Sunday, August 11, 2013

A love letter to millennials from an angry gen Xer

Fair warning: This blog post is a bit of a rant, and I do tend to get NSFW when I rant. So if you'd like to read the family-safe, watered-down version of this, you can see that in the Times Free Press.

You're welcome.

Hey, you know what pisses me off? These articles insulting and belittling millennials. Like this one. And this! Who is writing these crappy, lazy articles, anyway? I bet I know. I bet these articles are written by members of generation X or maybe even baby boomers. Neither of whom have ANY ROOM to talk, by the way. Because we suck.

Yes, we do. We suck in our own special, particular ways and guess what? We suck more than millennials. Boomers especially. You guys look awfully comfy to the rest of us, with your Medicare and your Social Security checks and your pensions (PENSIONS! Who even HAS that any more?).

I sure won’t see any of that magical security as I stagger toward the mirage of retirement (RETIREMENT? HA!). And these millennials everyone is so busy calling narcissistic, self-involved, entitled brats? Well, they won’t see any of it, either -- and it’s largely built on their backs.

Granted, millennials are hardly the first generation to land on the receiving end of another’s piss-poor planning. But when gen X realized how royally screwed we were, we got kind of surly. We got a little cynical. We got disillusioned and we invented grunge and we went to see “Clerks” (again) and, granted, there are only like nine of us so we’re easily overwhelmed, but we pretty much just threw up our hands and met behind the gym to sneak a smoke.

Millennials had the bad luck to come up right behind us, all wide-eyed and stunningly numerous in the midst of this underwater, overextended, laid-off, bailed-out, outsourced, globally warmed, towers-collapsing, dead-end-war-zones mess they’re now left to clean up.

Did they get surly? No, you guys. They did not. They got creative. Idealistic. Inclusive. The got entrepreneurial and earnest and OK, yes, they fell pretty deeply in love with themselves, and we all had to hear about it on Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr or whatever.

But hey, here’s another word for narcissistic, self-involved, entitled brats: YOUNG. They are young, you guys, and we were young, too, and do you know what we were when we were young? We were narcissistic, self-involved, entitled brats. ALL SYNONYMS FOR YOUNG. No one writing any of these crappy, lazy, insulting articles is breaking any new ground by observing that young people are self-involved. Biggest non-story ever.

And you cannot tell me you were not all of those things when you were young. I will not believe you. If you think you were not all of those things when you were young, you’re just old and forgetful, and perhaps bitter and deluded, and you clearly do not remember anything about being young. Hell, you’re probably a boomer, so go buy some pleated Dockers with your Social Security money that you took from my paycheck and stay out of this.

I mean, look. I am 41, extremely responsible and employed and steady and reliable and loving to my family and good to my friends and happy in my financially marginal, suburban little life. I exercise and eat vegetables and floss every damn day. But I absolutely spent the late ‘80s drinking warm cans of Old Milwaukee’s Best and chain-smoking Marlboro Lights while I teased my hair into giant, Aqua-Netted rake-bangs and snuck out of my bedroom window to drive to Mexico in the middle of the night. With no license.

Because I was YOUNG. And anyone dumb (young) enough to do any (all) of that is damn sure dumb enough to post it to Facebook. The only reason I didn’t post it to Facebook is because I couldn’t because no millennial had invented it yet, and one day these poor, dumb kids will be so very sorry that there is this eternal digital record of all their worst decisions and most inane, self-indulgent moments – which is just one more way they are getting screwed.

They don’t even get to be stupid in the safe, contained way that we did. They can move away or go to rehab or GROW UP or whatever the rest of us got to do to escape it, but that stupidity will FOLLOW THEM FOREVER. It’s horrible.

They’re good kids, you guys. They are. But they are KIDS.

I teach an introductory media writing class at a university, so I get to spend lots of time with millennials. The really little ones – 18-21, tops. I also work at a big company that hires lots of them, and I have several very close friends who are under 30 or barely beyond it. And guess what? While we’re busy writing these crappy, lazy, insulting articles, they’re out there trying to fix all this stuff we’ve messed up.

