ROCK WOLF 

GEN X's MID-LIFE CRISIS: WHY WE'LL SAVE THE EARTH

     GEN X’s MID-LIFE CRISIS: WHY WE’LL SAVE THE EARTH

Except for a spattering of artists and musicians in the late ‘90s, Generation X has been largely swallowed up. 

Without a peep. 

Smashed between 80 million Baby Boomers and an equal number of Millennials jostling for attention and dominance on either side (Katie Couric and The Rolling Stones; Miley Cyrus and Bieber, respectively), X’s smallish 30 million shake their heads (as is customary), raise an eyebrow (also customary), and greyly go about the business of doing good hard work, expecting very little in return. 

Gen X’s midlife crisis? 

It’s happening now. 

But as with most things in the center, the net effect is not so easy, or so obvious to see.

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Tech advances aside, our early adulthood was subsumed by 2000-era cultural fascinations we found largely annoying or unimpressive. 

MP3s and free music?  We preferred records and tapes. 

Strippers-slash-teenagers dressed as Catholic schoolgirls billed as pop “artists”?  We preferred Ministry, Nirvana, or the pedophile artists themselves, not just their cultural sanctioning. 

Obsessive consumption, credit cards, booming housing prices?  Nah, we’d thrown bricks through Starbucks windows and stormed the G8.  We’d been feminists and environmentalists and health food nuts and proponents of weed smoking and earth lovers and granola since our preteens.

A quantitative minority, we stood by and watched as Boomers held tight to the reigns, razing and pillaging the forest, mishandling large sums of capital and responsibility. 

Millennials, on the other hand, got raises, texted and typed with abandon, and coated the Internet like leave-shaking trees. 

Both confused quantity over quality.

Not us.  We were too busy.  

We’d just spent our twenties getting reamed. 

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The technocultural tsunami slammed ashore, for many of us, in late college or right after we’d entered the workforce, and it washed away everything we’d known before.  

No one, anywhere, knew what was going on.  No one knew where it was going.  No one even knew what it was.  But it was happening.  Daily.  And fast.  New technology, change.  A whole new way.  

A whole new world.  There was a certain freedom in chaos, but it was also...terrifying.

The earth shook beneath us, so we clung to rooftops to adapt. 

The houses we’d built, good strong ones in any other weather, but no match for a natural disaster, simply washed away. 

As the waters raced, many of us started over, learning digital expressions of trades we’d devoted years to mastering in their analog forms.

Some of us remained stubbornly in place, faking it, staunchly refusing to concede the land, intent to stay, to fight.

Some of us simply let go, allowing ourselves to be transported elsewhere.  As survivors, we expected little, but learned how to cope and adapt, squelching big dreams so that we might live and eat.

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Eventually, the decade-long tsunami passed.  Our skills, among them hustling and remaining standing during an earthquake, seem to have aquired value in this new world order.

So here we pour into middle age without ever really having made our generational mark.

Yet years steadily working the center might, in the end, pay off. 

We’re connectors, you see, the great synapses of Earth. We straddle the tech gap between the Boomers (tech newbies) and the Millennials (tech swift).  Human bridges, we form the boundary-less hinterland between the old world and those indigenous youth who text with one hand, code with the other, and play video games with their feet.

Since we never completely bought in to digital, we resorted to a kind of middling sensibility.  This blended life, half-analog, half-digital, keeps us from confusing the forest (tape) for the trees (digital). 

We remember how it was before.          

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Time before the digital tsunami was sloooow.  Long, aching, silent, hot-tread, yellow reams of summer spilled out in wavy dreams, then spilled out again.  Minutes and hours and days were extended, overgrown, lush, an Earthy summer, rocking and moaning and buzzing.  Time to create.  Time to play.  Time to think.  Time to be.  

Children of this summer, we listened to our Silent Generation grandparents who taught: “Learn a trade, get a skill, practice a lot, work hard, don’t cheat.”  They'd lived through the Great Depression, so we knew they weren't fucking around. 

Now-archaic notions of hard work, craftsmanship, trade, and artisanship were our video games and selfies.  Middle class American Dream sensibility fortified us as we plodded – warily, cynically, cautiously – toward dreams.  “Don’t believe the hype,” our forefathers had warned. By the time we entered adulthood, we didn’t have to remind ourselves; we simply did. 

