Why Millennials Deserve Respect, Admiration, and All the Avocado Toast They Can Eat

Once upon a time, there were Dinosaurs. tyrannosaurus-rex-284554__340They had ruled the world for millions of years, and they were confident, rich and powerful. They didn’t like change, though, and they especially didn’t like the weird feathery flying things that had appeared without warning in their forests. a-flock-of-birds-2811043__340

Fast, free of many constraints, and always singing, these little guys drove the Dinosaurs crazy. The Dinosaurs thought the birdsong was meaningless noise, and devalued the ability to soar and thrive in an environment they themselves couldn’t understand, much less experience.”They never DO anything,” the Dinosaurs complained. “They don’t respect gravity. They never help us blaze paths through the fern forests. They don’t even act like us. They are worthless.”

Although the Crocodiles’ lineage was nearly as old as the Dinosaurs, they perceived the newcomers differently. crocodile-66886__340Observant and patient by nature, they saw how building nests in the trees rather than in the mud helped protect the eggs from predators. They noticed that the sounds the creatures made could broadcast a warning to everyone within earshot. They admired the little fellows’ ability to soar up and over the landscape and find food and new territory. Over time, the Crocodiles partnered with the new critters to some extent; their tiny beaks were amazing at cleaning bits of meat out of the Crocodile’s teeth.

And then the asteroids began to fall. All the mysterious feathered animals gathered together  and made an ear-splitting racket. birds getting outThe Crocodiles were alerted, and when the flock flew off, they followed. crocodile-2697279__340The Dinosaurs, however, were oblivious to the danger and didn’t even recognize the need to escape or change their habits until it was everlastingly too late.dinosaur-2525442__340

Are you sick of all the Millennial-Bashing? Me, too. Know what all their critics have in common? Age and ignorance. Radio commentators blast them as the most worthless generation that ever lived. News sites share outrageous accusations, like; “(Millennial’s) Avocado Toast Addiction is Costing (Them) a House.”

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Social media is crawling with posts blaming the Millennials for everything from the decline in morals to increasing pollution to the poor economy to  inner city crime to the loss of old-fashioned values.

There’s a reason the word “crotchety” is applied to those of us who are getting old. It fits. Yes, older people have always blamed younger people for all the social problems they don’t like (and usually caused themselves). It’s still a lousy excuse for emotional abuse.

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The Millennials haven’t had a chance to impact long-standing problems like pollution, crime, or the economy, not yet. These are problems the Grand Old Generation, the Baby Boomers and the Gen X’ers bequeathed to them like stinky gym socks. They just got here. What they do have is a radical new way of viewing the world, and ideas that just might save it.

So to all you Dinosaurs from the “ME” generations out there:

You think they “don’t do anything” because what they are doing is incomprehensible to you. You can’t think like they can, you can’t embrace constant change the way they can, you have no idea how to network–trust me–compared to them. You think of the Internet as an abstraction, something you can use to market your crafts on Ebay or improve sales in your business. They know the Internet is a place, a community, and they know how to survive there. You’re so busy complaining about the feathery flying things that are suddenly all over the place, you’ve failed to understand that you are becoming obsolete.

Several years ago, a teenager was found frozen to death outside my daughter’s high school. The police didn’t know who it was. The adults thought it would be best to keep the students in the dark until the teen was identified and the parents were informed. What no one on the outside knew was that as soon as the body was found, the information was disseminated to the entire school. Those high school teens investigated, at the speed of text, and found out which teens were out of contact. In TEN MINUTES, they’d narrowed it down to two people. In another seven, they’d located one of the missing, and knew exactly who was out there in the snow.  From there, it took only a few more minutes for the information to spread to all their contacts, and the parents of the girl found out not from the police, but from a mutual friend, that their daughter was gone.

You may have heard of the six-degrees-of-separation theory, which states we are all connected a lot more intimately than we realize. These Millennials have leveraged their connections in such a way that they know exactly what is going on at all times and in all places; six degrees is impossibly far apart. Information is power, and you would not believe (and perhaps would sleep better not knowing) the degree of power these young people have.

You say they are over-sensitive and thin-skinned, but these are people who know more about bullying, virtual stalking and abuse than you can imagine. You think they are to blame for the decline in moral values, and say they are too wary of deep relationships, when it was your generation that reared them on a steady diet of pornography, “free love,” divorce, narcissism and violence. The Millennials didn’t supply themselves with M-rated video games. They didn’t create the pornography that links to any and all content online.  They didn’t create the transparent or lingerie-look clothing lines in all the stores that you criticize them for wearing. They didn’t invent the loose morals you decry–you’re the ones who popularized those. (Woodstock, anyone?)

