Songs for the Struggling Artist


The World I Imagined When I Was a Teen

I wrote this a few months ago and haven’t posted it because so much has been happening and a post about imagining a different world feels so weird in a world absolutely none of us imagined. But maybe it’s nice to time travel. Maybe it’s nice to pretend we’re in the world of a few months ago when this is what I was thinking about.

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Once upon a time, I dreamed of the world I would inhabit as an adult. I thought I would grow up to be Ann Magnuson or Annie Potts. I thought I would hang out in the cool clubs from Desperately Seeking Susan and be taken to a restaurant that had glass tables where I could watch myself while I was eating. The adult world I imagined featured a lot more cool haircuts and funky suits than I ever see in my actual adult life.

I have been thinking a lot about the way we create expectations but also how we create our worlds. The world I imagined no longer exists. It may have only existed in film and TV and it was created by the adults of the moment.

It may have been the underground in the 80s but that underground is long gone.

I find I’m a little disappointed. I live in the very city that used to look so cool in Jonathan Demme or Susan Seidelman’s films but there is nothing here that is as cool as those films. There are so many banks and yogurt shops and hardly any funky thrift shops. You will never stumble upon a crazy cool jacket like Madonna wears in Desperately Seeking Susan – but you can find a dozen high-end cupcake shops.

It just strikes me that every generation probably imagines that their adulthood will look like the cool adults in the previous generations. We think we will grow up to live like what we saw in our youth, despite the fact that when you look backwards, the common denominator is change.

No one grew up to live in the world they imagined when they were children. No one. The first generation to grow up reading novels probably imagined they’d have a life like the ones in books but those lives were already in the past by the time they read them. The children growing up reading the first novels likely lived in a world that looked nothing like the one they imagined.

Maybe a few decades ago, someone dreamed a future full of banks and yogurt shops and so created a New York that reflected that dream. Possibly a yogurt shop and bank New York looks very cool to young people coming up now and they will be disappointed to arrive here in ten years time when yogurt shops are no longer in fashion and there are no more brick and mortar bank branches.

I suppose the tragedy and gift of the world is that change is so inevitable, no one can ever live in the world they imagined when they were young. In so many ways, the world I live in now is far superior to the one I imagined. A South Korean film won best picture and there’s so much interesting TV. There’s been enormous gains in social justice (though not quite as many as I’d hoped for) and technology is like magic.

There’s better coffee and abundant Poke to be had. I bought a pair of glasses for $15 and the Affordable Care Act has made health care a possibility for me and many of my artist friends.

There are a lot of things that are way better than what I imagined but some things are worse, too – and mostly a lot less cool. I’m an Ann Magnuson girl in a bank and yogurt world who knows the world is ever in flux and will never be as it was or what we imagine it will be. That’s just the deal. I know it and I still think it’s weird.

 

Look at Ann Magnuson in the early 80s. This is the only photo of her on Wikicommons and it is perfect. She’s so cool. Why isn’t the world this cool?

 

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It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

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There Will Never Be a Gen X President?!?

A few months ago, a friend sent me an article about Gen X and the presidency that was in the Financial Times. (Write a whole series on Gen X, people will send you Gen X articles.) In the article – the millennial writer expresses his admiration for Generation X while simultaneously declaring that we are about to miss our shot to have one of our own become president. I started to write something about it but then I let it go. It seemed to just be a fleeting inconsequential opinion piece in the Financial Times. I can’t catch every single bit of silly Gen X-ery that floats by!

But then this idea came up again in a Gen X themed interview on the Brian Lehrer show. The guest host asked Ada Calhoun (author of Why We Can’t Sleep, a book on Gen X women) about this idea that we’ll never have a Gen X president and I got mad. Not because we won’t have a Gen X president. I don’t really care about that one way or another. But what I did get upset about is the weird ageism or bias that’s built into that assumption.

I also got mad because I bought it for a second. For a second, I thought it was real. That we really had missed our Gen X presidency shot. I mean, sure, I can see how Beto O’Rourke would be a classic Gen X president. Cory Booker was a little more corporation-friendly than the typical Gen X-er – but he literally ran into a burning building to save someone back when he was mayor of Newark. I liked his chances of saving us in a burning country. And I was very very sad when we lost honorary Gen X-er Kamala Harris in this race. (She’s just on the cusp being born in 1964.) I had no idea that Julian Castro was Gen X until just now and now I’m doubly sorry he’s left the race. But this election is not our only shot.

I don’t know if you noticed but we’ve got a lot of old folks running for President these days. Who’s to say some Gen X-er won’t win the presidency at age 80? We’ve got decades to deliver a presidential candidate. I mean, before I float this next idea, I need you to know that there is no world wherein I would like for this to happen – but Ted Cruz (a Gen X-er, I’m a sorry to say) could run for president in his 80s and in a cockamamie enough world, people could elect him. (Please, no!) What’s this assumption that it’s all over about? Is it the fear that we’ll be skipped again? That we’ll have a millennial president before we get a Gen X one?

Yeah. Sure. We could. But – whatever, you know? I’d be delighted to have Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez before Paul Ryan. Go on, Ilhan Omar, Lauren Underwood, Xochitl Torres Small and Katie Hill. Step on ahead my millennial goddesses!

But… the door isn’t closed for us. I mean – Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Katie Porter are all Gen X mega-stars and I’d love to see any one of them with a shot at the presidency at some point. (Maybe we can get Julian Castro next time?) I get that we’re all in the middle of a pretty brutal U curve and it really does pretty much feel like this is the end for us. Gen X men are knocking themselves off in droves and Gen X women can’t sleep. I see why this bias exists. Most of the dominant voices of our generation are dead – so of course it’s hard to imagine ourselves as old.

But we don’t have to be president right now. I’m guessing most of us aren’t interested. Given the current one in office, I’m not sure the presidency is quite the pinnacle of accomplishment it once was. But maybe, if we can survive past this year, we can prepare for a Gen X presidency in the year 2032. Or, you know, whatever.

Really, though, I give no shits about whether or not we get a Gen X president. The position has been a bit devalued these last couple of years and I’m not sure it’s worth the wanting. But the conversation around it matters because of the ways it reveals our thinking around stuff like this.

I think a lot of us think the game is over because a) we have some kind of intense generational nihilistic tendencies and b) we grew up in a youth culture, not unlike every other generation still alive. Ever since The Who hoped to die before they got old, we’ve all seemed to think that was a reasonable position to take. The culture glamorizes youth and sends the old out to pasture and here we see the evidence that somehow if we fail to elect a Gen X president in 2020, we will have missed our shot.

