Thankful Thursday XXXI – Talking About My Generation

This Thankful Thursday I’m thankful for my generation. Not the Who song – that was representative of the generation before me – but Gen X, as we’ve come to be known. Or more precisely, to be a part of it.

Of course, each generation probably thinks it’s the best. I, perhaps typical of this generation, don’t necessarily claim that ours was the best. But I’m glad I grew up when I did.

To me, my generation got the best of music, the best of TV and, more importantly, the best conditions to grow up in. Notice I don’t say “easiest” however. I love that I grew up listening to Top 40 radio on transistor radios in the ’70s that exposed me to a bit of everything ranging from Motown to country to early heavy metal to disco. Sure, we didn’t really see The Beatles in real time, but I heard them plenty on radio and courtesy my older brother. By the ’80s as adulthood came a-knockin’, college classes were bookended by a new music that was actually exciting. Young kids these days won’t know the High Fidelity-like experience of hanging out at a grubby, crowded record shop looking for import Depeche Mode singles and hearing the music snobs behind the counter going on about the Pixies and Marshall Crenshaw. We were a generation that wanted to change the world. Well, don’t they all, I suppose. But it seems to me that outside of the tail-end of the Baby Boom, young people before were too conventional to challenge the status quo. The youth of today want to change the world too, but I’m not sure that that extends too far beyond the right for young women to call themselves”men” and vice versa for most of them. Some of my happiest times were summers during my university years, working for a conservation agency, with dozens of similarly-involved people around my age. We sure knew how to party at night… but by day, we were all about working on environmental projects and educating people about the need for conservation. Whether it amounted to a lot or not, we were doing something that we felt was bigger than ourselves, that was going to make the world a better place.

Moreover, I think I’m lucky because I straddle the digital and analog age. I grew up spending lots of time in libraries. At school, at the city ones, looking through stacks of books, going through card catalogs to find a title. It seemed like there wasn’t a question that couldn’t be answered by the Encyclopedia Britannica, all fifteen feet of shelving of it. I took typing classes at school, banging away on old manual machines, periodically getting my hands dirty changing the ribbons. It was good experience. But thankfully I was just young enough to see the value of computers by some time in the ’90s, and pick up the skills I needed to write articles, fix photos, design posters or search the internet for wacky kitten videos quickly. My brother, about six years older than me, got through school long before “cyber” was a word and hates computers to this day. Our dad, bless him, tried hard to adapt, but never got beyond playing Solitaire or checking, with extreme difficulty, his e-mail on his laptop. My mom never even got that far along in the process. I feel lucky I am reasonably tech-savvy, but have the background in old, analog ways. I wonder if anyone under 18 today could find an answer any question about science, history or pretty much anything else besides BTS if Siri stopped answering or Google went on holiday.

We didn’t have it easy, but then again, it wasn’t a battle. My parents both were youth in Europe during WWII. That’s hardship and stress. We on the other hand, had to live with the sword of Reagan and Gorbachev’s missiles hanging over us, which was stressful but there was always food to be had, electricity for the lights and despite the fears, no big wars materialized to worry about. We were however, the first generation of “latchkey kids.” For the first time, most women were working and one-parent households were common, so I wasn’t unusual in often coming home to an empty house after school. Like so many others of my peers, that was OK. It gave us a bit of freedom to grow, and more importantly, let us learn real quickly how to make a dinner, or wash our clothes. We walked or rode our bikes to school…yes, yes, you know, in the snow, uphill both ways!… and had our own legs and our friends to rely on. We got part-time jobs as soon as we could to buy our own records and snacks and if we were real lucky and smooth, use the funds to go on dates with. It astonishes me to go by a neighborhood school these days and see cars backed up around the block waiting to get their ten and twelve year olds and drive them immediately home, where they will stay, playing video games, until it’s time to drive them back to class the next morning. Where will their sense of adventure or independence arise from? Will it ever arise, for that matter?

