Jun 5, 2013

The Big Shill

Dear Ask A Punk -
It is weird writing this since I know you're probably as old as my dad, but I sure as fuck would not ask these questions or even admit my confusion because he's a douche who thinks the world would be just fine if pretty much everyone on the planet just did things exactly the way he thinks they should be done. Not that he is any big genius or rich guy, quite the opposite in fact. This email isn't about him, it is about me and that big wobbly unknown thing called The Future.

I got through high school OK and had a good enough time. I wasn't popular or anything, but these days being "punk" doesn't automatically make you an outsider and I am pretty big anyway, so jocks and other idiots never really messed with me much. So that was high school. Now, two years after high school I don't know what the fuck to think. I'm still living at home. I couldn't go to a real college because I wasn't the greatest student and there was no money, but I didn't want to be a lazy fuck, so I've been going to community college, which is really even more of a joke than that TV show, and I would be working a crappy job if I could find one that wasn't 100% crappy, and I've been trying to figure out what to do with my life. Meanwhile I've watched my friends my same age, and it definitely isn't like TV or what you read in the news. Yeah we all spend too much time on our phones, but I don't know anyone who is living a life like what I read about. No one is "making an app" and becoming a millionaire, no one is moving to a big city and making their parents pay for it, and sure as shit no one wants to join the Army any more. I don't know what I want to do with my life, but I do know what I don't want to do, and the problem is that it seems, when you get all the way down to it, I don't want to do the one thing that it seems like everyone is trained or in training to do: Sell shit or buy shit so you can turn around and sell it for a profit. I mean everything. Either you're literally a salesman selling cars or computers or something or you're selling yourself and more friends than I like to admit refer to themselves as a "brand" or they're selling a "concept" or "idea" or some other horseshit. I'm not a communist or anything, but it seems like there must be more to life than buying and selling, always with the idea to get more more more - even if you have to fuck over whoever you're selling to. I'm not talking about worrying about "Selling out" either. I don't even know what that would mean anymore anyway. I just wonder what all of us real 23 year olds are going to do for the next 40 or 50 years and is there any way we can do something less suck-ass than every other generation has? If you were 23 again, what would you be doing? or is that even a fair question? I don't fucking know. I just know there has to be more point to being here than becoming a used car salesman. - Millennial My Ass.

Dear MMA - 
OK, I'll start with this:

"I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that."  -- Lloyd Dobler

 In case you don't recognize the name of that particular philosopher (and I realize you probably do) Lloyd Dobler was a character in a movie that your parents might have seen together on one of their first dates, back in 1989, long before they had you. Why am I saying this? Just to point out that you're not the first generational cohort to feel like you could do things better than the weasels, sellouts, sadsacks and malcontents that came before you. Good luck. No, seriously, I mean it: Good luck, because you guys have quite a battle ahead of you.

Sorry to hear your dad was/is such a throwback when it comes to parenting skills. If the vast majority of reporting on "Millennials" is to be believed, you're in the minority of people your age who dislikes his or her parents. One recent story on Salon, written by an actual Millennial makes it sound like you all are, generally-speaking, a friendly, well-adjusted, social, love-my-parents kind of generation. Here in the real world, I have found this to be generally true as well. The vast majority of 20ish people I know - whether from interaction, or teaching (yes, I teach sometimes) seem to be remarkably free of the pessimism, sarcasm and distrust of, well, everything that we Gen-X types were (and are.) ...and again, I'm not being patronizing, I'm actually a bit envious. The one thing that all this reportage overlooks when comparing the wrung out Gen-Xers to the spunky new Millennialists who have such awesome and involved parents is this: Those parents are themselves likely to be Gen-Xers... so what does that say about the generalizations made about US ??  How about finally throwing a little credit our way for something this huge: finally raising a generation that actually is better adjusted than the previous one was?

All of my friends with late-teen to early-twenties kids were themselves raised by the so-called "Baby Boomers" and in some cases by the shadow generation just before the BB's, yet somehow many of us managed to break cycles of parental non-involvement or domestic abuse etc. I know, I know - every generation hoists their newborn beauties to the sun and promises not to repeat the mistakes their parents made, but for once, a majority of a parenting generation seems to have pulled it off. All these well-adjusted, non-cynical, bright-eyed, friendly, talented, optimistic kids had parents who were none of those things as children but, with steely-eyed determination made their homes a safe and nurturing haven for their offspring. What are the odds?

...of course, with any cultural pendulum swing, these things can be taken too far. The difference between "engaged parenting" and "freaky, overly-involved, engaged parenting" can be a very very fine line. It can produce some trouble. It can lead to kids who are positive  and well-adjusted or it can lead to kids who are completely unprepared for bosses who and systems that don't give half a crap about your self-esteem or well-being.  