Now – the nihilist in me can fully understand that 2020 may in fact be the last election we ever have at all – but in that case, all the generations have lost – not just Gen X.

But like I said, this isn’t really about the presidency. This is about counting us out across the board. It’s not over just because our youth is over. People can accomplish great things in their 40s and 50s just like they could in their 20s and 30s. And they can go on to accomplish great things in their 60s and 70s and even their 80s and 90s and on. This notion of having missed our shot is incredibly damaging. It sneaks in to most of us, this sense that it’s all over now. We are vital. We are potent. We can do whatever any other generation can do. Come on now.

There are decades to come for the Gen X-ers who can hang in there. One of them could be president. It might mean less or more by then but it could happen. Don’t count us out yet. We’ve got decades until you can say there will never be a Gen X president. Talk to me about this again in fifty years. That’s when I’ll concede the point.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Is There, Was There, a Gen X Theatre?

While watching a much lauded play by a Millennial playwright, I found myself thinking I was watching a very Millennial play. I’ve had that feeling in theatres a lot lately and it made me wonder where all the Gen X plays were. What is – what was – the Gen X Theatre? Do we have one? Or did the theatre world just sort of skip us?

I know a lot of Gen X playwrights and several of them found some success on prestigious stages but I’m not sure they left any kind of generational mark behind. Some of them feel like writers of an earlier era – like their plays could have been written by older generations. They’re the sorts of plays the older well-heeled folks at Manhattan Theatre Club like. Are these the plays of my generation?

I can’t help feeling like we got skipped again. When I hear press raving about Hamilton being the first hip hop musical, I wonder how the Gen X guys who made Bombitty of Errors feel. They were out here rapping stories with hip hop ensemble staging on American stages for ages. They’re probably still at it. Or Danny Hoch’s Jails, Hospitals and Hip-Hop – an incredible one man intersection of theatre and hip hop culture. But we’ll never hear about these guys, not even as possible inspiration for what’s on now. Instead it’s as if Xennial Lin Manuel Miranda gave birth to an entire genre all on his own, like Venus rising from the foam.

I have been wracking my brain, trying to find a time where Gen X had a theatrical moment and I’m largely coming up short. The only thing that came immediately to mind was De la Guarda. A group of Argentine performers blew the roof off New York Theatre in the late 90s (technically, they busted through the ceiling) but they’re literally the only Gen X theatrical experience I can think of that feels Gen X-ish. And they were from Argentina. If I’m going to start going to other countries, well, then, I might find some more Gen X theatrical influence. Emma Rice of Kneehigh Theatre in the UK is a quintessential Gen X theatre maker. I might, if I did a survey, find more Gen X theatre around the world.

But back here in NYC, I feel like the bulk of Gen X theatre was made on the edges, left of center, in the fringes, in a lot of the spaces that are now lost to all of us. I wonder when we lost Collective: Unconscious, Manhattan Theatre Source, Todo Con Nada, The Present Company Theatorium, Surf Reality, Galapagos and so many more, if we were also actively losing any chance of a Gen X impact on Theatre.

Have we lost it? Did we miss it? Maybe I’m forgetting some significant Gen X moment. Maybe there was a whole scene that I missed? John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch feels very Gen X-ish but he’s Generation Jones. I’m inclined to give this show a Gen X pass, though and just go ahead and call it the most Gen X play I can think of.

It may be significant that funding for the arts was gutted around the time we came of age. Gen X may have never really had the chance to flourish after the culture wars killed the NEA. Arts funding shifted to institutions, making the institutions more powerful with less space for newcomers or individualistic Gen X-ers. Arts programs in schools were eliminated as we went through them and the stop-gap arts programs that came in to replace them (basically, the sorts of programs I worked for for years) weren’t yet up to their full strength. Certainly, I benefitted from a strong theatre program in my public high school and orchestra in elementary and middle. I know a lot of my peers in other places were not so lucky. While we grew, arts transformed from the necessity they are, to a luxury.

There was no artistic net to catch us when we emerged and no net has grown, either. I don’t how subsequent generations have gotten so much farther than we did. Maybe it’s just that, never having seen what a non-commercial theatre scene might be, they’re built to rock those institutional/commercial hybrids – which are sort of all we have now.

Also, theatre can be a popularity contest. Because Millennials are better at banding together and because there are more of them, getting them to show up for a show is maybe easier? I don’t know.

I’ve begun to think about some shows I saw by a young Millennial company about ten years ago. Their productions were always packed – even sold out- but the work was terrible. I could not figure out how they managed to sell out such terrible plays when I couldn’t get twenty people to show up for me. In thinking about generational theatre, I wonder if it’s just that that company had more peers, had more of a pool of people their age and so they drew a bigger crowd. And then, because they had big crowds, they did well with granting organizations and such because granting organizations always want to know how many people you’re serving and they generally want that answer to be more than twenty. I don’t know. It’s just a theory but I wonder if it’s been a factor in my Gen X theatre life.

I know a lot of Gen X Theatre makers who are killing it. They are making better and better work all the time so I’m not saying it’s all over and we missed our shot or whatever. But I wonder. I’m wondering. Shout out your Gen X theatre folk and help me remember who might have been forgotten. What is the Gen X theatre? And where?

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Addendum, written later:

While sitting on this question, for weeks really – I thought of two shows that felt to me like possible Gen X representatives in theatre history. Stomp and Blue Man Group. They both began on the fringes. They’re both still running decades after they began. They aren’t conventional theatre. Their challenges to the dominant culture felt right for Gen X. I thought I really had something here. But – I looked them up and Stomp was created in the UK by a Baby Boomer and Generation Jones guy and the original Blue Men are all Generation Jones.

Then the other day, I was in a bookstore and they were playing the soundtrack from Rent and I thought, oh, Rent! Yeah! Maybe Rent is it! It’s a world where everybody’s trying to do their own thing, they’re horrified by the idea of selling out and, like, they’re cool! Rent! The Gen X musical! Nope. Jonathan Larson was Generation Jones. He misses Gen X by at least five years. (I’m using the 1965 – 1980 Gen X measure.)

Finally, as I was typing up this blog, I was thinking of some of the old theatres we used to do stuff in and when I thought of the Theatorium, I thought of Urinetown and I thought, yeah! Hey – Urinetown! It’s ironic. Full of “Whatever” energy. A little postmodern, very Gen X. I have it! Urinetown is the answer! And this is as close as I’ve managed to get. One of the guys (Greg Kotis) is actually Gen X. He’s the very first year of Gen X but he does actually qualify. His writing partner is Gen Jones, though.

