3. Longreads: And Then We Grew Up
Sarah Menkedick’s review of Rachel Friedman’s And Then We Grow Up begins with discussing what it means to have a word, something to describe yourself with and hold on to. It is a notion that I easily attached to, as just last week I had a conversation with friends (most of us artists, and one person working in STEM) about what we called ourselves. No one had a word.
Menkedick has had the word writer for years, which “embodies not only who I am, but who I might become. This potential is crucial to its power” and provides the scaffolding on which to imagine a life and success—a way to reach “it.” Friedman had a path, but never reached “it,” and throughout the book talks about what it means to touch “‘it’ — it being greatness, external accolades, and achievement and recognition — and the glittery all-or-nothing ways we envision it,” writes Menkedick.
Friedman reflects on how “we talk a lot about growth and potential but far less about the very common experience of ‘touching it’ — whatever ‘it’ is at any given moment before it slips away or morphs into some new elusive goal — then losing it, then maybe if you’re lucky touching it again someday.” Sometimes our word has to shift, or evolve in meaning, just as language does. Sometimes we have “to acknowledge that it’s okay to be ordinary. That it’s okay to quit. That art doesn’t have to and in fact probably shouldn’t make you miserable. That creativity isn’t something that evaporates if you no longer or never hunker down under that one creative identifier — writer, painter, musician — but is ever-present as a way of living one’s life and moving through the world. That a lot of the ways we tend to envision art-making, and the actual practice of making art in pursuit of money, can suffocate creativity, not to mention joy.”
The most challenging thing for me about this review is that I attended the same “prestigious arts camp [Friedman] attended as a child, when she was sure she’d become a professional viola player.” I also attended the summer camp and its affiliated boarding school in hopes of becoming a visual artist. The list of high-performing alumni is immense, and the pressure of that legacy is more than I know how to articulate. But the older I get and the further I am from the camp’s ideal of greatness, I’m learning the same thing Friedman has learned: There are “concrete counterpoints to the myths of creative greatness that have been tormenting her. Many of her friends [from the camp] have structured their lives around creativity as a practice and a way of being, while letting go of their own art as a career pursuit. Those who have continued to put their art at the center of their lives grapple with the phenomenon of, as Friedman describes it, touching it and then losing it and then touching it again.”