Some Confessions the Gen Xer Should Make to the Millennial

Belz_Factory_Outlet_Mall_Toys_&_Gifts

Whatever else I thought I might post about today, it got elbowed out (I was going to say “trumped” but I find it difficult to use that as a verb anymore) by this article in the Washington Post yesterday: “I am sorry for killing everything: A millennial’s confession.” (It takes its inspiration from this list of things millennials have been accused of killing at Mashable.)

The millennial in question, Alexandra Petri, describes—in a pitch-perfect takedown of my generation and the boomers—how she and her generation have “killed” everything from wine corks to diamond rings to romance to bar soap to paper napkins to malls to Home Depot to, significantly for this blog, the work week:

I remember how the work week begged and pleaded for its life as it writhed in my vise-like grip. “Don’t you understand that once you destroy me, you will have to work all the time, without stopping?”

“I know,” I said. “But I do not care. I am a millennial. Work is my only joy and source of creative fulfillment.”

I’ve been following the work of Jon Malesic lately, and he had an interesting piece at The New Republic a few days ago where he noted that Americans don’t have a way to talk about anything that requires effort without applying the vocabulary of work to it. And a couple of months ago, I ran into this lovely article at Comment called “I Was Told There Would Be More,” which in the guise of a book review of Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult (an absolutely shattering critique of a book review, at that) asks us to imagine a world in which adulthood was defined by interdependence, not independence. (More on that here.)  We’ve sold millennials a bill of goods, and you’ll go down laughing as you read Petri’s post and realize just how much.

The author with Big Hair.
The author with Big Hair.

Now, I am not a boomer, so I can’t claim that I established the world of conspicuous consumption powered by workaholism that millennials are accused of killing. But, as a teenager wandering those 1980s malls buying yet another set of novelty earrings from Claire’s, I benefited from it. I allowed the earrings and the malls and the Applebee’s (another thing millennials are accused of killing) and the movies and the denim jackets and the desire to make my hair really, really, really big to lull me away from a sense of what funded and undergirded my lifestyle. I envied people who had changed the world in the 1960s, but I never thought I could be one myself. And as I got older I got sucked into chain stores, and home ownership, and tourism.

Are today’s younger generations following trends and celebrities just as I did? Yes, of course. Have they allowed their sense of justice to atrophy while they do? By and large, no.  I wrote on Facebook the other day:

As yet another article about “those” millennials drifted across my feed, I thought: you know what? When the millennial generation is in charge in about thirty years, this Gen Xer will be happy to live in a world where love is valued over legalism, making up and making do over consumerism, justice over revenge, and community over exclusion. Just please be nice to me in the nursing home.

So, millennials, I’m sorry I didn’t help you out. I’m sorry I didn’t fight the good fight before you got there. (Maybe we’d be a little further away from DEFCON 1 today if my generation had stepped up.)

Quite a lot of what you’ve killed needs to stay dead. Not romance (I’m glad to know Petri only has that one in the deep freeze, ready for cryonic revival): but probably the rest of it, until we figure out a different way to do family, church, community, politics, buying and selling, love, and people.  Thanks for doing my dirty work, millennials. Te absolvo. Would you like a piece of avocado-optional toast?

Main image: Wikimedia Commons.  

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