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You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.--- Ray Bradbury

What is our generation about?: A Manifesto

Actually a rough draft. Not a manifesto. But read and scour these thoughts with me. I’ll be editing this soon, but I’m putting out this piece as an invitation to participate in the conversation with me:

First of all, I think subdividing people into generations in this modern day is flawed. Previous to the Baby Boomers, generations were not defined by years, but by major historical events. Generations should be defined by the actions which surround them and give the distinct flavor to that generation. Before the “Greatest Generation” (a name of course which they came up with), probably one of the most famous “generations” were “The Lost Generation”. Did these fellows have a paternal relationship to the GGs? Not really. Maybe some of the people, but these people were defined by the fact that came of age during WWI, not really by what year they were born. They were the young people who saw one of the first worldwide mechanized war machines.

Think about it. A new wave of storks doesn’t just come every 20 years.  Every year there are new kids, so drawing the line between Gen X and Gen Y becomes almost imperceptible. If you were born in 1979 December 31st, and your cousin was born in 1980 January 1st, does that mean you are different generations? Of course not. Multiple this complication by the vast cultural differences between when people get married, have kids, or in what order and the lines become impossible to discern. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_x#Date_range)

However, the whole generation definition became useful because you had a growing market sector caused by the worldwide spike in birthrate.  The following generations were really just “the kids and grandkids of the Baby Boomers”, and retroactively the “Greatest Generation” was “our parents”.  Those lines don’t really fit though, and they’re progressively going to not fit as time goes on into this next century. My parents are Baby Boomers, but they got married late. So I’m Generation Y but when I get married won’t line up with my peers and progressively as the years past it will become harder and harder to really say “What is it our generation mean?”

How exactly do you define this generation? We don’t even have a consistent name! They call it Generation Y, or The Millennials, or whatever. I’ve heard “MTV Generation” tossed around for both Gen X and Y. So what the hell?

While I disagree with this generational scheme created for marketing and journalistic purposes, Joshua Glenn at Hi Lo Brow magazine has a thought provoking generational scheming system of his own that’s at least worth a look. I’m skeptical of the entire concept  that gets thrown around, but at least his system, well versed in cultural history, has an interesting take on the entire issue. He makes a very good point when he says that the “Millennial Generation” :

“…was miscategorized from the start. In their 2000 bestseller Millennials Rising, the pop demographers William Strauss and Neil Howe claimed that a “Millennial Generation” was born between 1982 and 2000-ish. The catchy moniker came first and the sketchy periodization after that — Strauss and Howe picked ’82 because men and women born that year would graduate from high school in the millennial year 2000. Why does anyone listen to these guys?”

He’s got a point. The conceit that children are born in waves is fallacious, and here it’s threadbare as pre-distressed jeans.  Most of the time, it’s a tool that magazines need to define “What all the Youngins are doing these days”. The waves of cultural change do not happen in neat little 20 year gaps. The “Greatest Generation” were defined by their involvement in WWII and the Great Depression. The Baby Boomers were defined by their parents worldwide spike in horniness, and if we are to even say there is a Generation X, or Y, then we can only say it is defined by their relationship to their elders (disillusionment in the case of Generation X)

 There is a case still though for giving a name to our generation though. At least some fraction of what is called “The Millennials”.The generation I wish to speak about, my generation, perhaps our  generation if you are around the same age as me, is the group of young people currently going into the “Adult World”. For the sake of specificity, I’m going to say the group of people I’m talking about were probably born between the years 1986-1994. What is significant about those years and the people born in them?

There are a couple of important things about this group of kids/adults/manchildren. This is the generation of kids who are fueling the Occupy Wallstreet movement. This is the group of kids who voted Obama in (or at least fueled the enthusiasm of his campaign, as young people still make up a minor percentage in actual voters). This is the driving force behind the SOPA/PIPA protests. These are the kids who are now becoming adults, and there’s a couple important events that I think define this group.

The Fall of the Soviet Union and the Fall of the Berlin Wall.? When hack journalists write another fluff article about Gen Y or Whine, they never cover this incredibly important issue. Are they blind? We are seeing the seeds of this important events come to light that will forever change the way our generation sees the world.

Before that, for the previous 50 years America had been locked in a sizzling Cold War. People were brought on the edge of a nuclear holocaust. America was the only one left standing more or less a the end of WWII, and found itself, a fledgling new country thrust into the role of Superpower, along side Russia, who had in many ways found themselves in the same position. Remember, prior to WWI, America was not a superpower. France, Germany, the Prussian army, the Ottomans, the Holy Roman Empire, the British, Spain, Portugal, even the Dutch had spent time reigning as “Top Dog of the Modern Western World”. America wasn’t a super power. It was the hick cousin who you felt bad inviting to dinner.