But then, as I was typing this, I realized there was another show I hadn’t thought of yet. Avenue Q has three writers and they are all firmly in the Gen X camp. Gary Coleman’s presence in the musical really should have called it to mind earlier but there it is. There’s our Gen X representative, y’all. It was just sitting there waiting for me to remember it. I’m not sure it’s quite Gen X enough in style though it manages it in cultural references and ironic distance. Fine, Avenue Q it is.

But seriously. What else did I forget?

And by the way, don’t think I haven’t noticed that every single thing I’ve even considered as a possibility or a Gen X influence was made by dudes. EVERY SINGLE ONE.

*In case you missed it, I got obsessed with Gen X stuff a little while ago and wrote an 8 part series. Start here if you feel like reading it.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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The Gen X Nod
December 6, 2019, 12:30 am
Filed under: Gen X | Tags: , , , , , ,

Ever since I realized we were outnumbered, I have been keeping my eyes open for my generational peers. We are harder and harder to find – for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. (How can there only be one Gen X-er in EVERY office? Don’t some Gen X-ers work together? Where IS everyone?) But my sense is that we’re all doing this keeping our eyes open for each other now, to some degree. I’ve noticed a new thing happening – a sort of guarded acknowledgment of one another – it is the Gen X nod.

Now, generally, New Yorkers prefer not to acknowledge one another’s existence and Gen X New Yorkers have historically been loathe to acknowledge anyone at all but because we’re on the look out for one another, when we spot someone we know would bust a move on “Blister in the Sun” without hesitation or just really understand our childhood cultural references, we nod. It’s the kind of a nod that is not REALLY a nod, it could be missed entirely or denied. (“Did you nod at me?” “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”) But it’s become a weirdly regular thing out in the world. We’re just nodding at total strangers who are about our age – out of solidarity, I guess? I’m finding it kind of comforting, truth be told.

My community has more or less disintegrated but I can get some cool generational solidarity with a tiny nod.

We’re all too cool to do much more than nod. But we can nod.

I’m wondering, as time goes on, and we became more and more invisible as we age, if the nod will lead to actual words and maybe even conversation. I think it depends on how desperate we might feel, or how isolated. Lord knows, if I found a single other Gen X-er in that island that started this generational analysis for me, I’d have grabbed them and gotten the story.

Meanwhile, I suppose the nod has always been in play in our generation. In college it was hard to get anyone to say hello or to wave. You felt lucky to get a little nod. A friend of mine had an ex on campus with whom she was still friendly but when he saw her out in public, he would not say hello. He was too cool for that.

We’ve always been a little too cool for that. Until now. Now we’re going with the nod, I see. And I find I really like it. It’s a way to say, “I see you. I’m still here. You’re still here. It’s not easy and we’re mostly on our own but we’re still here. We see each other.”

Not everyone’s doing it. I saw a few Gen X-ers on the train recently and rather than nods, there was a sort of wary scanning. It was like the old school vibe of: “Are you cool enough for me to talk to? Hmm. I don’t know. Maybe next time.” We’re doing that, too. As we did back in college. But – a lot of the time, we are, most of us, definitely cool enough – just by virtue of being one of the few. Gen X’s vibe has always been that we’re cooler than you and we’re not letting that point of pride go. No way. We can outcool you. We are cooler than ourselves. We are champions at appearing like we don’t care. Even when we do.

As I begin to move away from being able to pass for much younger the way I’ve done the last decade or so, the Gen X nod feels like a kind of consolation. As the world starts to see me less, Gen X sees me more and will (maybe) give me the nod.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Gen X Is a Mess?!?

Well, well, my fellow Gen X-ers. We have arrived. Again. The New York Times put out a style section spread on us and I tried not to pay attention to it because I was done, my Gen X siblings, I was done with weaving together the threads of all the Gen X articles I’d read and considered and so on. It came out a month ago but apparently I can’t leave it alone.

I read the New York Times piece. Sort of. What I actually did was scroll through it and skim the little paragraphs next to the pictures under the text obscuring “graffiti.” And I did click through to read one of the essays and some bits of others. This whole piece was easy to gloss over because there was really nothing there. It’s weird. Let me tell you. I have read so many articles about Gen X. Like, so MANY and this series in the New York Times was the most meaningless I’ve encountered. I’m including BuzzFeed listicles in that assessment. What I’m trying to say is that there was more depth in an “Are You a Gen X-er?” quiz than in the New York Times style section.

It feels like it was written by visitors from another planet who did some research on what was popular in America in the 80s and 90s and then called it “This Gen X mess.”

Listen – we can call ourselves and our stuff a mess if we want to but no one else is permitted to dismiss us this way. Also – where was this mess to which the headline referred? I did not see it explained anywhere. Is it because walkmen came out when we were kids? That seems to be the sort of thing the New York Times wanted to talk about. Walkmen. Strings around necks. A book called The Rules which gets its own essay – but which is a book no one I know actually read. Also featured: a musician “style icon” of Gen X-itude that neither I, nor my Gen X musician boyfriend ever heard of.
What version of Gen X is this?
Was there an alternate universe Gen X where all these things were important to us that I just missed?
Even the essay by a guy who seems to have been there is weirdly disconnected to my experience of Gen X-ery. And, like I said, due to my having written an 8 part series on Gen X, I have read a lot of diversity of Gen X experience. His essay felt as if it were written in an alternate universe wherein Alex P Keaton was not a fictional comedy character from TV’s Family Ties but a real life hero and the dominant cultural icon. It’s like his fan club president wrote this essay and is trying hard to convince the rest of us that Gen X had it so good, has it so good and is spending all our plentiful money on luxury goods.

That’s just not the Gen X I see. Or saw. Or ever saw. Unless it’s an Alex P. Keaton fantasy sequence on an alternate world Family Ties.

A Gen X friend of mine has a day job at the New York Times and told me that many of his cultural references and jokes fall flat due to his colleagues all being younger than him. It seems as if this might be true on the writing staff as well, if this Style section is any indication.

Gen X is not a mess. We may have once enjoyed a messy aesthetic on occasion. The stuff we really liked is not seemingly on the New York Times radar, actually, because the New York Times just went with what was selling well in the 80s and 90s. But Gen X wasn’t really buying, as far as I know.

I keep thinking of Keegan Michael Key on the Stephen Colbert show talking about how someone’s response to the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” gives them away as someone in their 40s. Like, literally. Across cliques and subgroups, I would wager that most of Gen X will lose their mind on the dance floor for “Blister in the Sun.” “Blister in the Sun,” my friends. Which did not even CHART. The song never charted. The album charted eventually but only ten years after it was released! I mean, we loved it but we didn’t buy it.

