Category Archives: society

The Lost Generation

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No, I am not talking about the generation that came of age during World War I, although we share many characteristics with that generation.  I am talking about my own generation, those of use who came of age in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001.  Specifically, I am talking about the Xennial microgeneration born roughly between 1977 and 1983 (1980 here).  In my opinion, we are indeed a lost generation.

There are efforts to do away with this microgeneration altogether.  It is needed.  I don’t fully identify with Gen Xers or Millennials.  I have characteristics of both and want to be associated with neither.  Many people in my age bracket agree.

Zennial

So much of it has to do with technology and economics.  Most Gen Xers didn’t experience much if anything that the internet and cell phones had to offer until adulthood.  They largely had an analog childhood.  Millennials don’t remember life without either.  Xennials, on the other hand, grew up right along with the changes.  Millennials, by and large, had a digital experience growing up.

Economically, Gen Xers didn’t have it easy coming on the heels of Baby Boomers.  Eventually most were able to take their place at the table, even if they rebelled at first.  Millennials were still young enough during the tech boom and bust cycle, as well as the recession that followed September 11th, that they were able to use those experiences, often felt by parents, to make different economic and career choices.  We Xennials were caught in the crossfire just as we were preparing for and beginning our careers.  Just as we were trying to recover and establish ourselves, the Great Recession of 2008 hit.  Many of us have never fully recovered.  My story is a great example of this.  Unfortunately, I have always known that I am far from alone.

Nothing prepared Xennials for any of it.  We grew up in a time of great economic expansion during the 1980s and 1990s.  Of course we did!  Baby Boomers were just coming into their careers and purchasing power.  They were raising young families:  the kids that would eventually make up Gen X, Xennials, and even some older Millennials.  In the end, it would not last – and our parents, mainly Baby Boomers, often didn’t have the experience to help us.

Baby Boomers are an odd group.  I say that with love and affection because my parents, aunts, uncles, and countless friends are all Boomers.  That doesn’t mean that they aren’t a quirky bunch, especially when it comes to money.  For example, even though most Boomers found some measure of economic and career success, they are thrifty almost to a fault.  They think nothing of spending thousands of dollars on vacations, renovations, and more, but quibble over the price of off-brand ketchup.

When it comes down to it, they can’t help it.  They were by and large raised by the Greatest Generation, which experienced most if not all the Great Depression and then the sacrifices of World War II.  It may seem ridiculous to us Xennials, but those penny-pinching habits of our grandparents became a part of our parents’ DNA, no matter the economic circumstances they experienced themselves.

I often think about how my own parents started their adult lives, and I can’t help but think of how different the times were.  I wonder if my generation could replicate it.  That’s largely the problem.  We haven’t been afforded the opportunity to truly take our place at the economic and career tables.  Our careers and economic lives remain on hold, although that is slowly changing.

Instead, retirement for our parents keeps getting pushed back.  We faced absurd college tuition costs while being told that a traditional four-year degree (at least) is the only way forward when it isn’t the answer for everyone.  The housing and stock markets crashed just as many of us were about to get our careers going and buy our first homes.  Instead, we put off marriage and starting families of our own.  In some cases, our lives are still on hold.

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Younger Millennials and the generation after all had the opportunity to adjust to new circumstances and realities.  We Xennials did not.  We seemed to be perpetually at the wrong place at the absolute worst time.  That is why we continue to struggle.  The rules appeared to change just as we adjusted to the last set.  I hope we aren’t completely overshadowed by our parents and Millennials, much in the same way the Silent Generation was largely eclipsed by the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers.

While I still consider us a “lost” generation, I don’t think we need to wander forever.  But oh, how I wish we still had the guidance and wisdom of the Greatest Generation!  There were so many lessons yet to be learned.

