Way back in college, when we were learning a version of the story of how we learned to tell stories, we read The Iliad and then The Aeneid. I remember the teacher saying that the narrative arc in the Aeneid reflected a new set of values, a new model of hero for a different stage of civilization – society no longer needed warriors, but people who were builders instead, and this necessitated a reconceptualization of heroism.
That idea stuck with me, even though I don’t really know if it applies to those works, or whether they’re the right one to focus on, or whether the civilizations they represented were as great as we thought, or whether heroism is a useful concept at all. I’m not an expert in anything, but some certain impressions and ideas keep resonating with me over time, and the idea of a changing story to represent a changing people in changing times is one of them.
Along with many of my cohort, I’m in a weird position where I know that that my own youthful ways didn’t contain enough strength, maturity, and pragmatism to serve me in adulthood, but also that the version of adulthood people are begging us to mature into is grossly inadequate for the times. We can’t afford to be as inflexible, individualistic, and smarmy as the aggregate of the boomers were; the problems these behaviors created are already starting to kill us, and if we repeat their patterns (to reap the rewards of the status, to be respectable to them, or just because we don’t know any better) we will kill our future even faster. We know this. But with too much uncertainty or hesitation, knowing doesn’t turn into doing.
This is where it helps to have stories, some model of person we’ll be striving to, some kind of landmark of adulthood. I feel like some notions of adulthood are basically the stage where you start replicating whatever class it is you come from, and conserving its values. For those of us whose class basically ran this place into the ground, that’s not a great option. But more broadly speaking, some level of stability and power and confidence, some notion of paving ways and building things and taking the world seriously and passing values on to other generations, is needed. We can’t be the peanut gallery anymore.
Basically, we need to be pragmatists, which doesn’t mean what we were taught it did. Powerful people, serious about their status but unserious about problems and truths of the world, are pretty successful at establishing their own silly notions as pragmatic, civilized, and classy. It’s not that wild for other people to repeat pieces of this behavior as a survival technique; powerful people can make their silliness a truth in the world, and make it practical to comply with (and then there’s a double bind, where those without enough power to disobey the concerns of immediate practicality get lambasted by the medium-powerful for complying). But it can’t hold forever; eventually, these forced truths give way to deeper ones. The earth, for example, isn’t aware that people mocked solutions to climate change as deeply impractical, that hippies were a punchline and yuppies were taken seriously. When we burn ourselves, we’ll get burnt, no matter how respectable we looked lighting the match.
It is deeply impractical to continue to fill the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, even if you spend a lot of money and political power to suggest that alternatives are impractical. It is folly to allow massive wealth imbalances in a democracy, even if your economists perform their defense of that silly notion with the utmost seriousness. We can’t afford the waste of unfettered capitalism, the way it makes everyone spend most of their time and energy redundantly building the resources of basic survival, pouring more energy into fighting each other for status than producing anything useful, even if we can more tidily put a price tag on other forms of expenditure. We can’t abide the incivility of treating politics as a theoretical disagreement to be mediated, ignoring threats to lives and rights. We can’t be so weak as to live without empathy, even if it gets mocked by people who perform a hollower strength. We can’t be so naïve to think that being ironically removed from the problems of the world and afraid to see any good will protect us from evil.
A lot of us are brought up with enough power that we’ve gotten away with a lot of this sort of foolishness and weakness; it’s the least we can to avoid settling into those patterns and passing them on to the next generation. And this will require taking people seriously who have more vision, idealism, empathy, unpretentiousness, and willingness to clean up messes, who distribute rather than accumulate power, and seeing, helping, loving, and supporting them. These kind of things – the quiet strength to be good to people, the noisier strength of aggressively stepping back evildoers – are the things we can aspire to. The world does need leaders, but I don’t think we need them to look like us; we do need stories of people who look like us helping, teaching, and doing practical service or support labor for heroic leaders who don’t, and stories where those things are taken more seriously than winning the game of thrones. Ain’t no real heroes here, but if those stories are gonna sell we can probably do better tinkering with the formula.