Maybe I’m just remembering the indie parts but I keep thinking of a line from ani difranco’s song that goes,

“Generally my generation wouldn’t be caught dead working for the man and generally I agree with them. Trouble is you got to have yourself an alternate plan.”

I feel this sums up the Gen X-ers I know fairly accurately. It’s not Gen X that’s a mess. It’s the system, man. The system is a mess. We’ve been saying it for years now. We’re fine. If you want to understand us, the (former) Kids in America, maybe ask us what we think is a mess. We’ll tell you.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

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You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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This Is My Motherf—ing Brand

(If the title hasn’t already tipped you off, there will be a great many f-bombs in this post.)

I went to a conference for “creators” and of course there was a session on branding because that’s the world we live in now. I did not attend because that is my motherfucking brand. My brand is that I don’t fucking believe in branding.

You know where we get the idea of branding? From actual white hot branding. Can’t tell the cows apart? Put a brand on their rumps. Whose cow is this? Check the logo burned into its rear. You know WHY branding became a part of advertising? It’s a way to distinguish identical things. Can’t tell the difference between the cans of cola? Put different logos on them. My motherfucking brand is no brand. If you can’t tell who I am without a branding, I can’t help you.

We live in a world of branding now – we talk about things being “on brand” in just regular conversation. Personal Branding is a thing. If you make things or work in any creative capacity, you have probably been encouraged to work on your brand. I know I have.

I understand that it makes sense to create a narrative and/or identity around what you do. I have a mission statement for my theatre company. I suppose you could frame that as a brand (OMG, please don’t) but a mission feels very different to me. As an individual artist, writer, etc – I also operate on a mission basis and not on brand.

I’m pretty sure that the people who support me know that. I’d bet the vast majority of my patrons on Patreon see their support of me as service, as contributions to the greater good – even though, as an individual, I am not tax deductible. (My theatre company is a 501c3, though.)

Since I went to Patreon’s conference a few months ago (the aforementioned conference for creators,) I have been wrestling with the discomfort I feel around the whole enterprise. On one hand, I am awash in gratitude for the structure Patreon provides. By making trusted space for people to support me, it has allowed me to begin to make a living doing what I do. It allows me to be of service to my whole community. That is a thing of beauty. On the other hand, Patreon is kind of Brand Central Station. It is a business that makes its money on the support of people supporting creators/makers/artists. They have been hugely profitable by taking a cut of patron’s generosity.

But everyone does that. Kickstarter. Indiegogo. Crowdrise. Go Fund Me. All of those platforms do the very same. I just raised $2550 on Indiegogo for a project and they took $208.50. Crowdfunding is a big money maker for the owners of those platforms (less so for the people on them.)

When it first started, Patreon pitched itself as a way to support artists – that is, as a kind of service. Now it explains what it does as powering “membership businesses for creators.” I’ve seen this transition in progress – and find myself questioning what it means (because that is my motherfucking brand.) While I am on board for the ongoing support, I do not see myself as a business (or a brand!) I have missions. I have purpose. I’m trying to make art. Not everyone there is.

Patreon is for “creators.” The actual artists I met at PatreCon could be counted on one hand. And I wouldn’t even need all my fingers for the counting.

I did, though, meet a guy who puts casts on people. Not like sculptural casting. No. Casts – like for broken arms or legs but without injury. I mean. No disrespect to Kevin. He was a very nice guy. But he’s not making art.

He is making money, though. Unlike me. Kevin makes money. I make art. I guess that’s my motherfucking brand.

People aren’t giving Kevin their money out of desire to be of service. They give him money so that he’ll put a cast on them or so they can watch a video of him putting a cast on an attractive young woman. There are more Kevins than there are of me. And Patreon makes its money on the Kevins. It also makes its money on the “content creators” like the guy who spearheaded the Gamergate campaign and makes misogynistic harassment videos directed at Anita Sarkeesian.

It doesn’t make much money on art. Art isn’t profitable, folks.

There are exceptions, of course. But in the old days, arts’ unprofitability was why it was something rich folks supported for the public good. Our new ruling class rulers – i.e. the dudes at the head of Silicon Valley companies – don’t support the arts the way the ruling class of old did. Zuckerberg probably doesn’t sit on the board of a ballet company and Tom of Twitter probably isn’t supporting the opera. The head of Patreon probably doesn’t either – despite all the talk of supporting creators. What gets done for the public good anymore?

Do we have to search for our public good in hidden pockets of digital platforms? What are we going to do when there’s no more art – only brands? No more artists, just content creators? No more art scenes, just income generation?

And as lovely as the good people who work at Patreon are (and they are very lovely) their salaries are paid by a cut of all of the patron’s money once a month. It’s more like a bank than a mecca of creativity. I adored every employee I met while at PatreCon AND I have a lot of questions about what all this is for. But then – that IS my motherfucking brand.

For example, at the final talk of conference, the CEO asked for the creators to ask hard questions. The first question was what the company was doing about the Hate still on the platform. (Last I checked the guy who made misogynist harassment videos was making $8k a month on the platform.) The CEO hedged and said they were doing their best but it’s hard, you know, because it’s somebody’s living. The next question was what he planned to do with the money once the shareholders had been repaid. And he said “This is what keeps me up at night.”

And there it is. It’s the profitability concern that keeps him up at night. Not the misogynist hater making his living destroying the livelihoods of women. But about how to raise profits for shareholders. The Second question was the actual answer for the first.
All of that gives me the creeps.
But it is coupled with a charmingly candid conference closing speech and a CEO who makes things and seems to have his heart in the right place even if it fails to deal effectively with misogyny. The creeps are counter balanced by a staff of many bad ass women and everyone just trying to do their best.

I see all that and I really appreciate it but I am twisted up by the questions. Which is, of course, my motherfucking brand.

Digital platforms aren’t neutral. They are businesses. Hopefully we all know that now, after the revelations about Facebook. None of them are perfect. Not even the ones that provide structures for us to survive.

We are all striking a kind of devil’s bargain to continue our lives on line – and possibly off, as well. We know Facebook and Twitter have some major problems but for those of us who still use them, the good outweighs the bad. I’d like for Patreon to be exceptional – to be of real service to artist, to be the true new patronage but I know it’s ultimately most accountable to its share holders.

