The Daily

for 29 November 2022

Beware of those who want to convince you that it is impossible to strive for good just because it is impossible to reach perfection.
— John Ruskin in Tolstoy’s Calendar of Wisdom, 26 November

I spent Thanksgiving with millennial New Yorkers, my son’s friends and co-workers. A nicer, more enthusiastic group of people you will not find. And such good food! Though it was a bit meatier than I was expecting from what I knew of these folks. I guess they wanted to pull out all the stops. But there was quite enough of everything that Son#1 and I (both veg out of necessity) were more than full by the end of the night, even with having to pass on about half the dishes.

But I was also exhausted. It is, of course, tiring to socialize with a bunch of strangers who all know each other. They were making every effort to include me, and I do appreciate that. But I just didn’t have much to contribute to most of the conversations. It was one of those times when I realize just how wide the gulf is between me and possibly everyone else. Definitely everyone else in that group. There were whole debates on the relative merits of movies and television series, none of which I’d even heard of, never mind watched.

And travel? Yeah, I hate travel. I’ve always hated it. I get horrible motion sickness and my varicose veins are throbbing after a few hours in a car or plane. Usually takes me the better part of a day just to recover. Weekend trip? Not happening… Now, I have been here and there. But I’ve never really enjoyed any of the trips I’ve taken. So all talk of globe trotting is wasted on me. And this was a highly international group (NYU employees… you can imagine the mix).

So there wasn’t a lot of common ground between me and what to me was a room full of kids. (They were emphatically not kids, but I’m getting to that point in old age… everyone under 40 is a kid…) That would have been tiring enough. But there is also something about this age group… being in a group of them feels like moderating a beauty pageant or something. Millennials all seem to be constantly performing. Or competing. It’s a contest to be the coolest or most woke or most erudite or just Most.

Maybe my generation was like that in high school. I think life stamped it out of us before we reached our middle 20s. By then, most of my friends had young children and therefore no money and no sleep. Most had finished a college degree; and many of them, finding that there were no jobs in those fields (or any others…), were embarking on grad school programs. Quite a few had to pay a mortgage, car payments, child care. More than one had to pony up for chemo. In the 1990s… when it was ludicrously expensive and insurers were generally under no obligation to pay for it, even when people were lucky enough to have insurance, as it was still considered an unproven trial drug to treat a “pre-existing condition”.

Millennials, through no fault or decision of their own, have not had these life experiences. They have not waded too far into adulthood, though the oldest of them are pushing middle age now. They do not own homes. Many of them feel lucky if they have an apartment of their own that saves them from having to live with parents. Home ownership is the crash course in adulting… and they’ve not taken it. They also, as a group, have not had children. This is, of course, related to not having a home that is large and stable enough to raise a family. But they also haven’t gotten married, though I suspect most are in or have had relationships that would count as marriage, but for the lack of a ceremony. Still, they have not dipped much more than a big toe into the waters of adult responsibility. Hence the ability to travel and watch a great deal of television…

In any case, these are adults who have had few adult formative experiences, and so tend to be, from the perspective of someone in my generation, somewhat childish. They seem to be stuck in adolescence in so many ways.

I don’t want to belittle anyone. Particularly because I know few would choose this path. And nobody but a boomer wants to be young for life. (Boomers don’t really either… no, they want all the benefits of maturity — respect, stable income, status — combined with all the benefits of a 20-year-old body… and none of the encumbrances of either youth or old age. They’ve always been such a pragmatic demographic…) But this gulf between those who got to have the last remnants of what is sold as a “normal life” in this culture and those who just don’t makes for very awkward holiday gatherings. There is so little common ground.

I can’t image being thirty and having the disposable income to go to France on a whim. Never mind the freedom from work. (Remember, in the last decades of the 20th century, paid vacation time was not much of a thing for most kinds of jobs… and it’s still not a thing for much of the vast service sector.) These people who were eating Thanksgiving dinner with me could no more imagine owning their own home — and having to maintain that edifice. This is just pure incomprehension. I can’t comprehend their lives; they can’t comprehend mine. What do we talk about? Politics?

But one thing is clear to me: they are definitely insecure about all this. Just like adolescents, they are trying to appear suave and urbane and so very cool, but they seem to feel like imposters. Frauds. Posers. They vie for attention and approval (from whom? no idea…), so that a party is reduced to a night spent jockeying for a crown that nobody ever wins. Because there is nothing to win.

