Millennials: Big Hearts In The Big Void

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There’s nothing like a good corporate questionnaire to highlight all the things you’re not.

I sit at my MacBook Pro, just one double-click away from zombie status, filling in field after field of yet another online job application. This is just one of the many questionnaires that I’ve completed in the past few weeks. A repetitive, mind-numbing process that reminds me I don’t quite fit the mold into which I am constantly attempting to pour myself.

I keep reading all these articles about Millennials. Fucking Millennials. — The problems we face. The problems we create. We’re asked to face the destitute world that the Baby Boomers have so lovingly left for us to burn down, meanwhile — we’re moving back in with them, staring out longingly from the windows of our childhood. Our lazy, privileged existence, devoid of any work ethic or gumption. — The whole conversation makes me angry. Infuriated. Why are we the generation that no one can figure out?

I hate the sweeping designation that’s been bestowed upon our flailing age group. Not all of us are representatives of the Lena-Dunham-GIRLS culture. — At least we’re not trying to be. I find myself wondering, how should I designate myself? How do we set ourselves apart, step up, and place ourselves on solid ground without compromising our values and abandoning our dreams? And, please, don’t tell me we need to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps.

In searching for the keys that unlock the mysteries of the kingdom, I’ve answered my own question. We Millennials, are the seeking generation. And, for us, today’s commerce lies in the search. So much is available to us. And yet, we choke. There are too many places to begin. It’s no longer the pool of pensions and 401Ks that our parents waded into years ago — security is a thing of the past. Now — this river is wild. And, if we’re going to survive, it’s about finding our true calling. Our purpose. — Heart-based business, baby.

A Baby Boomer once told me: “No matter how good you have it — work is work. You’re never going to wake up everyday and find yourself satisfied and excited to show up at the office. That’s just life, kid.” Um. That’s some bullshit and I’m not buying it. — An antiquated excuse born of another era.

To the dreams Baby Boomers lost in Vietnam we hold up our own. — The Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan — this banner of unending war, which has served as the backdrop of our lives, now more than ever, a sobering reminder. — Our work is worth fighting for.

Privilege, if nothing else, has afforded us Millennials hope. Work is not just work to us. It has to be our heart’s work. Work that feeds us. So, it’s worth waiting for — worth seeking out in this generational void. We, at the cost of returning home, regressing to our 17-year-old-selves, will wait for something that fulfills an unmet need in us — in our world. Oh, and I guess it should pay the bills too? — Therein lies the real gap. The economy is only just now starting to catch up to our wide-open hearts. And, we’re still left wanting.

This questionnaire asks me if I “Strongly Agree” with this? Do I “Strongly Disagree” with that? And, I keep finding myself in this position of being lukewarm. I am trying to remember what it feels like to get riled up about something. To run hot. Where is the heart I so easily find in my writing or in the faces of the smiling regulars I’ve greeted at my plethora of service industry jobs? Why can’t our joy also meet our dividends? I didn’t get sober to lead a thankless life, redeemed only by my employer’s willingness to offer decent health benefits and to match my Roth IRA contributions.

During this process, filling out this heartless questionnaire, my purpose is jolted. Awakened — it remembers. I make the shift from disheartened to inspired. This piece-of-shit questionnaire, now revelatory. A reminder of all these things I’m not, it begs me to put forward all the things I am.

Would you say you are: Stubborn as fuck? Mildly manic? Conscientious? Coyly critical? Empathetic to a fault? Occasionally work-inappropriate? Passionate for people? A wide-open heart? A rabble-rouser? A dinner-table-debater? Tired and poor and yearning to breathe free? Ready to Burn. This. Shit. Down.?

Yeah.

Yeah, I’d say that’s correct. — In fact, put me down for “Strongly Agree.”

 

 

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Outline Outlaws

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The only child of two juris doctors, some will say, I was born to be edited.

And, while my lineage might suggest otherwise — I, certainly, am no juris doctor.

I talk food over politics. In the course of our discourse, I am more likely to contribute a word of the four-letter variety than that of the SAT. I have more use for essential oils than I do for supreme court justices. And, I’ll take a trashy beach novel over legalese any day of the week.

For better or for worse — this is who I am.

