Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Generation X


I've been reading Neil Howe and William Strauss' 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? "Thirteenth Generation" is what Howe and Strauss call what's more commonly known as Generation X. I wish their term had dominated because I've always felt like "Generation X" is a non-name, as if those of us born between 1961 and 1980 are so generic that we have no character to speak of. "Thirteenth Generation" has more style, but because "Generation X" is the term that has won out, I'll use it in this post.

13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? was published in 1993, when Generation X still occupied high schools and colleges, except for those of us born early in the cohort who were trying to figure out how to earn a living. I was 26 for most of 1993 and if I had come across this book then, I would have dismissed it as old people trying to tell me who I was. Reading it now I can see that Howe and Strauss were actually trying to be sympathetic to Generation X. They depict us as young people who have never really been given a chance, who were raised during a time when adults were "finding themselves," focusing on their inner growth, getting divorced in record numbers and not as focused on child-raising as past generations of parents had been. During our childhood, adults were experimenting with classroom format and curriculum changes, new ways of grading students and taking the focus off of traditional core subjects. Howe and Strauss describe our plight as not having been offered a traditional education and then being criticized for not knowing what we would have learned with a traditional education.

It's kind of sad reading the book now. I think Howe and Strauss got a lot of things right, one of which is that Generation X will never hold the cultural attention that the Baby Boom Generation got -- and is still getting (the Boomers were born between 1946 and 1960). One explanation I've seen for why Generation X doesn't have a lot written about us these days is that we're not at an interesting stage of life. This perplexes me because the Baby Boomers attract attention every time they enter a new decade. If the middle adulthood of Generation X isn't that interesting, am I supposed to believe that the middle adulthood of the Baby Boomers was? Am I the only one who saw and heard discussions of the Boomers turning 40, 50 and 60? Where was the cultural recognition of the first Generation X-ers turning 50? It came and went quietly.

Howe and Strauss also describe us as a kind of clean-up crew. As early as 1993 Howe and Strauss saw that the establishments and traditions that had been battered by the previous generations were now the inheritance of Generation X. Boomers and their predecessor generation -- the Silents -- had torn down old traditions, knocked down classroom walls and turned old definitions inside out. A lot of this was good. It was progress. But a lot of it also left things in tatters (such as the educational system).

Impressively, this book identified Generation X as the hapless generation made to clean up after the idealism and hubris of the Boomers, fifteen years before the housing bubble led us into the Great Recession. And this book came eight years before the Enron debacle showed us what a house of cards our energy system had become. Talk about Generation X being left holding the bag for the bright ideas of the Boomers. The election of Barack Obama (born in 1961) was the quintessential hand-off of a huge mess that had been created during the previous two presidencies of George W. Bush (born in 1946) and Bill Clinton (born in 1946).

One of my favorite points that Howe and Straus make is the phenomenon of the devil baby. These authors point out the slew of movies made between 1964 and 1984 that depicted babies and children as evil, destructive creatures. From Rosemary's Baby through The Exorcist to Children of the Corn, kids were seen as the enemy during Generation X's childhood as during no other. By 1986 Hollywood had done an about-face on child-raising with movies like Three Men and a Baby and Baby Boom. It's not that there haven't been any horror movies since then that have shown kids as scary, but the dominance of children as monsters is over.

The title of 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? uses the language of computers to reflect how Boomers and Silents have regarded Generation X. Apparently, after the invention of the birth control pill and better access to abortion services, we were the most avoided and aborted generation in history (ouch). In fact, reading this book and seeing how drastically attitudes towards babies and childbearing have changed over the past 50 years has convinced me that what access to abortion services we still have in 2014 will not last. Once the pendulum has finished swinging, the limited rights American women have over our bodies will disappear. I just hope I'm not still here to witness it.

There are many things about Strauss and Howe's book that don't work for me. It's not an annotated, sociological discussion, but reads like a book that was trying to be fun and controversial. The authors created a Generation X character called "crasher" who interjects his/her opinions periodically. The dialogue between crasher and the authors strikes me as strained and pandering and makes me wonder why the two Boomers who wrote this book tried to mimic the voice of Generation X. I find those passages distracting and they don't add much to my experience of the book.

