Kids these days.
About a year after I graduated from high school a friend and I moved to southwest Missouri, to Branson, so that she could get her shot at country music and I came along for the adventure. Her manager asked me one night what my interest was in.
“Writing,” I answered.
“Writing music?” he followed up, thinking folks only moved to Branson if their interests had something to do with country music.
“No, prose,” I said, “like articles, stories, poems.”
“Are you even old enough to write?” he asked.
It was an odd question to me then, and an infuriating question to me looking back to the age I was when I got that question, at nearly 20 years old. By the time he asked me that question I had been writing stories and poems for 12 years, and now I’m sitting here having been writing things of some form or another (not counting letters and emails) for 38 years. At the time I was 20, her manager was my age now, and he was wondering, when I was stumped by his question, what a 20-year-old has to say. I was still flummoxed because I had been writing for so long already without even thinking that I needed to be a certain age to do it, like driving a car or voting. The question seemed…irrelevant.
Sitting here at the 38th anniversary of my writing experience, I often encounter whiplash moving from either end of the spectrum. There are a hundred “best of” lists involving writers under 30, and anyone over 30 grousing about these lists on social media. There are a million click-bait articles on “what the Millennials have killed now” or even articles that compare all of the generations but the Gen X one, which sits awkwardly in the middle like a middle child forgotten. Even Ursula K. Le Guin, in her last essay collection No Time To Spare, talks about how the alums of her college graduating class were supposed to answer their “what are you doing with your retirement?” survey. She thought retirement was an incredulous idea; she was still writing right up to the end of her life. The essay touched on a variety of points on ageism in the young and old, and still we have this fight, in politics, in arts, in cooking, and in all forms of culture.
I have never understood pigeon-holing based on age. Most of my friends in Ohio and Missouri were older than I was; in California it’s about half and half. I am a Gen X person who always felt a little out of the loop on Gen X music, film, and books, so finding something from “my generation” feels a little false. My parents had a collection of vinyl that would choke a DJ, but they also were older than most of my friends’ parents and they came from older parents themselves, so I was raised on classic films, music, and TV shows. I can recite most Monkees’ episodes but have no clue what happened on The Love Boat. The only TV my parents let me watch was PBS, Sunday night Disney movies, and the early evening game shows like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. I did sneak episodes of Moonlighting, but that’s not usually a conversation starter (it’s one of those rare shows you can’t stream, by the way…not that I haven’t tried). I often just crawled back into a book…books were supposed to be timeless.
But even books have waves of energy in them, depending on when they were born. You can read Orwell today and feel remarkably seen and hopeless, all at the same time. But then again, you could read Bradbury and get the sense, somewhere off in the distance if you just resist, that you might see the way out, whether you were 9 and had that kind of time capital, or 90 and just had spare change left in your pocket.
I can’t make the generalizations about generations that everyone else can; it seems to waste as much time (or more) than making generalizations about race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. The marvelous thing about knowing older people is seeing how they react to all of the latest innovations, particularly when they accept them and cherish them with a “look what I got to see happen” outlook. The wondrous thing about the exceedingly young is watching them discover stuff we put away years ago, things like vinyl and typewriters and old school DOS stuff and Polaroids. The wide and disparate variety means you could have an aunt who loves Fortnite and a niece who loves jigsaw puzzles. The more random the world, the better.
I find myself skipping the labels, the studies, the click-bait about Gen Z vs Baby Boomers, Gen X vs the Silent Generation (I don’t remember my father being all that silent, but okay), and everyone vs the Millennials. I prefer to see the possibility in every age, because I never know who will inspire me in their rites of passage.