Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Hopeful Millennial Rant

A lot has been written about my generation in recent years. We are growing up, but only into "emerging adults.” And we are more screwed than any other generation in modern history. Yes, I am a Millennial. I am of a demographic that has apparently has been spoiled, coddled, overindulged, endowed with inflated self-esteem and a debilitating sense of entitlement. We have come to expect the best and assume that everything will work out in our favor. If you read my last post, that assumption is generally true. Because you know what? It will.

We know that because we're special, right? Our moms and dads and teachers and guidance counselors and soccer coaches and piano teachers and camp counselors and career mentors and SAT tutors and academic advisers told us so. I'm not a fan of all the names we've been called, but I find it funny that those who say we are so spoiled and entitled are the ones who did the spoiling. As far as the coddling and indulgence and entitlement, well, could we really help it? We were told we could do anything we wanted basically from conception. Women and blacks didn't have to fight for equal rights anymore (just equal pay), so therefore, anyone can be president!

We were the biological products of the prosperous 80s, missing out on all the bad hair and shallow music but reaping the benefits of prenatal vitamins and public education. We blithely marched to our Gifted & Talented programs and learned about self-esteem and why drugs are bad and how babies are made, all within the safety of schools that had plenty of crayons and books and playgrounds for everyone to share. We were the cultural products of the 90s, the children of the Internet and Nickelodeon and Disney. We were thrilled to hear that we've got mail, that messages were instant, that information was unlimited, that no question could go unanswered, and that we were constantly connected to millions of kids just like ourselves, who despite different time zones still knew all the words to catchy American pop songs. We paid attention to Clarissa's explanations and truly believed we would inherit a whole new world, which, I suppose, we have.

But it's not the world we expected due to forces completely beyond our control. And apparently trying to do something about it makes us whiny and entitled. Why do you think we expected this fanciful world of plenty in the first place? Because people told us we would! And if that world wasn't perfect, we could make a difference! So while half of us waste away without full-time jobs and move in with our parents and struggle below the poverty line, we have to accept that this is just a phase we're going through. We'll make it through, because what other choice do we have? Call me crazy, but I think all that "you can do anything you put your mind to" talk has really paid off. We actually have hope.

Really though, what else is there? It's one of the little things we can still cling on to and the only thing we've always had. Remember Obama (the 2008 model, that is)? We got excited about politics for the first time in a long time, because we had seen our country attacked and seen our economy turn to shit and seen our classmates come home without arms and legs due to wars that we didn't start and seen rich old white men in power for too long. We didn't get excited because Obama was black, we got excited because he was different, he was unique, he was new. And everyone is different and unique, remember? Free to be you and me? And unlike all the people who wanted him to wave his magic wand and make it all better, we knew that things would take time. Even though we grew up enjoying instant gratification, we knew that while the previous generations still reigned supreme, things would stay largely the same. So we still hold out hope.

We are hopeful because we grew up thinking the world was a lovely place to live in. We think it's weird when people are unnecessarily cruel and judgmental. Remember equal rights? Well, we always had them. We don't remember the fight for blacks or women because we grew up in their stead and just expected equal treatment. So my generation does not look down on women and blacks and gays as second class citizens--because we never did in the first place. That's why we couldn’t care less, regardless of our political or religious beliefs, if two gay men get married. We think that's pretty normal actually. We want them to marry, in fact, because we're practical and with half of us being the products of divorce, we'd rather families just be stable because it saves a lot of therapy and sad song lyrics and money in the end. Also, married people are more economically secure, so they can pay more taxes. Which means that we can provide more social services, you know, for things like that public school education that most of us benefited from and got us into the colleges that gave us the degrees that now we aren't using because of that economy that the older generations took a wrecking ball to and screwed us royally. Jerks.