I haven't quite finished it yet and am wondering if I should. It's discouraging. To counter the gloom that came over me as I read it, I googled things that have been written about Generation X recently. There isn't a whole lot, but one study that I found says that Generation X has grown into an optimistic bunch who are devoted to our children, highly value marriage and family and see a bright future for ourselves. I don't know those people, but it was uplifting to read that Generation X hasn't gone from being a surly bunch of teenage cynics to a surly bunch of middle aged cynics. At least, not all of us.

Now the Millennials take up large amounts of cultural attention and will continue to do so in at least the amounts that the Boomers did/still do. To be part of Generation X is to be in the background, trying to get things back on track while the generations that sandwich us talk to interviewers. Will we get another Generation X president before the Millennials take over the American political arena from the Boomers? Who knows? Howe and Strauss' groundbreaking book Generations: The History of American's Future, determined that generations alternate between being dominant and non-dominant. Generation X just isn't a dominant generation. I hope I don't seem too much like a Generation X-er when I write that there's nothing that can be done about this. It just is.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Polio is doomed; gun violence isn't

Now read Time Magazine's Jeffrey Kluger as he viscerates American lawmakers by comparing them to the people who are eradicating polio from the planet in Why Polio is Doomed and Gun Violence Isn't.

Part of Rotary International's campaign to raise awareness of the need for polio eradication.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

10th Birthday of My Blog!


Today my blog is 10 years old! I'm excited and proud because this blog represents my longest commitment and the creative outlet I've never abandoned. Since I started this blog I've been through two apartments, five jobs, been married and divorced, I've gotten down to 118 pounds and gone up to 180, but no matter what happens the blog endures.

Since that first post on Thursday, June 17, 2004, I actually picked up some readers. Thank you to everyone who has been reading. I'm very grateful to everyone who reads and I especially appreciate those who have commented. I feel kind of ridiculous for having named this blog "Chicana on the edge." It sounds pretentious and dramatic, but it's also even more appropriate for me now than in 2004. I just don't see things the way others do and that often puts me on the outer rim of conversations, social circles and friendships. I say things out loud that are "edgy" without realizing they are. This makes me even more grateful for the friends I do have, the ones who are okay with me having such beliefs as the homo sapien species is due for extinction, parenthood is a no-win risk, everyone is racist, and life isn't too short, often it's too long. I'm not saying any of my friends agree with any of these statements, but they can accept that they have a friend who believes them and that's good enough for me.

Ten years ago I started this blog because I'd just found out that a friend of mine had a blog and I figured if she could have a blog, why not me? I also read an article that said that one of the things that makes a good blogger is the habit of spending hours a day online. It asserted that if you're not already spending hours in front of a screen, you won't make time to do it just because of a blog and then your blog will languish. When I read that, I knew blogging was for me. What else did I have to do with my time in June 2004?

It turns out blogging must be more than having time to spend online because even though my free time has fluctuated greatly in the past ten years, I keep coming back to the blog. It's as if I have too much going on in my head and I have to let some of it out. I think of my blogging as a release valve on a pressure cooker, like men with too much iron giving blood, like shearing a sheep of its excess wool, like anything that builds up and has to be let out a little at a time. I also simply love to write. So even though it sounds very mid-aughts, I proudly say that I'm a blogger. I also like the word in Spanish: bloguera!

Here's a question for you: ten years ago, where did you think you'd be today? Ten years ago I thought I'd still be a performing and recording musician. I'm very much at peace with that not being the case. Music did what it needed to in my life and then I let it go. I've also lost what little tolerance I had for late nights and loud amplification. The musician life was never really for me.

Ten years ago I hoped that by now I would be happily married, having found the man who was just right for me. If not that, I hoped to be divorced. I'm serious. In 2004 I just wanted to lose my "single, never married" status and I was desperate enough to stop caring how it happened. Married or divorced, I would know that for once in my life I had managed to get a boy to marry me because that's how you determine your worth as an American woman -- by being married. Oh, it's terrible what American culture can do to a woman when combined with low self-esteem. So now that I have indeed been married and divorced, how do I feel about this one? I have to say I'm neutral on it. I'm not proud of achieving this goal because it was driven by such self-loathing, but I have to admit that I got the job done, unquestionably.

