Things They Do Look Awful Cold
My generation is so comfortable with the idea
that we nuke our food.
My generation jumps
from trend to trend, so new,
Poetry, for my generation
was a two month fad
on MTV, the revolution televised,
homogenized, and satirized.
My generation is a conglomerate, corporate
I am not the voice of my generation.
I am the voice of no one
(excerpted from a poem by C. C. Russell, Wheatland, WY, USA, from In Our Own Words)
They will never, thank God, remake The Big Chill, at least not anytime soon. It would prove difficult to tell the story of a bunch of friends who grew up in the 1980s pissing and moaning about their lost idealism, for the simple reason that most of us who cut our teeth on those years have so little idealism to lose. This is not a bitter statement. I’m just talkin’ ‘bout my g-g-generation.
The 1980s were, bar none, the most culturally diseased years of this century, the inevitable backlash of the malaise and idle narcissism of the preceding decade. As ‘80s nostalgia begins to gear up even now, Old Navy is selling parachute pants we can’t expect the same pattern of glossy-iconography-sans-icky-memories that marked nostalgia for the Fifties (Elvis, not Joe McCarthy), the Sixties (Woodstock, not Altamont), and the Seventies (Disco Duck, not Tricky Dick) to fall into place, because the Eighties were the decade without icky memories. We never managed to feed those starving Ethiopians most of the wheat ended up rotting on a government pier because we forgot there was a civil war going on and the starving kids all lived in rebel-held areas but didn’t Live Aid kick ass? We went from the greatest lender nation in the world to the greatest debtor and we had a minor stock market crash, but Reaganomics worked! Our heroes were all capitalist cutthroats like Trump and Gates, cryptofascist jerks like Oliver North, or hyperthyroid chest-pounders like Stallone and Ah-nuld. Ketchup was a vegetable. Trees caused air pollution. Greed was good. Love was a bat-tle-field…
Marlow Peerse Weaver’s ongoing project In Our Own Words: A Generation Defining Itself calls upon writers all over the world born between the years 1960 and 1982 to express the thoughts, hopes, fears, and concerns of “Generation X,” now that they’re old enough to qualify for nostalgia. It’s a daunting task, considering that the main complaint of most of these writers appears to be that they have no earthly idea what’s going on. The series is shot through with themes of rootlessness and lack of clear purpose, either because the writers feel betrayed by the preceding generation’s waffling idealism or because they are the first generation fully forced to cope with the collapse of social and technological boundaries. The consensus seems to be that Gen X is unicycling without a net over one hell of an abyss:
It’s interesting to see the difference between then and now… less than ten years. I experienced and consciously observed the loss of my rebellious ideologies, a conversion that took four or five years, from larva to adult. I can remember, rather clearly, points of confusion, in which I knew that I was supposed to rebel against The Man, The Establishment, or something, but… but… the responsible, freedom-crushing route just seemed to make so much damned sense that I wasn’t sure of what to do. (Jason Katzwinkel, Hinsdale, Illinois, USA).
This is not to say that all of the pieces in this collection are rants about The State of the World. The writing moves across a broad spectrum, from the societal to the intensely personal:
and fuck yes
i refuse, with abhorrence, to unfold my hands and slash
wrists in hoped
but not forgiven..
and be driven
with repentance faked for scrutiny of
those feathered fluffs of non-emotion
emotionally boggled by my current passivity.
(jessica garver, Madison, Wisconsin, USA)
In Our Own Words is meant to be read as a documentary, with the pieces following hard on each other like jump-cuts, one after another, and each piece in a different typeface to denote individual “voices.” Refreshingly absent are author bios with their long lists of prior publications. Weaver intends for this series to reflect a culmination of various viewpoints and styles into a single generational chorus, and as a document of the Gen-X zeitgeist the series works for the most part. Unfortunately, however, in his quest for honest representation, Weaver has let some real howlers in the door:
I am alone
in this great vast world.
Can you see my pain?
(Scarlett Brooke, Storrs, Connecticut, USA)
Numerous song lyrics also appear within this jambalaya, which is at best a hit-or-miss proposition without the music to pull them together.
Weaver makes no claims to uniform excellence, acknowledging that many of the pieces in the collection are less than spectacular but asserting that his warts-and-all approach validates inclusion of even the bad writers. There is some merit to this idea in theory, except that Weaver isn’t taking testimony or extemporaneous conversation here. He is soliciting crafted prose and poetry, which is by its very nature artificial the emotions behind the writing may be honest, but the writing itself is explicitly contrived and thus subject to judgment on its merits. This means that at some point Weaver must shed his documentarian hat and put on his editor’s visor, and the latter doesn’t fit quite as well. In future volumes Weaver is currently taking submissions for volume four it would be prudent to weed a few of the discordant voices out of the global chorus.
In Our Own Words is a project worth doing and worth reading, especially when it seems our generation is in need of more enduring legacies than it has heretofore produced. Our parents are bound by their memories and accomplishments and Weaver’s writers howl for that same validation, that same sense of identity and place, and for better culture than Diff’rent Strokes and better questions than “Where were you when Kurt ate the shotgun?”