Oct 22, 2003

The Rub-In

I was reading an article on Salon.com about how Generation X-ers always seem to want to write about their kids these days. It started by mentioning how we got dubbed Generation X by Douglas Coupland and then talked about how Reality Bites was heralded as such a triumphant representation of us and our lives. I remember seeing Reality Bites. I remember reading Generation X. And I remember my friends occasionally commenting on how right on certain things were or how insulting some of the characterizations were. But mostly, I remember just feeling very alienated. Because I was never a member of that generation. Despite the fact that I was born right in the middle of the right time to be Gen X, I feel as if I have never been anything but middle-aged. When I was walking a university campus as a freshman, I wasn't wearing sweatshirts and jeans. I was wearing low-heeled shoes and pencil skirts and sweaters with shoulder pads. And I wasn't a fashion throwback either. I was no hipster chick with Mamie Van Doren in my closet. Honestly. I was a fashion wasteland. I know this. I don't know who to blame it on. But it's true as anything ever was.

As far back as I can remember, I have had an innate gift for writing a good resume. I have had a unique talent for business correspondence. I am an experienced debater. I have represented my family in small claims court and myself in traffic court. I have fought the law and occasionally won. But nearly always wearing hosiery and a blazer of some sort. I am unafraid in a job interview. I will speak to the manager if I am treated poorly at a place of commerce. I have been a mother to my younger sister for as long as I can remember. I used to drive her to school and write her excuse notes and pay for her Disneyland victuals when I was only 17 or 18 years old. In some ways, it feels as if that is what has always been true of me. Putting aside the fact that I don't have any actual children, I feel as if I have been a mother my whole life. I have taken care of everyone, looked after everything, tied up the loose ends, colored within the lines. I have been responsible even when it was not called for. And I have had fun only when it made sense to.

Generation X? I never talked that way. I never "slacked." I never colored my hair. I didn't follow fashion or trends. I didn't watch MTV. Ever. Not since it first came out and I was a teenage babysitter. I didn't live at home any longer than I had to. I didn't live in poverty ever. Even when I had no money, I never let it seem that way. And I didn't have to eat government cheese to get by. The only real connection I have to the rest of my chronological peers is that I ran up massive credit card debt when I was too young to know better and I lived to rue the day. But I wasn't buying a car stereo system with muscle enough to tear a rift in the very fabric of heaven. I wasn't buying anything cool. I was buying housewares and bedding and furniture I had to put together myself. And I was trying to find my taste.

I wasn't entirely out of touch. I had a massive grasp on most aspects of pop culture. I just didn't watch music videos very often. I kept up with television and films and politics and world events. I read Spy Magazine and Vanity Fair. I gave to Greenpeace. I listened to the alternative music radio station, and I bought concert tickets more often than anyone else I knew. I was cool enough at the age of 20 to go see has-been rockers like Neil Young in concert and cool enough to not buy a tie-dyed concert tee before leaving. But somehow, I was all growed up already. Or maybe it's just that I got stuck in the wrong relationship before I had a chance to find myself. I wonder about that sometimes. I wonder if I might have moved to a ratty beach apartment and not minded the hand-me-down furniture. I wonder if I would have ever had a roommate. As much as I scrambled and struggled and didn't have it the way I wanted it, I still lament not having scrambled and struggled in the right way or with enough gusto. As hard as it always was, it always feels like it was too easy.

I can be very honest in admitting that I regret the course my life took. I wish that I hadn't bypassed childhood entirely. I wish that I had had the courage to be a kid. To be awkward and uncomposed. To be unsure. It's only in the last decade of my life that I have learned that lesson. The importance of saying so when you don't know something. That it isn't a crime to be wrong or to not have the answer. That it bonds you to people when you find something out together. Or when you allow them to teach you something. It's an important part of being a person -- something I think I have only just begun to be.

This is all just expansion on my previous post. I realize that when I read the part of Dave Eggers' book where he talks about raising his little brother when their parents succumbed to cancer, I relate to it inexorably. But then when he gets into the part of his life when he's starting Might, I disconnect. I feel shame and envy and a familar sense of defeat compounded over many birthdays. And it has slowed down my reading. I can blame it on the fact that the anecdotes sometimes become tedious. But it's still my fault. My commitment to reading with speed and efficiency wanes from time to time. And that's no author's burden. Nor is it the fault of the heat. Which is oppressive these days.

I don't really have anything to complain about. In recenter years, I found a sort of fashion sense of my own. And I began to enjoy buying clothes that weren't obviously designed to coordinate with the water cooler and the copy machine. I have more shoes than anyone I know, but I only tend to wear a handful of the fun ones. I go out without make-up. I keep beer in the fridge. I keep up with things. I fight against allowing my life to become insular and suffocating. I claw away at the protective armor, trying to reveal the raw, pink flesh beneath. I work at it. More than I ever have.

I am languishing in the renascence of the adolescence I never had. Better today than twenty years from now, certainly. And maybe better today than back then, too. Time might tell. I know I sometimes wish I was snugly tucked into the next phase of a human life right now. I sometimes wish I was a wife and a mother. I sometimes wish I was able to burden my parents with the task of caring for their grandchildren. I know they wouldn't mind. I do want those things. But whenever I catch myself wishing for them or criticizing myself for having allowed it all to slip by, I also remember that I don't think I'm ready for it yet. Not yet. Whose approval could I possibly need to reach for more than that of my own children? I'm not ready. If I ever am ready, and if such things are still biologically possible at that point in history, I imagine I will make an exceptional mother. I've had a great deal of practice.

posted by Mary Forrest at 3:58 PM | Back to Monoblog


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