likely some short-term, seasonal job I found on the internet), what my profession is (an artist, I guess, though I’m leaning toward farm-to-table things and have done a lot of work in hospitality and spent a good while running a nature center in Vermont, you see?), and what that will lead to next (completely unknown, though I suspect it will all lead to something). Disclaimers, left and right. “Good for you,” they say, “do it while you’re young.” Joke’s on them, I’m not as young as they think…
But this isn’t about getting too old, or trying to stay young. And it’s not about fooling the masses or playing a joke—in fact, it’s more about considering how to leave some of the joking behind, and be a little more serious. Or at least be taken seriously. When I hear that piece of advice: “do it while you’re young,” I realize I really have done just that. All those things people say they regret when they’re true adults and all tied down, I will never regret. I feel pretty exceptional about the way I’ve lived, so far. But I have lived that way for a decade. I’ve been young, and learned countless lessons from the spectrum of life that my freedom and exploration exposed me to. I still am young by many standards, but now I have moved into a new decade and I’m not entirely sure how to step up to it.
Another reason I feel my professionalism has been stunted is that I lack a “business sense”. I don’t do well with self-promotion. For example, I worked at a resort for five and a half different summers, and although I was happy with my work there and felt valued as a personality, I only received one raise—when I was promoted after my
first year as ice cream shop attendant to art instructor and newsletter editor. The rest of the summers, as I refined my art classes and set up a brand new Nature Center, and contributed skills and things that no one else amongst the 300 employees could, my rate remained the same, and remained at the lower end of the spectrum. At one point, I timidly asked my boss if a raise might be in store for the next season, and was told that it wasn’t in the budget. If I wanted to be paid more I would have to take more hours doing the jobs that already paid more—like banquet bartending, which paid practically double my rate. I did, in fact, take on some bartending and was grateful for the variety and extra income, but ultimately I chose to keep my normal hours for my position that paid less because the work itself felt far more meaningful. In some ways, I still think of that job as the pinnacle of professional success for me. I guess I could have stuck up a bit more for myself and my skills and made more demands, but at the end of the day, I concluded that I was lucky enough to be paid any rate to do work that I loved.
I share this not to showcase myself as some kind of martyr for what I believe in, but rather to illustrate that the things I have to offer are not particularly lucrative talents, in this world. Or at least that I don’t possess the magic to make them lucrative. This is only one example of many times in my life that I have felt my specific skillset was less valued than another. But due to adaptability and minimal needs, my expectations for income are low. The most interesting jobs I stumble upon never pay well. I have accepted this, and have learned to live on very little. Shockingly little, in fact—literally below the poverty line. “How do you do it?” ask the adults who make five times more than I do (ten times? Twenty times more?). It’s a very special skill, I’m realizing. But here’s one secret: shop for your bath mats at the thrift store.
IV. Using Income as a Measurement: Don’t
Why do people desire wealth and riches? My good friend from college, who will soon be a practicing lawyer, has a sound theory: “first you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the bitches.” A simple formula, really. Whether the “bitches” in your world are literal or metaphorical, the point is that if you have money, the things you most desire will become possible, and you will be at the top of the chain. Monetary wealth is associated with success, security, and the ability to afford everything. Following that, happiness. This concept has been explored by many an essayist and philosopher of past and present, and I shant add yet another high-horse piece to the mix about how happiness actually comes from within, and all that gobbledeegook. I will, however, offer a tale of how this very concept has affected the psyche of someone in my particular shoes:
Just the other day I catered lunch at NASA. My coworker and I drove across the mountain to Silicon Valley and set out a beautiful spread of food for 65 Australian bankers at the Ames Center. These bankers, a collection of very handsome and educated blokes (along with a handful of gals), many who may have been no more than a few years older than me, were meeting at NASA to discuss financials and hock their investment strategies. Amidst the Australians were a collection of other nine-to-five NASA employees, also young and smart and handsome, and rich. All these dudes were approachable people with whom I felt comfortable striking up brief conversations. Had there been more time and different circumstances, perhaps I might have weaseled a date out of one of them.
