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Unrealized potential

Rebecca O'Neil | Thursday, November 21, 2013

“As some people prepare for their old age, so I prepare for my 20’s.”
I’ve just had the incredible pleasure and made the horrible mistake of reading “An 18-Year-Old Looks Back On Life.” Joyce Maynard’s essay, published on April 23, 1972 in The New York Times, is 8,202 words of complete gold – and completely depressing for someone about to embark on a column on turning 20.
If I could relay any coherent thought on modern culture in 450 words, this would be my chance. What a joke.
You can laugh, but exposure to a series of transcendentalist authors and psychedelic musicians had me self-realized at 15. Convinced that the best music and the most beautiful minds were lost after the ‘60s, I would spend the next four years as one of those people, who believes they were born in the wrong era – an idealist in a perpetually disillusioned state.
Up until this semester, I was sure my emotional and intellectual development had peaked because the world had nothing worthy left to offer. Philosophy, politics and religion were a bore because my thought processes were cyclic and mundane.
This summer was something else though. David Foster Wallace, Kelly Konya and Junot Diaz instigated theories in language I was once unable to breach in my head. When Clockwork Orange, Rudimental and Alvin Risk layered melodies smothered in synth, even my eardrums had epiphanies. My internship at Los Angeles’ KIIS-FM and my job at the Santa Anita racetrack provided opposite spectrums of “the real world” which simultaneously shocked and fascinated me.
Now I am 15 again, minus the sense of nostalgia but plus the sense of childlike wonder – three inches and 20 pounds. Electronic dance music, contemporary writers and new friends challenge me. I have realized that I am, in fact, extremely far from self-realization but that the journey to that state inspires.
Nineteen has been a solidly awkward year of self-discovery and 20 I expect will be a year of world-discovery.
As Maynard said, “So where are we now? Generalizing is dangerous. Call us the apathetic generation and we will become that. Say times are changing, nobody cares about prom queens and getting into the college of his choice any more — say that (because it sounds good, it indicates a trend, gives a symmetry to history) and you make a movement and a unit out of a generation unified only in its common fragmentation. If there is a reason why we are where we are, it comes from where we have been.”
My peers and I are capable of more than society has imagined for us.
We are fragmented but possess unrealized potential.

Contact Rebecca O’Neil at [email protected]
The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.