Tales from the disenchanted
[Note to readers: I actually wrote this piece nine years ago, in 2012. While reviewing it the other day, I was aghast as to how eerily accurate it remains today. I only needed to update a handful of words.]
Finally a morning to relax. The school year ended just days ago and I feel downright worn out. This year proved extra draining to me, largely due to the current political climate surrounding Wisconsin teachers.
We are the scapegoats for all that is wrong in our state. There are little to no opportunities left for public support inside or outside the classroom.
I’m feeling disconnected, undervalued, and distrustful of my neighbors.
On this particular morning I’m sitting in my favorite local co-op waiting to enjoy my favorite breakfast. I pick days and times to dine when they aren’t busy for quick service, peace and quiet. I overhear the cooks talking as I normally do and this morning’s conversation piques my interest. They are playing a second wave, grunge era CD in the kitchen.
My Wakeup Call
A song by the band Bush is playing. Not my personal favorite but it leads me back to the bands paving their way before them: Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Alice in Chains, Breeders, Pearl Jam. The cooks start discussing ‘grunge’ and Generation Xers:
“I’m not a Gen Xer, I think I am a millennial.”
He is briefly interrupted, “I thought they were called generation Y?”
The first speaker continues, “I read somewhere that you are considered a Generation Xer if you can remember where you were during the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. I can’t.”
I can. And that day was a wakeup call.
Child of the 80s
Growing up a child of the 80s, I often felt disconnected from most things around me. I’m quite sure many of my friends at that time did, too. I struggled to wrap my head around the drive towards more and more materialism, the plastic culture, far-reaching political values, and how grown-ups treated the earth in many ways like it was their own personal trash can.
As children, we witnessed the genesis of pathological greed. How much does one actually need?
Finding a place in this world proved to be a real challenge. I struggled to find my authentic self.
I remember the first time I heard Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit.” It was nearing the end of winter during my senior year. Quite late one Saturday night, being among a mismatched collection of classmates, the group decided to drive down to the lakefront. We parked, got out of our cars, and walked down, one by one, to the end of a long fishing peer.
I remember the wood we were walking on being icy and the Lake Michigan waves were crashing violently against the peer all around us. It felt dangerous, exciting, and exhilarating all at once. I never wanted this experience to end and have never been able to replicate it since.
When we got back to the cars, one of the owners turned on the radio and Nirvana came blasting out of his speakers. On the spot, I didn’t quite get the song’s significance. The song felt raw and in pain. It stood apart from the society surrounding it. Surrounding us.
Not sure why, but I knew I liked it and where it seemed to be heading. Little did I know how important this song would become over the years to come.
What Does Teen Spirit Actually Smell Like?
By the time I was a freshman in college, I began to understand how and why this song was important.
It became the anthem of the Gen Xers – all those individuals who had similar feelings to mine growing up. We didn’t like the world our parents were creating for us.
We wanted to break away, to change things. Only, we felt powerless.
We finally realized we could harness the power to change the world.
20 some years later, sitting that morning in the little co-op listening to this conversation I realized my life has now come full circle.
Boy, we weren’t able to change much of anything, were we?
For years I tried to find my place in the workforce. Stumbling and bumbling through job after job within a fickle private sector. Not quite feeling valued. More like I owed them something for employing me.
I knew I wanted to contribute more. I wanted to serve people in a practical and meaningful way. Not just to make some old white guy rich while working a dead end job.
Finding Your Authentic Self
So, I dove off the icy peer and swam into the public sector. I decided I wanted to become a teacher in order to affect change. Maybe along the way I could help to make the world a slightly better place than how I found it. Maybe I could help young minds develop important skills like problem solving, self-reflection and critical thinking.
And you know what? I found out I’m damn good at my job. I started to feel like I finally found my place and I was making a difference. Sure, it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had in my life – the hours are endless and it has taken a toll on my health – but it’s good honest work that people value and respect.
I thought, anyway.
Only many of those people don’t seem to value good honest work these days. Instead, they have turned it on its head, even vilifying it. They certainly no longer seem to respect it, maybe even taking it for granted? And what’s so important about self-reflection and critical thinking? We don’t need to think. Others will think for us.
I’m sitting in this co-op and 20 some years later I’m still lost. I’m still questioning the recent push towards more and more materialism, the plastic culture, the far-reaching political values, how grown-ups treat the earth in many ways like it is their own personal trash can. Pathological greed has now grown from millions to billions.
I don’t like the world our parents are leaving behind. I don’t like the mess we are leaving behind for our Gen Z (aka my young students) to clean up – if they still even can. I want to break away, to change things. Only, I feel powerless.
20 some years later I have come to realize my authentic self is irrelevant.
Take in a deep breath of (noxious) air. Does it smell like [forty] something spirit?
Do you have thoughts or ideas about Gen Xers? How about our melting Earth? Do you have a suggestion for another blog topic? Please send me an email with your ideas or experiences at email@example.com.
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