“is this real life?” – email from a college friend [who ended up writing about this, too]
I’ve sat quiet through the mud-slinging on Millennials, listening to the church people and the academics as they threw out heated comments and retorts about our work ethic, our social media habits, our group identity and desires, our student loans, our moves back home with relatives, our unpaid internships, our cynicism, our return to liturgy, our questions and labels.
This past weekend, I drove to my hometown in central CA, returning to our little yellow house for the first time since that night in 2000 when we drove off in a van. “Childhood homes are always a disappointment,” said my dear friend before I left to finish my pilgrimage. “I know,” I told her. “But I just need to go.”
I finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild last Monday night and laid it down on the bed next to me. I’d finished it because I didn’t have anything better to read, which is a boring reason to finish a book. I liked parts of it, but overall I felt like I was watching Piper Chapman go on a hike and be physically challenged and do shit, but not fall in love with the land or the hike or even, really, herself. I wanted to love her and love the hike with her, but she didn’t have Karr’s self-deprecating groundedness or Muir’s love for the Sierras.
I’m applying for jobs like crazy. Modeling calls, marketing gigs, publishing internships, service jobs. My housing situation fell through due to some unforeseen factors. I feel disconnected and aimless, which is restful in some ways and infuriating in others. Pretty much anything my buddy RR wrote about looking for work in DC = me looking for work in LA.
Objectively, though, I’m pretty okay. Complaining about this is like Strayed complaining about losing toenails on her hike. Well, duh, honey. And: that’s all you have to complain about? Life’s pretty good.
So I’m catching up on sleep after months of insomnia. I’m doing a lot of fiction writing on a project that’s been sitting dormant for oh, maybe three years. I’m working on putting myself out there and meet new people, despite all my INFJ tendencies to hide instead.
And I’m watching a lot of my friends and peers deal with under-employment and unemployment and reflecting on what this new economy is like post-recession. How multiple streams of income is the most viable way to live. How 9-5 jobs with salaries, benefits, and retirement packages are ill-suited to sustainability for my generation and the economic situation in America.
Millennials like me are entering adulthood and the working world with every choice available to them (a curse, according to Walker Percy) and with few real opportunities (thanks, Baby Boomers, Wall Street, and student loans). We’re told we’re immature and lazy and the wonks are dissecting our lives and gawking at how slowly we’re accruing wealth in comparison to our parents.
And I look around in the grocery store and I watch people check out while on their phones, and I read about the unsustainability of the McMansion neighborhoods, and I listen to my friends struggle to feel like they’re “worthy” of having stability because they studied what they love in college and present themselves in a way that integrates their personalities with their public face in a holistic way (aka they might have tattoos!) . . . and all this together makes me both uncomfortable and excited. Because we’re reinventing our definitions of fulfillment and satisfaction and putting value on connection and honesty rather than stuff and presentation. Which is, maybe, (in some ways) the needed antidote to American entitlement and capitalism.
But in the meantime, it’s that weird awkward teenage-like years of a generation finding their identity outside of their parents, outside of mere reaction to the status quo. We want to create, to thrive, to love and not be taxed for pursuing creative fulfillment in life.
I’m not entirely sure what I’m saying here, but maybe it’s just this: the Millennials are hitting a climax in their search for identity and things like the Great Recession and the government shutdown and the student loan crisis and the ACA . . . all these things are pushing us to ask hard questions and we’re starting to find a voice. And I’ve started listening to it, for real now, and it makes me excited.
There could be some really great stuff happening in the next 10-15 years once the Millennials, you know, pay off their student loans, and like, find stable jobs. You know, “real” life.