They LOVE to fix stuff, and to find new ways to do things, and they like to help each other and they even enjoy helping bitter old gen Xers like me. All these kids (KIDS, you guys) really want is some sense that we recognize the very tough spot they’re in (I don’t care which recession you graduated during – theirs is worse, and it isn’t their fault) and for us to maybe cut them a little slack for the unforgivable crime of being young.

Oh, I know what chapter of the millennial-bashing narrative comes next: They are so obnoxious, with all this wanting people to be nice to them. The nerve. Those pansies. They all got trophies for just showing up, and now they want everything handed to them. Boo hoo.

Well, bullshit, you guys. There is nothing wrong with expecting people to be nice to you – with hoping that they’ll be supportive and encouraging and helpful – especially when you’re YOUNG. We should be nice to them. And we should not act like it’s some big imposition to do it.

When I was a college student, when I was an intern, when I was a stumbling puppy of a reporter, SO MANY people were SO nice to me and I would have gotten nowhere and accomplished nothing without them. I was super clueless, and deeply in need of help, and the grown-ups helped me and no one accused me of being an entitled brat for needing help. This is why old people like us exist. We’re SUPPOSED to help.

Also, when I was in sixth grade, I had a really bad semester for boring reasons I won’t get into here. I did no schoolwork. None. I was failing every subject. One day, my teacher Mrs. Canale (may she rot eternally in hell) sent me out of the classroom and told all of the other kids that I was failing and that they were not to talk to me or play with me or eat lunch with me or into any way associate with me because I needed to focus on my work. And then she let 11-year-old me back into the room, and I had no idea what had just transpired. It took me a while to figure it out. One of the other kids finally spilled the secret. But not before I was driven to a nervous breakdown by the abrupt, inexplicable and total ostracism of my peers.

Any millennial who heard that story would be horrified – and rightly so. It’s horrible. So boomers and gen X can crow all they want about how they turned out fine even though they got paddled in school, or no one got a prize unless they actually won, or they had parents who were never home or who stood over them and made them practice the violin until their fingers bled or whatever. Yeah, yeah, we’re all so tough and amazing and excellent in every way because we got treated like garbage when we were small and powerless and in need of compassion. Great story.

But you will never, ever convince me that there is any value in making young people feel like shit. You will never convince me that there is any downside to showing them kindness.

There are no lessons learned, there is no character built, there is nothing to be gained by withholding help and praise and guidance and support from young people. And yes, we should enforce some standards, but those standards should be based on these ideas: Treat others with kindness. Help any time you can, in any way you can. Be useful. Be compassionate. The only time we should come down hard on them is any time they don’t exhibit that behavior. And, you guys, we should start by exhibiting that behavior ourselves.

If those are the standards, this generation is totally nailing it. These kids (KIDS, you guys) really do want to help. They’ve been raised on the collective consciousness of social media; they understand the power of connecting and supporting each other. They know they can truly change things because they ARE changing things. They HAVE TO. I mean, they’re coming of age in an absolute shitstorm.

My most recent media writing class featured an especially delightful crop of millennials. Yeah, they were pretty loud and they loooooved to hear themselves talk, but I loved to hear them talk, too, so it worked out. One kid in this class -- kind of an introverted, quiet kid -- landed a big-deal spot as an extra in a very big-deal movie. And when he came to class and talked about it, all the other kids decided it would be a great thing of they all went to see the movie to support this kid’s screen debut.

So a bunch of them got themselves organized, went out for wings after class and then saw this movie together. They made a very big point of letting this kid know how happy they were for him, and it was really freaking touching. He was so thrilled. I mean, it made him feel terrific. They even texted me a silly picture of themselves having dinner together, which made me feel terrific, too.

These kids hadn’t been friends before this class. Hell, they may not have stayed friends after. But they did this sweet thing that I am always seeing this generation do: They got organized and showed a real desire to help outside the scope of their own little individual existences.

These people are kind. They’re optimistic, despite having every reason to go all gen X and sink into cynicism. No, they’re not perfect (oh, because YOU are?) but I’m pretty proud of them. I like them. This world we’ve left them is a mess, and we should help them out any way we can.

Or, at the very least, we should behave like grown-ups and quick picking on the kids.

This is little Mary Rehyansky in 1992. She is 20.
She has no idea what she is doing. I remember her well.