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Love Letter to My Generation

Originally published September 11, 2016

Not that I enjoyed even a moment of it, but trending this week on Twitter is the ironically gone-wrong hashtag #HowToConfuseAMillenial.

I almost don’t know where to start.

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This is gonna be painful.

I said almost. And while I’m certainly no economics or sociology expert, I do read and pay attention to the world around me, and I’d like to think I can see both sides of this one. And it would make sense why – because I’m not really “of” any one generation in the immature pissing match great war between these equally irritating groundbreaking generations. This may be why I’m tempted to vote third party, actually – because blindly adhering to one side of an argument for the sake of one’s own hubristic self-satisfaction has never really been my jam.

As I stated – I’m one of the “Nones,” the Orwellian core of the (happily) forgotten “Generation Catalano,” not-quite-Generation-X-or-Y, and certainly not a true Millenial. Hell, I’m not even one of the lucky “TBDs,” the undesignated youngsters like the ones I’m currently raising in a Boomer-crafted professional environment that adheres to Nuclear Family archetypes whilst expecting Millenial-level ingenuity and a dogged, profoundly Gen-X type of workaholic-ism. This is why I work from home (and love it…love. it.). Since the start of middle school, I’ve known I didn’t 100% “fit” in any one club, clique, or designation, and I proudly wear my Born-In-84 status like a badge of honor…I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because it makes it so that I can sit back and watch two equally preachy and self-righteous generations bloviate at one another as if either of them have it all figured out.

And this is not the blog where I try to help either “side” of the bitter quarrel “see the light.” Nah. Y’all, I have two, soon to be three kids under the age of 6…homie ain’t got time for that.

Instead, I’m going to tell you what I LOVE about my generation. Because seriously…you guys rock my world. You shaped my world. You shaped my kids’ world. And you deserve a pat on the back.

But not an inflated and overpriced college education or a participation trophy, because no. Where we’re from…we just didn’t do that. And that’s ok.

A Love Letter To My Generation:

Fifteen years. Fifteen years ago today, we were different kids, guys. Fifteen years ago right now, it was Monday, September 10th, 2001 and we were high school kids and early college students. A lot of us still had tape decks in our car, but we wanted to utilize newer, higher quality sound technology – so we plugged portable CD players in on our dash and affixed them with velcro and loaded in Incubus “Morning View” album on the way to school. We didn’t stop at Starbucks on the way to school, but we’ll go for that now, sure – so our morning caffeine shot of choice was a Pepsi or something like it. We wore seatbelts most of the time, too, because our Boomer-age parents drilled it into our heads and we knew even though we didn’t want to admit it, they might be right. 

We were the children of Vietnam vets, Boomers, and flower children – all of which tended to hug us a bit more than their parents did them. And it was nice. We were, for the most part, loved. We didn’t have all the money in the world, and racial tensions still existed, but something felt different then. We shared more on a personal level, and less on social media (it didn’t even exist, actually). We duked it out when we were angry, one-on-one, and then we moved past it. We were looking forward to being able to vote. Freddie Mercury had been dead nearly a decade, but we still knew every word to every Queen song. It was a weird time to be a kid.

The grandchildren of World War II veterans and their wives, a stoic generation, the Greatest Generation, we LOVED hearing their stories. Something about their stories made us so thankful that things were “better” now, and though there were minor things to complain about here and there, standard adolescent quibbles, we knew we had it pretty good. Life stretched out before us. Tons of possibilities. IT anything was a field in its infancy. College was still fairly affordable, and most of us were planning on going to at least a nearby technical college or four year institution. Four years later, most of us had semi-decent jobs, and we thought starting at $25,000 or $30,000 a year was decent given that cost of living hadn’t exploded just yet. 

We were happy kids at best. At worst, we were kids on the precipice of drug addiction or alcoholism, dealing with an abusive home life, or some other real hardship. But we stuck together in a lot of ways. I thought we were cliquish then, but now I realize we weren’t that bad at all. 

We had flip phones at best, Nokia bricks as a midpoint, and some of us, no phone at all – and yet, we managed to make it. But we love our iPhones now and don’t look at them as a reason to make fun of younger folks because hey – convenience rocks, right? Then again, we came of age in the middle of a change. Our parents weren’t staring at their phones while talking to us (or worse…not talking to us), so as parents today, I guess we do kind of throw back to our childhood and try to zero in on our kids. Too much screentime, like too much of anything, is never good – right? We carry an awareness with us. Let’s just say that – we are aware of things.

