Let me first say how tiresome I find the whole generational divide thing, those reductive divisions about what constitutes a cultural generation and the facile codification that obscures more than illuminates. Nothing’s worse than seeing those youtube videos of some millennial bashing her own generation, mimicking the lines of most any one of my baby-boomer neighbors whining about Black Lives Matter, or Participation Trophies, or Snowflakes.
Those same neighbors will approach me, ask how it is to teach so many kids with their sense of entitlement, with their helicopter parents knocking on my office door. To be sure, some students fit those stereotypes, who come to my office ready to break down in tears about their learning disabilities that they’ve never had documented or just as quickly to threaten to report my repressive grading practices to the university president and board of trustees. Read Nathan Hill’s The Nix to get all that awfulness and more.
But the kids are all right.
From my son and my nieces and nephew, each is well started out in life, each independent, all are working full-time, living on their own, mostly married, mostly home-owning. Even some of my vagabond students, I see one has been working in Vietnam for the last three years, and others are in Eugene, London, Atlanta, Seattle, Chicago, or Los Angeles, working, creating art, scraping by, but happy it seems for their choices, making real and beautiful lives. Some are staying in Fort Myers, finding their own ways, too.
Or about poets, I just finished teaching Molly McCully Brown (all of 25 years old) and her first collection The Virginia State Colony for the Epileptic and Feebleminded. Her voice scalding and aloof, empathetic, a Joan Didion hard sense of morality, and a book that is brave and wise. And so many other poets to mention–Kevah Akbar or David Tomas Martinez or Morgan Parker–and it’s remarkable, their high-mindedness, their sense of community, their irreverence, and their joy in the craft, all accomplished in such a lousy, lousy time, all carrying something light and good.
I know no one more hard working and kind as my friend Katelyn, who on one hand may seem all airy and light and inconsequential and snowflakey to a cynic, but who got her cosmetology degree before going to college, worked as a hair stylist, followed and follows her passions in the arts, and now runs her own hair salon. Or I think, fondly, of my friends Brittney and Phil now headed to California, who will be living in a trailer while he works as a translator for a media company and she pursues her M.F.A. in directing–all after spending five years to build a theatre company and working full time in the tourist industry. Self-indulgent? Entitled? Pampered? Good lord, and thank god, no.
I think of them, all of them above and more, as so profoundly American in such an old and good way, all the while they are inventing new and hopeful and challenging definitions of what being an American means for their time and for tomorrow. I just hope I’m nimble enough to keep up.