                Paris was the center of culture, the reason that Humbert Humbert in Lolita loves to drag out those French phrases just to show how charming he is. Germany was the powerhouse of philosophy, science, and military. (oops) Then all the European powers beat the shit out of each other and then embarrassing good ol’ boy America had to come over and help pick up pieces. Starting with WWI and then continuing on with WWII, America steadily gained power until it suddenly became “The Superpower” in the late 1940s. Russia, less akin to a redneck cousin and more like a creepy inbred hillbilly, suddenly was also thrust into the superpower limelight. And thus began the Cold War.

                This is the age of superhero comics, and atomic dreams and etc etc etc. I’m not going to go off topic here talking about those generations. The point is, 50 years of constant, undeclared war wears on a nation. People were scared. The CIA gained massive control, performed weird freaky experiments and industry and technology was progressively becoming more and more estranged from normal people. And then, like the first hole breaking in the dam, The Soviet Union fell.

                This is the first defining moment for our generation. That’s why our generation have crowded the streets. We grew up in a period of hope. America had won! For the first time, we knew dragons could be slain. Look a the box offices during our formative years. Disney began churning out fairytale classics. Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and even continuing the same triumphant battle cry with new stories like The Lion King. Fantasy exploded across America. Of course, it’s true that there’s this brief unfortunate period of Boy Bands and Brittany Spears in the late 90s but this was a disconnected and cynical Hollywood machine turning towards its hedonistic default in times of peace. People wanted media, but our generation wasn’t laced with irony and star glazing eyes. We believed in fairy tales again.

                Soon afterwards, as we learned to read,  Harry Potter books went supernova, and a million Young Adult Fiction sprang up overnight  revolving around young protagonists fighting against evil. Adding fuel to the fire we had the gigantic success of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings in 2001 and you had a new mythos for our generation well rooted and already beginning to grow strong. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

                This is when our second Defining Moment happened. We had grown up with the hope of a booming economy and commie free world, and then It happened. The Fall of the Soviet Union, followed 10 years later by the Fall of the Twin Towers. Just as the Watergate scandal and JFK assassination effected the Moon Landing generation, so too did the 9/11 effect those who grew up believing America was safe and free.

                Now this isn’t going to go into politics. I’m much more interested in people. A wave of both patriotism and fear swept the nation. What did this mean to us as kids?

                We believed in evil. Whether you grew to hate the Taliban, or GW, evil had a face and if you couldn’t send troops to kill it, you could spray paint a protest sign to fight it.

                Generation X didn’t believe in evil because “Evil” didn’t have a face. Evil was communism, and nuclear bombs, and broken marriages. There was nothing to fight, just a ghost. We’d grown up reading stories of He Who Must Not Be Named, and The Boy that Lived. We believed in evil, and it had a name.

                My generation, whatever the hell you want to call it grew up with school shootings, and terrorists on American soil, and rising suicide rates, but it also grew up with a rising tide of optimism that overtook everything. Gen X may have created the tech companies that powered the Internet but we were the ones to use it. We were the ones who created absurd fanfiction websites, and 4chan, who plugged into Myspace, Facebook, and Youtube. The bands we listened to growing up got famous overnight playing a couple of songs on their website. The comics we read weren’t published by Marvel or DC and more often than not didn’t have anything to do with superheros. The early 2000s were the birth of mainstream distribution of independent music, movies, comics, books and ideas. Wild west days when piracy was something no one had heard of, but everyone used Kazaa or Limewire. When humongous fan bases swelled and thrived on niche subjects, producing thousands of pages of material and forum posts. Collaboration and communities flourished in high octane teen enthusiasm. In Podunk towns across America where you would have been lucky to get 3 radio stations„ you had kids plugging into a matrix of like minds.

                This inertia of energy, fueled by hope is what created the OWS movement. It’s the online communities that took on the Church of Scientology. It’s what fueled the massive online protests to stop SOPA. It’s the kids who watched the Towers fall but also America come together (at least for a couple of days) It’s the kids who voted not just for Obama but the hope and change, and watched as people in the Middle East fought for their freedom. If there is a zeitgeist, and I’m even skeptical that there is, then this is it. This is what our generation has been about. 

Getting Back to Work pt 7

Nicholas turned his body and locked himself in his fight stance. His muscles coiled, and he readied a strike. He slammed his fist straight into Carrasco’s  stomach, who gagged and began to spit again, but this time there were flecks of red.

