What a time to be alive.
Beautiful. Tumultuous. Sad.
I recently finished a book called Generation Me which describes this well. Dr. Jean Twenge writes about Millennials, my generation, with this subheading: “why today’s young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled–and more miserable than ever before.”
What she says makes sense. We want & expect more than any other generation…but we will probably get less. We’ve grown up hearing that we can be whatever we want to be, but when our big dreams collapse (and they so often do), it seems we only have ourselves to blame. We have too many choices and opportunities, and are under incredible pressure to choose the right ones.
In some ways, we have more than ever before, but have we (and our parents) traded what really matters in order to get it? In many cases, yes.
We’ve grown up in schools pushing ideas like self-esteem for its own sake, which has actually done little but encourage narcissism. So we’re selfish, but it seems we’ve been primed that way. We’ve grown up with self-promotion, excessive competition, and an extreme focus on image.
We date less, get married less. We have more trouble connecting with people and thus are lonely. We see much wrong with the world but don’t know how to fix it. We don’t take criticism well. We’re cynical and doubtful about government. We don’t vote. We have crushing debt. Many of us are stressed, anxious, depressed.
Happy New Year’s!
Just kidding. While this may seem depressing stuff, reading Generation Me has been, to me, an incredible relief. It really is hard out here.
Last year especially. 2015 saw, I think, an America in an identity crisis. News story after news story (some that I lived through), showed a culture of blame, outrage, victimizing, fear, and an extreme disillusionment with pretty much everything.
It’s safe to say that 2015 was a rollercoaster.
Personally, I reflect over this past year and I am awed, humbled, ashamed, proud, thankful, regretful,
paradoxical, and fully aware of the largeness of the world and my tiny place in it.
2015 was a rollercoaster for me too. In 2015 I experienced higher joys & lower depths of sorrow than ever before. I visited many beautiful places. I laughed a lot, cried a lot. I lived.
In 2015, I became fluent in French & faire la bise. I rang in the new year in a tiny apartment in Lyon, drank my first mojito, ate little escargots and foie gras on toast.
Soon after, I visited Paris, Paris in the winter (in love!) a marvelous dream come true. I marveled at Père Lachaise, the cemetery a cold and beautiful intersection of human greatness and mortality.
By accident and circumstance, I was caught up in the Je suis Charlie protest, seeing over three million people in the streets of Paris come together in support of liberty, equality, fraternity.
Four weeks spent learning to navigate life in another language, heart beating hard every time the phone rang or the neighbor said bonjour… I came home changed.
On Valentine’s Day, I received roses sent from thousands of miles away.
I spent hours in warm coffee shops, writing analyses of Eraserhead and Beowulf. Time passed easily there and I remembered the need to write within me, as essential to my well-being as sleep or water.
I survived crushing anxiety and occasional searing loneliness, two things, I’m beginning to see, that make up a large part of my generation’s mal du siècle. I braved the subject with friends and peers and discovered that we really are together in our loneliness, an irony both depressing and hopeful.
I attended a retreat and helped lead a retreat. I felt secure in my faith. Later, after some poor decisions, I lost track of priorities. I became cynical and jaded, went through a crisis of faith. I kept reading, books like junk food, books like nourishment, books like a lifeline. I rejected idealism and prized the melancholy, the surreal, the weird.
I continued working at the French preschool, able to forget myself when I was there, the bright little smiles and franglais phrases an absolute joy to my heart.
Spring semester went by, roaring at times, slowing to a near halt at others. I studied French surrealism, learned how to ride a horse, turned 21 and drank my first mint julep.
My parents took me to Café Provence for my birthday, where I ordered for the family in French, ate the kind of food I so missed, and reminisced about my travels. This experience, and the way it brought to mind all of my other francophone experiences, was a truly wonderful gift.
Only a few weeks before I left, I bought another plane ticket to France. I put out an ad on a French website offering English lessons. Later, I taught Thom and Hugo (13 and 10), smiling at their shyness and sweet accents and learning how to teach as I went along.
My boyfriend’s family accepted me with love. His mother shared recipes with me, gave us huge bags of cherries from the tree in the backyard. We went shopping together at La Part Dieu.
My boyfriend took me to Auvergne, to Annecy, to Barcelona. I saw so many beautiful things– glittering cathedrals, breathtaking views, big skies, clear water, ancient art.
I worked through an online literature class; read a quintessential American novel–The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn–in the sun on the banks of the Rhone.
I flew back home and worked through somewhat of an existential crisis, the words of the rest of that month being malaise and ennui.
We drove to Colorado to stay with my aunt and uncle, the whole family + significant others all together in the same house. We started each morning with big breakfasts and hot coffee in heavy mugs, and had only to move to the deck to hear the cold water bubbling in the stream behind the house.
In the fall, my brother started college and moved in with me. Beyond occasional disputes about dishes, we got along well. He taught me to rock climb, to shoot a rifle. We took his motorcycle to the store for groceries, watched standup comedy on Netflix, laughed about stupid pictures on Instagram. We went out for Indian food, Mediterranean food, Chinese food as I cried about a breakup into my cashew chicken.
I read Madame Bovary, which I loved. I read Crime & Punishment. I read L’Etranger. Each novel made me more thoughtful, more conscious, more aware of the fragile beauty of life, effects that lingered long after I finished reading.
Mizzou went through a crisis. Questions, debates, tears, anger, confusion. Racial tension, resignation, uncertainty. For weeks, daily, I was able to read new articles about my school from the New York Times. I was at a Young the Giant concert with friends when the rumor started circulating: the KKK was on campus?! The crowd quieted as phones began lighting up. People sat down in their seats. You could feel the energy and lightheartedness draining out of the room.
The rumor turned out to be false, to mixed feelings of anger over the misinformation and relief. Soon after, threats of violence circulated on social media. I went to class the next day, though most professors made it clear that attendance was optional. Campus was like a ghost town.
Things had just begun to settle down when Paris was attacked again, human hate and depravity on full display. I stumbled around the house in shock and sadness. How hopeless one feels, how useless. Luckily there is hope, and I prayed clumsily that people might find it.
The next week, I flew to southern California to spend Thanksgiving break with one of my oldest friends. It was a joyful week, sunny and warm and filled with music and movies and good conversation. We had picnics, ate so many oranges, drove to the ocean and to LA. On Thanksgiving we climbed Mt. Rubidoux and looked out over all of Riverside.
I came back and worked hard at school, beginning to really feel the strain of three majors. I wrote and read and read and wrote and earned blisters, breakouts, and migraines. In an unfortunate conclusion to celebrating the end of the semester, I experienced my first hangover, accidental and vodka-cranberry fueled and bad enough to make me vow never, ever again.
When that was finally over, I realized with a bit of a shock that I have only one semester of college to go, and it’s time to start preparing and planning for what happens next. My last few months of school will be busy, filled with work, two capstone courses, and an internship with The Missouri Review.
I got my priorities straight, my head sorted out, and started my application for a teaching assistant program in France. I’ve spent some time looking back at photos and notes from the past year that bring about both honest laughter and actual tears.
And that’s where I am. A grounded, humbled, hopeful Millennial thankful for both old memories and fresh starts.