Lost

“The Great Alone” by Kristin Hannah

Robert Service
Sometimes a novel ends up giving me the worst case of wanderlust. That is precisely what happened with The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. The Alaskan wilderness itself comes across loud and clear as a distinctive character. I particularly enjoyed descriptions of how Alaska changed from the 1970s to the 1980s. These descriptions were normally accomplished through Leni’s observations. It is this Alaska in all of its forms that I plan to visit one day.
It just so happens that I read the novel in the midst of a severe winter weather crisis that affected most of Michigan. Something about being housebound for a few days added to my enjoyment of The Great Alone. I kept telling myself “at least it isn’t as bad as winter in Alaska. At least I have power and indoor plumbing.” It made me feel better about my circumstances and helped me to empathize with the characters to some extent.
The characters throughout are wonderful. I particularly enjoyed Leni’s view of the world, her love of Matthew, and the protectiveness she exhibits towards her mother Cora. Ernst, Leni’s father, is, of course, a complex character designed to make us uncomfortable and question what we know about family dynamics. He largely drives the plot, and he is the reason why the Allbright moved to the Alaskan wilderness from Seattle in the first place.

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Secondary characters that I particularly enjoyed were Large Marge, Mr. Walker, Geneva Walker, and Matthew. Even though Geneva Walker does not play a large role in the novel, her presence is felt until the end. Matthew’s tenacity, dedication, and love for the women in his life is exemplary. Mr. Walker seems to try to hold it all together under the worst circumstances. He even expands his business in the process. I admire his entrepreneurial spirit.
Then there is Large Marge. She makes it her business to know all that goes on in Kaneq. What may seem to be simple nosiness elsewhere may just save a life in wild Alaska. Her steady presence tends to help make everything right, even in the face of the worst situations. She knows how to handle just about anything. In many ways, I want to be like Large Marge when I grow up.
I largely focused on the characterization in this novel simply because I don’t want to give away much. The novel is definitely action driven. I will leave it at that. If you are looking for a solid adventure novel, this is it. In my opinion, it has the right balance of description and action. In the end, I truly cared about the characters – or at least most of them. I would recommend The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.

Warning: The discussion questions include spoilers!
As a side note, I read this for the Standish-Sterling Book Club. This is very much the type of book I would hope I’d discover on my own eventually. You can find discussion questions for The Great Alone here.

Great Alone

Of Witchy Wolves and Writing

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One of my oldest pieces of writing that survives online is my take on the witchy wolves of the Omer plains.  You can find it here over at Michigan’s Other Side.  I wrote it specifically for the website back in 2006-2007.

My dilemma is now this.  I have grown leaps and bounds as a writer since then.  There are many things I would like to correct in the original.  At the same time, people seem to find and enjoy the original – particularly locals.  The witchy wolf legend is going nowhere.  This is exactly why I wrote the piece in the first place.  Currently. It seems to come up every six months or so.  Why fix it?

Even though my every instinct as a writer is to polish the piece and have the website publish that instead, there really is no reason to do so.  I need to learn to leave it be.

Lately, I’ve finally started writing stories from my childhood that need to be told.  They started as blog posts that I planned to share here, but now I am not so sure.  They are evolving into what I’ve always planned to write.  They may have to wait.

The Stories We Tell

Frontier

“Then I understood that in my own life I represented a whole period of American history.  That the frontier was gone, and agricultural settlements had taken its place when I married a farmer.  It seemed to me that my childhood had been much richer and more interesting than that of children today, even with all the modern inventions and improvements.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder, as referenced in Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser

Storytelling just seems to be on my mind lately.  Recently, while substitute teaching a high school English class, students were asked to respond to a journal prompt asking them to name the best storyteller in their life and what made that person such a great storyteller.  As students wrote, I responded in my own way.  I thought about what I would write.

Hands down, my dad is the best storyteller I know.  Maybe it is the fact that he is a hunter and storytelling is such a rich part of the hunting tradition or maybe he just likes to gab.  It could be a little of both.  As a young girl, I loved listening to my dad’s stories, no matter what the subject.  Throughout my childhood, he told me local legends, none of which I quite believed.  In fact, my dad has a reputation for making a story more exciting or scary for his children.  When he told me the local legend of the witchy wolves (you can read what I wrote about them here), I truly thought he made it up in an effort to scare me and my sister.  Our family happened to be walking in the Omer plains, the supposed home of the witchy wolves, when he told me this story, which added to the ambiance.  One of many, dad always seemed to have some story to share.

What makes him such a good storyteller?  I am not sure, but I do know that he likes to include elements of truth, humor, and fear in his stories.  His best stories include all three.  Some of his hunting stories, which always contain more of a human element than anything, stick with me after all these years. More than anything, he knows how to keep interest and seems to always have a story for any occasion.

