I was born a few years after America began falling apart. We can go back through history and try to pinpoint when this was, exactly: What year? What time? What era? On which day? But we will never come to a finite conclusion, with so many peaks and valleys scattered throughout all of human history not allowing us the quiet moments we all need sometimes to heal.
They called us ‘Generation X,’ or perhaps that was the emptiness we used to define ourselves. We were the children of Baby Boomers, the most selfish generation of Americans to that point in our history (we far surpassed them, but we’ll get to that). Our parents were mostly the children of plenty, arriving in the boom after World War II as the United States rose to become the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth.
They were given nearly everything that they wanted, from new gadgets and toys, to the latest technology that could pull them away from their families, and into whatever self-absorbed fantasyland they devised for themselves. Their parents were too busy anyway. They were too drunk and anxious. They started seeing the end of the world, and passed this vision on to their children too.
The 1960s saw our parents growing into nervous and angry adults, radicalized both left and right, fighting climatic battles over civil rights, the Vietnam War, and the future of America. The 1970s saw the open corruption of a much despised President, the crumbling of the economy, a return to religion in an amoral, drug-haze of a world, full of promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases that could kill you, and new age cults. All of this then collapsed in the 1980s, with the birth of neoconservatism, an evangelical religion, essentially, of new true believers, peopled by the usual right-wing kooks, upstanding traditional Republicans who had had enough chaos, and many of the former liberals and hippies who had gotten tired of their nomadic lives.
These people’s children–us–grew up during the Reagan years, awash in superficiality and consumerism. We finally came of age (somewhat) as George H. W. Bush tried his damnedest to calm the world down after the fall of Soviet Communism. Then we once more fell upon hard times, this just prior to yet another rapidly coming new age, one far different from the proposed ‘New World Order’ of ‘kinder and gentler’ times. These dreams were simply devoured by a far more sophisticated, rapidly paced, and sociopathic world of blinking cursors and encryption taking over and controlling our minds.
We were raised at the dawn of this computer age, filled with primitive, violent games, and the non-stop marketplace revolutions as our own fantasy worlds grew thicker and more believable until they started clashing against reality. We were able to block out the rest of the world, to see no farther than ourselves, and roll around skipping records through the 1990s while the true internet revolution overtook the world.
We were sure of ourselves, as any coming generation is, and yet we were much more confused, and way more consumed by self-doubt than most of the generations before us. The earlier times had still taught lessons of personal responsibility, and the idea that we stood strong together as a nation. Against everything else, we could still support one another. But we reached adulthood while Bill Clinton was in office, and we reverted back to a selfish 1970s style anything goes young adulthood, surprisingly only a few years younger than our parents when they simmered in their own developing disillusion.
We have been disillusioned from childhood, our parents increasingly sour and hopeless towards the fate of the world. When Communism fell in the Soviet Union, and the world became far more wide open, international markets made their boldest efforts ever to exploit the natural resources every place the world, including at home. We engaged in small-scale skirmishes in the middle east exclusively over oil, or diamonds, or strategic positions in preparation of the next war, and we lied to our citizens, pretending that this was justice, a fight for human rights and the beginning of a never-ending holy war. It was an epic age of greed that most of us fell into and allowed to control our lives, money replacing interest in everything else in the world.
We were filled with newer and newer gadgets, a passion that we have never outgrown. Everything new, everything flashier, and we simply had to have it, increasing prices be damned! We became man and woman-children. Many of us married young because we knocked up our girlfriends, or went out of our ways to get pregnant from fear of losing the only person we had ever loved. And when we realized that we were incapable of loving anyone other than ourselves, we left our responsibilities, ran away to escape in whatever childhood world we had never left, and often returned to our aging parents’ basements, both to their irritation and the tragic realization that they had never expected otherwise.
We were not as close to our parents or siblings as the previous generations were either, and our beliefs about the world were both shrill and unbending. The older we got, the more sure of ourselves we became, stubborn and unbreakable, willing to invent drastic lies in order to justify ourselves to those we disagreed with. We could make these people nothing other than our mortal enemies. We went to war–social and cultural warfare. Each side was righteous, the other side ranging from simple fools to anarchists, or even outright representatives of evil should our hatred become so extreme.
Religions grew increasingly skewed and militant with the soulless Generation X, desperate to find meaning for themselves when they were raised spoiled, distracted and with very little personal responsibility; with less family connection, with no knowledge of certain aunts or uncles or cousins or step-in-laws. For myself, I have an older brother and three half siblings, two more brothers and a sister. My older brother, whom I did, vaguely remembered, once upon a time when we were young, spend a great deal of time with, I have not actually spoken to him for years. His children have met my children in the single digits. Old cousins I used to see at holidays have ceased to exist for me, as I have for them. My half siblings, my brothers live in different states I-know-not-where, and my sister I have slight relations with. She used to live near us before both of us moved. She got a job in the hospital. Neither of have much time for the other any more.
All I have are my parents, and my wife communicates only with her mother (my father-in-law passed a few years ago and my mother-in-law will never recover from this loss). Virtually every one of my contemporaries has some sort of breakage with their immediate family. Of course there are siblings that remain very close, and sometimes a cousin is a best friend, or an aunt is the only one we can depend upon for the truth. But even these folks Generation X tends to mythologize, transforming them into magical ideals that we can use as a symbol for the only hope left in the world.
We are a miserable generation and are directly to blame for the present divisiveness that has overtaken the world (remember, Americans, all the people everywhere else in the world running their nations are presently from the same generation). We are filled with frustrated anger and take it out on everything else in the world. Suicides are way up too, so sometimes people are too honest with themselves, or place all of the burdens of their lives on their own shoulders, even the things over which they have no control.
And that’s just it: We refuse to yield the idea of control to anything outside of ourselves, not the state, not God, not even to our families. Divorces become increasingly acrimonious (as though the disillusion of a marriage is not already painful enough for everybody), sibling rivalries sometimes lead to gun fights, and the contempt we feel for one another, the stifling crowd claustrophobia so many of us suffer from, overwhelms the nation. It overwhelms the world.
I called this piece “The Ballad of Generation X,” but it is really more of a dirge. Let me try to turn this commentary into music:
“Generation X: A Dirge”
We walk alone
And cannot find our souls
We stare at our blank phones
Down in an empty hole.
We shrug off our hopes
And can no longer cry
We wish would could say
A long, lush goodbye.
We mean this ironically
It is meant with contempt
We think so sarcastically
We don’t know what we meant.
Our ages are faltering
Our ideal is regret
All hope is now moldering
Blame one, blame them all
Or at least let me vent.
Yes, it’s a poem, and it’s mostly mediocre, but I think the point is pretty clear. The reason I selected a poem to make this statement is yet another comment on my generation, who as youth were either desperate punk rock wannabes, with a fanaticism for drugs and tattoos, or we buttoned down into angry neoconservatism, even while young more as an opposition to the assholes who never accepted us, with the idea that pretty soon we would take over the world, as time has proven. Poems, to us, trite and meaningless, also seem to somehow take on a profundity in times of sadness and mourning that causes us to sit alone in a room like teenagers listening to the same sad song over and over again.
This is a lament for my peers, for my contemporaries (most of us refuse to consider our brethren as peers). I wish it were a love song. I wish it were an anthem. But no. No. All it can be is a sad ballad. A funeral dirge. A hymn of mourning for a lost generation.