Monday, May 27, 2013

Us Versus Them

I have watched Stephen Colbert's commencement speech to the graduating class of the University of Virginia many, many times this evening. It very neatly addressed the growing dissonance between competing generations, though I'm certain that wasn't his overall intent. He ever so gently reminded his contemporaries, the Boomers, that their children are not the source of our economic drains. Millennials aren't, in point of fact, the whining, self absorbed babies in the room. Not like the way Gen Xer Joel Stein would have you believe, in any case.

Remember that time Joel Stein wrote an article about how horrible it was that his previously white neighborhood was being taken over by Indian immigrants?

Baby Boomers are fond of decrying Millennials as the source of our economic troubles. Our dear parental generation. Don't we know its just not that hard to do right by this country? Why when I was your age making $12,000 a year was a great start! Of course adjusting for inflation this causes things to tilt in a slightly different direction, but let's not focus on that. We're lazy, we little baby Y's. We aren't contributing as we should to the still struggling economic climate. We're cheap. We aren't buying houses. We're living with our Boomers or renting for far longer than anticipated. We aren't buying cars. We have bus passes, bikes, and zip cars. We're a waste of resources and time.

To Gen Xers, the asshole older brother generation, we're a bunch of whiners. Don't we know they had it hard too once? They had an internship for a while. And yeah, they make 40k a year now, own a home and have three kids, but they worked hard for it! Didn't AT ALL benefit from Clinton's administration and the far more stable American job market. It was all on them. And we Millennials are all a bunch of jack holes sitting around crying about working two to three jobs at a time, all for minimum wage, while balancing internships and volunteer positions, still trying to wedge our foots in the proverbial door. Why don't we just shut up about it already and a get a real job?

This is what I hear in a constant thrum across various media sources. Millennials are the worst thing that has happened to America since Obama. Who we consequently worked our asses off to put in office, so maybe the two things are related. While I am in no position to be a speaker for a majority, I feel I can become a speaker for my friends. For my coworkers. For the people I spend my days with, meticulously counting single dollar bills to discern whether you can splurge for that beer tonight or not.

I have spent the better part of a year either underemployed, as I am now working two jobs that (combined) give me less than ten hours a week, or underpaid, when I was working sixty hours a week at three jobs and still came up short for bills and rent. Whether these older generations wish to acknowledge it or not, the current America is not so simple or so generous to young graduates. It has been almost five years since I heard my own commencement speech, which I now remember very little of, but I wish someone had just been honest and said that it was going to be hard. That I was going to think about things like unemployment support and food stamps, but decline them out of pride, because my predecessors would think less of me for needing them.

Here are our allegations:

1) We are narcissists. The evidence for this case is in our penchant for technology. We won't buy those shiny new houses and cars, but we will invest in smart phones and computers. This seems a confusing trajectory to most Boomers and maybe some Gen Xers too. But that is because to them technology is a luxury item. It is a toy. Something you own to display a certain brand affiliation, a la Apple devotees.

This is not what technology is. Not to a Millennial.

Technology is a gateway. It is a tool. You need a smart phone now, yes you do. Don't pretend you're above it hipsters. You need technology, because you need to be online. We have lived through the progression of the internet. We are human timelines. From weird late night AOL chat rooms to myspace to livejournal to the birth of facebook, the great social networking game changer. And even that is changing now and we're apart of it. We have left facebook as you showed up on it, Boomers. We're tweeting now. Snapchating, instagraming, night blogging on tumblr, and blowing out the parameters of how we connect to one another. Because that is actually what the internet is. It is the way we reach out and communicate. To you this seems cold. And objectively I can see why. But that is because you did not grow up here. This is not your space. It's not for you.

When someone instagrams their lunch you may think it is childish, self indulgent, or even mundane, but this is Millennial communication. This is a way of saying, I tried a new recipe. I am proud of myself. I am making things work right now, because tomorrow could be a hot mess. Twitter operates in much the same way. Is there a flood of minutiae as well? Of course. But don't you have friends who tell you useless things in conversation? (Warning: if you don't, you are that friend.) Your brain filters out what you do and do not want to retain the same way our friends list settings do.

2) You should just get a job already. It doesn't matter what job, just get a job and start making money so you can help us the economy out. That sounds lovely. I would be really interested in this job. I have three years of formal work experience in an education setting, five years of various museum positions, and a solid decade of childcare. Would you like me to tell you how many applications I have submitted since graduating from college? Wait for the punch line, because I lost count at 100.