Many of them had to raise themselves, some in households with substance-addicted parents, some in homes with absent parents, some with single parents who were out working two or three jobs to keep food on the table. They grew up in a scarier world than you did, and they did a fine job surviving there, without much help, thank you very much. How dare you blame them for not displaying the values it was YOUR responsibility to teach them? Where were you when they needed you? Why weren’t you modeling what they needed to learn? Why didn’t you pass along what you knew? If you don’t like how they turned out, guess what. It’s partly your fault.

Like every young generation, they are idealists, and they want change, and they have hope, in spite of the discouraging, despairing voices of their elders. They grew up being told the world was on the skids and the environment was toxic and people were no good, and evil lurked behind every smile, and you think they’re OVERSENSITIVE?

Yes, right now they are young, and not in control of most of the resources, and you can lord it over them and mock their lifestyles and feed them despair. You can treat them like garbage, hold them to impossible standards and make them work for $9 an hour and pay through the nose for any kind of education. But they are getting wiser, and they are figuring out that they don’t need you. Your well-being depends on their future support, and it is support they aren’t obligated to give.

Now a note to the Crocodiles:

You have a chance to help these amazing young adults, and the power to open doors for them and give them the benefit of your wisdom and experience. You have a chance to show humility and allow them to teach you some of what they know. You probably won’t sprout your own set of wings, but you can listen, and you can learn, and you can benefit, and you have a chance to thrive in the new world they will create.

To you Millennials:

You are breathtaking and beautiful. You embody the hope of the human race. And you are welcome to chow down on all the avocado toast you care to eat.

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The Concept of Audience Obligation

 

When people give of themselves unselfishly, for our benefit, what is our response? Why do we so often decide to give nothing back?

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Yesterday, our incredibly talented Relief Society pianist (and I’m not just saying that because she’s my friend) adapted the prelude music into a work of art. I sat and listened, eyes closed, and wondered if anyone else heard the beauty of her music. She was giving the entire room a gift, but most of the people in the room were too busy chatting to notice.

My son’s college orientation was packed with students and parents well before the auditorium doors were scheduled to open. Instead of leaving us all standing and staring at one another over the doughnut trays for an extra half hour, the doors were opened, and the college Jazz Band, down on the stage, began to play for us.

They were brilliant. They were enthusiastic. They played for an extra half hour, dredging their memories to pull up last season’s songs,  just for us. My son and I  clapped after every poignant solo, and after each number; he was in Jazz Band for many years, we know how these performances are supposed to work. But in that packed auditorium, only a few people joined in and shared their appreciation of the Jazz band’s efforts.

A group of local artists hung their paintings in our city’s Civic Center for several weeks. None of the paintings were for sale; the artists wanted only to share captured beauty with concert-goers, to lift and enrich their spirits. A signature book was placed at the end of the exhibit, where people could offer comments or thanks. Although hundreds of people passed by and admired the paintings, it was never necessary to turn to the next page of that book; only a few took the time to respond to the artists.

We are all busy; we have much to do; our private thoughts are invaded and jumbled by bright, noisy notifications, events and ads we didn’t ask to see or hear. In the heat and chaos of our daily lives, have we forgotten our obligation to those who freely share their talents with us, who never ask for, and seldom receive, anything in return? Have we closed ourselves off from an essential part of our humanity?

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Do we forget that the funny videos we enjoy on YouTube are created by people just like us, people who could use an encouraging word once in a while from their fans? Do we fail to notice the work of the muralists who transform the bare, ugly walls of inner-city office buildings into riots of color? Do we ignore the flower boxes planted facing outward toward the street, for us, not the homeowners, to enjoy?

When people give of themselves unselfishly, for our benefit, what is our response? What is our obligation? And why do we so often decide to give nothing back?

When I was a child, I attended a rag-tag circus. It was tiny, with only a few performers and some trained dogs and horses. The crowd was small as well, the trickle of fees barely enough to sustain the circus until it reached the next small town.

circus-231549__340The ringmaster, after hearing the initial lackluster response of his crowd of ladies, gentlemen, and children-of-all-ages, took the center ring a second time. He encouraged us to show our appreciation of the show, urging us to applaud, to stamp our feet, to holler if we liked, to laugh out loud, to react in any way at all. As the audience, he told us, it was up to us whether the show soared or flopped. The performers, even the animals, lived for the applause, he said. They would perform so much better, would stretch themselves to put on the best possible show, if they knew we appreciated them. As an audience, we shared an obligation.

