This is the sad, sorry tale of my IKEA dresser. May it rest in eternal Scandinavian peace, where everything comes up Swedish meatballs and nothing hurts. See, I’ve had this dresser for about two years now. It’s made of wood and what I think might actually be cardboard, coated with some kind of Viking magic of yore that gives it some intriguing, yet inexplicable, sturdiness. I bought this dresser right after I finished the publishing course and we moved into our new! apartment! here in the city. For the first time in four years, I had the opportunity to decorate my living space from the bottom up. I didn’t have college-issued furniture, or the furniture I’d had since I was about seven years-old.
I had some savings and what was left of my advance for Brightly Woven after paying off loans, CPC’s program costs, and the stupidly high cost of moving in NYC. But, basically, like all other twenty-somethings, I knew I needed to be pretty frugal with my spending. Which meant IKEA. Which, in NYC, means boarding a crazy ass water taxi (a water taxi!) and journeying out to Brooklyn. It was just so magical and shiny and new to be fighting your way through these crowded aisles, trying to pick out decorative candles, attempting to guess if a piece of furniture will fit in your room because you, uh, whoops, forgot to measure your room’s dimensions before setting out that morning. Even after everything was delivered and I was at home putting the furniture together, I just kept thinking, “Yes. This is exactly what it feels like to be an adult. This is what adulthood is all about. Viking magic. Plywood furniture. Decorative candles.”
We have so many rituals in our lives; so many moments and cues that are suppose to indicate when we’ve passed from one stage of it to the next. In the case of America, we all tend to have very similar milestones to—supposedly--mark our progression from childhood to adulthood. Learning to ride a bike! First love! High school! Prom! Graduation! The American Dream and all that. Experience told me when I stopped being a “kid,” and numbers told me when I was no longer a “teenager,” but my definition of when exactly I’m going to hit “adulthood” is constantly in flux. First, I thought I was an adult when I turned 18 and went to college. Then I was convinced I crossed the threshold when I turned 21, but, no, I then went on to think that I was an adult when I graduated from school. And THEN I was like, “Well, well, well! First job! Paying my own rent! I really am a grown-up now!” But then I wondered if maybe 25 was a more realistic number, because then people apparently trust you enough to rent you a car. Yesterday, though, I decided it was whenever I finally did my own taxes.
I brought my dresser, my poor, poor dresser, into this random discussion for a number of reasons, all of which are purely symbolic. When I bought it, I thought my adulthood was off to a rip-roaring start. I had a new job in a new city and a new book coming out in a few months. But last year, and the second half of 2009? They weren’t particularly great for me. My first (beloved!) agent left the industry, I was fighting through a book that wasn’t ever going to go anywhere, I was working harder than I’d ever worked in my entire life and stressed to-the-max at my job, I hated the city I lived in, and the charm of paying for everything myself had quickly worn off.
At the start of last summer, right when I was convinced I was never going to sell any book every again, I started to notice the middle drawer in my dresser started sagging. And sagging. And sagging. And it was causing me all of absurd stress, because no matter how many times I tried to fix it, or build something in to support it, it just got worse. Suddenly, it wasn’t just a matter of having a crappy ass dresser, it was a matter of me failing spectacularly as an adult because I wasn’t in a job I liked, I didn’t sell another book, I was definitely going to die an old spinster (only with my unpublished manuscripts surrounding me instead of cats), homeless people would yell at me on the subway, the lady at Dunkin’ Donuts yelled at me because I didn’t have enough spine to stop someone from taking my breakfast sandwich order, AND THE DRESSER I BUILT WAS CAVING IN ON ITSELF!!!!!!
But, see, this is the weird thing. Once I started working on the story that would eventually be Black is the Color, everything seemed to settle down in my world. That happy center was found again. I figured out how I could write while having a crazy time-suck job working in a crazy-making industry where books sold every day (but none of them were mine, which was fun, but talk about being constantly reminded of your failures as a writer. Woof.). I think I just became so focused and involved in the story that I stopped being so fixated on my gimpy dresser. I wrote and wrote and wrote and everything was fine. Great, even. But wouldn’t you know it, the minute I started questioning whether or not anyone would ever read BitC, that dresser drawer started sagging again. The story is so different from anything else I’ve tried that I could actually feel the risk settling over my shoulders like a weight. Add in the fact I had this ridiculous ~4 before 24~ goal in regards to how many books I wanted under contract before I turned 24, and you can imagine how badly I was psyching myself out. The drawer broke just around what you might call my Dark Night of the Soul, in which I was two heartbeats away from crawling under my desk and giving up entirely.
Obviously, things worked out for me in the end. They more than “worked out.”
Yesterday morning, while I was sitting on my bed, I watched the top drawer of my dresser roll itself out—out—out—until it fell out of the dresser completely and crashed onto the floor. I think it should have upset me more than it actually did, but when you’re in a pretty good place in life, “bad” redefines itself. Definitely need to buy a new dresser, preferably not one from IKEA.
I tend to view all YA novels as not necessarily being a reading level age group (12 and up or 14 and up), but having a similar underlying theme which is that the main characters (more often than not) “come of age” in the course of the text. There’s an element of self-discovery, whether it’s about themselves of about the world. So it shouldn't be any big surprise that one of BitC’s many questions is, “How and when do you start defining yourself as an adult? Is it decided based upon age, experience, or self-perception?” Ruby self-identifies as a “kid” and labels anyone under the age of 18 that way. In part because circumstances have stunted her emotional growth and understanding of her place in the world, and in part because I, as a writer, wanted to created a heightened sense of Us versus Them. Another character, Liam, has a line that goes something like, "Adult is an attitude, not an age, right?" I tend to side more with Liam these days, I think. Sometimes I revert back to acting like I'm ten-years-old, but if I couldn't... where's the fun in that?
Oh wow, I’m really rambling now. In any case, I guess what I’ve accepted as my personal definition of adulthood over the past year is threefold: a willingness to take a chance on things; to process the “good” and the “bad” and find it in yourself to move on; and to make better life choices about furniture.