I have held "any job" before. And been laid off twice for the effort, thanks. I'm not alone here either. Most young graduates will enter into a grind of underemployment for years to come. Many employers have found that the fastest way to cheap labor is the myth of the internship. If you work as an intern, unpaid for an unspecified amount of time, then maybe some day far off in the future you will have a better chance of becoming an employee with a desk or something. This does work. I do know people who have gone through the whole carrot dangling routine. But for every one person that succeeded, how many countless interns were left behind in their wake? There's only one job. There are many interns. And so it goes. You push and you shove and you hope its enough. I'm fortunate that my Boomers are more sympathetic and understanding than most. They don't ever tell me I'm not doing enough or that I'm not applying in the right places, they know first hand how hard the process is. But I have far more friends who receive the standard, "You're just not doing it right" line.

3) Probably you are Satan? I don't even know. I don't understand why there has been mounting interest in labeling Millennials as the Worst Generation to Ever Worst. Because all this has served to do is separate us. Gen Xers have decided to suck up to daddy and mommy Boomer, siding with them. A wall has been placed which we are not invited to cross. The wall of adulthood. Any one born after 1980 need not apply.

Here is the larger problem with the blame game. While you may feel safe on your side of the wall, smug that you have done everything right and we are the ones fucking up you seem confident that we still want to be you when we grow up. That we are trying so hard to be in your club. Has nothing we've done so far shown you how wrong you are? Generation Y will no longer measure success by square footage owned. By neighborhoods bought into. By the number of cup holders in cars. The more you turn against us, the more we turn against you. We are becoming insular. One day, not to far off, we will turn to each other and say enough. We are what matters and they are nothing but chaff in our way.

One day you will die, Baby Boomers. You will not hold office any more. You will not make policy. Your children will. And what have we become? What have our parents made us? Because on this count you should stand up and take a bow. We are your products. A direct reflection of the world in which we have come of age in to. We will be hungry, tired, and penniless. And we will be deeply mistrustful of you. Good luck in those nursing homes you are rapidly less able to afford.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Pitch for TLC (Or Whoever Else is into Crappy Reality Programming)

I frequently find myself indulging in this highly specific fantasy where I have my own reality TV show. I can't trace the source of this, but it crops up often enough that maybe I should tell someone about it? That someone is the internet, luckily.

For a reason that should be obvious, this show is titled "Failure" or "Millennial" or a combination of both of those words. Generation Fail. That rolls off the tongue nicely, right? We follow traditional, and often times gritty, reality TV tropes. We have confessional booth time for one-on-one character development, shots of what my day is like, and maybe Paula Cole does the song over the end titles. Also, its been a while since I've watched reality TV.

I just lay there and think about this until I realize exactly what I'm doing. Which is nothing. Which is what most of my days look like. But I feel like I can run with this as a concept! What is one of the best selling games for women (arguably the number one consumer of reality television)? The SIMs. And what happens in the SIMs? NOTHING. Nothing ever happens and its amazing! I SHOULD KNOW. You watch people go poop and take showers and make breakfast and go to work and get random phone calls at inconvenient hours of the day. Its exactly the same thing that happens to you during most of your waking hours and yet for some reason watching this little doll house world makes it fascinating. So why wouldn't my reality show, in which I do the things I normally do, not be a success?

Follow me on a visual journey:

Its nine in the morning when I roll over and turn on my phone. About forty minutes later I wake up again and check my email. At noon I wake up a third time and flail around till I find my iPod. This can be smashcut with me talking about my mornings, my motivation in life, and how I'm trying really hard to eat less during the day because I can't afford to go grocery shopping. Back to the action, I have moved to the top of my comforter and I am now watching this random Japanese drama I found online. As we pan to the screen we see that a particularly tense moment is happening and these two butlers are about to duel and a Spanish guitar starts up (you seriously have to watch this show, its balls crazy). I mime the guitar in my excitement.

How does this not sell itself? I'm super relatable to a disproportionately high number of twenty-somethings. It's like my life can serve as a warning to everyone who's in college right now. Look at where devoting all your time to academics gets you! All those internships! All that money you saved up! Its all going here!

Frankly, I don't see how this can't be golden. TLC loves following hot messes around.


How is me, filling out applications for a few hours each day and then casually watching Vampire Prosecutor any less enthralling than that? Network television please send your over sized bags of money straight to me.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Rebel Cry

I walked out on my job.

A lot of other things happened too, between this moment and the last time I actively wrote on my blog. I spent a solid month being depressed. Very depressed. Wherein the effort to continue mimicking the person I was expected to be became an enormous effort. This hasn't entirely changed, but I'm managing it better. The latter half of my time was that I got lazy and embarrassed about not writing the blog I was determined to be good about posting on. So, there's that. Back to the first part.

I walked out on my job.

It is the least Midwestern thing I've ever done in my life. I have been taught above all notions that every job is sacred. That you treat every job as if its the only job you will ever have. That every job you have been in reflects on you and your purpose and your success.

I was laid off from a job I loved. Even on the shitty days, I was always happy to be there. Being told that there's no place for me there, that I wasn't a good fit for the future was devastating. Something I can't grapple with even now.