Well that’s my grumpy old, thankful rant for this day, now that we Gen X-ers are getting up there … tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” in case you’re keeping track. So how about you? Are you happy you were born when you were? What is your generation’s best feature? Whatever it is, I hope you’re thankful to be you.

Thankful Thursday X – 70s Boy!

This Thankful Thursday, I’m thankful for my age. Well, not exactly for being in my 50s… although there’s a certain clarity of mind that perhaps was absent in younger me, there also is an increasing creakiness and aching of the knees and back to remind me I’m not all that young anymore. Not to mention the unfortunate but inevitable shrinking of the family ranks that I spoke of last week. But what I am thankful for is growing up in the 1970s.

It occurs to me because this week, two older guys talked about growing up when they did, and the kids today. Fellow blogger Phil talked of how wild it was in the ’60s. I bet. Everything changing and living with the constant threat of being drafted and sent over to a distant continent to fight a jungle war for who knows what end. Likewise, my brother-in-law of about that same age was talking of what was wrong with the kids today. I couldn’t help but agree with much of what he was saying. Too many of today’s kids are sheltered and afraid, destined to seemingly be big-bodied children even as their hair turns gray. It was different for me, and I think most of us born in the tail end of the ’60s, growing up in the ’70s and early-’80s.

I used to think my parents were overly protective when I was young. Compared to many, they probably were. But I count myself lucky I’m not one of the “bubblewrap kids” that have been raised in the past couple of decades. When I was a kid, if the weather was good, a Saturday or a day during the summer holiday meant getting out. Seeing my friends. Riding bikes came about as naturally to all of us as walking or knowing the lyrics to “More than a Feeling.” We’d get together, ride around, shoot the breeze. Maybe go to the plaza and get some pop. Maybe ride to the lake, three or four miles distant. When I got to be about ten or eleven, a couple of friends built a rough little treehouse down in the creek ravine near us. We’d climb up, sit there looking down on the town from all of about seven feet up, gossip and laugh and maybe get into a few youthful hijinx. Gawking at a copy of Playboy someone managed to sneak away from a dad or older brother was about the most daring of those. Or smoking a cigarette similarly obtained. I was much more into the pictures than the smoking I must admit. Or maybe we’d just go to the park behind my house and kick around the soccer ball. Play on the fort. Ah yes, the fort. If there was a clear description of the difference between generations, that was it.

The “fort” was a big wooden play structure the town had built in the park which sat between two halves of a subdivision, directly down from a public school. (Oh yes… we all walked or cycled to school ourselves too. Any parent would have laughed in our face, if we were lucky, if we’d asked them to drive us three blocks. We got our exercise even if it wasn’t a “gym” day.) Anyway, the structure had three wooden turrets for lack of a better word, connected by elevated walkways, one of them a swinging one. There were ladders leading up, tire swings hanging,some sort of rope ladder up one side, a slide down from the tallest one, to the giant sandy area below. It was lots of fun. Running around it, climbing, maybe jumping off the walkway all the three feet to the ground. Burning off energy, inventing silly games. We had fun and kept busy.

You probably guessed, that fort is now ancient history. A good two decades back the town tore it down. They had seemingly had complaints galore from a new breed of parent who fretted and were worried of a million-dollar lawsuit should any kid burn their behind sliding down a hot metal slide in summer in shorts or twist an ankle jumping off it. Besides the kids probably had little interest in it. Now they had the internet to keep them entertained and meet people presumably far more interesting than their peers from around the neighborhood.

Sure at times I fell off my bike and scuffed up my knee. I took it as a life lesson, a little tip on how not to take a corner too fast or ride across loose gravel. My parents, if they even noticed would tell me to wash it, put a bandage on it and be more careful next time. They didn’t see it as a chance to sue the city or bicycle company for a king’s ransom nor as a reason to keep me from ever going outside the confines of our yard again. I turned out fine.

At least I think so. I think at least I turned out better than kids born 30 years later who’ve never traveled more than a block from their home without being driven and whose only recreational activity involves a video game console will be when they reach their 50s. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m thankful theirs wasn’t my childhood.