Then there is the word:"Entitled." When uttered by an older generation it is often code for "unseemingly impatient."  Anyone my age who starts throwing words like those at you guys has either had an aneurysm or has forgotten what it was like when he/she was 22, starting out on some job or career path and didn't want to do coffee runs for their Baby Boomer bosses. In fact, we couldn't understand why all these 40-something fossils wouldn't just  die or at the very least get out of our way instead of hogging all the jobs, money and cool cars. 

...oh, and we were all fairly certain that the washed up B-movie actor, astrology enthusiast (and bad parent) who had been installed as our puppet/president was going to get us all blown to tiny, glowing bits before we hit 30 anyway. THAT will really mess with a generation's psyche. 

And by the way, this is another thing older generations do: They prattle on and on about whatever is on their minds instead of just answering your damn questions. My apologies, so let's try to reel it in a little bit.

On the plus side, you're young and as impatient as I know you are, you've got a little time. I know that sounds like bullshit, but it is true. You also have the sort of technology that was pretty much science fiction when I was 22. I know you hear that a lot too, but it is worth hearing again. At 22 you actually CAN change the world without leaving your parents' basement. You don't have to move to a "big city" unless you really want to... but if you can, you should, even if you later move back home..why? Because you can!

On the minus side, as you pointed out, those holding pattern jobs that we Gen-X slackers slid into so easily when the Baby Boomers wouldn't budge and we needed to sort our shit out, are gone, gone like the Pharaohs. Work in a bookstore for a few years while "thinking about grad school"?  Forget it. Work in a record store while your band gets its act together? What are record stores? On the other hand, we didn't have coffeeshops to work in or ebay/etsy to sell our stuff to the world.

This is one of the big problems you guys are up against. All that ass-kicking, world-changing technology has pretty much erased the middle ground, so either you ARE some Silicon Valley/Alley/Beach wannabe or you're working the morning shift at Burger King. That blows. If those had been my only options, I would have stayed in the basement for as long as possible too... well, that isn't entirely true for me. I had other reasons for plotting my escape by any means necessary, but is true for a lot of my peers. 

My biggest worry for you guys is your overwhelming (as reported) "trust in authority", so I am pleased to hear that you're cynical about joining the war machine. It is a never-ending horror show to watch so many great, young (and patriotic) Americans being pulverized into Middle Eastern dust so that vile douchebags like Dick Cheney and his company can rake in ohhh, about $34 BILLION dollars, in about 10 years. The "War on Terror" as it is now being conducted, is actually an ATM for a select few and meat & treasure grinder for the rest of us. We might not have had the internet in the 80s, but we didn't have a bankrupt (both literally & morally) police state either, well, not as much of one.

You guys, if you really want to be remembered as a generation that made a difference, will have to put a stop to allll  kinds of  bullshit like this. Like blaming poor people and "greedy cops and teachers" for causing massive budget deficits, while we spend bazillions of dollars on endless, no-end-game "wars" that will make about eleven people stupid rich and make a few hundred thousand people very very dead... while simultaneously making our beloved country an empty, dry husk of collapsing bridges that will, sooner-rather-than-later, crumble in on itself. Oh, and did I mention the movement to privatize prisons allll over the country? Who on earth could think that attaching a profit motive to JUSTICE is a good idea? I'll tell you who: The eleven people who will make a few billion doing it. 

But hey, no pressure. The world needs cool new apps too. I guess. 

OK, so, about a thousand words too late, here is my advice:

1) Get a passport. Just to have it ready and waiting.
2) Thank your parents for the rent-free basement and try to be a good roommate.
3) Find some job to make even a little bit of money. Do anything (legal) to make some cash and for fuck's sake don't spend it on useless crap. Save it up like a crazy, frugal Silas Marner 
4) After you've saved up maybe $1500 or more (or less) GET THE HELL OUT THERE.

...Go ANYwhere. Well, anywhere that you won't be kidnapped or crucified for being an American (and that list is getting shorter with every F-ing drone strike.) Use all that cool-ass technology to connect with the bigger world, and to cheaply see some other parts of it while you're still young enough to sleep on hard benches without crippling yourself and before you need reading glasses to see the google maps on your phone. No one I've ever met has expressed any huge regrets over the time they spent traveling. No One.

5) learn to do a little coding. It can't hurt.

Good luck. Sorry it took so long to get to it. 
Final thoughts courtesy of Joe Strummer & The Clash:

"The men at the factory are old and cunning. You don't owe nothing, boy get running. It's the best years of your life they want to steal."

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