Growing up is not a movie

Della Johnson | Editor-in-Chief

I wrote my CommonApp essay about my baby blankets. I was hypervigilant and over-caffeinated, shivering in the middle of July.

It was sparked by my sudden obsession with Spotify, my newfound ability to torture myself with hours of songs that reminded me of my childhood, whether I was raised on them or just the ideas they presented. My words spoke about my previous desires to grow up, to learn the bitterness of black coffee and to mimic my mother’s ability to run for enjoyment. Spoke about the ghosts of my bypassed youth, the Sesame Street I never watched and the pink tutus I never wore. I got far too emotional for a Wednesday night, and when people told me how to edit it, I got defensive.

600 words proved to be just a new branch of my fixation, spurring my mind’s tendency to romanticize and attach to the smallest moments of feeling in my life, to yearn for youth as though I were not currently living through it.

Rationality tells me this is not entirely my fault. After all, I was brought up a constant victim of high school flicks and Pinterest, images of young people laughing over slushies in the back of a sedan and rhythmic montages of Americana, of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream”, of expected happiness and the promise of boring adulthood spent missing the “glory days”. And yet, entirely aware of the source of my angst, I find myself stuck in the same trap many other high schoolers find themselves in. I’m on the cusp of graduation, about to have some of the most monumental experiences of my lifetime, and all I can do is mourn, impersonating Dorian Gray in a wish for youth to never escape me, to allow me to retry and rehash and redo until my upbringing is indecipherable from a Lorde music video.

I, much like many others my age, have spent the majority of my genuine youth scrapping after a false one, dependent on the third-party visions in my head for instructions on how to exist. My generation’s social media notoriety is tainted by our inability to detach glorification from reality, remove the anticipations from our lifestyles and consume our endless media in peace, free from comparison. And though this could be said for any sought-after quality portrayed in film or online (fitness, wit, intelligence and so on), there’s a specialty when it comes to youth – it is fleeting, unable to be rewound to, soon a vague memory. Yet, despite how quickly it goes, we simply cannot help ourselves. We beg for it to be different.

Personally, I am exhausted from groveling at the feet of a cinematic daydream, one that perpetuates the idea that teenagers should be ashamed of their lives, however eventful or uneventful. Not everything beautiful is attainable, or even the least bit suitable. Straining oneself for a certain life distracts from the one already being lived. As I’ve reflected on my four years of high school, the greatest memories I’ve had are the ones that likely wouldn’t be featured in an early 2000’s rom-com or a Netflix original show. They’re the ones I overlooked at the time, holding onto hope for something more influential, more earthshattering to come along.

But my youth was not intended to be theatrical, it was intended to teach me. And eventually, I’ll be okay with that.

Illustration by Alisha Verma