But, how this came to be, I’ll never know. I remember spending long nights at my mother’s side, as she relentlessly scoured over my high school papers. Her red pen marked small notes in the margin. Misshapen circles ensconced periods at the ends of my sentences. She never provided answers — the circles were left there for me to ponder. And, it would eventually dawn on me, hours later, that semicolons were her preferred punctuation. I would return my pages to her bedside, having made the necessary changes, and a smile of approval would creep up the sides of her jaw.

My mother touted the merits of a well assembled outline. “If it’s any good, it’s harder to write than the actual paper,” she told me. “You have to decide what you want to say. Tell your reader, point by point, what you are going to do. And, then, you have to go about doing just that — with the proper citation!”

I sat at the dining room table, hovering over my stark canvas — an expository Alcatraz — a blank sheet of loose leaf paper. In those fruitless hours, I hated my mother for every moment that she had committed to my education.

An outline? What a fucking drag.

I was far too distracted for that kind of thing. I was meant to ramble. Free writing journals like W.B. Yeats and Maud Gonne. Run on sentences like Hubert Selby, Jr. Did J.D. Salinger make outlines? Kurt Vonnegut? John Updike? No. No, of course not. Writing was too much an act of the heart for such things.

Back then, I thought that being a good writer meant, without exception, you were an outline outlaw. — But, I wrote them anyway. For my mother. — And, as a result, every paper I turned in was a well comprised, point oriented, thoroughly convincing manifesto. To this day, I have never written for an editor that has surpassed her level of bad-assery.

While I set plans into motion, for whatever-the-hell-it-is I’m doing with my life, I keep returning to my mother’s advice. — Assemble a proper outline. — Even now, it seems a heartless chore. But, something urges me on. I still struggle to find some kind of framework.Β  The thing that tells me, point by point, what I am going to do. Placing me firmly in the reality I so often find myself skirting.

Back here, in this place I thought I’d left, I stand side by side with the thoughtful child I once was — outlaws seeking structure. Back in this writer’s house. My mother’s manila folders stacked on the dining room table, pregnant with white paper. My father’s den, a museum of dusty books stacked from the floor to the ceiling. If ever there were a place to make edits — to begin to write myself again — this is it.

With some effort, pieces slowly come together. Points and arguments. Opinions and footnotes. I learn how to write what’s coming next.

And, when I’m not sure how to punctuate my sentences, I just walk down the hall and run the pages by my live-in editor, clad in her full-length nightgown, red pen at-the-ready.

 

 

 

Drawing: Pete Scully; Materials: “Pens”; http://petescully.com/materials/

 

A Daughter Of The East

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Since leaving Portland, I find little comfort in my place.

I’ve been a New Yorker. I’ve felt its pulse. How the city surges and creativity bleeds up through the asphalt in the heat of summer. How the Winter wind gets in your bones and teaches you, that parts of you — were always cold. How Spring emerges in Washington Square Park from tulip bulbs that have ached, for long months, to paint the city with their color.

But, now, my New York moments have become frequent realizations that the place I once belonged — the home that once called out loudly for me — has quieted, and only loops the hushed whispers of my past — dreams for another life.

So, on a random Friday, without a plan, I find myself driving.

I end up in Kingston, New York. — Not on a total whim. — My cousin, more like a sister, who knows me better than most people care to, told me ages ago, that she thought I’d like it here. I pay a quarter to park the car next to the U.S. Post Office and step out into this cold winter day. — She was right.

In upstate New York, I can move with ease. Trees are a more common sight than people and every few miles, the scent of a wood-burning stove fills my nostrils and I am reminded that life can be simpler than subway maps and overpriced high-rises.

Kingston, on the Westerly side of the Hudson, is colorful. Narrow streets lined with bright buildings that are old, but not tired. Kingston breathes.

And so, I breathe with it as I walk around the Old Dutch Church, clutching a cup of hot Earl Grey, out onto a series of little streets which meet one another at curbs that are adorably uneven. The town feels tiny and boasts wood framed, two-story buildings proudly. Each one a New England-y version of the saloons out in the Old West, adorned with decorative, quartered-wagon-wheel fixtures at the corners of each squared-off porch.

