The Schizophrenic Nature and Failure of Generation X
We were born in the 1960's.
We were the children of the Baby Boomers who, in their youth, tried and succeeded on some levels to change the world. Our parents were still a part of the narrative that the American Dream was to get married, have a tribe of children, buy property, get a job at a place that promised long-term security. That was the narrative of American Adulthood.
As they grew older, the Baby Boomers, by and large, adopted that narrative out of nothing more than entropy. It was just easier to go along with the Mantra of Grown Up Life and the assertion that anything other than marriage/kids/house/job was arrested development. "Grow up," the collective consciousness told them and so most of them did.
We were their children. And, unlike any other generation before or since, we were split as to how to address this idea of adulthood.
John went to college, married young(ish), got a job with a company that looked like a life long prospect, had a couple of pups, and bought a house in an affordable and upwardly mobile neighborhood in a city with a bit of room to grow. He was, by all indications, a productive ADULT member of the American Machine.
Jack went to college, got married (or not), had no kids, got a divorce (or not), had multiple careers along his path, rented his places of residence, and generally exhibited all the signs of someone who refused to buy into the "Grow up!" demands. He was and is considered to be Not Acting His Age.
Generation X was presented with a choice and about half chose the conventional wisdom of adulthood and the other half did not.
Once in a while, this disparity of choices hits me in the face like a wet swatch of canvas.
I look at the profile pictures of men and women I was in high school with. Some of them look OLD. Some of them look YOUNG. We're all exactly the same age. If I delve deeper, the ones who look old are the ones who have children the age of women I've dated. They have mortgages. They have life insurance. They have yards and all the issues faced by the Adult in America. The ones who look young are less encumbered with this notion of Responsible Iconography.
I think it must be like being the president. Take a look at the age four years of running the country does to these cats. The hair gets white, the face gets older, the shoulders start to bend down. There are multiple prices to be paid for creating and accepting a lot of responsibility for the well being of others and the paying of debts and the safety of your particular back yard.
My theory is that stress ages us. My theory is that those of us that chose to eschew the traditional lifestyle have chosen what some may qualify as a "carefree" life. I'd argue that we of the Arrested Development certainly have cares and worries but that, more often than not, our cares and worries extend mostly to ourselves than to the well being of those we are responsible for. Further, I'd suggest that those of us who have chosen to ignore the narrative of Conventional Grown Up Choices are generally more expressive of our inner monologue - artists, poets, musicians, dancers - we find ways to funnel that Ugly Inner Voice and get it out in the open.
Now, I need to clarify that I don't disparage anyone of my generation who chose to go the route of conforming to the model of the family, home and security. You gotta do what you are called to do. But Gen X is the first generation to be taught to fear sex - we watched our older siblings embrace the Free Love attitudes of the 70's and, just as we entered high school, the panic over unprotected sex suddenly became a daily mantra. Suddenly, everything that we associated with pleasure - alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, playing on the street unattended, and SEX - became things to avoid out of fear of death or stigma. With stigma being the worse of the two.
If one remembers the book of the 1990s, Generations by William Strauss, you might recall that the central idea was that generations come in pairs: the Lost Generation was there to guide the Greatest Generation, the Silent Generation was around to help inform the Baby Boomers, Gen X is supposed to be the wise elders assisting the Millennials. In this theory, I’m thinking my generation has done a piss poor job of offering a helping hand to our younger cohorts. I think we sent the wrong messages and our parenting skills were for shit.
We learned in some ways to ignore the fear of society but those Xers who laid claim to the American Dream as it was writ large instead learned to embrace it and they were the ones who had kids.
Perhaps those of us on the Not Acting Our Age crowd simply decided to ignore the fear. Ignore the panic. Perhaps that's what is truly a "care free" life. Perhaps that makes us careless as well. Not so sure about that one but I wish more of us Carefree Gen Xers had had kids.