The Click

31 May 2014

When I was a boy, it was a girl. She would come into my life, and all the troubles would begin to seem manageable. As I got a little older, it became perfection, Enlightenment, Buddhahood. After it happened, after it was attained, I would be able to see. Then it was stability: I could be here now and attend to all of my needs and those of my loved ones, because I would be constant. Recently it became adulthood. Sooner or later I would know: Now I am an adult, and the knowledge and responsibility of adulthood would follow.

There have been many variations of the Click along the way, but it has always taken that same underlying form. The Click.

The Click is an idea that some sudden change will transform us from one sort of person to another, sometimes from one sort of being to another, or that will transform our lives from feeling one way to feeling another way, permanently. The Click is not a mood change, not a change in fortune (although sometimes that’s the fantasy), nor a life change or life-changing experience. The Click is only ever an idea: The life-changing experience will transform us suddenly and permanently into the being or into the life we most hope for, fully undercutting our gravest doubts, fears, embarrassments, disappointments, faults, and failures.

We are very clever thinkers, so the Click can take subtle forms. For me, the fantasy of the girl was not sudden perfection. (Even Rom-com romance requires conflict.) She comes into my life and we fight, and argue, and work, productively towards our love. It sounds like the desire to be in a relationship, which is what it was. I was painfully isolated at the time. But there is this added feature: She comes into my life and once-and-for-all my life turns towards love, intimacy, compassion, comfort, clarity. The struggle is no longer aimless and impossible. I suddenly find direction and value, and that direction and value, whatever ups and downs life may bring, could never, after it Clicks, go away.

Being in my late twenties, I know lots of other mid-to-late twentysomethings, and I’ve spied a consistent but quiet factor in our thinking. We know we’re no longer teenagers, no longer in college, no longer in our playful early twenties. Responsibilities – the ones we’d been hearing about – have started to seep in and take hold. But we also know that we’re not yet “adults.” There’s a difference between us and our teachers, our bosses, our older coworkers, our parents… We know we’re going to get there at some point (though we don’t always know how to feel about that). We expected it to have happened by now, and we’re not sure how much longer we’ll be waiting. When we see older adults acting like kids, we find it sad and confusing. Aren’t they… adults? Hasn’t adulthood Clicked for them? Little do we realize: the Click of adulthood is just an idea. In fact, it’s a fantasy.

Now, in another post some day I’ll go into some detail on why I think fantasies need to be recognized as real and productive, rather than as fake and childish, but for now, suffice it to say that I am not dismissing fantasies. Fantasies have complicated relationships with our lived lives and the structures that shape them, and the fantasy that adulthood will someday Click is not going to make the Click occur. Rather, the fantasy shapes the ways we relate to ourselves, our lives, and our relationships. Take the idea of stability: I believed that I would someday (“Maybe by the time I’m thirty…”) reach a point where all of my habits were good and in good working order, and my concern for my own health was clear-headed, stable, and fit; after this shift, I would be able to pursue all of the work I most hoped to pursue, engage most fully and intimately in all of my most important relationships, and begin to fulfill my long-held goal of saving the world. (The parameters of that goal shifted through time.) All I needed was the Click. Imagine the anxiety, disappointment, and shame that might emerge as this vision became increasingly blurry. Imagine the denial and suspicion that might arise for someone moving further into adulthood awaiting, but never feeling, that Click.

No, fantasies should not be dismissed as if they have no effect on the world, nor as if they cannot be productive and be used in beautiful ways. Another prominent Click: Be Here Now. Someday I will be able to be present, fully in the moment, without getting distracted. But what if not being here now is an essential part of human being? What if human creativity is impossible without distraction? What if our biology makes pure presence impossible and if our culture makes it undesirable anyway? What if the challenge were not to learn increasing Here-nowness, but to learn how to be in the not-here not-now way that we actually are?

That idea, Be Here Now, has had positive effects on many people’s lives. To what extent would it matter if it also created or propagated shame in as many lives or more? This is a vague question, and to fully flesh it out would take another long blog post. At the moment, that post would just lead to uncertainty for me. Did I need the Click to grow in self-awareness however much I have? Did I need the idea that once I had uncovered and healed the right combination of psychological wounds I would once-and-for-all have responsibility and stability and happiness in order to pursue the work of uncovering and healing psychological wounds? Without that fantasy, could I have pursued myself so doggedly? If so, is the shame that was created by that fantastical pursuit just a necessary byproduct to be tackled in due time? Or is it possible for there to be a language that undercuts this tendency towards the Click? A language of growth and direction that does not aim towards a goal, a striving that, while contentful, nevertheless does not entail a towards? I’m not sure. This rambling only scratches the surface of these still-vague questions.

The Click is a remedy that will never be administered. Some fear adulthood, but anyone for whom adulthood is a Click finds the idea of things staying the same more scary than the idea of being an adult. Once we are adults, then we’ll be capable, then we’ll understand, then we’ll have learned what all the other adults know. In the meantime, we scrounge around, wonder why no one ever told us how to do our taxes, and when we’ll stop feeling behind on this and that. Or once we are enlightened, or once we are self-aware, or once we are Here Now, or in love, or get that job, or move out of this place, or…

We wait. We’ve not been taught how to do much else but wait, and hope. I am waiting and hoping that we will start talking about this sort of thing more, and more skillfully, and that eventually we’ll start giving our children some of the tools that they’ll need to confront these sorts of inevitable yet unpredictable life challenges.

But… how do I work towards that if not in the structure of the Click?

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