Age of License: A Travelogue (2014) by Lucy Knisley was an impulse check out at the library last night.
We all know that rule that personal finance advisors often spout with regards to sticking to one’s budget: Buy only what’s on the List. One part of me tries to apply that same rule to my book checking out habits which often suffer from a lack of discipline: Check out only what’s on the TBR list. Only because I have 1526 books on this list right this minute. It usually grows by a few books every other day, even though I am selective about what I add to it and often review it and cull out books that I don’t believe appeal to me any longer. Books on this list get crossed out (read) at a much, much slower pace. If I mean to make any significant progress on this List in my lifetime, I need not to give in to temptations I see along the way. Otherwise, I may never have time to read all those books that I really, really want to read.
Except, I really, really want to read these other books that catch my eye as well. The other part of me says what’s life without a serendipitous discovery or two? Borrow away. And so I did.
Lucy Knisley (you may know of her from her more famous work Relish, which I haven’t found in my local library thus far) mostly writes autobiographical accounts. I have read Displacement : A Travelogue(2015) where Knisley writes and draws about a cruise she takes with her 90-something grandparents and delves honestly into the realities of ageing and caregiving for elderly relatives that you love—the frustration, the helplessness, and the sadness. On many levels, Displacement was reminiscent of Roz Chast’s terrific graphic memoir, Can’t we talk about something more pleasant? (2014).
Age of License is just as much about youth being a time of endless possibilities, as Displacement is about the frailty and finality of advanced age. Knisley is invited to a comics fest in Norway and decides to make a trip out of it: romance a cute Swede in Stockholm, visit honeymooning friends in Berlin, taste wine and spend time with a vacationing mother in France, before finally flying back home to New York.
Knisley mostly does comic artist things in Norway—meeting fellow artists, giving talks, conducting comics workshops for kids, while also eating Norwegian foods, sightseeing and sketching, attending free outdoor concerts, drawing in cafes, strolling through Norwegian streets, visiting beer bars. The usual suspects, I suppose, if you are a food and culture curious comics artist visiting Norway. Knisley then travels to Stockholm to be with Henrik, whom she has met earlier in New York (and known only “for a couple of days”). Henrik is a “vegan Swedish swing dancer and former mathematician who lives in a commune” just outside Stockholm. Her journaling in Stockholm is a lot less painstaking than it is in Norway. Henrik is rather distracting.
Henrik is not just a cute face. He has a PhD in Mathematics for one. He even quotes Marcus Aurelius:
Everything we hear is opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not a truth.
True and true.
So, Knisley invites Henrik to go to Berlin with her and they decide to meet in Paris afterwards. Meanwhile, Knisley drives to Beaune, France, to meet a friend who works for a wine importer. There is some drinking and talking. Knisley then travels to Royan with her mother and her friends and later to Paris where she has one final rendezvous with Henrik. The short, sweet romance comes to an end, as was inevitable. Knisley flies back to New York, back to her “amazing, lucky, beautiful, sad, boring, wonderful…surprising” life as a comic artist.
Somewhere in the wine capital of Beaune, this travelogue went from just pleasant to deeply and personally meaningful. Invited to a post-wine tasting wine-drinking, Knisley and her friend Jane end up talking with Denis, a wine aficionado:
“The French have a saying for the time when you’re young and experimenting with your lives and careers. They call it L’Age License. As in: License to experience, mess up, license to fail, license to do…
…whatever, before you’re settled.”
I wonder if it’s even a real term…
If it’s not a real term, it should be!
It’s nice to have a name to give to this era of my life, where I’m exploring, experimenting…messing up and flailing a little.
I think this time can help us figure out what we want…
…And what we DON’T want!
…And to look at examples of other adult lives, and decide what life to aim for.
There, there it was. Over the past few months, as I have observed the past and current lives of people I think of as thinkers extraordinaire, I have been struck by what seems to be a common thread in their rich, purposeful lives—a period, sometimes an extended period, of boundless exploration, a period full of mistakes and meaning. While young adults I encounter today certainly seem to have more freedom to explore, I have often wondered if the right to this experience is tied to culture and time. I frequently think of the entire generations of people who have gone through their lives wanting and denied this essential rite of passage simply to adhere to notions of cultural appropriateness, and who were prematurely thrust into a very different age, The Age of Responsibility.
I can’t stop thinking about “The Age of License.” It’s so interesting that such a phrase exists, but the meaning is so nebulous—Do we have license due to being unattached or single? Does it have more to do with babies? Or youth? Or is it money?
Or is it just a combination of circumstance and a state of mind?
To what do I owe my greatest gratitude for this age of license?
Youth? Health? Savings? Friends?
I haven’t been able to stop thinking either. I’ve wondered about precisely the same connections—what are the six-point requirements to apply for this license? Being young and untethered? Or simply the absence of familial commitments, specifically children, which seem to be the single most notable absent feature in many of these lives? My son who’s not yet seven wants to be an explorer (exploring every inch of the earth), and among other interesting missions, search for live thylacines in Tasmania. He tells me he can’t have a wife or kids, because being an explorer precludes this by definition. He will have friends though, that’s okay.
So, what does being no longer young and unfettered mean? Or, more practically, as we progress through various Ages, how can regular people integrate meaningful exploration into their everyday lives, reclaiming some of the elements of this Age of License that has eluded them in the past, reconciling the joys, stresses and limited mind space that come with being a parent (by which I do not mean 25-minute guided meditation sessions)?