I know this seems ungrateful – but biting the hand that feeds me is very on brand for me, wouldn’t you say? The thing is, Patreon doesn’t actually do much for me besides process credit cards. They provide the structure that allows people to feel comfortable giving people like me money on a regular basis – which is not nothing. Giving people a way to support me is huge. No one was giving me money once a month before Patreon came in to my life, believe me. And having a platform people trust helps facilitate that. I’m clear that there isn’t any other structure in place that has people’s trust enough to fund me through it.

This whole rant here might lead you to think I’m mad at Patreon but I’m really not. I’m super grateful (in a questioning way.) What I’m mad at is the sidelining of art, the blending of art into commerce, the branding of art and the branding of humans. I’m mad that when future generations look back at art movements of our time, they’re more likely to look at brand evolutions than art revolutions. I’m mad about the branding of culture and the dissolution of art for art’s sake. I’m mad that almost every artist I know feels inadequate about how impossible it is to make a living as an artist. And sure, I’m mad that Patreon, that I thought was an artist driven structure is just a money making content container – made for the management of porn, hate and commerce, like everywhere else on the internet. But I’m not mad at Patreon. It’s just doing like everyone else does.

Patreon is not a non-profit. It’s a business. Currently, it’s a business that provides a structure that allows people to support me, hallelujah. But businesses are not neutral. They exist to make money. Art does not make money. “Content” does. “Content” needs branding. How am I to know which content fits my personal brand if the content doesn’t have on-brand packaging?

And still, I know enough about branding, from just living in these times, breathing this capitalist air, to recognize when I’m falling into branding tropes. I can’t help feeling like not having a fucking brand is just another way to have a brand these days. Like one of those ironic ad campaigns. And what the hell am I selling?

My Patreon page? My second Patreon page that I just launched? I don’t actually think I’m doing a great job at that if that’s it. Though it is sort of on-brand for my Gen X anti-selling selling. Ack! Is there nothing unbranded anymore? Can we not live without labels and brands and logs and such? Is my motherfucking brand really not having a motherfucking brand? How do we shake free of this branded world?

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If you’d like to listen to me read a previous one on Anchor, click here.

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Generation X – Part 8 – the Coda: We’re Not Gonna Take It

Y’all. You guys. I was done. I was totally done with this piece. I was not going to write another word about Generation X but I’ve just realized, in the midst of the current river of men being called to account for their years of harassment and abuse, that the majority of the women who kicked this off were Gen X women. Harvey Weinstein harassed, abused, raped or assaulted women in their twenties when they were young and no one cared what they thought then but those women are in their 40s and 50s now and I don’t think that’s insignificant. I would also like to point out that Meghan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, the two women who broke the Weinstein story that jumpstarted this moment, are both Gen X, as well.

Gen X women have stepped out of our victim years and are stepping into our power. We thought were the Only Ones but have woken up to the fact that we are not alone.
These aren’t our middle aged years – these are our power years – our witch years. We’re not going to take it. We are sisters who twisted ourselves into knots for too long and no, we’re not going to take it anymore.

Look at who is at the forefront of this movement – Tarana Burke, Alyssa Milano, Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, Salma Hayek, even Gwenyth Paltrow. These are all Generation X women. And now, with the Time’s Up initiative, Gen X-ers Shonda Rhimes, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston have picked up the baton.

This watershed moment was kicked off by Gen X women. But I have heard nary a peep about that. In fact, on the Brian Lehrer show, there was a segment called The Generational Divide in the #MeToo Movement. It was a conversation between a Baby Boomer and a Millennial – how differently those two generations see this moment. Gen X barely got a mention throughout the hour long discussion. That’s when I knew I had to come back to this Generation X opus.

I do not think it was an accident that there was a twenty year gap between the crime and the reckoning. In part, it’s the changing of the times, sure – but it is also that women stepping into our 40s and 50s are stepping into a new power. I suspect that young women are still dismissed when they make claims today. I suspect that young attractive women are still less likely to report harassment or abuse – not because there’s something “weak” about them as I’ve heard some people say (WTF?!) but because young women are in an incredibly awkward position. They have a whole lot more to lose – they have not much career behind them and a great deal to gain in the future. Predators prey on young women precisely because of that vulnerability of position. Young women have historically had no real authority and are judged almost exclusively on their ability to be pretty and compliant. Disrupt either of those and your currency as a young woman goes down dramatically.

As we’ve seen, even just rejecting advances causes tremendous consequences – Mira Sorvino was blacklisted and had her entire career derailed because she fought off Weinstein’s advances. Rose McGowan was called crazy for years because she said something at the time. Young women are believed less than older ones. And now that the majority of the actresses who were abused in their twenties are now in their 40s and 50s, there’s nothing to lose and no reason to hide the truth anymore.

That is, Gen X women are no longer really seen as bankable young women so are now in a key position to call people on their shit.

I also don’t think the fact that many of these women are now mothers is insignificant. Every woman I know who became a mom became more fierce and stronger and determined to fight for their children to grow up in a better world. I know that that’s a  part of why my Baby Boomer mother is out resisting every day – to make the world a better place for me. And Gen X moms are fighting, not so much for themselves, as for their children. Many Gen X women waited a while to have children and are now not only entering their power years, but are entering their power years with the ferocity of young children to defend.

I think the moment that this movement will really soar is when all the Dads join in, too. Some are already on it. But, at the moment, men are mostly still leaving the heavy lifting of social change to the women. While women addressed #MeToo and #TimesUp at the Golden Globes, the extent of participation from men at that ceremony was to wear a button.

Gen X women kicked this off and while I don’t want to see us left out of the conversation, it is my hope that the cause gets lifted up by all genders from all generations so that Gen X won’t have to keep this movement afloat by ourselves. We’re good at going it alone but change works better with everyone involved.

In part, I think Gen X women are leading this movement because, at our age, we are suddenly confronted with, not only the sexism we’ve endured for decades, but also ageism. The culture wants to put us out to pasture and Gen X is just not having it. We won’t accept invisibility. We won’t accept things the way they’ve always been. Suddenly our ability to call bullshit is coming in very handy.We’re not going to take it anymore. Time’s Up.

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This was the coda of an eight part series on Generation X. To read it from the beginning, start here.

And I’ve continued to write about various Gen X topics. (I can’t help myself!) Follow this category to read more.

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Generation X Part 7 – Born at the Right Time

This brings me to this supposed rivalry I’ve been reading about around the web. According to the AV Club, Gen X and Millennials are in a battle. There are articles like What Are Millennials Killing Today? and Why Gen X is So Pissed at Millennials. This “blood feud” seems unlikely to me. I recognize that there’s a lot of anti-millennial talk out there and maybe Gen X is to blame. If so – on behalf of Gen X, I would like to apologize to you, Millennials. That’s shitty behavior and we will try to do better in the future. But…I think it’s kind of hard to be in a rivalry with a group of people when you are outnumbered by them so dramatically. I suspect it’s hard to be in a rivalry if the other side doesn’t even know who you are. A Gen X friend of mine recently described having to explain what Gen X was after being mistaken for a Baby Boomer by a young bartender. The bartender didn’t even know Gen X existed.