The only job I was able to get after three months of unemployment was retail work. Another sting. But, I placated myself by chanting over and over that I needed the money and I wasn't too big to say no. This was unlike other retail I've worked before. The model of this company is, no joke, immediately back off if a customer doesn't want your help. My past two retail experiences fall in the camp of HARASS THE CUSTOMER UNTIL THEY LOVE YOU. At first this seems like a windfall. You mean I get to come, get paid, and I don't even really have to do the thing you hired me to do?

But again, Midwestern work ethic.

It turns out, I needed that interaction. I needed to feel useful. Going around a store and slowly adjusting shoes for eight hours a day was monotonous and stifling. Any time some one passed me on the sales floor I probably scared them, leaping to make any kind of contribution. This alone could have grated on my nerves for some time before I decided to look for other work.

What, apparently, I couldn't cope with was being demoralized. There was a manager of this store who clearly felt that the title gave her the right to exert what little power she was in control of over any one in her direct line of sight. She was condescending and sought out ways to degrade employees. Calling them incompetent, lazy, liars, anything really. How they haven't pieced together the high turn over rate at their location I'll never know.

On my first shift with her I had already worked a 22 hour shift at my other job. I had asked for the day off and it had not been granted. Because I am in a bind for cashy monies I just decided to ride it out. By 9:30 the store is suppose to close, but this manager, let's call her the Harpy because I sure did, forbid anyone to announce to customers that the store was closed. By 10:30 the final customer had left. I am ready to collapse. Then we begin resetting and cleaning the store.

This is my lasting impression of the Harpy. She walked through my section criticizing anything she could. I was told by her that since I was new she would give me a pass just this once, but she wanted me to remember everything she was saying so she wouldn't have to repeat herself. She said this slowly and patted my shoulder twice, as you would a child. She then said there were crumbs on the carpet and that it was my responsibility to clean up. We don't have a vacuum, so I awkwardly swept them up before some other sales associate whispered that a cleaning crew always comes in after we leave to do the floors and the Harpy has just told me to do this likely as a power play.

To what end she felt like telling me about the cleaning crew I will never know. I can't tell the manager she's full of shit for having me do this. So now I'm just more angry than I was two minutes ago. At midnight we are allowed to leave, begrudgingly on the part of the Harpy with a sharp "This will have to do." I black out twice on the drive home and have to sit on the side of the road until I can get a friend to get on the phone with me to keep me awake. I have just worked my first 30 hour day.

The Harpy continues this behavior for the month I work here. Snide comments and harsh criticism and four people quit in one week. Seven more people are hired. I suppose the three were for additional collateral they were anticipating.

I get a new job offer. Its not great, but its back in a museum and closer to what I should be doing and will at least fill out a resume better that more retail. Due to the size of the store I was working at the Harpy was one of four managers. Some how no one tells her I've turned in my notice, because when the rest of the hires I came on with begin register training she takes me aside and says I should think about the way I present myself at work since the other managers felt I'm obviously not qualified enough to be trained. She says this while smiling.

I think about it all night.

Its stupid. It doesn't reflect on me. I've quit. They're not training me because I'm leaving in a few days. I have two shifts left. There's no reason to train me. I know this. But this hits a nerve whether I want it to or not.

The next night I'm back in place, slowly angling display shoes a perfect 45 degrees and letting my mind wander. I take my break and in the back room two girls talk about how they're quitting soon. One mentions that someone else has just quit and they didn't even turn in notice. Just stopped showing up and answering calls from the store. I don't know why her saying this changes everything, but this is immediately when I know I'm done working here. I go back on the floor and look to see where all the managers are. I walk slowly, I still clean my area. I think. I visualize it. Walking out the doors. I double back and doubt myself. Even the thought is inappropriate. Is blasphemous to the work ethic that dominates the place in my psyche that I suppose other people fill with religion. My work becomes suddenly manic. I'm walking faster, haphazardly fixing things as I pull back and forth in my head over what I'm thinking about doing.

Then the Harpy announces over the associate radios that all of us should expect to stay late tonight.

I watch her move around the store. I wait till she goes into the back offices. I walk back to my locker, take my things, and walk out. My hands shake the entire way to my car, like my father is going to come charging out from behind some fake mall fern and tell me what I've done is wrong. Obviously this doesn't happen. I get in my car and drive home with a jittery energy.

I am suddenly and irrevocably invincible. I can walk out of a job like I don't give a fuck because I don't. No one has to know about this job, aside from the IRS. No one ever has to know I worked for a month at a shitty shoe store in a shitty mall and that I walked out without a backward glance and fucked off into the night.

Logically I can acknowledge that this isn't actually all that dramatic or altering to anyone accept myself. But it was important for that one day. Important in some tiny way I could say to myself that I'm worth more than a job like that. Important to feel proud of myself for a while. Midwestern work ethic be damned.