Archive for August 2012
David Cain makes a point I know that I, for one, all to often forget about:
Much of what you do today (or don’t do) was decided by the person you were years ago, a person with less life experience and less insight into your values. Your identity — as in who you are to yourself, and who you are to others — changes throughout your life, and the person most qualified to be deciding how you spend your time now is always going to be who you are today.
But we often don’t work like that. We work from conclusions made years ago, usually with no idea of when we made them, or why. Most of our standing impressions are probably based on a single experience — one instance of unpleasantness or disappointment that turned you off of entire categories of recreational activities, lifestyles and creative pursuits, forever.
I’ve said before, and genuinely meant, that I dislike attempts people make to lump together whole swaths of population on no basis other than age. That said, I can’t deny that the techinique has some utility, and that William Deresiewicz’s “Generation Sell” is one of the better ways of explaining the pecularities of present under-35s that I’ve heard.
The millennial affect is the affect of the salesman. Consider the other side of the equation, the Millennials’ characteristic social form. Here’s what I see around me, in the city and the culture: food carts, 20-somethings selling wallets made from recycled plastic bags, boutique pickle companies, techie start-ups, Kickstarter, urban-farming supply stores and bottled water that wants to save the planet.
Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business. Every artistic or moral aspiration — music, food, good works, what have you — is expressed in those terms.
Call it Generation Sell.
Tim Kreider’s essay got a fair bit of attention, and there are two things about it that I want to record here. The first is a very interesting thing to think about, a dichotomy that while just as false as all other dichotomies, seem to fit my experience:
Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.
And then there’s the clarifying existential insight bit:
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.
I’m less into this genre than I once was, but I can’t let the year pass without pointing out Cory Booker’s quite good (if a bit nationalistic) one at Stanford. I’ve watched it at least three times, and probably will at least a few more times.
Real courage is that when life has beaten you down so low, when you are broken, when you have wounds that you wonder if they could ever heal. Courage is when you’ve done something wrong and you feel the weight of shame on your chest so heavy that you can barely breathe. Courage is when you’re curled up in a ball on your bed sleepless throughout the night and when the sun comes up, courage isn’t the roar, courage is that small voice in your mind that says, get up, get out of bed, put your feet on the floor, brush your teeth, wash your face, comb your hair – God, if you have it – put your hand on that door knob and go outside for another day of loving and stand with all of your might and look up into the heavens. And courage has you say in a defiant spirit, you can take everything from me, you could cut me deep, you could render me in shame, but you will never, ever, stop me from loving. From loving those who mock me, from loving those who hate me, from loving those who don’t forgive me, from loving the cynics, from loving the darkness so much that I myself, through my small acts of consistent, unyielding love, will bring on the light.
This is certainly one of the best AskReddit threads I’ve seen in a long time. The question:
Showed my fourth grade students the interactive ‘Scale of Universe’ model. Student said, “I keep getting this funny feeling when I think of how small I am.” What moments have you had where you saw someone’s understanding of their existence change?
I laughed, I cried, and just really recommend you peruse it. More than a few experiences are glimpses of the “sacred” which I can’t help reading into the initiating story.