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February 19, 2007

Rejuvenile: The DadCentric Review

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Young at heart has come of age. Rejuvenile, the latest book by author Christopher Noxon, is an interesting and often humorous look at the proverbial inner-child and the increasingly common practice of letting that kid run. 

I must admit, I don't feel like a grown-up.  Seriously.  I still feel about the same way I did when I was in my twenties.  Early twenties.  I'll be 36 in a couple of weeks and while I am a married, home owning, bill paying, handsome son of a gun with two small children, I am not, according to the experts Noxon sites, a grown-up.  Some say my penchant for hours of playground activity is a menace to the way of western civilization.  Some say it is only natural (and a hell of a lot more fun).  Noxon tends to hold with the later. 

The rejuvenile embraces fun.  That fun can be in play for the sake of play, in collecting items often considered marketed for younger people, or interacting with one's own child.  In the introduction he states, "By loitering in territory established as the exclusive dominion of children, rejuveniles are challenging a rarely examined assumption: that one's age should dictate one's activities, social group, and mind-set.  Adults...are blithely shredding those scripts to confetti, giggling as the pieces float to the ground."

He continues, "Traditional adulthood didn't do us any favors... mostly a remnant of the Industrial Revolution, a set of standards established to encourage regularity, stability, steadfastness, and other virtues that aren't worth half as much now as one hundred years ago."

While the nay-sayers, labeled "Harrumphing Codgers" are pretty much cast as sticks in the proverbial mud, the term "rejuvenile" is not "meant to be entirely celebratory", rather it is "value-neutral."  He lists among them Walt Disney, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs. They are "geniuses, mavericks, oddballs, and crackpots."  Which one are you?

The roots of the movement, that being the resistance to the rigors of growing up, is attributed by Noxon to the turn of the twentieth century and most notably, the first flight of the eternal child, Peter Pan.  For play, to the rejuvenile, "is indeed the whole point of life."  Pan embodies a passion for fun that is infectious and inspiring, and sometimes downright dangerous.  Most rejuveniles are able to incorporate this spirit and balance it within the confines of an otherwise adult life, meaning one with responsibility and consequence.  Others, not so much.

There is a saying of disputed origin that embodies the modern rejuvenile:  We don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.  What does this motto mean today?  Adults are more and more subject to the "trickle-up effect of childhood play".  Otherwise "normal" people have either picked up extreme habits from the youth, or they never let it go from their own childhood.  Skateboarding, snowboarding, and the like have helped maintain a level of youthfulness that no cubicle can confine.  The lines between the hoods (child and adult, respectively) has become more and more blurry.

So the rejuvenile is what? The love-child of the Industrial Revolution and Peter Pan? Yes and no. 

A generation ago, adults could expect to finish school, get married, and start a career all within a few years.  Now people are living together before getting married, working while in school...and taking full advantage of their immunity from the expectations inherent in being a parent, husband, or wife.  They are, to borrow a sociological term, on "role hiatus," free to try things out, screw up, move back home, and try again.  Along the way, they're forging a new sense of adulthood-one that has less to do with what they've achieved than how they feel.

What's required of the rejuvenile, then, is a careful, deliberate, and yes, mature accounting of those qualities that come naturally to kids that can also contribute to rich and meaningful adult lives-and a weeding out of those qualities that are best consigned to childhood.

The book is a comprehensive study of what makes this movement a movement and not just a load of shit.  It examines the beauty of romantic ideals and the failures of ignorance, fear, and the embarrassment associated with trying too hard- often in the same sentence.

Chances are, like me, you are somewhere within the labels and examples given. I'm a little from  Column A and little from Column  B, a mixed-nut of adult and parental responsibilities with the carefree lust for fun expected of someone half my age (maybe a third).  Hello, my name is Whit, and I'm a rejuvenile.  I've been called worse.

Noxon, himself an admitted rejuvenile, does have some concerns which he voices throughout the book; among them the role of the media and corporate America in creating an adult-sized appetite for all things kid-like.  Yet, he concludes, "in the end, though, I don't think the rejuvenile impulse is ultimately rooted in any of those things.  When you boil it down, I think we rejuveniles are attempting to hang on to the part of ourselves that feels most genuinely human.  We believe that there is more value in what we came in with that what we are taught."

Amen to that brother.  Amen.



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