But, why bother? At the end of the day, we were worlds apart. A universe apart, in the spirit of NASA. That day, I was the caterer girl. I was dressed in black with my hair pulled up, restocking Pellegrinos and consolidating lemon-thyme chicken salad sandwiches for their meeting. At the end of my day, I would go back to my rented room in Santa Cruz, change into my comfy thrift store dress, make dinner on my hot plate, and strum my ukulele. At the end of their day, the bankers would go back to their hotel room stocked with luxury soaps and pop down to the bar for martinis, and the NASA hotties would drive their convertibles back to their paid-in-full homes in San Jose and watch television on their giant flat screens. Something along those lines, anyway.
Now, why on Earth would this disparity make me feel unsuccessful, or unworthy? Truth be told, I don’t want to drive a convertible or watch a big-screen TV. I don’t want to own a house in San Jose or work a 9-5 job until I retire. I like wearing colorful dresses and get a kick out of the creative and beautiful food I manage to whip up on my hot plate. I love riding my bike around and playing my ukulele, and the only thing I would use a disposable income for would be to travel the world, learn new things, and find gourmet food to eat. But I manage to do all of that, anyway, so why do I still care?
Here’s the deal: while my small income matches my small set of needs, and that should be all that matters, it is nonetheless automatically placed somewhere on the spectrum of incomes earned by the masses, and unfortunately that spectrum seems to be viewed interchangeably with the spectrum of “success.” According to this spectrum and my place at the very end of it, my status as “successful adult” is questionable.
It’s easy to understand why assessments are made this way in a society that likes to run reports and perform analyses: a person’s income, a concrete dollar amount, is one of the few tangible ways to take a quantitative measurement of one’s success. Other types of success, like creativity, mental balance, being well-adjusted,
maintaining quality friendships, finding daily joy, and learning new things, are much harder to measure and see. These are qualitative successes that are difficult to compare to others. And since humans learn largely by watching and emulating just like so many other animals, it’s only natural for us to compare.
The need to compare is unlikely to change. It is a fact of our species, very predominant in this Western world, and most certainly ubiquitous to the American Dream. If I choose to be part of my country which I have every intention of doing, I cannot escape this perception of success. But here’s the funny thing about the American Dream and its notion of having lots of money: the average American Dreamer is in debt. After all, you have to spend money to make money, I hear.
Let’s go back to that trusty internet. I think statistics are a bit silly, really, and it’s very unusual for me to spend time on a website dedicated to numbers. But I do so love a clever website name, so I immediately connected with Nerdwallet.com—whether or not it’s the most accurate information. We’re looking to ballpark these statistics, anyway. Nerdwallet.com reports that the average American in 2014 owed $7,283 on their credit cards, and looking only at households carrying debt, the average debt was $15, 611 (mortgage and student loan debts were a whole other ballgame of numbers). Wow! I have never had $15,611 to my name at one time. But quite possibly, many of these so-called “adults” and their spending habits haven’t, either.
You will notice that my doubts about Adulthood (and the paltry number of zeros at the end of my occasional paychecks) have very little to do with struggling to make ends meet. My ends are met. I just checked my bank account, and as it turns out, I’m in the plus. I even have a few bones in my savings account. At this point, my college loans are paid off, I have no mortgage and no car payment, and I can pay my rent on time. Even in the periods of time where I went months without paying work, I never collected unemployment. I am lucky, of course, not to have costly health issues, family members to take care of, or expensive tastes in shoes. I know this, and I am thankful. On the other hand, I will likely never be able to afford to buy a house, nor will I have built up credit to do so since I have never owned a credit card. I won’t be able to get the power, or the bitches. My loss.
Now, what would those Australian bankers and the well-off NASA dudes think about the logic of my avant-garde financial planning? I can only speculate about the investment strategies they might throw my way, and the questions they would ask about what I plan to do with myself in my old age when I can no longer farm or stay standing long enough to cater their business lunches. And how about that retirement fund? “The Future,” I reckon, is the biggest factor that adults worry about with their financials. And I get it. If I had people to take care of and mouths to feed other than my own snooty set of taste buds, I would feel differently about my lack of a plan. As it were, I can afford to be a selfish individual, and if I end up in ruin 40 years down the line, it’s my own damn fault. I’ll have no bitches to blame. I’ll have no bitches, at all. What I will have is a solid set of stories and images of landscapes, people, and adventures—maybe I can hock those on the street for a buck, a washed-up old lady in a wheelchair.
