By Yu-Jeat Chong
'Why do you still like Pokemon?', my mom asked, as I dragged her along to the Pokemon Centre at Jewel Changi Airport, Singapore.
I was a subdued version of Enid Sinclair from Netflix's Wednesday, barely containing my excitement as my eyes scintillated at neatly arranged rows of Singapore exclusive Pilot Pikachus. Being in my mid-thirties, society would probably consider me to be a person who had crossed the threshold into adulthood. I am currently a part-time student at Lucy Cavendish studying for the MSt in Creative Writing: an opthamology consultant with three university degrees who is married, owns a mortgage, and pays his own tuition fees. Reading in between the lines, her weighted words were like an affront to my identity as an adult. How could you still be like this after all these years? How could you still like these childish things? Maybe it is time for you to give me grandchildren. She may or may not have intended all of the subtext, but I was confident that the barbed question was rhetorical, and that she was neither interested in the Pokemon universe nor the fact that Pikachu is an electric-type Pokemon. In defence of adult status, I retorted 'why not', followed by the excuse, 'my friend from university who is an engineer for Siemens also likes Pikachu, and I am going to buy her one.' Remarkably, an attempt to assert my adulthood had transmuted into a futile child-like tantrum. As the American spiritual guru Ram Dass once said, 'If you think you are enlightened, go and spend a week with your family.'
In the opening chapter of The Shadow-Line, Joseph Conrad writes: 'One goes on recognising the landmarks of the predecessors, excited, amused, taking the hard luck and the good luck together [...] One goes on. And the time, too, goes on, till one perceives ahead a shadow-line warning one that the region of early youth, too, must be left behind.'
The University of Cambridge itself is an ancient landmark of predecessors, whilst simultaneously marking a boundary in many of our lives with promises of a different future. Masters, senior fellows, fellows, tutors, porters, formals, gowns, black tie events, leather Oxford shoes, heavy wooden doors guarding quadrangles of other colleges, River Cam, chapel evensongs, no mobile devices at formals. Do these classical university experiences draw us closer to adulthood? Or are simply within the refuge of a storied institution, away from the cast-iron lamppost in Parker's Piece field field that marks the reality checkpoint? I brought this question to Camden Sabathne, a fellow Lucian, and postgraduate student in creative writing. She spent her life growing up in the Midwest of the United States, in the small town of Roscoe, Illinois. In contrast to myself, Cam is in her early twenties, living with her parents, neither married nor a mortgage owner. 'I think that we can think of adulthood in terms of push and pull factors. I am still dependent on my parents financially at this stage of my life. I wouldn't say that Cambridge pushes me towards adulthood, and I do still feel closer to my childhood than adulthood,' says Cam. 'What are the pull factors?', I ask. 'Being around people like yourself and Tracy who I consider as adults, who treat and speak to me as equal peers. It makes it feel like I am being pulled towards adulthood.' Tracy Dahlby is one of the older students on our course, a retired Professor of Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, who has had many achievements in life including winning an Emmy Award. This is one of the many magical features of learning at Cambridge, where we get financially independent people with successful careers learning alongside postgrads who have never entered the world of work. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center study, 64% of Americans think that young adults should be financially independent by the time they are 22 years old, a boundary considered to mark the crossover into adulthood. However, only 24% of young adults - if we could agree on that definition - consider themselves as being financially independent, as most still rely on their parents to afford rent and education. Without the involvement of what Bomad has referred to as the 'Bank of Mum and Dad', it is estimated it would take an average person between age 27-30 up to 18 years to save a deposit for a home in the UK. Meanwhile, young adults who receive grants from the government or university may feel less dependent on others and closer to adulthood. Could adulthood be viewed like a bucket containing aggregations of life experiences? When enough of the bucket is filled, is it then tipped over a threshold of no return? According to the Cambridge dictionary, adulting is the 'actions and behaviour that are considered typical of adults, not children or young people.' This includes the mundane but necessary tasks such as keeping our homes clean, paying bills, and doing the groceries. As life requires us to inhabit the role of an adult, do we distance ourselves from what Conrad describes as the 'region of early youth', until we reach the line which we must pass? As a writer, I often invoke my child-like curiosity and creativity. In this state, I am free to take materials from my inner reality into the real world without restriction; there are no judgements, rules, or norms which govern the world of an adult. This often helps me produce the most imaginative and original pieces of work, although the teleportation portal between adulthood and childhood often malfunctions and traps me in the mundane pragmatism of adult life. Once having become accustomed to adult-like activities, we struggle to regress to childhood every so often. Creative product designer Peter Skillman once ran an experiment with people from different backgrounds, giving them the task of building the tallest possible structure in twenty minutes using uncooked spaghetti, masking tape, a string, and a marshmallow. Kindergarteners, who learned rapidly from experiments and mistakes, were the best performing group of all, while business school students, who were hampered by excessive planning, performed the worst. In certain communities, the transition to adulthood is considered irreversible and demarcated clearly by religious ceremonies. For example, Latin American communities celebrate the quinceañera, a religious and social event that celebrates the transition of a girl into womanhood at the age of 15 with food, music, dance and other rituals. During this celebration, the surrendering of a doll represents giving up childhood, while heeled shoes indicate readiness for womanhood. Other similar examples include the Jewish Bar Mitzvah, and the Danish confirmation. Another popular coming of age tradition is the 'sweet 16', coinciding with the minimum driving age of 16 in the United States and Canada, a secular sign of adulthood. Surely, the idea of adulthood has legal implications, with the legal age of consent for sex in the UK being 16 years old, two years in advance of the legal age for drinking at 18. While adulthood promises freedom, independence, and autonomy, it comes with a baggage of responsibilities and hard luck, both good and bad. Still, we may regress into the threshold of childhood every now and then, as I will undoubtedly insist on showing off my Pokémon figure collection to my mom the next time she visits my apartment.