            Nicholas readied another strike, when Carrasco’s legs shot out and entangled Nicholas again. He pulled him down and began to wrap himself around Nicholas and enfold his arms into an arm bar that would snap Nicholas’ arm. Carrasco began to strain with all his might; his teeth gritted, and his eyes rolling in his head with rage. But Nicholas would not give up, and he would not break. Nicholas began to rise again. As he began to stand, Carrasco readied his leg and kicked Nicholas straight in the side of his head. Nicholas stumbled, and stood where Carrasco finally delivered the final blow to his head. Nicholas fell to his knees, and then the blackness overtook him and everything became stuffy and dark.

            Light was blooming out of the sides of his eyes, and Nicholas squinted as his eyes rocked into focus. He was back on the sidelines with a towel on his head and the next fight already started. Bill stood next to him and patted him on the shoulder.

            “You lost, man.” said Bill “I guess we came for nothing.”

            “No. I pushed myself harder and higher than ever before. I completed my quest.”

            “So, now what?” said Bill. He watched Nicholas, as he leaned on one elbow and began to stand up.

            “Keep fighting till the end. Let’s go get back to work.”        

Getting Back to Work pt 6

The fighters walked into the center of the ring while the ref droned out a summation of the rules. They pounded hands, the match began. Carrasco looked at Nicholas and said, “Hello, Puto, don’t be mad. Just play along. Be reasonable, friend. I am unbeatable, and if you don’t give me trouble, it will save your dignity. I wouldn’t want to break anything.”

            “A hero doesn’t need dignity, and I will beat you. You know what they say - you can’t keep a good man down.”

            “Bullshit” hissed Carrasco. He went wide with a lunge, attempting to pull Nicholas in, so that he could pull him in close and bring the game to the ground where his superior weight would aid him in oppressing Nicholas into the ground. Nicholas danced out of the way, keeping his distance and adding a strike to the ribs with his heel. Carrasco grimaced and spit.   

            Carrasco had long sinewy arms, and he swung them out like dark tentacles, feeling to ensnare its prey and consume it. Nicholas kept his distance, getting quick jabs into the shoulders and ribs of Carrasco. Nicholas battered his head, and for a minute it seemed that Carrasco was bewildered and not sure what to do when his prey didn’t give itself to him. This guy was stupid and he was just giving himself more pain. He ought to make this easy on himself, no point fighting what you can’t beat.

            Carrasco saw an opportunity and lunged out. He tripped Nicholas’ feet, and our knight fell. He slammed hard on the mat, and before the stars could go out of his eyes, Carrasco had him around the neck. He began to pass to a submission hold that would choke out both of Nicholas’ carotid arteries and pull him into the darkness. Nicholas could feel himself slipping and the world growing faint, as the blood boiled in his veins.

            Nicholas fought back from the oblivion and rose above his dimming vision towards the light. He stood back up on two feet, as Carrasco tried to weigh him down. Nicholas fought the grey gravity and pulled himself higher, until Carrasco, with nothing left, slipped off like a forgotten memory. 

Getting Back to Work pt 5

“You have to pick your battles, man. If you end up in a cast, you can’t work.”

            “I throw down my gauntlet to the world. It’s my quest. I will fight and become the man I was meant to be.”

            “There is no arguing with you. I will keep your flag flying then.” replied Bill as he patted Nicholas on the shoulder.

Behind the laughing, Bill could see Nick gearing up for the fight.  This wasn’t just a fight.  It was a battle, a mission, an epic that had to be sung.

 

 Carrasco was no longer just a small-minded prick, but he represented every injustice that had to be fought in the world. And Nick was going to beat him.

            Bill grappled hard in his match, and he had the advantage of being the most stubborn lump of fat that Newman had tipped over in a long time, but that wasn’t enough to keep him from getting armed-barred after three rounds. Bill lacked technique or fitness, so he never expected much more. Looking over Nick’s fight, Bill was less hopeful. Whatever happened though, Nick was the one who was going out to fight, and Bill was his friend.

            Nicholas came back from outside, where he had been walking. Bill hadn’t noticed him talking much, because he had been busy himself, cramming in some last seconds of training. Nicholas had warmed up a little bit, and now he was stretching. He had spent most of the day watching people, training, and reading. Now, he watched again.

            Carrasco was on the other side of the gym floor, talking loudly and knocking people hard on the shoulder. Carrasco had made a habit of flaunting his C-list celebrity. He didn’t have the guts to compete at the higher levels of competition, or ever put himself at risk of facing an opponent he couldn’t just intimidate or simply break. He enjoyed his little territory and possessed it like a child drawing a line in the sand.