In the end, what it comes down to is that I can’t rightly measure my personal Adulthood by my income, because I shouldn’t even be on the same spectrum that the average adult is on. Money means something different to me, I suppose; it is only ONE of the currencies that I use to make my way. The most meaningful and amazing things that have happened in my life have almost nothing to do with spending money, save for the expenses of getting from here to there.
The real disappointment about the size of those paychecks is merely that the numbers don’t make much of a case for the societal value of my individual contributions. But they’re just numbers—and I’m not really a numbers kind of gal. Like a “real adult,” I live responsibly enough to take care of my own financial needs and pay for the things I need to pay for, out-of-pocket. Unlike a “real adult,” I don’t have so many things, and zero other people, relying on my income. The bankers might not approve of my business strategy (or lack of), but I suspect the nerds at Nerdwallet.com might at least commend my tiny little life with its tiny little wallet. I also suspect that the nerds might get a kick out of my ninja turtle bath mat.
V. What I Think Other People Think, and What I Think Other People REALLY Think, and Are Their Thoughts Important, Anyway?
If you’ve managed to make it through this essay so far, there is something that should be very clear about its author: I care about what other people think. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t need to spend hours examining just what makes me feel or not feel like an adult, compared to the other adults. I have spent most of my life trying not to care, trying to feel completely confident with my own path and set of decisions, confident enough to be unapologetic when interacting with others, and not to feel a constant need to explain and justify my lifestyle. I have tried. I have not found success.
Underneath it all is an inherent “People Pleaser”, the Straight-A Student part of me that longs to be
immediately accepted and approved of by others. I know I can work on minimizing this thing deep inside, but I also know that it will always be a struggle for me. I want to fit in. Maybe this trait can be helpful—maybe it keeps me from taking my lifestyle to an extreme, keeps me relatable enough to the masses of society so that I may work within that society. But it’s also a silly little burden.
As you might imagine, many people I meet don’t understand my lifestyle in its full spectrum. Sometimes I feel an air of disapproval or condescension. Last summer while working seasonally for a farm-to-table dinner project that I felt particularly proud of, I met up with an old high school friend, who is now a successful entrepreneur in a myriad of green business undertakings. After explaining what I’d been up to lately, she asked me “So…what are you actually doing?” I knew what she meant, about moving around and taking on all these random jobs, and not building a career. My formula was the opposite of her formula. Even though I had been content with my world that summer, I found myself immediately feeling doubtful. In this moment, she was an adult and I was not.
In actuality, as much as I fear “disapproval,” it is not a reaction I encounter as much as it is in my own head. Moments like the one above are not nearly as common as moments where people express enthusiasm for what I do—whether they get it or not. “You live the life we all dream of,” said one acquaintance of mine in Vermont a few years back, a family man who had resided in New England for his entire existence. I remember feeling shocked when he said this. It was one of the first times it occurred to me that some people are actually a little bit envious of my life. Some people wish they could do what I do.
I am lucky to have parents who speak proudly of me to their coworkers and friends, and have seemed never to doubt my ability to find success. During the recent spell of discouraging times, my mom reminded me to “just think of all the things you have already done, more than most people do in their entire lifetime, and all the people you have influenced!” Moms are great like that. My extended family and friends ask, “Where is that Traveler off to, next?” and they say the word “Traveler” with a capitol “T,” almost as if it’s some kind of noble profession—an explorer discovering new and uncharted territories, investigating the great unknown so that all may live vicariously through my adventures. On a good day, that’s what I like to think they think. But sometimes it’s hard to view my life in such noble terms. Underneath it all, I can’t help but wonder if they’re actually thinking, “Oh, you’re still doing that?”
Are their opinions about my life important? Not really. Do I care about them, anyway? Yes. Why might this be useful? Well, quite frankly, my perception of their perception helps motivate me to seek my greater potential, to keep striving for something more. I want to feel I’ve earned my Adulthood, and maybe it’s okay on some level to find incentive for this endeavor by living up to invisible expectations.