I felt like going full old fogey on them and sitting them down for a good talking to. I think somebody needs to tell them. Because of course marketing and other forms of messaging are telling them just the opposite. Get out there and win! Survival of the fittest! Compete, compete, compete! Whatever… Life is not a contest. It’s not a game. Nobody wins. But then nobody loses either. Unless you waste your whole life in these imaginary competitions.

Millennials seem to think that the central point of life is to be the most authentic you you can be. Which is great! But… authenticity? Is not a thing. Not the way it is packaged in our culture anyway. Look at it this way: is there anything authentic in this culture of image and posing? Who is authentic in a land built on colonialism and extractive capitalism, among other deep historical lies? But then is there such a thing as an inauthentic human? What does that look like?

Authenticity is a really nebulous term… which makes it both very easy to abuse (for profit and other nefarious reasons) and very difficult to serve as the central pillar of a life.

You are authentically you as your birthright. You have to do nothing but be yourself. If you want to be a good and authentic you, you might add in rules against spreading harm, but being bad does not make you any less you… you’re just an authentic jerk in that case. Authenticity is a mirage, the perfect prize in this fake competition to be the Most.

And yet… they could be good… but…

So much energy is wasted on appearance. On the mirage. They bake bread as a hobby. They knit weird tree trunk warmers. They go to demonstrations on state building steps. They don’t generally cook their own food or source it locally, never mind producing it. They don’t make their own clothes or much of anything else they need. They demonstrate, but they don’t much go out and just do the work needed to make the necessary changes (ie open a food bank or a women’s shelter, create co-op housing or co-op legal advice, start guerrilla gardening, directly help those in need). They act, but they don’t do.

Of course, this is true for my generation also (and it’s true in spades for the boomers, who wouldn’t know real work if it danced naked in front of them singing La Marseillaise). But those who’ve been living adult lives are at least distracted from the guilt and self-doubt by all the demands on our time and energy and resources. We old farts have other concerns to save us from staring into the abyss every damned day. Millennials… don’t. So they have authenticity contests to fill all the hours that otherwise would be spent asking the bathroom mirror if this is really all there is.

I wanted to tell all these young people to just settle down. The number of folds on your gluten free pumpkin pie crust is really not boasting material. There are no merit badges in life’s kitchen. Just food. And pie is already good enough. You don’t need to say anything more. But I didn’t say anything. Because reproach didn’t seem like a polite thing to come out of the guest’s mouth.

So I was exhausted by just a few hours immersed in this milieu. I can’t imagine living like that every day. Always trying to be the most real, to be perfectly, authentically you. Always feeling like you’re falling so very far short of a goal that seems to recede further away every time you try to look at it. And yet rarely actually doing anything of consequence to make the world a better place. I mean, not flying to France would have far more benefits for the world — and yourself — than baking gluten-free pie. And if you want to be authentically good, then doing things for the benefit of the world is sort of authentically necessary.

Though I suppose authentic jerk is an authentic goal…

Anyway, I learned to be me by being me. I’m pretty sure I am the real deal. But I’m just too tired to give a flying fuck if I’m not. Whatever that means… Those of you who are reading this, how do you feel on these things? And does how you feel match your demographics? I’m sorta curious…

On a tangential note… the boys and I watched Spirited while the rest of the world was shopping last Friday. Absolutely fabulous! The writing. The dancing. The music. And who knew Will Ferrell could sing… good enough, anyway. I’ve seen critics express annoyance at the constant self-flagellation, the little parentheticals making fun of everything from Dickens to musicals to the concept of an afterlife. But I thought it was hilarious. (Doesn’t take much to amuse me…)

However, what is sticking in my head is the closing credits dance number, “Ripple“. Yes, it’s a great song. And the choreography is amazing. But what grabbed me is the idea of the song… “Do you want to make a ripple that can turn into a wave?” My brain latched on to that, screaming “Yes!” Because that is exactly what I want. To start something flowing until it’s unstoppable. Something beneficial, that is, because we’re up against the inexorable and it’s generally not good.

I don’t even necessarily want to be the cast pebble. I just want to see the waves.