            And now, he was huge. In the short time since his registration weigh-in a week prior, he had gained enough weight to put him far in to the next weight category. Nicholas was of medium height, a stocky kid with a broad stout chest. Carrasco was now a ripped bloat of steroid-sweating muscles and self-obsession.

            Bill watched Nick on the opposite corner of the mat, precisely wrapping his hands. His eyes shone and the hint of a smile still quivered on his lips. Carrasco did his best to ignore his opponent, who to him was below his immediate attention, but Nicholas watched Carrasco like a hunter watches the tiger who killed his family. He was ready. 

Getting Back to Work pt 4

Bill slid off the side and thumped down onto the gravel drive. He began pulling out stuff from the back. He looked around at their contenders and mused to himself about whom he would be fighting. He hadn’t really expected to win. He really wanted to come to fight alongside Nick. Nick needed someone to look after him, someone reasonable and with their feet on the ground, to keep him from getting his arm broken or leg fractured. Bill was a plumber after all, and Nick a carpenter, and maybe that’s just the kind of personalities those kinds of people have. Plumbers do some of the most necessary work. Without water, your house is back in the 16th century. Plumbers are a moist sweaty bunch, but they get the dirty jobs done that need doing. Carpenters on the face of it seem to be just as practical. They build things with a high need for precision. Nick was intense, and he made every cut count and every surface was sanded right into place, without even the trace of a seam. But carpenters very quickly turn their eye for detail to laurel works and trailing ivy. A house was a house, whether or not it had a carved mantelpiece. But, of course Nick would have replied to Bill that it just wasn’t a home.

            “Okay, I have us all signed up” said Nicholas as he jogged up. “You are competing in heavyweight against Joel Newman from the BJJ team out in Santa Monica. I have Roger Carrasco in middleweight.”

            “What? Man. Oh, shit, man! That’s not even fair,” said Bill as he palmed his forehead and leaned on the truck.

            “You okay?” said Nicholas.

            “Carrasco wasn’t even supposed to be at this low in the tournament and you getting him for middleweight category?! This is ridiculous! The guy drops weight a couple of days before the official weigh-in registration and then, in the next week, he bulks up like crazy. He is famous for having come closest in his registration weigh-in to breaking to the next weight class. I think this time he was just a pound an a half short of it. And now, it looks like he has put on at least 25 pounds. He’s not even that good, but he kind-of cheats. That’s why he didn’t stay in Brazil, because they wouldn’t take his crap; but here in America, they are just impressed to get a Brazilian in the league, even if he lacks any technique, and he’s seriously injured the last three guys who fought him… broke their arms and stuff. The guy  is a real rude bastard too.”

            “Well, I will take him down a peg,” grinned Nicholas. He bared his teeth in a comical, rueful smile.

Getting Back to Work pt 3

“Oi, man, Nick, this is just what you or I need. Renovations have been slim ever since that downturn in April. I’m looking at having to sleep in my truck again.”

            “Yeah, I know, Bill. We just keep fighting, man. This is our adventure, and we can look at it as an obstacle or as a life. Plus we do get free cookies with the sandwiches.”

            “Speaking of which, I am going to go get. While you have your head up in the clouds fixing the sky, I am going to go look and see if I can get you a sleeping bag. Your stuff is already in the car, right?”

            “But, of course. I am packed and everything.”

            “Three days till glory, man.”

            And Bill clumped out of the room. You could hear his feat creak down the narrow spiral staircase littered with tools, buckets, drywall boards, and gypsum dust. Nicholas eyeballed his level marks and the row of x’s marking the studs, and he took a hammer and nailed it in.

            Two days of sleeping in a pickup truck, driving to the side of highways, hoping that the patrol wouldn’t stop to check in, and instead find vagrants sleeping with their mouths open and their snores fogging the windows that their heads leaned against. Slices of milk protein squeezed into slices and dyed yellow slapped between cheap white bread and a dash of ketchup were stuffed into a small drink cooler. Early morning light streamed through the windows each morning, waking up tight muscles and disheveled hair.

            Nicholas was driving now, while Bill leaned with his head against the window with his eyes closed. They rumbled over the vast gravel drive that served as a parking lot for the fifty or so cars and trucks that were already there. The light was almost done breaking over the trees and the slight chill and dew in the air was already beginning to evaporate. People were filing into the main lodge across from the gravel drive or sitting on its porch talking over cups of coffee with their back packs and gear sitting underneath them. Some wore the white robes of traditional jujitsu gi though many other were in athletic and extreme sports gear.

            “Hey, man!” said Nicholas, as he poked Bill. “We’re here. Check out those guys.” Nicholas pointed over to a spot on the lawn where a group of competitors were practicing their sparring. They were all dressed in skin-tight thermals and board shorts emblazoned with the logos of martial arts clothing suppliers.

