Monday, November 10, 2014

Eleven, Sixteen, Eighteen, and You, Erica Eliza

This is a post I've been holding back for two years. For a long time, I thought it would be my swan song. But you know what? Eighteen is still a teenager. I've got things I haven't said yet and the time to shut up hasn't come. Here goes.
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My Growing Up Girls
When I was three, my grandmother started this tradition of giving all her granddaughters a numbered doll for our birthdays. As you can see, they colonized my dresser. The oldest doll had a place of honor at the front, but when another year passed, she got shoved to the back. Replaced. She might have been the tallest, prettiest, newest doll at one point. But now she was obsolete.
That's how I viewed age. You spend a whole year getting used to saying "I'm eight" only to replace it with "I'm nine". But in the months leading up to my birthday, I didn't feel eight, since I was on the verge of being nine. But in the months after, I thought I was still too close to eight to qualify. It didn't matter what I thought I was because soon enough I had to say ten.
I have this love/hate relationship with time. I'm usually in February before I remember to write the new year. From fourth to tenth grade, I didn't set my clock back for daylight savings. It would be right again in six months anyways. Freaked people out when they came into my room.
I started this blog at fourteen. I created it under my middle name so my mom wouldn't know what I'd done. I was in eighth grade and thought I could take on the world just because I had Opinions. Spoiler alert: I didn't. It takes a ridiculous amount of time and energy to go viral. You have to spam, talk about trendy topics you don't care for, and hang out on about nine social media sites.
But I got used to it. Blogging is just screaming into a dark cave. I throw my own words back at myself to hear how they sound. And sometimes, the right people hear them too.
Two years passed. My sixteenth birthday was coming and there was nothing I could do to stop it. For some reason, I considered sixteen as some sort of deadline on my childhood. Maybe because it's old enough to work and drive and date. Maybe because the Growing Up Dolls don't go any higher. Whatever the reason, sixteen terrified me. I considered not identifying myself by age, the way some people refuse to give their race or gender. "How old are you?" "I'm unaged, thank you very much." But I wouldn't be able to drive a car, hold a job, apply to college, or get married without giving my birth date.
I had to grow up. But that didn't stop me from clinging to my last pieces of fifteen. Since my birthday falls in National Novel Writing Month, I used November to write a book about a world where people could call themselves unaged if they felt like it. A world where shouting "Ageist!" had the same sting as "Racist! Sexist! Bigot!" I've never shown it to anyone. Never described it until now.
 I also developed this fascination with age progression songs at this time and listened to little else.
This one was my special song. I know it's selfish to complain about longevity when plenty of people would give anything to live past fifteen. But I couldn't imagine what I'd do with all that time ahead of me.

This one's just a feel good song.

This is weird. I've watched it approximately a hundred times and still don't get half of the verses.

Okay, at some point I scrapped the bottom of the barrel.

Further evidence. But hey, it's a sweet song, right? 

I hated everything about this song. From Rolfe's condescending manner to Liesl's dependency. I used it for thinking music. Whenever I look for it on youtube, most of the comments were either from fifteen or sixteen year olds celebrating their birthdays. Now not even the number seventeen applies to me.

My greatest fear is that I'll forget myself. I'll have my own children and associate young people with them instead of myself. I'll go to college and love the woman I've become more than the girl I was. I'll watch teen movies with adult actors and think, "Yeah, she's sixteen, or close enough." I'll read YA books and think, "Not another whiny teen girl protagonist."
 And most of all, I'm afraid I'll stop believing in the wrongness of ageism. I'll pick up wisdom here and there and think it's due to age rather than experience. I'll talk down to youth. I'll sneer the word teenager, taking advantage of those gross eee and err sounds.
That's part of the reason I've kept up this blog. I'm no longer naïve enough to believe one Person of the Internet can change the world. I'm a low profile blogger. Oh, I know I have readers. I keep an eye on my pageviews and rejoice when they spike. I pour over comments and imagine the people behind them. I like the idea that I'm changing the way at least some people, whether they're adults or teenagers or children, view adolescence. But Teenagers These Days is a time capsule more than anything. I have a ridiculous amount of paper journals stacked beneath my bed, but the memories inside them will die if my house burns down. The internet lasts forever. I blog so Erica will never be able to forget Eliza.
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My other doll collection
In the middle of all this, my English class read the story Eleven by Sandra Cisneros. Here's an excerpt.
What they don't understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you're eleven, you're also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don't. You open your eyes and everything's just like yesterday, only it's today. And you don't feel eleven at all. You feel like you're still ten. And you are--underneath the year that makes you eleven...Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That's how being eleven years old is.
Now, I don't think of age as one doll replacing the next. Instead I imagine myself as a Russian nesting doll. Each year is a new layer. You can look at a matryoshka and use its size to guess how many dolls it contains. But you have no idea what they look like. Who they are. I'm still the thirteen year old who got kicked out of a gift shop on Independence Day (for not having adult supervision) and thought for the first time about what it meant to be independent. I'm still the fourteen year old who started this blog and idolized Claudette Colvin. I'm still the fifteen year old who didn't see the point of being an adult. I'm still the sixteen year old who devoured dystopian novels and craved revolution. I'm still the seventeen year old who grew to hate the hypocritical phrase "adult content".
Today, at 10:00 P.M., I turn eighteen. I'm no longer a minor. I can check myself out of school. I can live on my own. I can order useless infomercial products. I can't smoke or drink, but that's not something I ever plan on doing, so I'm an adult in every way that matters.
Except for one.
There are seventeen new dolls locked up inside me. Others might not see them, but I'll always know they're there. I won't shove off my old layers, like a caterpillar breaking free from its chrysalis. I refuse to fly away from my past. I'll let each year harden around me before I get to work on another one.
I know you're there, Erica Eliza Smith. And I know you haven't forgotten me. Actually, I don't think you ever will. Ursula K. Le Guin said, "Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone. It has to be made, like bread; and remade all the time, made new." People are the same. Look at you. Look at how far you've come. At fourteen, you decided you were going to take on the world and blogging was the way to do it. You still have "change the world" and "go viral" scrawled on the bucket list tucked away in your eighth grade diary. Somewhere along the way, you realized it would never happen. But somehow, it didn't matter anymore. I just wanted to shout my thoughts into the void and wait for the echo. I just wanted to know there was a chance someone out there could be touched by my words. I just wanted a time capsule for my adult self.
But whether or not future audiences care about your words isn't your problem. What matters is that you can take the your hopes, your hates, your passions, and pound them into a keyboard. What matters is you right now. Because guess what? That's all you'll ever be. There's no such thing as the future. Just an eternal parade of todays.
It's okay to grow up. That's why we're here on this earth, to make mistakes and get messy and, eventually, get something right. We get remade with each new today. I've come a long way since sixteen. I've crushed problems that tormented me and gained a few new ones. I've lost qualities I didn't know to admire until it was too late. But I've gained a few new ones. I no longer feel worthless. My new life motto is I Go Up. But I'm also less idealistic and I can't express a snappy opinion the way I used to. Oh well. The words are there for me when I want them.
You won't forget, Erica. It's not in your nature. I trust you. Now go live a good life.
Erica Eliza Smith, age 6,574 days


  1. You should do more than blog if you talk people will listen but don't let who you were get in the way of who you are

  2. Fantastic post! One of the best ones you've ever written!!! I am so glad to have you as a friend!