So as Boomers yolked the Internet for corporate gain and Millennials copied others’ ideas instead of creating their own, we worked.  Around us Boomers bemoaned losses in investments we considered fake anyway, and Millennials struggled to write coherent lines of speech.  Meanwhile we did good work, for little pay, agreeably.

We became modern-day Bartlebys: good at living on scraps while excelling, expert at fending for ourselves.

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So our midlife crises won’t look like our parents’.  Fast-women-fast-car divorces make for great TV, but to us, seem to miss the point. 

We never believed in forever marriages, anyway.  Or that hard work brings rewards.  Many of us raise children outside the bonds of religion or marriage, institutions we regard suspiciously. 

We're overworked and underpaid, but that's been our steady state.  We're autotelic, so we don’t really mind.  It's the gift of the long aching summer, of quietness, of being squirreled away.  At its essence, it's the gift of time.

We're content to do things we love – music, art, and trade – because we have pride in them, not because it pays.  We don’t believe in quick fixes or obsess about age, so we toil and plod and specialize in areas that aren’t flashy, but that matter desperately, especially to a culture on the brink of self-destruction.  Our skills, solidly based on traditional literacy, blend art, math, science, and history.  We have liftoff, and we connect.  We understand context.   

We build guitars by hands.  We form sick live rock bands.  We paint.  We create small companies that grow slowly, and we passionately practice law and medicine and engineering despite fledgling promises of gains. 

Our midlife crises will surprise you because, unlike generations before, if you stand back and get out of the way, ours will save the earth.  We're environmentalists, we're conservationists, we're efficient.  We listen, we recycle, we love.   

We can show you how to live simply.  How to quit wishing for youth that’s gone or for someone else’s face, for a body you weren’t born with, or a fancy car that devalues, anyway. 

We’ll show you the Gen X way if only you will get out of the way.  And stop your endless prattling on.  

SAZERAC

Chicago St. Patrick’s Day is a mockery of many things.  Fresh fertile sloppy blondes, cleavage ablaze, marauding with zitty skinny tall twenty-somethings, downtown, beaded like New Orleans, depressed in green, the worst color in the world when it ain’t natural.

Late at night, after the yelling and the fight; beyond the overrun and the run around, through the forest of memories and parents, into the hallway of dealing-with-it, past the canary of what else-is-there, a wife happy white lace t-shirt innocent told me, “We went to the orchid fest today in Northbrook.  Did you know orchids grow on trees?”

I did not, but had fantasized my pores pushing out fresh fertile yellow-green sprouts, from which cherries and blueberries and apples plumped, and from which orchids, droopy and heavy, tickling satin to the touch, hung, wavering, flirting, sashaying, in wind, warm wind, out of which nothing bad could come.

The patrons at the second oldest artist dive bar in Chicago were way beyond green.  Inside the lemon, they dotted the curly bar and held their drinks.  Why do you always love the one who fucks addiction?  Barmaid beauty served two old-fashions, a plump cherry whisky saturated and wrapped in an orange peel push-up bra.  Two nipples, fat and round.  A lovely tease to get the old self standing right next to me.

Synchronicity?  Angel Irish songsters dressed in Sinatra tuxedos approach.  They suction energy.  Away I turn from temptation.  Away I turn from the drink.  Have I seen the proprietor display his sea-saw, tulip-lidded, contraption?  Yes. Tick-tock, tick-tock, drip liquid down Lady Justice’s scales onto petal pedals that make the absinthe bubble up.  "Wormwood?"  Yes.  It is warm brown; it is beautiful; it is engineering; it is architecture; it is candle; it is potion; it is promise.  Here is diesel smiling relief, toxins, petroleum.  Here is the demon chant: Drink.  Drink.  Drink.  

Ah, Sazerac.  I betray her for the warm camaraderie of strangers.  It is safer facing out.  Thought it pushes my lover away, it holds me closer.  

THE LAST TIME

Song dedicated to Asian aircraft disaster victims and their families  

ROCK WOLF

In January 2014, I woke from a dream in which Daniel Day Lewis stroked an invisible beard and, looking at me, repeated, "Rock wolf."  

When I wrote out the dream in morning handwriting, "Rock wolf" looked like "Rebecca F."

So that's what I'm naming these.

  © Rebecca F. 2016