I have seen some resentments bubble up, of course. Gen X is outnumbered and that’s never an easy position to be in. It’s like, a few locusts are cool, they make cool sounds and they have cool legs but when there are more of them, they can be a little overwhelming, especially if they get into your trees. So sometimes it’s just a numbers game, a situation of feeling alone in a room, like no one understands where you’re coming from. And sometimes it’s a sense of having waited years for your work to pay off to be promoted or signed or published or produced or whatever and then while you were waiting patiently in line, someone came up with an app that eliminated the line completely and they leaped into rewards that you’d been waiting for for decades. Articles about Gen X at work point to a kind of skipping over us that seems to happen to a lot of Gen X-ers. So if some Gen X-ers resent you, Millennials, it’s not personal – it’s just a bit like watching one’s parents change all the rules for your younger siblings and also not giving you the present they promised you.

And my fellow Gen X-ers, it’d probably be best if you toned the resentment of Millennials down, otherwise we all end up like the Grumpy Old Man from the SNL sketch of the 90s.

“In my day, we didn’t have smart phones, no, we had dumb ones, ones you had to dial with your finger in a little plastic or metal prison that you raked across the surface below the razor sharp end point over and over again until your fingers bled. And when you finally finished dialing the number, if they happened to be on the phone with someone else when you dialed, you’d have to hang up and go through the whole process again until you got your bloody-fingered call through. And we liked it! We loved it! We were bloody-fingered, exhausted, desperate dumb phone callers without a hope in the world of reaching anyone and we liked it. We loved it!” (*Not an actual Grumpy Old Man sketch)

Also, it wouldn’t do to get our future overlords angry. (JK, Millennials, we know it’s actually the robots and sentient smartphones who will be our overlords.)

Maybe we should all just pile on to Generation Z, who are growing up with Smartphones and are clearly the worse the wear for it. By the way, while growing up with Smartphones is a legitimate concern, one of the things that Sherry Turkle has often pointed out in her work is that it is often not the child’s use of the Smartphone that is the problem, it is the parents’ use of the Smartphone (and tablet and so on.) That is, the thing we blame younger generations for may in fact be our problem. We’re the ones who can’t put our phones down and talk to each other. We’re the one who get anxious, living in a constantly plugged in world and we project that onto kids. Or in the words of an often mocked Gen X ad, “I learned it from you, Dad. I learned it from watching you!” So I don’t think piling onto Gen Z is the answer.

We need to find ways to work together. Generationally, Millennials and Boomers are better at coming together within their own generations than Gen X. That’s something for Gen X to explore doing more of. Simultaneously, what we all need to look at is including a diversity of age and generations in our structures. If you’re not Gen X, you might not notice when Gen X is missing but it’s worth paying attention to, I think, because we do have quite a lot to contribute. If nothing else, we can provide missing Gen X. If ping pong games at the office are always Millennial vs Baby Boomer, you’re missing someone. It could be Gen X or it could be Generation Jones AKA OG-Xers AKA Shadow Boomers AKA The Following Edge – or as I like to call them, the heroic generation. Because damn, Gen Jones! You got Barack Obama, Rebecca Solnit, Sally Yates, Jaron Lanier, Billy Bragg, Angela Merkel and so on. I mean – Gen Jones is badass and even less often discussed than Gen X. Probably because they didn’t get a trendy nickname at an opportune time. I think Gen Jones is so cool, you guys.

Which makes me think about generations a bit like a family. See, I tend to idolize Gen Jones, like a really cool big sister or brother and I see Millennials and Z as spunky younger siblings. And Gen X starts to get resentful when our younger siblings start to behave as if they are Only Children – when all we ever wanted was for our little sisters to know how cool we are and we were. If there is a rivalry (again, I’m not sure there is) this is what it’s about.

This familial feeling is a huge aspect of the “rivalry” conversation and age-ism is another. Often, the generational shots fired are age-ism in disguise. Ageism is usually thought of as an issue of the old but it goes both ways – ageism can impact all ages. Our culture fetishizes the young and dismisses the old, particularly old women. This TEDtalk by Ashton Applewhite makes a great case for why ageism is everyone’s issue. I imagine we can all do a better job of listening to and learning from each other.

I heard some Millennials on the younger side of the Millennial spectrum chatting in a coffee shop recently. They were sure that they’d have their lives completely figured out by the time they were 30 – that they’d stop caring what anyone thought by then. This made me laugh. Because the gift of not giving a fuck anymore is probably much further away than that, if my generation’s experience is anything to go by. Most of us just entered this stage in the last few years and we’re long past thirty.

See, this is why it’s worth it to talk to each other about this sort of stuff – to know how other generations made it through the same things that are coming down the pike for you. To find inspiration and courage from the heroes ahead of us and the heroes behind us and the ones we’re standing right next to. The more we talk to each other, get to know each other, have some of those valuable conversations Sherry Turkle talks about in her newest book – the better off we’ll all be.

In diving deep into my generation with this series, I’ve not only learned a ton about my cohort but also about the rest of you. It helps to get together. It helps to learn about ourselves and it helps to learn about each other. Even things as seemingly small as what songs meant something to you in your youth or what TV shows shaped your world can help us understand one another. A generation is a way of understanding waves of experience, of understanding the formative landscape for each group of people. I want to read your generational analysis, too. I want to know what it was like to grow up Millennial, to know what it was like to grow up Xennial (yep – that’s a thing) or to grow up Generation Jones or Baby Boomer. Generational Thinking may be bullshit. It may be a marketing ploy. But it is still meaningful bullshit.

I think I was born at the right time. I belong here in Generation X. But I also think you were born at the right time. We were all born at the right time to teach each other what we missed or what we still need to learn.

This was Part 7 of a 7 part series. Then I wrote a Part 8! It’s a coda. Read it here.

You can read Part 1 here Part 2 here  Part 3 here

Part 4 here

Part 5 here

Part 6 here

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Generation X Part 6 – Selling the Drama

We are the few, the proud, the brave members of Gen X who continue to make our way through the world while many of our peers have given up.