I screamed myself hoarse that day, and so did most of the other children.  I believe the performers were encouraged, the horses were more inclined to arch their necks and prance, the trapeze artists were urged to greater heights, and the funny clowns and their dogs were egged on, all because of the response of that crowd. I learned something that night I never forgot. Audiences are not meant to be passive. All performances are interactive.

The next time someone gives you a gift, whether it’s a street musician, a sidewalk artist, or even the barista who takes the time to sculpt the whipped cream on your hot chocolate into a flower, please remember: if you enjoy the gift, take a moment to show your appreciation.  Much obliged.

 

Memoir = Memory Noir?

Writing a book about the past is like assembling a decrepit jigsaw puzzle after the box has rotted away.

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The colors are blurred and faded, the edges have missing tabs, and some pieces have vanished altogether. Clues to the identity of the image appear only in fits and starts as sections of the puzzle are compiled. Many of the details can never be recovered. So why bother?

Perhaps we write about the past to gain an understanding of it.  Or maybe we feel this is the best way to set it aside and move forward into a brighter future. Or could it be that we write because we know someone out there, someone a lot like us, is struggling to muster the strength to get through another day?  We write because reading the stories of people who’ve spent time in the trenches, survived, and found their way to the surface again can rekindle hope in a despairing heart.

Authors who dug deep into their own pasts in order to drag the truth into the light gave me hope and strength in my own blackest hours. The chiaroscuro book I’m writing is my own attempt to pay it forward.

HJ

“The Martian” An Unlikely Memoir?

mars-2051748__340Ever since we watched “The Martian,” something’s been bugging me. Not Matt Damon’s performance, which was authentic and brilliant, or the special effects, which we loved, but rather the mindset the writers gave to his character.

I’ve been an avid SF reader since second grade. Stories about space fascinated me, so while the other kids painstakingly sounded out the adventures of Dick and Jane, I sneaked a peek at my teacher’s copy of The Martian Chronicles. Mrs. Yardey was a good sport, and pretended she didn’t see me hunched down in my seat, holding my desk open a few inches and turning pages with my pencil eraser.

I devoured every word.

When I reluctantly returned the book to Mrs. Yardey’s desk the next day, expecting a scolding, she suggested I check out the bookshelf in the back of the classroom. And lo and behold, nestled alongside the insipid tales of Dan and Nan and Spot and Puff stood volumes with exciting titles like “R is for Rocket,” “Pebble in the Sky” and “The Gods Themselves.”

Teachers can be awesome like that.

Those fictional astronauts became my heroes. What courage they had! Only a fearless adventurer would dare strap herself into a flimsy little capsule that was blasted into space by controlled explosions and flung toward mysterious destinations like Titan or the Red Planet. How I wanted to tag along!

So when the writers of “The Martian” focused on how tough it was to survive on Mars, the story didn’t ring true to me. Where was the excitement? Where was the passion? Yes, he’s in mortal danger, but HE’S ON MARS!!!

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If I were stranded on Mars, my reactions would be different. “Yes, I could die out here but….I’M ON MARS! I’ll be the first person ever to die on Mars!” “Yep, I’m farmin’ with my own waste but…I’M THE FIRST FARMER ON MARS!” “Oooo, another beautiful sunset–and I’m the only person who gets to see it because I’M ON MARS!” I’d never stop geeking out about it.

When Damon’s character realizes that he’s the first colonist on Mars, he doesn’t do a happy dance or even jump up and down a little. I know I would. “Mars Colony! Population of…ONE! And it’s ME!”

You can’t tell me that the people chosen for the Mars mission wouldn’t be grinning all over their faces, stranded or not. We’re talking about people who’ve spent their lives in brutal competition to get to this point, struggling for the highest grades, pushing their bodies to the limit to develop almost super-human strength and endurance, spending hours in the centrifuge fighting the urge to vomit–all to impress NASA and earn a coveted seat on the Mars Mission.

Yeah, I know what a real-life astronaut stranded on Mars would be thinking.

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“WHOOO-HOOO! LOOKIT ME! I’M ON MARS!”