There are early bloomers, there are late bloomers, and there are adults who don’t feel in touch with their inner grownup.
Sharon Hyman, a 40-something from Montreal, started making “auto-documentaries” (her term) decades before YouTube came along. Like so many people I know, myself especially, she found as she was approaching 40 that she didn’t wear the badges of a grownup life. No house, no spouse (not even of the ex- variety), no kids, no definitive job title, not so much as a driver’s licence, “still waiting for [her] grownup life to kick in”. So she went on a filmic quest for that unicorn, the holy grail of identity, grownuphood.
Neverbloomers: The Search for Grownuphood (2011), a lighthearted but thoughtful 52 minute doc which will have its world broadcast premiere on Monday 27 February at 20h00 (8pm) ET/PT on CBC’s Documentary channel, is an investigation into a phenomenon memorably addressed in the Seinfeld (episode 1, season 7 “The Engagement”) “We’re like children; we’re not men!”
We neverbloomers ask ourselves, “What should I have accomplished by now? What is expected of me?”
Tom Lehrer was once sobered by his observation that, “when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years. (Later in life Lehrer remarked, “I went from adolescence to senility hoping to bypass maturity.)
Neverbloomers gets a substantial boost from the onscreen presence of Canada’s sardonic star documentarian Peter Wintonick who made a film you would have to be ashamed not to have seen (yet), Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. And Wintonick is just one of a wide range of individuals – family, peers, neighbours, strangers, academics, spiritual leaders, mentors, medical professionals and, of course, a punk rocker turned banker – contributing jibes and insights throughout the film.
Hyman told me by email she wanted to interview “people who had the ‘external trappings’ that I lacked, to determine whether they did, in fact, make you feel more like a grownup…I definitely wanted to speak to a diverse range of voices – different cultural backgrounds, ages, etc…But these really are the people in my life.” She did about 50 hours of interviewing for the film, which she has been working on for 10 years.
There is certainly a degree of narcissism in Neverbloomers, perhaps hard to avoid in a film that is essentially autobiographical, but Hyman is examining a phenomenon of which she is merely one example, presenting herself as a case study. In fact, maybe self-obsession (which has become status quo since the advent of YouTube anyway) is part of being a neverbloomer. I ask her whether neverblooming is a symptom of our times, or a cultural, generational, or economic thing.
“Sometimes I think this is the era of the Neverbloomer,” she says. “[Things] have changed – people marrying later, if at all (and then ending up divorced), the percentage of women who never have children has doubled in the last few decades, there are few cradle-to-grave jobs anymore, those sorts of things. And then there’s the lifestyle changes…[M]y parents had cocktail parties and belonged to the synagogue and actually went out of the house several nights a week! Our generation has TV and Facebook. Very isolating.”
She also tells me about the vanishing delineation between childhood and adulthood, “which leaves many of us wondering how adulthood can now be defined”. Some would argue that the distinction between childhood and adulthood – whereby children are coddled like babies until they are in their mid-teens or mid-30s – is an invention of the modern world of affluence. What once might have been deemed “work that the kids can help with” could now fall under the label of “child labour”. In some parts of the world people still marry before they would be old enough to drive in this country, because, when life expectancy is short, you don’t put off till 40 what you can do when you’re 14.
But the questions that are asked in Hyman’s film – When did or will you start to feel like a grownup? Why would you want to be a grownup? What is a grownup? – yield no uniform answers. Kids can feel grownup and grownups can feel like kids. So maybe neverblooming has always been around and maybe it always will be. Maybe this is simply the first time someone has given it a name – and made a film about it.