I look at my family members and friends who managed to sustain a bond with the same man for ten whole years, or twenty, or twenty-five and I wonder what that's like. It seems like there are some benefits there, like it must be nice to be with someone with whom you share such closeness. But I'm too smart (unfortunately) to believe that it's the luck of the draw or the hand of God that leads you to such a bond. I know we end up in the situations that we are drawn to and there just aren't a lot of us that are so healthy, whole and balanced that we end up in a wonderful long-term relationship that never stops dipping and bending as we grow, providing unconditional love and, if not complete understanding, complete acceptance, to the end of our lives. If you're capable of that, you do that. I was not.

So here I am. If you had told me ten years ago that in 2014 I'd be living alone after having been married for five years, I probably would have been okay with it. It sounds just like what I would do. But instead of music, writing is now my creative focus and I'm very happy with that development. It fits my temperament better because I like getting up early, having quiet days, and going to bed at 10 o'clock. Also, writing is what I've done since age 11; it's like breathing for me. This is who I am.

Now I'm supposed to say that even though I'm not where I expected to be at this point in my life, I'm better off than if I'd stayed with those dreams I outgrew. I'm supposed to say that I'm happy with where I am and I trust that the things that didn't happen weren't meant to be. Of course, I don't believe that meant to be and everything happens for a reason crap. It's a godless, random universe and stuff just happens.

Given that, I guess I've attained an acceptable place. I'll be 48 next month with a divorce under my belt, a book manuscript written, a totally great apartment and all the wonderful friends and family I want. I have very promising projects and goals underway, my self-esteem is a thousand god#$%@ times better than ten years ago and I've learned excellent tools for dealing with stress and the depression that still kicks up for me. (I'm also proud to NOT have the following: debt, a miserable job, children, or a relationship I can't figure out how to scrape off.) While I have to admit that I'm not making the money I want, I'm not in love and I still can't do that full plow pose, it's also true that I'm not dead yet. In many ways, I'm materially the same as ten years ago, but I like myself a lot better and I think that's worth the rest of it.


Thursday, June 05, 2014

Why does polio still exist? What's Pakistan's problem?

Vaccinators working with Rotary Intl. on polio eradication
Yes, there has been a vaccine that completely protects against polio since 1959, but there are still parts of the world where polio paralyzes children every damn day. The polio virus has been eliminated all over the world, but it has never been stopped in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Because of this, polio cases also appear in neighboring countries where the polio virus get re-introduced from these three.

Since 2011, cases have steadily dropped in Afghanistan. Since 2012 cases have steadily dropped in Nigeria. But cases are currently climbing in Pakistan. Rotary International created the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988 with the World Health Organization, UNICEF and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The GPEI's efforts have reduced cases everywhere, but Pakistan is kind of the problem child.

Why? What's Pakistan's problem? Well, it didn't help that the U.S. used an immunization drive as a cover to ferret out Osama bin Laden in 2011. As necessary as it might have been to assassinate bin Laden, that was a terrible way to do it. It ruined a lot of trust, and since then parents have increased their refusals to give their children the oral polio vaccine. The belief that the polio vaccine is part of a plot against the Pakistani people is a big factor in why we can't get polio cases down in Pakistan.

Outright violence against polio immunization workers has also been on the rise. In Afghanistan, where polio immunization goes more smoothly, the Taliban supports the GPEI's effort. But in Pakistan a very different Taliban murders health workers who work on immunizing children.

Why am I telling you? Because until polio is completely eradicated from the planet, it can be reintroduced into any country at any time. What can you do?

1. Find out more about the dire situation in Pakistan by watching ABC News Australia's 27-minute film The Polio Emergency.

2. Donate to the GPEI's efforts HERE.


3. Donate to the Bob Keegan Polio Eradication Heroes Fund that recognizes health workers and volunteers who have incurred serious injury or lost their lives as a direct consequence of their participation in polio eradication activities HERE.


4. Find out other actions you can take HERE.

Polio eradication is absolutely in sight, but we have to keep up the pushback against the fear and violence that plague specific areas where the polio virus thrives.

Any questions?

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Creepypasta

For a blogger who likes stories and films that scare the crap out of her, it's shameful that I just discovered the following website: www.creepypasta.com. It's a strange name, but here's the explanation from their latest post:

Creepypasta comes from the word copypasta, which itself is a play on the “copy and paste” function. They were short, creepy stories that people spread around the internet for fun. This website is one of the many Creepypasta communities that accept submissions; people write their paranormal stories, I read them and decide which ones I personally like enough to post, and visitors read them and post comments – usually from the perspective of how the author can improve as a writer.

