Talking ‘Bout My Generation

It’s kind of weird to see the cyclical nature of time. I’m starting to see it better now that I’m older and have a better sense of what came before me. Watching this whole Wall Street thing is starting to harken back to the sixties a bit, but with more reasonable clothing and fewer mind-altering chemicals being distributed. At least, that I can see. My generation is being wrapped up in this.

And what, pray tell, is my generation you ask? That’s a real good question. They technically say I’m Generation X. But that’s not quite right. My sister, born about six years prior to me is Gen X. She identifies with almost all of their tropes and experiences whereas I only identify with the very tail end of them. So that must mean I’m a part of the ‘slacker generation’ right? The one they call Generation Y. I identified with that moniker at first, though, I’m afraid I have to separate myself from that too. Again, I fit some of the scope of it – the familiarity and adoption of new technologies, the connection with the generation that birthed me – but I don’t think I wear enough black or have enough casual sex to fit into that crowd either.

I think that me and mine, this slice of strange, transitional outcasts had a fairly unique experience in watching this strange transition, that we were growing up in exactly the right time to witness the paradigm shift. Our parents, who were boomers, the largest generation of Americans our country ever birthed, watched the world grow up around them and cater to their needs. The generation before them wanted so very badly for their children to have that which they did not. And to some large extent, they got that. They got all sorts of new stuff and innovation. And when they came of age in the sixties, they realized that there was some hard stuff out there in the world. They responded in a lot of ways, but they said they were going to fix it.

Look back at the eighties. See how well that went. We tore down a wall, that was good. I don’t think anyone liked the Cold War. But, the rest of it… not so much good. Well, maybe with the exception of ALF.

However, our boomer forebears did their best, and some of them even lived up to the principles that they held dear. They in turn took their children and they did everything they could to help, just like their parents did. My parents are two of these people. From day one, they looked out for me, they helped me make the right decisions. My dad taught me how to spot bullshit when I saw it and my mom taught me the finer parts of tempering the decisions of the mind with the influence of the heart. They were there to help me when I fell. They were there to set me straight when I was about t do something stupid. I hated them for it in my teen years, but looking back, I see the value of the lessons learned.

Except for the college years, in which there was equal blame to be spread around for mistakes made.

Remember how I said there was a paradigm shift that only we could see? That shift came around the time I got to college. The nice people at my chosen place of ‘higher education’ were more than happy to take a fresh-faced child and extend to me a line of credit of $18,000 from the feds. Mom and dad took on about $10,000. They’d broke the bank on my sister’s education, so I would have to bear the weight. I chose an out-of-state option and lived on campus. I take credit for that. This money would go toward education in a ‘growing field’ in which I could expect a starting salary of $50,000 or up. I thought to myself once I snagged one of those jobs I’d pay back that college education in no time.

So, I went to school. It was a two-year job, an associate degree in Animation and Media Arts. It was a bad choice in many ways. I have always said, and will always assert though, that these mistakes let me meet fantastic people and to have amazing experiences, but in short, there were a lot of people who lied to me, and those people took a lot of money from me. And when they released me into the wild, I came to see the half truths I had been fed.

My parents had sent me to college based on their experiences. I cannot blame them. In their time, if you went to college, it was a given: you were going to get a job. Probably a good job. Something you could start a career from. And because of that, it became very important that we got that benefit. And so we did. We went out and got debt to cover it, and again, they told us, based on their experience, that this was natural. With those jobs we got, we’d pay it back. We’d become responsible Americans. We’d share the wealth.

Pardon my French, but what a crock of shit that turned out to be.

And the truth is, they didn’t lie to us. They told the truth as they knew it. Their experience could be replicated, they knew it. If it worked for them, it would work for us. And, for Gen X, it did. They got the very last trickles of that gravy train.

For the Sliver Generation, and for Generation Y, it has, decidedly, not.