Book Suggests We Coddle Our Kids…And Minds A Bit Too Much

One of my resolutions this year is to read more than I read last year. Last year, I read 15 books by my count, so obviously the goal is 16 or better this year. I figure if Dec. 28th rolls around and I’m at 14, it’ll be time to break out Hop on Pop and Green Eggs and Ham. Seriously though, the actual reason isn’t to rack up a score (and if it was, 16 wouldn’t be all that glamorous albeit it could be a lot more than many people do these days), it’s about just reading. Exploring new ideas, be they fiction or non. I’ve always enjoyed reading since I was young; just as with so many of us the “busy-ness” of life makes it harder to put aside a chunk of time to do more than a magazine article at a time.

Anyway, I just finished my second book of ’19, a non-fiction current near-best-seller entitled The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. The subtitle really caught my eye when browsing the new releases at the store a couple of months back : “How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure.” And the basic premise is just that – that we (Gen X-ers primarily) are raising kids hopelessly incapable of dealing with the real world.

They speculate the problem arises from three great untruths we are somehow brainwashed into believing and teaching the young ones (especially the I-Generation as he calls it, the ones just hitting the colleges in the last year or three). One, that whatever doesn’t kill you will make you weak; two, that they should always trust their gut, so to speak and never, ever doubt what they feel is absolutely right, and three, that the world is a battle between pure good and pure evil. These of course fly in the face of everything science, psychology and what we used to call “good ol’ common sense” have taught us. We know that some problems and adversity will in fact help us think, be more creative and more resilient. We know that sometimes our feelings get in the way of what’s real, create biases and stop us from examining thoughts or people that might possibly conflict with what we want to believe. And we know that the vast majority of us are capable of both good and bad and that few people are purely evil demons out to “get” us. Why then, they wonder, don’t we teach our kids that?

They outline the effects including kids who are immature and have never had their opinions even questioned and feel anyone challenging their thoughts is akin to a physical assailant.

Although they try to cover a broad range of topics – arguably too many – discussing what is wrong with society these days, they do zero in well on some main themes. Our over-protectiveness of kids spurred on by Amber alerts and hysterical media reports about the rare cases of child abduction by a stranger, the pressure on kids to do well and get into prestigious schools, their overuse of computers and phones at expense of making real contacts and real friends. They also venture into the increasingly obvious terrain of how social media is only making us less social and more antagonistic towards anyone who thinks a bit differently than we do.

Their arguments are by and large convincing and their conclusions about the problems – hate speech abounding, colleges eliminating readings and speakers who might be even a wee bit provocative or unpopular from the curriculum, etc – are obvious but need repeating. They see hope for the future with changes coming; I’m not so sure we’ll wean kids off their phones or that social media is going to suddenly enable users to hear, and appreciate all kinds of differing political or social opinions. But I have hope in those who have hope!

The book is a bit dry… it’s in the genre of Malcolm Gladwell but not such a rivoting page turner, but it’s well worth the read. Particularly is you have kids of your own.

I grew up with a mom that I thought was over-protective. But even I spent many a happy afternoon on nice days riding my bike here there and everywhere with school pals, once in awhile played some road hockey in the street if it wasn’t too too cold and walked to school (or rode my bicycle if the weather was good.) Walking to high school was over a half hour each way, and that was cutting across a park and , yes, cutting across a railroad line surruptitiously. To have done it along the actual roadways would have added a good ten minutes or so to each trip,day in day out, snowy or sunny. I grew up fine.

Or at least, grew up physically ok, not obese and not averse to exercise, and although often a bit pissed-off by people whose thinking is quite different than mine, not feeling like I was in physical danger listening to them. And I grew up reading. Books, novels, bios, history and geography texts, magazines, daily newspapers. I still try to do that. So I bid you a good night and for me…

14 to go this year! Don’t be surprised if you see a Cat in the Hat review here come December…

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