Truth be told, I am happy. I am not perfectly content, but I am happy. I suppose this is the inevitable plight of a Traveler—always seeking something new and maybe, to a disadvantage, keeping one foot out the door at all times. There is comfort in knowing that when times get tough, or when times get boring, there is always the fallback of a change of venue to jumpstart the whole thing. Not everyone has that freedom and that comfort.
As with many good things, the freedom is a double-edged sword. I move around, a lot. I have passed up opportunities to develop deeply rooted community ties and work on climbing the ladder. That ladder ends up being taken down, folded up, and packed into a suitcase before I can even tip-toe up a few rungs. I may have an ambiguous style, a lack of business sense, and a general disinterest in earning money, power, and bitches. But the most probable issue that has kept me from feeling valued as an adult with a sure-footed role in the world is that I haven’t stayed long enough in a place to establish myself as such.
So how do I embrace the adult-ish things I am starting to desire? This, I reckon, has potential. Though I don’t imagine I’ll stop being a Traveler at my core, I can foresee some impending changes that allow for a reinvented concept of life. Now that I am in the West again, there is a new wave of appeal about the notion of sticking around, building relationships, and if I leave, being able to come back and keep building. Will it be in Santa Cruz? Too early to say. The West? Almost without a doubt. I have at least narrowed down my general side of the country. I feel more like myself out here. In many ways, I am back where I started, but instead of feeling like I’ve regressed, I am finding myself more and more resolved as the days move forward.
And what of the ninja turtle bath mat? While dissecting the idea of Adulthood with my new neighbor the other day, he pointed out that the act of buying a bath mat is, in itself, a very adult thing to do. I now own a bath mat for the first time in my life. It might be in my life for just a handful of months, or it might go into my suitcase and show up at the next place I move to. Maybe my style is there, after all—maybe my style is “revolving whimsy.” And maybe I am a pair of hands, and a pair of feet standing on that rug. As it were, my hands create some pretty cool things and shake the hands of some pretty amazing people. My feet take me to some pretty lovely spots. I need to
learn to stop the disclaimers, and let it all unfold as it does.
My mobile lifestyle happened by accident, the same way other people might accidentally stumble into a
career or a family or a mortgage. We each have our natural progressions. Can a Traveler also be an Adult? Sometimes when I think of the other adults I know who travel, I picture first-class plane tickets, sleek rolling luggage, time-shares, and hotel rooms. The image of myself de-planing with my bright green backpack, a faux alligator skin ukulele case, and the phone number of a stranger whose couch I’ll be surfing, doesn’t exactly conjur up the idea of Adulthood. It doesn’t matter, though. I recognize that, personally, I’d rather be going to stay on that stranger’s couch than in a hotel room, knowing I’ll have a new friend and a great story by the time I hop on the next train. Even if I had all the money in the world for the nicest hotel, I’d still want to be on that couch. We all travel differently, and I like my way.
That’s all it is. We travel differently. Whether at the airport, or through our careers (or non-career lifestyles), and into Adulthood. My method of achieving Adulthood is not typical, and is taking me a lot longer than maybe it takes most people. For those who have gone the more traditional route, who started a family early on or a career fresh out of college and found Adulthood right away, with the matching lavender bath rug and shower curtain, I commend you! In fact, I love your sense of style and it makes me feel good to be in your home. Furthermore, it makes my lifestyle more possible, because you are where you are and not where I am, and vice versa—more room for each of us in our own niches.
When all is said and done, maybe I’ll pop in on you and your lovely abode, and I would invite you to come to visit me in my rented studio unit. You can sleep on my pull-out couch and stay to dry your feet on my ninja turtle bath mat. We’ll sip coffee, like adults, and eat a scrumptious brunch fresh from the garden with eggs cooked to order on my hot plate. Maybe we’ll chat about how we became adults, where we shop for home goods, and what kind of luggage we travel with.
Or maybe we’ll just sit outside and breathe in the fresh bay laurels and the citrus blossoms, and listen to the birds. It won’t be long before we become old people who can recognize all the birds by their calls. But for now, we can be simple adult-like people sitting next to each other, somewhere in different places along a spectrum, and enjoy the unidentifiable song—however it hits our ears.