Me and mine emerged from the crucible of college eager and willing to work. However, if those of us in AMA wanted work, you had to go West. I was $18K in the hole. My family is East Coast based. I had no one to assist with forging into new and hideously expensive California lifestyle. There was no way in hell I was going to be able to do it. I’d spent enough time also knowing that the LA scene, which is where you went for AMA jobs, was peopled with folks who didn’t get gigs that paid well enough to do anything else than live hand to mouth. So I went local. I got a real job in about six months.

The pay was, to be frank, insulting. It was forty miles away. It was night hours. But, I was paying the bills. And I had more of them now. On top of loans, I had to buy a car to get to the job. I had a cell to pay for on the chance that  got into trouble on the road. No rent yet, thank god. Mom and Dad were letting me live in the basement in typical twentysomething fashion. Mom and Dad were proud though. I was wearing a shirt and tie to work. I was paying my bills. Everything was going to be alright. The cycle had begun anew.

Then my company got bought out by a megacorporation. Comcast. And they decided that people like me just weren’t worth the time. Not only did they cut me since I was the newest blood. They cut the senior designer too because she made too much money. I had been downsized.

My parents were shocked I think. Boomers had the promise of careers. Jobs they could hold for life so long as they didn’t do anything catastrophically stupid. Some of them even had unions to keep them on the job and had pensions or tenure to work towards as incentives. They weren’t naive of course. They’d seen the eighties. Downsizing was something they knew about, but, surely it wasn’t going to happen to their college educated kid. They sent me off to college to avoid this exact type of thing. How did this happen?

I tried to find work for the next six months on unemployment. No one was hiring, not for a livable wage. When the unemployment money ran out, I put the loans on deferment. The interest started racking up. I couldn’t get work in anything but desktop publishing with my skill set, and even my skills were geared toward a format that I just wasn’t going to get local work in. My parents counseled me to return to school, to get a bachelor degree.

So, I did.

I added an even more impressive amount of debt. Doubled it in fact. Actually, more than doubled. And again, my parents told me that it was an investment in my future. By their experience, it was the right decision. They were half right.

I got out and started looking for work. I took a job at Borders to pay the various things off in my life and got behind on loans. It all racked up. I finally got a job in Jersey that used my degree.

Eight months later, I was let go and replaced by someone who worked for five grand less per year and worked for no health insurance. Purely a financial decision they told me. Not a reflection of my work or my ethic. Just dollars and cents.

Again, my parents just didn’t understand what I was coming to understand a little too well. Their paradigm was broken. I would still come to my parents for counsel – but I would begin to temper it with my own experience. It was that day that I truly became a cynic.

Because, at that time, it wasn’t just me. It was everyone I knew. My friends from home had come into their own as I went back to school and found the same difficulties. Businesses did not want us. We had no experience. It cost too much to hire Americans. Corporations were more than happy to keep making their employee pools smaller to maximize their return on investment. And our parents, dumbfounded, repeated the same advice. They assured us that things would get better.

Things did not get better for me until four years out of college had passed. I got lucky. Some people don’t have four years to catch a break. They get pregnant. They get sick. They get caught up in things too horrible to speak of. They get lost. And, often time, these people were led to these things through the soundest advice that they could get. We listened to the promises of our forebears, and they turned out to be wrong.

Don’t blame them. They’re our parents. They love us, most of them. They never wanted to hurt us. But times changed. And we were there to see the change. And it confuses the living crap out of them.

I look at the Occupy Wall Street folks and I get it. These aren’t lazy people. These aren’t welfare mommas and leeches. These are the people who finally saw through the advice that no longer works.

Our parents are confused because hard work doesn’t pay off anymore. Our parents are confused because education no longer guarantees you a better life. Our parents are confused because companies don’t foster careers any longer, don’t offer overtime for hours above and beyond and cut benefits to keep profits up. Their world rules no longer apply.

But my generation. We were there to watch that oh so subtle change. Some of us caught it in time. I didn’t until I was already in the shit so to speak.

And Generation Y… they’re out in Wall Street.

Maybe they can save both our generations.

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