Coming of Age
I’ve always been intrigued by the transitional periods in life, and believe that there are more out there than we generally acknowledge. In fact, I think our personalities molt quite a few times during our lifetimes, and not just when we’re acne-plagued, hormonally challenged teenagers. From where I sit, this acne-plagued, hormonally challenged thirty-something, for example, looks to be just about ripe for a good molting.
I think we’re always coming-of-age, always transitioning between the things we’ve learned and done into a place where what we’ve learned and done can become a stepping stone into a new phase of life. I’m not even sure these new phases must be age-related. I hate to think that learning and growing, for example, are things we finish with when we’re no longer “school-aged.” Isn’t school supposed to be a foundation for the rest of your life? Isn’t the rest of your life where the real learning begins?
For me, the coming-of-age period never really ended. I’m always growing in painful and occasionally miraculous fits and starts. In this sense, my novel is autobiographical: college, for me, was not a relief from adolescence, but a headlong nosedive into the deepest young adult drama and identity confusion I had ever experienced. I’m not afraid to say it: I was a heck-of-a-wreck all the way through my teens and into well into my twenties, long after I’d graduated from college and was supposed to have begun what people referred to as an “adult life.” I’m still trying to figure out what that means. But I do know that novels helped me to realize that I was not alone, as they’re so good at doing. Novels have always done such a great job of bringing light into those cobwebby corners of life and showing the truths that exist there, exploding neat categorizations and leaving behind far more nuanced realities.
After time cushioned the sharper memories of my college years and gave me the opportunity to reflect on them, I realized that I wanted to read – or write – a novel that would be a sort of reverse coming-of-age story, a story about someone whose disassembly -- her return to a more youthful, vulnerable self –helps her reengage with a more vibrant existence. An Uncommon Education was begun with an idea of how naïve we can be to think that college (or anything else) will be the be-all-and-end-all moment in our learning, that flags will wave and banners will be dropped upon our procession through undergraduate life and that our diplomas will be one-way tickets to a fully formed, articulate and profound way of thinking.
Thank goodness it doesn’t work that way, though for many of us, the process of coming to understand that it doesn’t work that way involves more than a few painful wake-up calls. But once we wake up, once we stop holding on to tired old definitions of ourselves or who we think we should be, once we realize that we’re never done, never fully cooked, always malleable and frequently up to no good, that’s when a critical softening starts to happen, when life begins to flow and feed us in glorious and unpredictable ways. So here’s to mess, and a lack of understanding, and many, many more novels that celebrate our comings-of-age however and whenever they happen.
About the author:
Elizabeth Percer’s poetry has been widely published. She has been twice honored by the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation and nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. She received a B.A. in English from Wellesley, a Ph.D. in arts education from Stanford University, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship for the National Writing Project at Berkeley. A native of Massachusetts, Percer now lives in California
AN UNCOMMON EDUCATION: A Novel
By Elizabeth Percer
368 pages/$14.99 Trade Paperback
On Sale: January 8, 2013