Monday, November 20, 2006

The Curse of Generation X

Dear Anne,

The busy week for me was this past week. I think that I haven't had a week like that in a long time. I'm ready to have my own solitary festival of tears. Today I woke up feeling slightly depressed and it has spiraled into a fairly complete funk. I don't even know exactly what it's all about, I only know that it sucks and I feel really shitty about myself right now. I wonder to what yardstick I'm holding myself. For some reason I feel like I'll never measure up. What generation is it that never knows what to do with itself? I can't remember why I'm here or what my goals are. This is the curse of Gen X isn't it?

My therapist keeps telling me that it's okay not to know what I want to do. But I don't think she understands the scope of this. I'm okay not knowing what to do with my life. But I'm not okay not knowing what I want to do this afternoon, for instance. I feel like I can characterize particularly bad uses of my time, but I keep finding more and more that most of the other uses, if not bad, are merely disappointing. I'm disappointed with the way I'm using my time. And I don't know what would be better. I think that my values are either a) all messed up or, b) too easily swayed by every passing fancy that I have that I never develop proper goals or desires even. I think I'm so hyper-aware that I don't know what I want, that I simultaneously want everything and nothing.

But this is the height of apathy, is it not? For, despite being both capable and intelligent, I am producing nothing. I want to produce something. This much I do know. The one thing that I knew would always make me happy was the feeling that I got from looking behind me while mowing the lawn and seeing all the cut grass. It wasn't that cutting the grass was particularly fun, of course--it allowed me time to think and walk--but it provided a very clear feeling of accomplishment in seeing that, at every turn, more grass had been cut. It was this aspect of the task that I liked best.

I guess that's a first step: The recognition of the fact that, in order to feel good about what I'm doing I have to be able to look behind me and see that I have accomplished something. Perhaps I am unable to look behind me and quantify what I have done. That, however, brings up another question. Am I more focused on the quantity of my accomplishments than their quality? Could it also be that I just have not found a good way to measure either of these attributes? It seems logical to me that prior to deciding which is a better metric of accomplishment for a given task, I would have to define each term in the context of each individual task. The final question is this: What am I doing? I am afraid that this is the question that stumps me in the end. A proper characterization of my activities eludes me, leaving me completely unable to explain what I'm doing and how well I'm doing it.

I spoke earlier of desires. I suppose that it is appropriate at this time to ask myself the question, "do I want to characterize my activities, or my life's work?" What I mean to say is, do I want to be able to say that what I'm doing is X, where 'X' is a well-understood category of activity? Thus, what I am is an X-er, if you'll pardon the sardonic choice of letters. Well, leaving open the question of the value of each of these choices, I would simply answer yes, I would like to be able to characterize my activities. Perhaps it is because for years I have been uncomfortable with this ubiquitous question of "So, what do you do?" It frequently seems unconscionable to be unable to answer that question. How is it that I do not know what it is that I do? It's just not possible to live a life while remaining oblivious to its contents! And even if possible, it would certainly be shameful.

But this is only half an answer for the question itself is seriously flawed. Rather, it seems pretentious to expose the ridiculousness of this notion that the answer to a single question will reward the asker with some sort of bird's eye view of a person's goals, desires, or ideals toward which she is working. It is a trap! In truth, by answering this question, I all but hand the asker a box and demand that I be sealed up within it.

When I consider the subsequent generation I cannot help but feel that they are better prepared to succeed in whatever they choose to do. You and I are on the cusp, you see, just between Generation X and the younger Generation Y, which I refer to as the Disney Generation, partly because of the movies that they watched growing up and partly because of their strange, veiled conservatism. Perhaps it is this conservatism (call it consumerism, if you like) that enables them to be successful in the world our parents have left it.

There's more to that last thought, but I feel I've said enough for one day. I hope you are better this week than you were last week. I hope next week is even better than this week.

Love,
Mike

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