A few words as preface to this latest reprint of an older piece of mine: The reasons I have done this several times now–culled a favorite from the past to re-present to a new audience, on the several new sites I now employ, is because I have become extremely busy of late in my outside life. Yes, we blogger people generally sit around here delusively, imagining that our impact on the world is far greater than the few snorts, occasional laughs, and otherwise passed over indifference we actually receive. But this, for me, is a morning ritual, and a strict promotional tool for several projects I am presently working on that I wish to sell to you folks upon their completion. The major one, which I began in earnest on February 1, is finalizing contracts, and should be completed by the end of this year, with publication to follow, I suspect, if all goes according to plan, in the fall of 2020, with instant consideration for film rights. This project is a biography of the singularly most fascinating individual I have ever met. I will be discussing this in much greater detail subsequently, and likely publishing a few excerpts. Based upon the NDA this is all I can say for now.
But it is that project, along with several others being prepped for publication (fiction, and a history book I am nearly finished with, several excepts of which have also been published here, in early drafts, on the editorial history of every president of the United States of America since its founding, as well as Sam Houston and Jefferson Davis). And so I open myself and my profession a little more fully to your folks.
I have noticed recently that I’ve somehow developed a growing audience in India, a nation I have never visited. And yet I find that country fascinating, with a deep, dark history, drastic examples of heroism, as well as governmental crime and oppression, and a unique culture all its own that deserves far more Western consideration. I have already started researching the small ode I plan on offering to this nation of more than a billion people. And it won’t be all positive, of course. Nothing with me ever is.
And so, this piece. Like many writers I am a chronicler of my own generation–those people we grew up with, the assholes we went to school with, our college buddies, friends, neighbors, the people of our generation that eventually take over the world, governing them with our own ideas, and going to war over the same. This is an essay on the sociology of my age, the sort of piece I would have written for the magazines I once upon a time published articles in, yet have disappeared with most publications off line. So please, enjoy:
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, never allowing us the quiet moments we all need 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 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 fantasy land 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, the loss of faith, 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 the 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 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 blanking out 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. Eventually they started clashing with 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, when 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 far more consumed with 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 with 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 of 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 for 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 anesthetized 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 were likewise knocked up ourselves. Some people even went out of our ways to get pregnant from fear of losing the only person they had ever loved, or they got abortions, smugly, openly, before realizing that, whatever the validity of the reason, it would never be something to look back upon with pride.
When we realized that we were incapable of loving anyone other than ourselves, we left our responsibilities, ran away to escape into whatever childhood world we had never outgrown, 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 are both shrill and unbending. The older we get, the more sure of ourselves we become, stubborn and unbreakable, willing to invent drastic lies in order to justify ourselves to those we disagreed with. We make these people nothing other than our mortal enemies. We go to war–social and cultural warfare. Each side is equally righteous, the other sides ranging from simple fools to anarchists, or even outright representatives of evil should our hatred become so extreme.
Religions grow increasingly skewed and militant with the soulless Generation X, desperate to find meaning for ourselves when we 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, I vaguely remember, once upon a time when we were young, spend a great deal of time with, I have not actually spoken to 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 us 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 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 like a poem. Let me try to turn this commentary into music:
“Generation X: A Dirge”
We walk alone
And cannot find our souls
Staring at blank phones
Down in this empty hole.
We shrug off hope
And can no longer cry
We wish would could say
A long, hushed goodbye.
We mean this ironically
And it’s meant with contempt
We think so sarcastically
We don’t know what we’ve meant.
Our ages are faltering
Our ideal is regret
All hope is now moldering
Blame them all
Blame them all
Blame them all
Or at least let me vent.
Yes, it’s a poem, and it’s mostly mediocre. Think acoustic guitar and an impassioned singer, hitting the proper emotional notes. 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.