I think our generation is in good shape, if we can keep it up. We’re not saints, we’re not winning every battle yet, and we’ve got rotten eggs among us, just as there are gems among the Boomers, but I’m pretty proud of the empathy and flexibility that I see, and it’s really exciting to see how so many people of this group aren’t busy feeling shame about having different circumstances or different values or slower milestones, but are challenging values and laughing enough at the deeply unserious seriousness they’re confronted with. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is millennial as fuck, and I feel good about what’s gonna happen with more people like her in power, and I think we’ve also been helping empower some good Gen Xers, Boomers, and older folks who didn’t quite get recognized by their peers. I like our art and shit, I like the way we’re learning to talk to each other. Most people are gonna stay disappointing, but we’ll tell the stories of our greats anyway, and I think the story will be decent.
Alright, whatever. Happy New Year and shit. Done some stuff, but honestly just going back and counting stuff makes me anxious. I’m happy about a lot of stuff and have a lot to work on and what do I really need to know? How much contractor revenue I made that I’ll have to pay income and self-employment tax on in April 2019, and should have already paid estimated taxes on now that I think about it?
This image, from the show Barry, was designed by Brittany Metz - one thing that’s cool about this era is that it’s easier to search Twitter and shit for things people notice, and find out who got credit for things.
Fuck a New Year, it’s a new week. Lotta shit to do. Gotta take care of enough of my own shit, find the good people and learn to get like them.
Here’s the best shit I read this week. The headline made me think it was gonna be a little bit of like Hoarders-style gawking at people with messy lives, but no, it was at its root all about life as a working person and power dynamics and everyday kindness and shit, the kind of stuff that doesn’t show up on stats very easily but like what separates good and bad people qualitatively, the shit that really matters. (I read it despite the heading and subhead because Ashley Feinberg recommended it, I think she has good taste in shit).
FIVE GOOD THINGS
Here’s my year end list, five things that are good.
Cheetos. They’re unhealthy and made by a bad company and packaged wastefully, but shit tastes damn good, gotta recommend eating Cheetos as an experience. Original, puffs, hot Cheetos in the style of Andy Capp’s Hot Fries, jalapeño cheddar Cheetos, whatever else you got, it’s gonna taste good if it’s a Cheeto.
Farmer in the Deli. This is a corner deli on Myrtle that I’ve been going to for years. It stays good. They know how to make sandwiches, like just really well-crafted Boar’s Head sandwiches. The nexus of a good sandwich there is really the tang/crunch of two kinds of peppers amidst the combo of mayo, vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper, where the vinegar bites in and activates the flavor of the rest, in the corner of the hero roll. Also, good Cheeto selections.
Coffee. Now, coffee kind of sucks. It makes you nervous, costs too much, etc. That said, it tastes good and drinking it is a rush and it’s fun to be like “Wow, there’s coffee? Let’s enjoy it together and bond over the experience!” Make a pot of coffee in a room of people and everyone’s happy.
Nail clippers. How are you gonna do without nail clippers? They’re really useful and cheap, or at least they should be cheap. Sometimes a store doesn’t have the good cheap nail clippers. And it’s like, come on. Sell the cheap ones. I know you’re not stocking them because you think I’m in a pinch and will buy the more expensive ones, but I’m not gonna do it on principle. Sometimes I find more after I thought they were lost. The most I ever had was three but I’ve probably bought three dozen and paid like forty bucks.
Dropping shit on the floor. Look, it’s good to have a clean room, and to clean up when time comes for it, and all that. But there’s a really good feeling to just walking in and dropping your shit on the floor, and everyone should get to do that sometimes in their own home, and if you don’t have your own home people should be cool about you dropping shit on the floor in their home, you just need to say “I don’t really have a place to drop shit on the floor, gotta do it somewhere.” I think everyone should take the freedom to drop shit on the floor every once in a while in 2019, if they’re working hard sometimes.