If there is one thing that I hope to inherit from my parents, it is their storytelling abilities.  While children’s love of good storytelling doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, there is a disconnect.  They way we tell stories changed.  If we are looking to encourage kids to engage more with the world around them instead of the digital world, maybe we should encourage them to tell their own stories and develop their own storytelling abilities and style.

Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, I am a part of the micro-generation between Gen Xers and Millennials, born between 1977 and 1983, now called Xennials.  Those of us in that microgeneration watched our world transition from analog to digital.  This is one of the main reasons we are considered our own microgeneration.  While Gen Xers largely experienced a largely analog childhood, Millennials are the first true digital natives.  As a Xennial, I experienced the transition firsthand.  This is precisely why I can relate to the Laura Ingalls Wilder quote above.  I may not have experienced the frontier, but I did experience a fundamental change in culture and way of life.  I can only hope to tell my story of that transition.  All I can do is keep trying.

Xennial

Body and Other Four Letter Words Revisited

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Body 2

Body and Other Four Letter Words

Due to a variety of circumstances over the last few weeks, this subject continues to be in my thoughts.  It is so disturbing to me how it is permissible in our society to treat others so differently based on something so arbitrary as height and weight.  Why is this acceptable?  I am so sick and tired of people not realizing that there are many complicated factors that play into eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and obesity.  There isn’t a quick fix.  Food can be an addiction just as powerful as drugs, sex, alcohol, or gambling.  Bullying just makes things infinitely worse.

I’ve discussed it before, but I was relentlessly bullied about my weight and height early in elementary school – grades K-3 – particularly in gym class and at recess.  At age 5, classmates commented daily on how short, fat, and ugly I was.  The funny thing is that while I may have been a stocky child, I was not fat at the time.  At some point, I started to believe them.  How was I ever supposed to feel good about my body?

Later in elementary school, I learned that I would never have children naturally.  I refuse to say children of my own.  When I do adopt, my child (or children) will most certainly be mine.  At age 10, it devastated me.  To make matters worse, one boy in my class found out about my diagnosis of Turner Syndrome and what it meant.  He proceeded to call me a deeply disturbing name as a result, making it clear to me that he knew what I perceived at the time to be private.

It changed me.  I vividly remember balling as soon as I came home, refusing for a time to even tell my parents what had happened it upset me so badly.  Today, looking back at what he called me, it is almost funny – at least from an adult perspective.  After that incident, I owned the fact that I had Turner Syndrome.  While I didn’t go around telling everyone, I did explain when asked what it meant.  I didn’t hide from it anymore, even though I had only recently learned of the diagnosis myself.  Unfortunately, it reinforced the shame I felt towards my body.

As an adult, I find it difficult to deal with my body image issues while dealing with the emotions that come with infertility as well.  I can’t deny it:  I don’t know when I will ever be at peace with my body when, in my mind, it has fundamentally failed me in what should be a basic function.  Somehow, I will have to come to terms with it.  I just don’t know how.

In the meantime, I am done.  I am done trying to please anyone other than myself.  I continue to refuse to play the games society demands of women young and old.  There are way too many young girls today who feel as if they are not enough, that their worth is determined by their weight (and/or height).  That is why I am sharing something so deeply personal.  I want anyone struggling with body image to know that he or she is not alone.  Weight and diet are not as simple as we make them out to be.

It breaks my heart to see my Facebook feed full of beautiful women struggling with body image and eating disorders and mothers at a loss on how to help their child rebuild self-esteem through bullying.  I see it daily.  Frankly, this topic scares me the most about parenthood.Body 1

Bring Pretty Back

If you haven’t checked out Bring Pretty Back yet, you need to do so now.  Kristen is such a positive person, and her message of encouragement for all women is what we all need.  You can find episodes of Pretty Coffee with Kristen here.

The reason I wanted to talk about Bring Pretty Back today is because I can relate.  I know exactly what it feels like to feel ugly and to lose self-confidence.  I’ve struggled with self-confidence my entire life.  I have never felt beautiful or felt that society has ever accepted the way that I look.  When Kristen talks about feeling pretty, I understand what she is trying to say, but I can’t help wondering when I ever felt beautiful.  I would love to provide an example, but I truly can’t think of one.