In these dark and difficult times, there is still a feeling of togetherness. We're all in the same boat and we know it, because we see it in each other every day. Remember Facebook? We have always been inextricably connected, but one day in college suddenly our worlds fit onto one screen full of little blue boxes. We can now share our lives and hide our selves and unite in the present with those we knew in the past and suddenly it seems like everyone's lives are really fun and exciting! And hard. We share our daily activities and our favorite song lyrics and our differing political beliefs and what we had for breakfast and these new shoes we want but can't afford and our bargain vacations and our third world volunteering and our soul sucking jobs and our search for fulfilling jobs and our desperation for any jobs and our desperation in general and our yearning to succeed and our hope and our hope and our hope in the face of it all. We share and share and share because we have a network of people who get us, who know us, who are us. So what that our parents and their friends are on that same network now? We will share anyway. We have no shame because we are proud of who we are and what we’re doing and we something to say. Even if it's not always important (and it usually isn't), well goddamn, 900 people hear us! That gives us hope!

I am proud of my generation for the fact that we’re us and we're okay with being US. We're hardworking and lazy, motivated and apathetic, family-oriented and tradition-bucking, isolated and interconnected, directed and confused, yet we are fucking HOPEFUL. Most of us are doing what we need to get by and expecting the best and just having faith. We're tired but we're optimistic. We're accepting of our fates but we know we can still shape them in the end. We know we're lucky if we’re employed. We know we're lucky in general. I just hope others can see that.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Old College Try

This past weekend I celebrated a "substitute Homecoming" with friends at our alma mater, Fordham University. Since we weren’t able to make it to the actual event this year, a friend organized a special trip instead. We were graced with an amazingly perfect autumn day that also turned out to be part of Parents' Weekend, when parents of students are invited to check out where their money is going. It was awkward and hilarious. We started the day with freely flowing mimosas, rode the Metro North, browsed the bookstore for maroon gear, enjoyed drinks as real adults at Dagger John's, ate wings at Howl at the Moon, devoured sandwiches at Tino's Deli, filled up on pitchers and bad 90s music at MugZ's, and finally headed back to the city. Unlike the days of old however, instead of going back out after a full day of partying, we found ourselves exhausted by midnight and asleep by 1 a.m. Yes indeed, we have gotten old...

I loved my college years and will always look back on them with love and affection and surprisingly few regrets. But college was not perfect or painless and I'll be damned if I ever start referring to it as, "the best years of my life." I like to think that the best is yet to come. College was, on one hand, a dream world... but it was tough at the same time, and not just academically. It contained a lot of personal changes, extreme highs and painful lows, unnecessary drama, crazy all-nighters, debilitating hangovers, and a serious sense of dread as graduation approached and you realized you were no closer to knowing what you wanted in life than the first day you set foot onto that lush green campus.

Still, compared with the “real world,” college life was grand! And making difficult decisions was just too easy! Ordering pizza at 4 am? Of course! Skipping class because it was just TOO NICE outside? Obviously. Choosing to buy vodka instead of food because your bank account didn't allow for both? That's simple! Risking your life by climbing on a roof just to watch the sun rise? Why not? Writing a paper you had a month to prepare for in four hours the night before? DONE. And then getting an A on it? YES!

Of course, there were serious things, too. Like debating the merits of Sartre vs. Kierkegaard vs. Heidegger vs. godknowswho... Or comparing literary children of nature with accounts of feral children because you developed extremely bizarre interests... Or tracking dialect changes and vowel shifts because you were suddenly going to be a linguistic anthropologist... You know, things that really prepared your for the real world. This was the essence of college.

In the end, I guess the real beauty was that those years were full of endless possibilities for the future, the present, and hell, even the past. Don't like your major? Change it. Don't like this class? Drop it. Don't like your name? Well, no one knew you in high school anyway. Just kidding. I actually didn't do any of those things. Yet looking back I realize that we were very young and very carefree and simply had faith that everything would work out in the end despite the pointless classes we took and poor decisions we made. In fact, we ASSUMED everything would work out. And as far as my classmates go, I think most of us are doing just fine, though we’ve taken a few detours and hit some bumps in the road. Like the economy, for instance. You know, little things. But in the end, regardless of things we did or didn’t do or said we’d do and couldn’t or didn’t even try to do or never expected to do in the first place or never could have predicted or were completely beyond our control… Well, the kids are all right. Really, we are. Thank you for asking. Now please, give me another beer.