The Real Millennials

If you want to know what millennials are thinking about become a college professor. And if you really want to know, become a college writing professor.

May is end-of-the-semester time. That means all the original screenplays and TV pilots come in and you spend an intensive two weeks reading them, becoming immersed in worlds of THEIR making – not YOURS.

The majority of these worlds are fantastical, dystopic, and superhero-ish, and suffer from an overuse of social media, technology and the word “I.” Right?

Plus BRUNCH! and AVOCADO TOAST! right??

Wrong.

The majority of these worlds are realistic in origin and deal with themes of sexual abuse, suicide, drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, and domestic violence. At least mine, did. And I suspect in thousands of home and college offices across the country, so did a significant majority of many of the others.

Oh sure, there is the usual market share of family dysfunction and unrequited, coming-of-age love. That is a generational constant – a sort of baseline, if you will. But if you think you KNOW what is on the minds of today’s young people by simply perusing the pages of Wired or Seventeen, or by scrolling the tweets of Arianna Grande, Kylie Jenner, and Justin Bieber, think again. Because they have quite a bit more to say about the world and the majority of it is not pleasant.

Exhibit A: Teen Vogue #getit

This does not bother me as much as it makes me feel sad and oddly encouraged. On the latter point, I, too, was not particularly upbeat on the page at that age. (Note: And sometimes not even at this one). But looking back it’s easy to realize that being able to vent what I was seeing, experiencing and imagining all around me from what I was living is what got me through it. I shudder at the thought of what might have happened had I not had that outlet.

Still, what I didn’t have to battle was the mis-characterization of my generation as superficial, unfeeling and selfish. Self-indulgent, yes. But every younger person is thought to be that at some point by their elders – a too large group of whom have way too much invested in wanting them to suffer the school of hard knocks in much the same way they did.

Sad, funny, and true

The baby boomers (even those of us on its tail end) were never at our worst considered unfeeling or lacking depth. In fact, we were often condemned precisely for feeling too much and thinking too hard. (nee bleeding heart liberal).

In retrospect, that was a pretty easy cross to bear as a young person. An older generation will always lose when they essentially argue against the classic teachings of Jesus, Mother Theresa, and Melanie Safka (Note: Look her up).

More than just rollerskates!

But this new group of people moving into true adulthood have all that AND the battle against a perceived superficiality and laziness that, for the most part, I’m just not seeing. Or, more importantly, reading. Because the latter is where the truth really lies.

No one chooses to write about sexual abuse, mental illness or domestic violence because it’s fun or they think it’s going to sell. You can take that to the bank, even if you can’t do necessarily the same with scripts based on those themes.

And yet, how do you argue with brutally honest depictions of neglectful parents, miserable spouses waging part-time war against their kids and full time battle against each other, or a young woman so undone by the pain of a past sexual trauma and the darkly repressive reality of 2017 that she has no other choice but to return to the people who never understood her in the past and will in no way ever understand her in the future. (Note: One astute friend of mine wisely categorized this to me over the years as revisiting “the scene of the crime” and I can think of no better phrase either in fact or in fiction).

… and yet this is what awaits them. #sigh

I’m not sure of what you see when you turn on the news and watch an electoral POTUS who smack talks dissenters in the crudest of language (“nut job” “disgusting pig”) or laments to a class of military college graduates he’s supposed to be inspiring after three months in the Oval Office that he “can say with great surety – no politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly” than he has.

(Note: Nelson Mandela? Lincoln? Or dare I say it, by His very own birther hand – Barack Obama?) (Note #2: I will leave out #Hillary in the spirit of #TooSoon).

Way, way, way too soon

I was reading a New Yorker profile of the great filmmaker James Ivory this morning (“Howard’s End,” “A Room With A View”) and in it he spoke of Maurice, the gay-themed romance he directed and co-wrote in 1987. It was based on a novel E.M. Forster wrote in the 1910s that was not published until after his death in 1971 primarily because it dealt with the author’s very own homosexual feelings at a time where it was dangerous and illegal to be that or think so/it.

