Becoming a teenager we start to make choices, how to be individual, how to be who we want to be in the world. Are we going to conform or are we going to not-conform. Although even when we’re not conforming we have to be aware of what conforming looks like in order do the opposite. We are never truly free as we are either tracking the conformity in order to be like it or else tracking the conformity to maintain its exact opposite.
I believe we spend our teenage years hiding, building barriers between ourselves and the world, perhaps the types and numbers and levels and severities of barriers fit our upbringing, our society, our family situations. The juxtaposition of building the barrier is that the barrier becomes a beacon, for example growing a beard. When I was coming of age in the eighties beards were a niche item, worn / grown only by those who were still grieving the seventies or by bikers and metal-heads. But a beard is just a beard, so in order to be counter-conformist it had to be be big. Now I’m no longer hiding, I’m standing out. I have a huge beard, so my character has to grow to hold it. Then it’s no longer just the huge beard, it’s also long hair. Maybe just the long hair isn’t cutting it anymore in my peer group, so we start to look for justifications and historical references. Maybe you go the Tolkien route, or start reading Viking lore and long hair is plaited, beards are plaited, tattoos become iconic. Maybe your friends don’t grow beards so well, maybe piercings are their thing. One or two piercings, an ear or two, maybe a nostril, are well, quite frankly rather conformist. So more are required. Or perhaps bigger hoops, longer dangles, chains from ear to nose, bigger holes, more holes, holes in places that other people, ‘normal’ people, square people, don’t have them. Add to this smoking, vaping, drug-taking, fast food, over-eating, under-eating. Those last years of our teens where patterns are created and lifestyles are set and peer groups are strong. This is the foundation of our twenties. But the more we hide behind these elaborate masks the more we stand out, and the more we stand out the greater the character has to be that we create to hide the part of us that we wanted to hide in the first place.
And then all of this nonsense of our teens gets abandoned in our twenties, we’re now looking for jobs, looking for promotion, getting married, having babies, buying houses. Heads down we play house and take on the gender roles of our parents and grand-parents. Maybe we learned to be different or maybe we are still playing out the scripts they have given us. We see the kids taking the world we thought we’d created and subverting it for themselves, the music grows further and further away from where we left it.
But if our growing years has made us conform, and we are now acting out our roles like good consumers should, where has all the energy gone that we put into creating those alter egos of our teens?
“Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather it can only be transformed from one form to another.” – 1st Law of Thermodynamics
We’ve buried it, we’ve suppressed it and we’ve set ourselves up for the fall. The classic mid-life crisis is coming and it comes earlier and lasts longer than ever before now. By our thirties we have found new ways to numb the existential angst that we see gnawing at the corners of our world and once again we start to reach for the crutches of our teenage years to prove we’re still alive.
“The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us…. all aspects of ourselves that are unacceptable and displeasing to our family, peers, and society, goes into the bag and it continues to fill until we’re twenty, after which we spend the rest of our lives trying to retrieve from” – Robert Bly
But beards, and piercings and tattoos and obesity are now the norm and the kids are wearing retro and all our old clothes are in the vintage shops now. Walking down the magazine aisle of Sainsbury’s, there are shelves of music magazines, guitar magazines, rock magazines, classic rock, prog rock, all espousing music from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Learn to play like the Rolling Stones, Guns and Roses 30th Anniversary tour, The Doors, King Crimson. Turn a corner and they are selling vinyl again. Our old tricks no longer work, we can no longer work on ourselves to create our own individuality, albeit within the parameters of the peer group we have chosen. We may have lost our youth but we have gained affluence and our affluence opens new doors to new hiding places. Which one is yours?
Wine, just a bottle or two each night?
Season ticket, a few beers in the week, a few more on the weekend?
A Conservatory, astro turf?
Bigger TV, sound bar, another DVD?
Takeaways, barbecues, restaurants, hydrogenated fats and MSG?
Motorbike, sports car?
Just another car, because, well the old one’s getting old?
So where are we now? We are created in the images of our parents, twenty years of relationship learning through osmosis. We define ourselves in our teenage years and follow a path of conformity or rebellion. Take any action or belief of our parents and I guarantee we will either do the same or the opposite. In the next decade we suppress it all and the decade after that it all leaks out again. We don’t recognise these things of ourselves though because we have worked all our lives to suppress them, so we will always see them in others We will be drawn to those others and see in those others the traits we have hidden away from ourselves. When we recognise this then we can begin to know what we have never known. And like the Hanged Man in Tarot represents surrender or sacrifice, our constructed ego must die in order for us to grow anew.
“In the encounter with Shadow, your conscious personality will sometimes be overwhelmed or shattered. Your ego might experience a death, but it will thereby be enabled to later rise from the ashes like a phoenix endowed with new powers…” – Bill Plotkin
What we must learn is to find the the third path, that of our own voice.
We must start again.
“…and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognised as your own,
that kept you company
as you stride deeper and deeper
into the world…” – Mary Oliver – The Journey