Every street corner is regulated by four-way-stop-signs and a flashing red light. Though, I patiently wait at John Street for the Volvo that has the right of way, the woman behind its wheel still waves me on with her puffy grey mitten. And I shuffle, hurriedly, to the uneven curb across the street, waving my thanks with my free hand and gripping my paper tea cup with the other.

This place feels new and old and it floods my heart with it’s charm. I have a moment where I feel like my life is possible again. Real life. — A new apartment building. A new job. A new route to the grocery store. — I could have those things here. I could be OK here. I could be OK. Here. — And, I feel something that I haven’t felt in a long while.

Placed.

I drive through the Hudson Valley and afternoon light hits the mountains, just so, turning them a Holy blue-purple hue that I will not attempt to describe. It reminds me of Sauvie Island, back in Portland. I pull into a gas station and allow my eyes to well up with tears. I let myself pine for Portland. I feel it surge. — All the love I left there. Lost there. Burned there. And, in the parking lot of the Sunoco gas station just five miles out of Kingston, I let it all go and decide –as long as I’m here — it’s time to refuel.

There are reasons to leave the places we love. There is a time to come home and wake your mother in the middle of the night so that she can hold you while you weep. Ruin will sometimes find us, even when we thought we’d escaped it. There are seasons we will lose to depression and bad weather. And, Baba Ram Dass would tell me — Baby, this is all just grist for the mill.

Every now and then, we should take the roads that lead to the places our sisters say we should go. And, perhaps, those are the places we should stay. Rewrite our maps. Discover rivers that will lead us around new curves, spilling out into different oceans. New bodies of water where we can empty out our hearts and make room. Room for bright colors and uneven curbs. Room for new routes and routines. Where strangers with grey mittens will wave us on to what’s next.

Kingston. — On the highway that takes you, in just an hour, to the sister who would have you be happy above all things. A daughter of the East, returns. To this — The Empire State.

Back again, and in the same state as my mother, who once thought she lost me to the wild, wild West.

 

Image Courtesy of:Β  http://kingston-ny.gov/

 

In Stitches

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My world seems so small.

Maybe it’s because there isn’t much happening. But, when I sit down and try to examine why that is, I keep returning to the same thing — in reality — a lot of things are happening.

I’m not a big-picture person. I have trouble backing up. I always find myself too close to the situation. I look at the fragments. And, that’s why, much of the time, I’m disappointed with myself. Disappointed with how things are going. I look at all the little failures and don’t manage to see how they play into everything else. I overlook how all those little missteps have led me to wonderful places that I wouldn’t have otherwise arrived.

Have you ever crocheted a blanket? If you look at one little crochet stitch — it isn’t much. But, after several thousand stitches, you end up with an afghan. Sure, it takes awhile. Yeah, you’ll likely end up pulling out three rows because you’ll notice that you fucked up with your counting a little too late. And, yes, by the time that blanket is done — you’ll be sick as fuck of looking at that same color. But, — you have something. Something big. Something tangible. Something to show for all your time and labor.

I run into problems when it comes to appreciating life’s afghans. I live in the process. The reward, for me, is in the making. Taking the little steps. And, once it’s all said and done, well — it’s all said and done.

Most of the time, I feel like I’ve got nothing to show for myself — no blanket. No payoff.

It feels like the work ahead of me couldn’t be in these little steps. These single stitches. I think that’s why the future feels so daunting. The work I’ve always assigned myself has been in stepping back and seeing the whole, big thing. Making grand decisions for some grand life. And, that’s got me in stitches. I don’t feel equipped. There’s no blanket. And, I want to know — when’s it all going to come together?

I’ve always felt that getting older meant that we had to let go of these small things. I thought we had to follow our little patterns — precisely — so that each row leads seamlessly to the next. And, we have to be very careful — because ripping out rows wastes precious time. But, the truth is, it’s in ripping out the rows that we learn to make the best blankets. Growth is in the repetition. Fuck-ups will happen. I try to remember — It wouldn’t be a genuine, handmade gift without a few little errors hidden somewhere in the chevron.

We eventually find ourselves in our different places — in our different ways. We must remember to occasionally step back, we must look at our work. But, we must also remember to do the work that’s right in front of us. The single stitch becomes the blanket.

It’s all about these little pieces.

I know. — I crochet.