My entire life I’ve found it difficult to find clothes that fit correctly thanks to my short stature and my Turners body.  There is a reason why women with Turner Syndrome joke about starting their own clothing lines.  The fact that women with bodies like mine are not normally represented anywhere in popular culture just adds to the feeling that my body is and always will be “wrong.”

I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life, but even when I was within 15 lbs. of what I “should” weigh, I still felt fat and ugly.  Looking back at that time, I was pretty, or at least cute.  Even then, I couldn’t enjoy it because all I could still see were my imperfections.  With those imperfections, according to popular culture and my childhood peers, I was unworthy of notice.

 

Book Review: Marlena: A Novel by Julie Buntin

I enjoyed reading Marlena.  While it contains components of a YA (young adult) novel, I would classify it as emerging adult.  Fair warning:  Lots of drugs and sex involved.  The good news is that the drugs, and to a lesser extent, sex, drive the plot.  They are necessary to the plot, and fortunately, do not glamorize the consequences of either.  By the way, when I mention drugs here, I am including alcohol.

I didn’t read Marlena with a set purpose in mind.  It wasn’t a book club pick or anything.  In fact, I discovered it by browsing a selection of online books available through my library’s website.  It just sounded good.  It is ultimately a tale of two best friends growing up in a dull northern Michigan town.  It took a while for me to get into the book.  The protagonist, Cat, isn’t the easiest person to get to know.  Also, in the beginning, I didn’t get the fixation on drugs.  She clearly understands right from wrong, but she is fixated on her new best friend Marlena and making the worst possible choices for her life.  By approximately a quarter of the way through the book, I was hooked and found it difficult to put down.

Cat, at least the older, wiser version in the novel, nails what it is like to grow up, to love and lose.  There are so many powerful lines I found myself highlighting them in my Kindle copy, forgetting that it is a library book.  Below are a few of what I consider to be the most powerful lines in the novel.

Close enough to being a writer, isn’t it, working at a library? – Page 45

As an aspiring writer, I loved this quote.  Ultimately, Cat is a writer, but it took her a while to find her voice.  Her empathy for other young women is clearly demonstrated later in the novel in her approach to difficult young library patrons.

For so many women, the process of becoming requires two.  It’s not hard to make out the marks the other one left. – Page 96

This passage really made me think.  I thought of the friends, male and female, in both high school and college, who helped to shape the woman I became.  It made me think of what I wrote about W.M here in particular.  There is something to be said for reconnecting with old friends after years apart and seemingly nothing (and everything) has changed.

I think it’s pretty common for teenagers to fantasize about dying young.  We knew that time would force us into sacrifices – we wanted to flame out before making the choices that would determine who we became.  When you were an adult, all the promise of your life was foreclosed upon, every day just a series of compromises mitigated by little pleasures that distracted you from your former wildness, from your truth. – Pages 129-130

This struck a nerve with me as well.  First, I vividly remember being terrified of dying young as a teenager.  Both of my parents lost close relatives as teenagers, and those stories stayed with me.  Second, the fact that “time would force us into sacrifices” continues to be at the forefront of my mind.  I have always tried to find a way to leave as many doors open as possible.  There is just too much I want to do in life.

I was always aware, in some buried place, that girls my age had just entered their peak prettiness, and that once my pretty years were spent my value would begin leaking away.  I saw it on TV and in magazines, in the faces of my teachers and women in the grocery store, women who were no longer looked at … – Page 143

I so desperately want this not to be true, but it is true.  I loathe this fact about our culture.  Hopefully I will live long enough to see it change, permanently.

Before that year I was nothing but a soft, formless girl, waiting for someone to come along and tell me who to be. – Page 250

Thinking back to what I was like at ages 15-16, I like to think I was somehow stronger than Cat.  Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case; I could closely identify with Cat in the novel.  It makes the novel much darker.  There is a fine line between the successful teenage Cat and the degenerate.

I would recommend the book, especially if you love to write or like reading about love and loss (or even friendship in general).  Is the story sad?  Yes, but it is also full of hope.  It does seem that Cat is at least trying to deal with her loss, with varying degrees of success.

I know I have talked about this before, but I am convinced the right books find me at exactly the right time.  While I certainly wouldn’t call Marlena great literature, it addresses certain topics I would like to cover in my own writing.  I will be rereading this novel.