Anyways, do you guys remember that Tuesday morning? I don’t know where you were, but wasn’t it breathtaking? Crystal clear, blue skies, and unseasonably cool that morning on the way to school. I remember that drive, for whatever reason, yellow-green fields rolling out before my little green Chevy sedan as I zipped down Hwy. 319 between the small towns of Conway and Aynor, South Carolina. And y’all, beautiful Generation of Mine, slogging in the doors by the senior parking lot – you guys looked like hope! Though…I didn’t know it then. I just thought we were idiot teenagers, like every other generation before us probably thought. What were WE gonna do to make the world better? What were WE gonna do different?

Libraries had become a loaded place for a lot of us, because of events like school shootings in Jonesboro, Arkansas and Littleton, Colorado right at the onset of our high school years. The landscape of a school changed when we were kids – it wasn’t just a school anymore. Could you fit in the locker if someone stormed in with a gun? How close were the exits? Who was the most likely shooter in your class? Did they wear a trenchcoat? Granted, most of us grew up hunting and using guns ourselves – but these were questions we all had to ponder in our schools, and I know you guys get that. So it never escaped me fully, the importance of the school library as refuge, as I sat there that Tuesday morning editing tape for the school broadcast class I was in. Aynor Grads circa 2002 were in it for the backing tracks – Saliva, Foo Fighters, Nelly, Jay-Z (not “Black Album,” we’re talking “Blueprint”). They definitely weren’t watching for my sports reporting chops – thank God for Charles Ham and Jonathan Shannon or I never would’ve put together a coherent sentence on anything besides football (and even that was a struggle). 

Everything changed when I turned around to look at the wall of small TVs in the media center (which was a separate part of the library at that time – this is back when libraries were still mostly about the books, the actual paper, smelly, used books). The first tower was sitting there on CNN, on fire. Teachers and other students in the class rushed in and we gathered there in first period, all of us standing there together when the second plane entered the frame. Up until that point, we thought it was a horrible accident. Maybe that moment of the second plane was actually when everything changed, because that’s when it stopped being an accident. That’s when it became a terrorist attack, in our minds. 

Some of us screamed or yelped. Some of us looked away and exhaled the last little bit of breath being pushed out of our lungs at the sight of a jumbo jet crashing into buildings we’d seen the previous summer on school trips or vacations. We squeezed the desk as we realized that paper doesn’t fall as fast as a human body and suddenly we could tell the difference.

Then the bell. Then the door. Then my white-as-a-sheet face as I explained to everyone else what we saw, what was going on. Then second period, the TV back on, no class, no words, just the first instance of saturation coverage that shaped our entire generation. We soaked in that Tuesday and dripped it in puddles under our feet for years afterwards. It was a weight we carried. Yes, it affected the entire country, the entire world, in horrific ways – but we were 17 and it hit us in our own way.

I remember the lunch table and the cursing declarations that if there was a war, you were gonna enlist – Chris, Beau, Michael. The zombie-like drive home from school, just to sit in front of the TV again and be incredulous at what happened. The complete sense of loss and confusion.

Boys and girls who sat at lunch tables in every high school or college cafeteria that Tuesday went on to fight – and in some cases, lose their lives – for this country. The girls who were part of my generation went on to become some of the most badass, skilled, excellent mothers and professional women I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. The guys? Kick ass dads, so many of them – they’re involved, interested, and invested in their children. You guys created so much for this world, and for once I don’t wanna mediate between an idiotic pissing match between two generations with their own positive and negative points.

To the forgotten generation: The 9/11 kids, the 1983 and 1984 babies, Generation Catalano, the girls who bought every Bush album because Gavin was everything, to every signature on the inside cover of my math textbooks, the first boys to never call me back and the last boy to have the keys to my heart, to the only kids I know who still know every word to S&P’s “Shoop” and will jam out to some Whitney Houston without apology or irony, to the kids at the roller-skating rink and playing pool in a bar we weren’t old enough to drink at, to the mothers and fathers and dreamers, to the Boulevard-Cruising, stick-driving, Britney-Spears-Loving, chunky-shoe-wearing, gum-chewing idiots we were and maybe still kind of are.

I love you guys and sharing these years with you has been everything. Thank you.

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