Anyway, I totally recommend this movie to you regardless of your stance on musicals, Dickens or the afterlife…

©Elizabeth Anker 2022

5 thoughts on “The Daily”

  1. How many angels on the head of a pin?
    ‘Most’ ‘economic thinking’ is ‘short run’ and ‘redundant’? ‘It’ ignores the ‘supply side’?
    ‘Growth’ {and ‘civilisation’} depends upon ‘cheap’ F.F. – those so called ‘halcyon days’ are ‘over’. ?
    “The crisis now unfolding, however, is entirely different to the 1970s in one crucial respect… The 1970s crisis was largely artificial. When all is said and done, the oil shock was nothing more than the emerging OPEC cartel asserting its newfound leverage following the peak of continental US oil production. There was no shortage of oil any more than the three-day-week had been caused by coal shortages. What they did, perhaps, give us a glimpse of was what might happen in the event that our economies depleted our fossil fuel reserves before we had found a more versatile and energy-dense alternative. . . . That system has been on the life-support of quantitative easing and near zero interest rates ever since. Indeed, so perilous a state has the system been in since 2008, it was essential that the people who claim to be our leaders avoid doing anything so foolish as to lockdown the economy or launch an undeclared economic war on one of the world’s biggest commodity exporters . . .
    And this is why the crisis we are beginning to experience will make the 1970s look like a golden age of peace and tranquility. . . . The sad reality though, is that our leaders – at least within the western empire – have bought into a vision of the future which cannot work without some new and yet-to-be-discovered high-density energy source (which rules out all of the so-called green technologies whose main purpose is to concentrate relatively weak and diffuse energy sources). . . . Even as we struggle to reimagine the 1970s in an attempt to understand the current situation, the only people on Earth today who can even begin to imagine the economic and social horrors that await western populations are the survivors of the 1980s famine in Ethiopia, the hyperinflation in 1990s Zimbabwe, or, ironically, the Russians who survived the collapse of the Soviet Union.”


  2. Interesting observations. My 41-year-old son decided long ago that he did not want children and at 39 had a vasectomy. He and his longtime partner are not interested in getting married – they don’t really care whether the state or the church approves of their union. They are interested in buying a home but they don’t want to spend 50% of their income on a mortgage. They don’t travel internationally but are very active recreationally: hiking, biking, camping, kayaking, rock climbing and backpacking. They recently moved to VA from WA in hopes of finding a more affordable housing market but that has not happened. My son’s closest friends from both HS and college are married and mostly miserable, married and divorced, in major debt with 2k mortgage notes and student debt, and wondering why they had children. My son seems to be the happiest though he feels the effect of not keeping up with the JOnes. All in all, my son is living a life of experiences and I am following his take on living.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, my older son decided a while ago that he didn’t want kids or marriage either. Son#2 only got married because of insurance (he has it; she doesn’t…). Not sure where they are on procreation… think it will be a long time from now, if at all… because they live in exactly two rooms and can’t afford three…

      I know many millennials say they do not want those things, but I wonder if that’s because having that life is unaffordable or because it’s unappealing. Is it sour grapes or really something that they don’t want? Also there is a substantial percentage of the youngest ones — those born in the last decade of the 20th century — who DO want what their parents had, but can’t see any way to get there. (At least according to research polling.)

      But then, my point still stands — that without those experiences there is something lost in the adulting repertoire. They lack perspective in many ways. And there are a bunch of skills that you never develop unless you are managing a household.



  3. As Gen X, I find Millennials, and Gen Z baffling. I interact with them as law students, and while they are kind and enthusiastic and want to make a difference in the world, they also tend to be easily frustrated. They get angry over being asked to work hard in their classes (two papers due in one week in two different classes is outrageously unfair). They tend to be emotionally fragile. They get stressed out a lot and have few skills in coping with it. They have high expectations for themselves but seem to be insecure even when they succeed. They think they need to have everything figured out right now and I just want to hug them all and tell them they will never have it all figured out and that’s ok.

    Thanks for the Spirited recommendation. I’ve seen the ads and thought gak another stupid Xmas movie. But I’m glad to hear it has some, uh, spirit. I will put it on my watch list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “They think they need to have everything figured out right now and I just want to hug them all and tell them they will never have it all figured out and that’s ok.”

      YES! That is exactly the way I feel constantly. Even the undergrad kids I work with beat themselves up over not having their lives completely mapped out RIGHT NOW. And all I want to say is “Oh honey, you will get so much more out of life than you could possibly expect at this age.” Maps are limiting, especially when you don’t know all the territory. They prevent you from seeing the possibilities out there. I keep telling them that I’m still figuring… and wouldn’t want to know how it all goes from here. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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