Generationally Speaking

28 March 2012 § Leave a comment

I walked up & up toward Alto Jaramillo yesterday, decidedly out (south) of the Boquete crater, simultaneously walking and reading (a dangerous endeavour on narrow, curvy roads such as those) Generation X by Douglas Coupland, whose novel Life After God I feel a great debt to, and so purchase whenever I see in on a shelf, and give away when I find someone who might glean something from it.

Someone did that for me once – with the I, Ching. Two years after the man on the plane to Alaska showed me how to use the book (and having left the ‘believing’ part in my hands), I finally opened it, and gathered some coins.

I continue the tradition in his honor.

Coupland was born the same year as my mother, 1963. He broadly defines ‘Generation X’ as those born from the late 1950’s through the 60’s – the quiet generation who never started a revolution, perhaps because their energy contributed rather to the popularity of 80’s pop and hair metal. Eventually, they gathered a sense of messiness and allowed the likes of Alice in Chains and formulaic action films out of their heads and on to the scene.

The tone of the book, of the author’s voice, carries over today – disdaining the upper class for brazilification (“the widening gulf between the rich and the poor and the accompanying disappearance of the middle classes)”, and subconsciously denying their own successophobia (“the fear that if one is successful, then one’s personal needs will be forgotten and one will no longer have one’s childish needs catered to”).

There are hundred of terms and definitions like that, scattered through a story of three twentysomethings who moved to Palm Springs to escape material wealth and financial success working in “veal-fattening pens” (we – that is, My Generation, the next letter of the alphabet but I prefer it spelled out: Generation Why (question mark implied) – know these as cubicles, and their symbolism hasn’t changed much) for actual happiness.

The only problem is that they’re still figuring out what this happiness thing is, and how to go about finding it. It’s fleeting out in the desert, but at least there’s nothing to get in the way out there. If it’s twenty miles off, at least it’ll be easier to spot, as opposed to if one lived in, say, Portland. I sense their age in how the characters speak and their lack of cell phones and internet  – “He owns the marketing rights to the star and box buttons on push-button phones. Can you bear it?” – and remember how when I was a kid of seven or eight, the people I liked best were Josephine and her friends, all in high school, and then college. They talked about important things and did crazy things, like kiss their fiancée’s new ring and then roll their car off the highway because their love was so distracting.

Even now, here in Boquete, there are the twins, who are so much of that kin it makes me nostalgic when I’m with them, wanting to soak up that cool older-than-me energy, to hear stories of the 90’s, back when the world was just a little more good.

I wish I was a part of that generation, but nevertheless am an accidental product of it; my first lessons were my parents’ university courses, deep down in the desert of the Southwest. When I ask them about that time (separately, of course, because they haven’t been in the same galaxy for nearly fifteen years), they become more reserved than usual, and talk in the same quiet voice about it. It conjures up guilt in me – for coming too early, for being the reason they stayed together when it was so obvious even then that they shouldn’t (I’m taking some liberty on that one, because I don’t really remember their college days) – that I’m still not sure how to apologize for. I never had to wonder why neither, from their respective corners of my universe, pushed me into university, though. Perhaps they thought I would make the same mistake. Perhaps I would have.

I’d left my mother’s house because she was getting married again, and because the guy got mad at me for flipping him off. He was an adolescent psych counselor, and I was sixteen. His lack of personal control amused me so much that I decided to leave when he had a six-foot-tall, five-hundred kilo safe delivered to my computer den. If I wasn’t a sucker for symbolism before that, he made me a believer. I read more Hawthorne immediately – on the plane to my dad’s house, effectively on the opposite end of American culture and landscape: I moved from Alaska to Kansas in the middle of summer. It would be my fourth high school, and not the last.

Six months later, on very different grounds, I left again to live with Josephine, who’d finished college and was still awfully smart and whose attitude toward life I wanted to adopt. She was still cool, and so was her boyfriend. I needed cool.

I’m not sure where generations start, and where they end. It’s pretty obvious that the kids who don’t remember the world without the internet are the “next” generation, Z, implying that theirs will either last forever, or be the end of humanity (but what limits the English language has!).

Some of my friends here were born around the time I started high school, which is a little disheartening because now they’re starting high school (is it more appropriate to say “friends’ kids” because of our age difference? I am friends with their parents also, but they are individuals who I am fond of, so may I not simply be friends with them? Society has such stupid rules), and last night as we sat in the living room waiting for something to happen, they, 15 and 12, were on skype and an iphone respectively, socializing in secret.

Thirty minutes later, were we reading books. Real books, with paper and everything. It made me smile, and think that generations are perhaps not as isolated form one another as we may think: Instead of I am this and want something else, it can be I am this and this and that also.


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