It's worth reading the entire post because the website is currently the focus of people who have heard about the two Wisconsin girls who planned and attempted the murder of another girl. The girls in custody gave the explanation that they did it for "The Slenderman," which is a fictional character in some of the stories posted on www.creepypasta.com. (Slenderman is a character in many stories on many websites and has been around for several years.) Reading about the incident led me to this website.

Over the past ten years, I've looked for websites of scary stories, but have always been disappointed by the quality. The stories didn't scare me, and I don't think I'm that tough an audience. I want to be frightened, so frighten me.

Do you like haunted house stories?
I've only read one story so far on Creepypasta.com, but this is clearly the place I've been looking for. Do you like scary stories? Are you willing to take the ride? Maybe I was particularly vulnerable to the spookiness of this tale because I read it with the lights out, just before closing my eyes to go to sleep, but I think even in broad daylight this story is good. Are you ready? Click here and enjoy "The NoEnd House." In the meantime, I'm going back in to read another one.

Monday, June 02, 2014

"I just have too much to do"

A common way to avoid facing problems is to stay very busy. I have friends who keep themselves booked so solidly that they don't have time to think about if they're really happy or what they can do about their job situation or why a relationship isn't working, etc. Spread thinly across vocation, home and hobbies, they can tell themselves they're too busy to see a doctor about that pain, have a heart-to-heart with their partner, or call their mother. Busy, busy, busy. It's an effective way to avoid things.

I don't do this. My defense mechanism is to keep everything at bay, limit my commitments, not get too involved, and not bite off more than I can chew. I cannot tolerate feeling overwhelmed, so the coping tactic of staying busy to avoid problems doesn't work for me. I have carefully created a life with plenty of free time.

With all this empty space in my daily life, how do I avoid thinking about my problems? My escape mechanisms are things like sleeping and reading and watching shows on Hulu. I occupy my mind and squeeze out anything unpleasant by focusing on the emptiness of made-up narrative. I also like naps.

But Americans like to fill up our days and nights with activity, so our coping mechanisms tend to go towards being constantly on the run and not so much constantly sacked out on the sofa. At least, these are the coping mechanisms we talk about. To us it feels virtuous to fill all our time doing things: driving kids around, working too many hours, running errands, exercising, seeing extended family, volunteering, trying to finish a novel we can't stand, starting another home improvement project, catching up on TiVo-ed shows, squeezing in time with friends (or not), and in the moments of standing still, glaring at our tiny, pocket computers and screens. Of course we can't make an appointment with the dentist or stop to figure out why we can't sleep. There's no time.

Naturally, I hear friends complain about how tired they are and how they wish they weren't so busy. I  don't know what to say to this. This too-busy kind of life is just what Americans do. In fact, I'd say having plenty of time and energy to focus on what's uncomfortable about one's life is un-American. If we even give ourselves time to think about a problem, we want a quick fix, we don't want to take hours out of every week to make a major course change.

So we're chronically tired. There aren't enough hours in the day. Many of us are genuinely miserable with the lives we've created. And we do this to ourselves to pull focus away from what's going on inside our heads or underneath the radar of our daily lives. I wonder if Americans will learn to slow down before the human race goes extinct. I'm not being facetious. Our species hasn't been around long in the overall existence of the planet, but we've been around as long as other species that have gone extinct. We won't be here forever.

And that's another prospect that we're keeping busy in order to avoid facing: that we have a limited time to live. Americans hate death. The idea of not existing is so intolerable to us that we compromise the quality of our lives just to avoid considering it. That's American logic for you: we're willing to make our lives unpleasant if it keeps us from thinking about death.

It used to be popular to answer "How's life?" with "Better than the alternative." But you won't convince me of that.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Prayer plant

in the morning
Someone misguidedly gave me a plant as a housewarming gift last July, not realizing that I dislike taking care of living beings. It's grown on me -- as it were -- and now I think I'd miss it if it weren't here, but it's all I can do to check its soil once a day and add water if necessary. Many days even that much feels like a strain.

Humorously (because I'm an atheist), it's one of those things they call a "prayer plant" that opens its leaves in the morning and closes them at sundown. I have no green thumb at all, so I'm surprised by how healthy it looks. It must be thriving in my life only because there's plenty to pray about.

at sundown