            “I am awake, man… Looks like they are sponsored. Most guys at these events are, you know. That must be the life, man!” said Bill blinking his eyes and rolling his tongue around in his mouth.

            “Why did you never get sponsored? You have been doing this for long enough,” asked Bill.

            “I never stayed in one place long enough. What can I say? I am a troubadour, with a heart of fire and wandering feet.”

            “Right-o, Space-cadet. These guys are hard. They get more training in a day than we get in a week.”

            “If it were easy, it wouldn’t be any fun, now, would it?”

            “I wonder, sometimes, why I ever follow you to anything. Someday, I am going to get killed, because of you.”

            “Yeah, well, it’s going to happen someday, right? So let’s make it go out with a bang. Get the stuff out of the car; I am going to go sign us in.”

Getting Back to Work pt2

“Well whatever,” snorted Bill “ I think I am going to head out. I have to go grab the new PVC parts tomorrow and then I will be done with this job. Easy as pie.”

            “Pie is never so easy, when you are around,” replied Nicholas, as he straightened his level against the wall and marked out a straight, quick line.

            “Hey, at least I can bake worth a damn. You make Ra jealous with all your burnt offerings.”

            Nicholas flicked a piece of chalk at Bill, as he pushed up off of one knee and stood up off the dusty raw floor. Bill began to pack up his things and pile them in a corner. Both were absorbed in their tasks and did not notice the wispy white head poke in through the plastic sheets covering the door.

            “I’m sorry boys,” the head called out “I need to talk to you before you leave for the day. I know you have already been here a while longer in order to finish up the job sooner, but I am afraid I have a problem.”

            “Problem Ms. Whittaker?” said Bill with his hands resting on his hips “Let’s see if we can help you. Do you need the mayo opened again?”

            “No, I am afraid it’s a bit worse than that,” quavered Ms. Whittaker. She pushed aside the flap and stood fully in the room. “The social security check didn’t come through this month. There was a tie-up in the office and looks like it’s going to be late.”

            “I am sorry to hear that,” piped in Nicholas. “Is there a way we can help?”

            “I am afraid that’s the problem. I know you and all the other contractor’s men work so hard, but I can’t pay you until this check goes through. I wish I could help,” she replied. Her broken face looked down at the ground, and she held her hands in front of her like a little school girl caught cheating on her papers.

            “Oh.” replied Bill.

            Nicholas looked up from his marking on the walls and turned around. “We’ll manage. All of us always do. Don’t you worry about it.” He smiled and gave her the thumbs up sign. Bill grimaced out a smile and nodded.

            Ms. Whittaker nodded her bowed head and patted the plastic-covered door frame.

            “Thank you, boys. Don’t forget the packed sandwiches downstairs on the porch.” She said as she retreated through the door.

            “Wouldn’t miss them for the world ma’am.” called back Bill.  After she had gone, Bill sighed.

Getting Back to Work pt 1


“Oh, man. Can you bet what I am going to do with all that money?” said Bill as he rubbed his greasy hands together.

            “No clue, but I bet you are going to tell me,” replied Nicholas. He snapped his tape measure and it zipped back up into his hand with a rattle of metal. He took the pencil from behind his ear and made a mark on the wall beside a series of numbers.

            “I am going to go out and rage all over town man. I am going to get so fucking wasted! And the chicks man. Yeah. The chicks will love me,” grinned Bill. He wiped the pipe grease off his hands and hunched back over the ripped up wall.

            “It’s like 1,000 bucks, man. I mean I guess that’s enough to have a good night but its not going to get you to sugardaddy status.” Nicholas paced to the other end of the room and took out his measuring tape.

            “Okay, okay. Sure thing. Maybe I will just buy tickets and take out the old lady. But whatever, what do you think you are going to do, wise guy?” said Bill. He grunted as he shoved the pipe wrench forward, heaving his sweaty weight against the rusty plumbing.

            “I don’t know,” said Nicholas as he took a nail and tapped it to into the wall, feeling for the stud. “I haven’t given it much thought.”

            “What do you mean? You have been training for this for like 3 months! You gimped out on me for three concerts and the big psychobilly festival that was in San Fran. Don’t tell me you haven’t been thinking about that.”

            “I guess I’ll put it in savings? Or maybe go to some concert with you.” Nicholas nodded towards Bill. Bill shrugged at Nicholas and gave him an incredulous look.

            “Well, it’s not about the money,” laughed Nicholas “It’s about fighting the fight. I will be more than a man. I will become something more!” He spread his hands wide and grinned widely. 

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