Do you remember, before we were Generation X, when we were the Pepsi Generation? Right about that time that Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire? We were told that Pepsi was the choice of a new generation and there were videos and apparently our generation bought into it hardcore. We were also Peppers. Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too? But that Pepsi Generation technique was actually a marketing campaign for Baby Boomers first and it worked so well for Pepsi when Baby Boomers were kids that they thought they’d try it out on us, too. And all the generations after. How you like Pepsi, Generation Next? Feel like joining the conversation since you “are the movement, this generation“? A lot of the conversation about generations is actually driven by advertising.

I read an article about an ad campaign for Lululemon wherein they’re targeting “the Yoga generation.” And which generation is that? As far as I can tell, every generation is doing yoga. My grandmother was doing yoga in the 70s and she was the Silent Generation. So that’s dumb. But…that’s what I mean, they’re trying to put you in a generational category so they can sell you stuff. I say you, not me, because advertisers are apparently not targeting Gen X-ers, because there are so few of us.

And here I think we have the heart of why Gen X tends to resist being labeled. We somehow have always known that once a marketer could label us, they were getting ready to sell us shit. But what’s hilarious is that marketers worked this out about us anyway – so they got sneakier with us when they still cared about us. I once bought a record almost entirely because of it’s ironic cover.

What’s ironic is now that Gen X is older, some members of Gen X have more money to spend but advertising has (mostly) stopped trying to reach us. Which probably explains why there’s been a recent bubbling up of Gen X articles. Marketers are perhaps getting interested in us again. For good and ill, I imagine. Just google anything to do with advertising and Gen X and you will see such an extraordinary trove of weird articles about how to advertise to us. Actually, search how to market to any generation and you’ll see some eye opening stuff about what’s going on behind that advertising curtain and where you might be vulnerable.

So Millennials and Gen Z, just in case you’re still here…I think it might be useful to recognize that when you see articles and listicles and so on and so on that reference your generation, you are probably being marketed to. The condescending pieces about you that make you mad may be designed to encourage you to spend your money on something or just click on something to get an ad near your eyeballs. The imaginary rivalries between Gen X and Millennials, or between Millennials and Boomers, are essentially clickbait for the people trying to sell you stuff.

As we now carry devices that have the capacity to market to us everywhere we go, we all need to become savvier about our vulnerabilities to advertising. As marketing becomes more personal and more direct, it will become harder and harder to remember our humanity. It might be helpful for all generations to take on some of our good ole Gen X skepticism.

We seem to now live in a world of relentless marketing. And it’s not just businesses who are marketing at us. The new norm seems to be a kind of marketing of self. People have become brands instead of individuals.

Most of Gen X has a gut response to this trend and it is a strong-armed revulsion. To us, this branding of people carries all the horrors of the origin of the word – the branding of cattle with a hot iron. For most of Gen X, this branding of the soul is relentlessly uncool. We liked our icons reclusive, uninterested in self promotion, and intensely private. Prince once gave an interview to the BBC wherein he neither spoke nor showed his face. Both Kurt Cobain and David Foster Wallace were incredibly uncomfortable with their own popularity.Can you imagine a Cobain clothing line? A David Foster Wallace cologne? For us, as soon as a band became popular, it ceased to be cool.

But we live in a gig economy now and if we want to survive, we must do as the digital natives do and put out all of our goods for clicks and likes. We cannot be the reclusive geniuses we want to be because the world doesn’t work that way anymore – And maybe it never did.

Every Gen X-er I know is deeply uncomfortable with self promotion. We recognize that we need to sell our book or our record or our blog or our podcast or our show or our theatre company or our business or whatever it is but it is highly problematic for us.

If we do it, we tend to see it as a necessary evil. I’ve taken multiple marketing classes and despite having a lot of knowledge and skill at my disposal, I have generally yielded next to no results. While attempting to sell my show in the highly crowded market of the Edinburgh Fringe, I discovered that the only real marketing skill I had – that is, the only thing that would reliably bring people to the theatre – was making friends. Like, actual friends. This is the only successful marketing I have ever done. I made some friends who showed up for me because that’s what friends do for each other.

I have had a podcast for over a year and I am so bad at self promotion that most of my best friends don’t even know about it.

And maybe it is just me. Maybe I’m the only one (see part 4) that is unwilling to trade my authenticity for more likes or hits or shares. Maybe I’m the only one that closely guards my best work until I’m ready to share it. Maybe I’m the only one that would rather share my truth than a promotional photo. I don’t think I’m the only one though.

Gen X tends to see the world that has emerged behind us as a life-sized version of that SNL sketch “You Can Do Anything!” We see that kind of self-promotional vibe as not only terminally uncool but completely at odds with authenticity, which is one of our core values.

I really do admire the hutzpah of Lena Dunham in having her character announce at the beginning of her show that she is the voice of her generation (or “a voice of a generation.”) This is something that no Gen X-er would ever do, even if she wanted to. Even as a joke. And Dunham was definitely joking. I dig the gutsy self-aggrandizement of it and I dig that it made her extremely popular.

Most of Gen X would rather be authentic than popular. We would rather be true to ourselves than just about anything else. I wonder if, in addition to the small numbers of us, our general lack of interest in self-promotion is a factor in our invisibility. In a world where everyone seems to be shouting about how great they are, Gen X is sitting in the corner, making something totally cool that few people will ever see.

I wonder if this is part of why there have been so many think-pieces about how Gen X is going to save the world, how Gen X is our last hope, etc. I think this is how we like to be seen – as the quiet secret heroes – chronically underestimated but swooping in at the last minute to save (and astonish) a grateful world. This image appeals to us. But frankly, even after reading dozens of these articles, I have yet to be convinced that somehow Generation X has the secret world-saving serum. I’m pretty sure we’re going to all have to get together to get that done. Generation X would like to do it alone but this is a job that’s going to need all generations on deck.

This is Part 6 of a multi-part series. To read the next part, Part 7, click here.

You can read Part 1 here Part 2 here  Part 3 here

Part 4 here

Part 5 here

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Generation X – Part 5 It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

On the Stuff You Should Know podcast about Baby Boomers, the hosts (both Gen X-ers) pointed out that generations are often characterized by events that shake their collective innocence (e.g. 9-11, JFK, Challenger) They then suggested generations might as well be characterized by the technology that unites them. Boomers were the first generation to grow up with TV. Gen X was the first generation to grow up with video and videogames. Computers, too. And Millennials grew up with more ubiquitous computers and the spread of the internet. Generation Z is growing up with smartphones. So…we somehow define our humanity by the technology at hand. Probably cavemen were like, “Yeah, our young ones are the Fire Generation. They’ll never know what it was like for us before we got that life changing Fire stuff.” Probably the Fire Generation and the House Building Generation got together and sang songs at each other right over the head of the lone representative of the farming generation, who declared that all this generational thinking is bullshit.

