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Juvenilia

Between the hormones in milk and the steroids in beef, the average sixth-grader today looks like the average college freshmen from 1950. There are some key differences, however. The sixth-graders of today masturbate, menstruate, and text-message with greater frequency. On the surface this appears to suggest a legacy of progress. And you might think, that with puberty arriving earlier, the whole timeline would move up. Keep in mind that the average college freshman from 1950 would, within ten years, graduate college, find a career, marry a spouse, have 2.5 children, pay a mortgage and undergo either a vasectomy or a tubal ligation. But while today's youth reach physical maturity at a younger age, their social maturity seems to be taking much longer. A casual stroller through any urban environment will come across thirty-year-olds in sneakers who have not learned to shave. You think to yourself, This may be true, yet why is this in a blog, at least ostensibly, about books? Rimbaud stopped writing at 21. Keats died at 26. Currently the Yale Younger Poets prize is open to any poets under the age of forty! If trends continue, in another ten or fifteen years, the Yale people will be forced to extend that deadline. It's simple demographics, folks.

The writer Scott Spencer once advised his students to "write the stories of your youth while you're still young, because you can't write them later." It seemed, on the surface, like the most obvious advice, but for many of us that ship has sailed.

So who is to blame? The Boomers, of course. Look at the Rolling Stones, Ricky Henderson, James Patterson. They "Do not go gentle into that good night" — sure, Dylan Thomas didn't write the poem until he was 37, but he already had seven books out.

Last week one of my classes was looking at F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise. There's this great bit where one of the characters, an aspiring writer himself, composes a poem that is nothing but a list of the writers he holds in contempt. He wraps the poem up in an extraordinary gesture of chutzpah:

I place your names here
So that you
May live
If only as names,
Sinuous, mauve-colored names,
In the Juvenilia
Of my collected editions.

Fitzgerald wrote that when he was twenty-three.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Kinsey Institute Series #0003:... New Hardcover $122.25
  2. The Best People in the World: A Novel Used Hardcover $5.95


Justin Tussing is the author of The Best People in the World: A Novel

6 Responses to "Juvenilia"

  1.  
    pipi February 2nd, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    it is a definite shame to see "men" over the age of 30 carrying lunch boxes to work, playing with toys, and seemingly unable to assemble within themselves the concentration required to excel and surpass everything they've previously understood as themselves, so that they might attain something close to webster's definition of mature:

    "1 : based on slow careful consideration
    2 a (1) : having completed natural growth and development :"

    apparently, this has become increasing difficult for a people inundated with a girth of bad films, bad television, bad food, bad music, and absolutely no role models exhibiting the virtues of forbearance, humility, or selflessness. rather, one is faced every day with people clamoring for better cell phones, better internet connections, better jobs in which their spirit is repressed, better make-up, and better booze, when all the time LIFE goes down the tubes while the "quality of life" becomes more inseparable from how much money you have the bank.

    of course, if you tell someone over 22 to grow-up, their fragile egos are bruised, which contrarily sends their self-confidence sky-rocketing as nothing more than a paltry self-defense mechanism so transparent that its difficult not to laugh.

    get me another coffee!

  2.  
    Brockman February 2nd, 2006 at 5:27 pm

    Justin, perhaps you're forgetting the other end of this -- which is, yes, we physically mature younger and emotionally mature later, but the average lifespan has also lengthened considerably since the '50s. Thus, we mature later, but we get to "enjoy" it a while longer.

  3.  
    Bolton February 2nd, 2006 at 5:32 pm

    I like to try and put a positive spin on it by imagining we're a generation that's somehow going to dodge the by-now-standard midlife crisis... perhaps by avoiding midlife altogether?

  4.  
    Venkman February 3rd, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    Uh-oh... Pipi needs a hug!

    C'mon, gang -- we aren't letting Pipi leave this room until he's squished by our collective support. Who's with me??

    *HUG!*

  5.  
    Brockman February 3rd, 2006 at 12:24 pm

    *hug*!!!

  6.  
    pipi February 6th, 2006 at 8:52 am

    hug? are you crazy?

    please, keep your 'i love you in that shallow way' hands to yourselves.

    i've got my OWN hands . . . hahahahaha.

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