Doesn’t to live life as something suggest a disguise or assumed identity? After all, the company whose ad had the tagline “If I have only one life, let me live it as a blonde” made hair dye, not special products or philosophy books for the naturally golden-haired. My male-to-female transgender friend continued to live at first with the former wife: “For now we’re living as sisters.” I was stunned and permanently awakened to the racism in my society when I read John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me, his chronicle of the time he spent living as a black man.
That’s one reason my student’s sentence cried out to be written down. For me, the first meaning of “living life as a teenager” is “living life under the assumed identity of a teenager,” or “passing as a teenager.” The older the person who tries doing that is, yes, the more difficult it is to do—which doesn’t necessarily stop some people from trying, unfortunately. Oh, the youth-celebrating clothing draped on (or stretched over) the middle-aged frame. Oh, the bizarre hair effects. Oh, the inappropriate obsessions!
Stepping one step closer to the writer’s intentions, we can interpret the statement as a comment on the difficulty of living classified, by oneself or by others, as a teenager. I remember my own teens—hell, I remember my own quite-early years—when I thought of myself as fully grown up. I was talking with an interesting twelve-year-old a few weeks ago and was quite taken with the air of assured competence: I am a mature person. “I’m only a kid” isn’t something most of us actually believe, perhaps; it’s the excuse when things go wrong. Watch children play and you are watching people behaving with all the maturity available to them, which is also all the maturity they are able to experience. That must be why teenagers get so exasperated at parents who seem to think they’re not mature, not capable of knowing what’s best for themselves, not savvy in their own world—just teenagers, just kids. And then to have to acknowledge that society agrees with that judgment in the course of simply wanting to do things that seem appropriate, like having a drink, or traveling far afield, or staying out late, or voting, or living alone—No, nuts, I’m too young…. I don’t have to speculate that that’s very difficult: I remember that it is.
Of course my writer merely meant that life is hard for a teenager, or that the teen years are fraught with various agonies. The sentence could have been more direct (and therefore less open to riffing by writing instructors), and more poignant. But even if that’s “merely” what my student meant, it’s a pretty big utterance too.
Grading final papers and projects for my first-year students, muttering frustrations and disappointments under my breath and watching the clock tick away the minutes and hours while the pile of work doesn’t seem to get any smaller, I would do well occasionally to repeat the wise reminder of the sentence under discussion. Living life as a teenager is a very difficult thing to do. Just making the effort is worth something.