Time magazine called us the Video Generation in our youth. Which is a little bit comical now that there’s something called YouTube (invented by Gen X-ers.) Given the amount of video in our lives now, it is hard to imagine that people were once worried about us watching a couple tapes on VCRS or music on MTV or hanging around in arcades playing Ms. Pacman. It seems quaint now.

Were we the computer generation? While I did learn to program a little triangular turtle in grade school, the only computers I ever touched until college were the ones at school. I went to college with a typewriter and left with a Mac Classic II. I understood that computers were powerful and a little bit scary. The bad boys with keyboards could both start a nuclear war AND prevent one. And neither computers nor videogames were really for girls.

There was an interesting anxiety in the air as we watched the Computer Age roll in. Before we all had our own, computers were sort of magical and mysterious, dangerous and exciting. In a movie a lot of us saw, two nerds created a fantasy woman in real life by programming their computers. What would have once been a magic spell was now Weird Science. The nerds of Real Genius used their good computer skills to save the world from evil weapons computer stuff. It was good versus evil but with computers.

I re-listened to Kate Bush’s 1989 song “Deeper Understanding” which was about computers and found myself astonished at how directly it relates to all of us now. In an interview about this song, Kate Bush said she was surprised by how many people assumed she was into computers because she wrote a song about someone into computers. But this is the funny thing about that: at the time, we used to think about computers like this. Computers were an interest, like parasailing. Some people were into them, most people weren’t.

But those that were into computers were busy imagining a wide open world. I didn’t know it at the time (because I was one of those who weren’t that into computers) but Gen X computer kids were full of possibility. They imagined a world in which we could talk to anyone anywhere in the world, in which anyone with the skill could build anything. Gen X kids who were into computers were talking to each other on their computers long before the rest of us. They made virtual spaces out of their imagination that were endlessly flexible and modifiable. For Gen X computer kids (and some OGx-ers like Jaron Lanier) the way we use our technology now is anathema to what they intended.

While those of us who weren’t into computers were fine to have our options streamlined, to have our websites more user-friendly, to not have to learn the skills to make our own, those who did have the skills were horrified as they watched the wide open world of tech be reduced to a “click yes or no” world. They aimed at freedom and we got convenience and those of us who “weren’t into computers” don’t even know what was sacrificed for that ease.

An iPhone will only let you put apps on it that are Apple approved. And many of the websites that are changing the world aren’t customizable at all. They create paths for us to walk down in which we can only make one choice at a time. For example, Facebook makes most decisions for its users. It gives you only six options for your feelings when it would be just as easy to have you create your own reaction emoticons. Its algorithm chooses which posts you see when Facebook could easily make it possible for you to design your own. But it doesn’t. Its algorithms remain a closely guarded secret and it controls which of your friends you see and which you don’t.

As the years have gone by, we have been trained not to wonder about what it is behind the technological certain. We trade our privacy for connection and ease. We leave the decision making to big corporations or big data.

The promise of a wide-open world where anyone with know-how can do anything has become a world full of walled gardens. From meadows and mountains and plains and oceans, our technology became a series of small plots of land, gardened by a chosen few, on the estates of big corporations. And while the gardens inside have clear paths to walk down and very specialized flowers and hey, all our friends are here! – the walls don’t seem to help keep out the jerks. Now instead of wide open space where we might run into a jerk sometime, we are locked up in the garden of Twitter, for example, with torrents of jerks. As one Gen X-er who has always been into computers said, “The people who weren’t into computers won.”

That is, while we now all have tiny super computers that fit into our pockets, the computers in our pockets are often structured to limit our choices instead of expanding them.

We all have computers but we don’t know (or care) how they work or which corporation has access to our data. The Gen X-ers into computers are understandably a little upset about this and it would appear that Gen X-ers are at the forefront of helping us figure out how to integrate technology into our lives responsibly, wisely and consciously. Gen X-er Manoush Zomorodi hosts a podcast that leans into these issues with a characteristic Gen X questioning of accepted norms. Gen X takes nothing for granted. We know that infinite possibilities include some possibilities that are a real bummer.

Gen X programmers built new virtual spaces – things like Friendster, Google, MySpace and Twitter. This may not have been what they imagined back when they first got into computers but they have changed the world. I think we need Gen X technologists more than ever to help us return to the idealism of the Open Source dreams, even as we adapt to the inventions Gen X let loose on the world. Gen X may have been seen as nihilistic and cynical but that is partly just the shadow side of the deep vein of idealism that runs through most of us. If we’re cynical, it’s because we think people can and should do better.

While most generational discussions I’ve seen point to the Challenger explosion as the most influential historical event in Gen X’s youth, I have yet to meet anyone for whom that event loomed particularly large. We remember it, sure – but it doesn’t seem all that formative. What I do think may have been formative was the constant very palpable threat of nuclear war. I was reminded of how real this was for me after I watched the episode of The Americans, in which the family watches the TV movie, The Day After. I don’t remember the movie itself but I do remember the feeling I had that I would not be safe anywhere. I could not be safe under my desk or in my bed. I remember hiding under my covers for some time, knowing it would never be enough – that if someone pushed a button (and it seemed very possible that someone would), none of us would be safe.

The events of the movie Wargames felt like a very real possibility to me and I think most of Gen X had to adapt to a world that might explode at any minute. We had to acknowledge that it might be the end of the world as we knew it and we had to find a way to feel fine. Recent political events have brought this feeling back to the surface and Gen X finds itself once again in a world where some guy pushing a button could end it all for all of us.

When I started watching The Americans, it was an exercise in nostalgia for my childhood. (They used that “Nobody bothers me” ad! We sang that all the time in the 80s in Virginia!) Now watching a show about Russian spies undercover as Americans in the Cold War feels like current events.

I understand the impulse to categorize a generation by its technology or its unique historical events but I suspect that what binds a generation together more is the atmosphere that pervades – it is a collection not just of the music we hear, the movies and TV we watch, but also the politics and the objects that surround us.

Generation X was surrounded by some meaningful bullshit and we thought the world was probably ending but we felt fine. In a world of infinite possibilities, there was a small chance we might get out of our youth alive. And if you’re Gen X and you’re reading this – Congratulations! We did it! We already lived much longer than we ever imagined.

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This is Part 5 of a multi-part series. and

You can read Part 1 here Part 2 here  Part 3 here

Part 4 here Part 6 here Part 7 here Part 8 here

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