Tuesday, September 25, 2007



Garrison Keillor recently wrote something to the effect that it's shocking to wake up one morning and realize that the guys you knew in school as “Lumpy” and “Numbnuts” are now running the country.

I'm not there yet, but I'm starting to see my contemporaries pop up in some pretty prominent places.

It's always a shock to see new pictures of folks you knew many years ago. They look so...grown up. Which means, by extension...

Humph. Yes. Well.

I laughed out loud when I read Penelope Trunk's post about wanting to kill her guest columnist, because he wrote about bridging the gap between Boomers and Gen Y as if Gen X didn't even exist. Yes, we're a smaller group than the ones on either side of us, but it's a bit early to consign us to obscurity. In academia, we're the generation that didn't get hired, so the pre-Boomers and early Boomers could ride out their life tenure undisturbed. (On campus, I've literally been the generational translator a few times. It's a disconcerting role.) But if we're not taken seriously, I foresee some pretty major leadership vacuums in a few years.

The signs of middle age are there. On the young side, I blog, I download music, and I don't consider the 1960's to have been the apotheosis of human civilization. On the old side, I don't 'text,' I actually pay for the music I download, and I have adult memory of the Clinton administration. As Gen X hits middle age, our numerical invisibility becomes a cultural invisibility, too. Where have you gone, Winona Ryder? A generation turns its lonely eyes to you...

But then I remember some of the drama of the twenties, and give thanks to be done with that. Adolescent angst doesn't age terribly well. (Just ask Winona!) Every cohort gets its window, and every window eventually closes. I don't intend to miss mine with endless hand-wringing.

Folks of a certain age will appreciate this: I remember, as a kid, watching reruns of One Day at a Time. (For the younger readers: that was Valerie Bertinelli's initial claim to fame.) On one episode, the Mom was upset that she was middle-aged. She was 36. At the time, I thought she was right. After all, as the ever-helpful older daughter pointed out, the average life expectancy at the time was 72, so 36 is midway there. That's the definition of middle age. Halfway there.

Yes, Boomers like to say that fifty is the new thirty, but they're Boomers. We expect that kind of thing from them. They mean well, but honestly.

It's our turn to step up to the plate. Yes, I'm a little mortified when I read my alumni update and see that Lumpy is starting to wield real power in this world. But I'm also proud of the folks I've known who are actually making a positive difference. I'm proud to be that boringly square Dad who rushes home to spend time with his bride and his kids. And I'm increasingly okay with letting go of the dramas of youth, like so much unnecessary hair.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

If it's a consolation to you, Gen Y isn't hired either.
While I do find it mildly alarming to see my contemporaries in positions of power, what really freaks me out is how many Relatively Important People are actually younger than me. I went to see a doctor the other day whom I sure was in diapers when I was graduating high school. That's not right.

(And I had to laugh because I have used EXACTLY the same criteria you mentioned - blogging, downloading music and paying for it - to situate myself in time and space.)

(And also, FWIW, blogging may yet be the thing that marks us as old and unhip... I was gobsmacked to learn that the college kids I spoke to recently really don't know from blogs, because they're all Facebook all the time.)
I was so glad in the past few years when our department finally started hiring people who were younger than I was. Coming up on my fifteenth year as faculty, I was tired of being "the baby" with all the dismissive baggage that can bring.

I'm too busy with my family demands and my soaring enrollments to be climbing up that ladder of prestige and power, right now, but I have seen a few of my grad school contemporaries showing up on such lists. Good on them! I promise not to call them "Numbnuts" in public too many times.
Amen, brother preacher.
Oh, so DD is one of those Gen X slackers, eh? Just a baby--I belong to the Blank Generation. Our slogan: "Out of the way, survivors of the '60s!"

Sad to say, that's been our slogan for 30-some years...
When I found a few years ago that a nerdy kid I went to high school with was now the mayor of my hometown in New Jersey, I laughed.
What, no name dropping? One of my friends is pretending to be the Drug Czar and another is an R1 Provost. Both are disturbing on various levels.

And danigirl is spot on about blogging being old school. (Look at me!) So, to an extent, is e-mail. Facebook and MySpace often fill both roles, although having a self-named web site (like Tasered guy at UF) is an alternative for the truly self-centered.
Hey, look -- a good friend of mine from high school is a dean now! Is he that CC dean who blogs?
Thought of this after yesterdays news coverage of the release of "Halo 3".

If you really want to separate the Gens from each other and from the Boomers, make your Friday blog a simple question: What is/was your favorite video game?
Aw, sorry if my pic made you feel old. As I noted in my blog on August 9, I too am adjusting to becoming part of the "old guard." It is strange.

And you always were a Winona Ryder fan. Nice to know some things don't change... ;-)

Your (old) Gen X friend IRL...
This was a well-timed post, as I was just thinking the other day about some points made in Neil Howe and William Strauss' "13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?", a discussion of what others call Generation X, that came out in the early '90s.

Howe and Strauss argue that Generation X survived experimental schools (remember open classrooms), fragmented families, the fear of the cold war era and the upheaval of its end, the recession, and now a lousy job market made worse because of boomers' inability to save for their own futures, therefore they won't be retiring anytime soon. So having seen how badly previous generations mucked it all up, Generation X will roll up our collective sleeves and take the hit, living poorer lives (no social security for us!) but making political decisions that will avoid transferring the problems and responsibilities to younger generations that shouldn't have been transferred to ours. It makes a lot of sense to me, even as it pisses me off.

But it's a pretty good book. An interesting read. Looks like they've come out with a new one on the Millenial generation, too, which would be good info about our current students.
This fellow Gen-X-er is totally laughing now. Thanks for the post! (I, too, have been a generational translator, at times, although more frequently I've been one of those annoying whippersnappers.)
I loved this post. Though not a frequent commenter, I am a regular reader of yours. As someone with the name “Jackie” who feels like a Jack-of-all-trades (talk about trying to escape your name-destiny), what I find most difficult is feeling like I’m spread so thin among work, volunteer, and side interests (because we want to do it all) and this day-to-day sense of urgency to figure it all out.
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