Mr. Ivory noted that at its core the story was really no different than several of his films – “muddled young people living a lie.” Yet what I remember as a still young(ish) single, gay person after seeing it was literally a gigantic rainbow of romantic hope in a perilously sad, repressive time.

.. and yes, starring Hugh Grant.

This is because it was released at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. This was an age where even a NY Times piece touting the film at that moment took pains to reassure readers that it was about love, not “bathhouse promiscuity” and rightly imagined that skeptics would likely greet its release with comments like “Is so defiant a salute to homosexual passion really to be welcomed during a spiraling AIDS crisis?”

Well yes, they did say stuff like that – and a lot worse – in not only editorial pages but on the floors of the Senate and House of Representatives. And, through gross omission and frequent moral judgments, in our very own Oval Office. And we know, in retrospect, how that went.

I thought I erased those memories!

You write (substitute any creative endeavor) about what you see and experience around you at the time – consciously or unconsciously. There is no other way to do it. From where I sit, and read, there is quite a lot going on that we should be troubled by. Yet what should reassure us is that many in our younger generations are not hiding their feelings but attempting to deal with them by expressing them with some sort of positive actions – by art, or yes, in real life, look around – much like we did.

It might be nice if we paid a bit more attention and listened to what they’re really doing and saying instead of saying and doing exactly what our generation’s elders and naysayers tried with us.

After all, what would (Jesus/Mother Theresa/Melanie Safka) do?

“Beautiful People” Melanie

Enjoying the Ride

You can be cynical, opinionated and generally contrary to most things and still be a funny person.  Standing up for what you believe in or challenging the status quo doesn’t mean you’re a chronic malcontent or a socialist.  (It doesn’t even mean you resent the rich).  And going to bed generally disturbed at the state of the world sometimes doesn’t mean you’re not ENJOYING the RIDE.

I just celebrated my 24th anniversary with the person I love and it occurred to me more than once during that day that I am a lucky person.  I mean, few of us get to have a long-lasting relationship (FYI, I did kiss more than a few toads in my day), much less a decent one (no, they are not necessarily the same thing).  I get to make money at things I love doing (teaching, writing).  I have fantastic friends, a great family and a very cool dog. (and blog!)

However, this does not mean that I walk around 24/7 with a hanger in my mouth stretching my lips into a contorted Joker-like smile or don’t often get exasperated when I turn on the TV, go to the movies or encounter the too many idiots who travel the world with me despite my preference that they just go away.  (no, they don’t have to die, just disappear).  I mean, just yesterday I found myself infuriated as I left the 3:30 pm show of something called “Martha Marcy Mae Marlene” (annoying enough, title?).  I was the crazy person you saw in Hollywood at 5:13pm outside the Arclight Theatres audibly muttering to no one in particular “Are they kidding? “ And then to myself in my car – “I can’t believe Sundance still gives awards to such indulgent crap!”

But does this mean I’m not enjoying my life?  9-9-9   Nein, Nein, nein!!!  And it certainly doesn’t mean I’m not happy.  It means I am human.  As my Facebook motto says, “You can have fun and get angry.  They’re not mutually exclusive.”

Also, I hate to quote movies, but as the psychiatrist earnestly tells the troubled teen in “Ordinary People”:  “Unless you feel pain, you’re not going to feel happy either.” (Yeah, I know you might think the dialogue is dated but so is Melanie’s music to some people and she still happens to be a goddess.

There is an odd mindset in this country that I can trace back to the more than jovial Ronald Reagan – who presided over the seemingly jovial but actually quite tragic and awful decade of the 1980s.  (which was, incidentally, not all bad for me because I did meet and fall in love with my partner of 24 years).  It goes something like this – people who protest, are insurgent or sometimes choose to scowl or occasionally express real anger at their fellow man (and/or the status quo) are:

a) unpatriotic

b) wrong

c) trouble-makers and

d) generally unhappy, disagreeable people bordering on (or crossing the line to) anti-American.

In fact, the total opposite is true.  Just as stuff makes you thrilled to be alive, things can and do mammothly piss you off!  In my mind, part of the task of any artist, or any generation for that matter, is to externalize the anger and frustration in some way that affects people, influences them, moves them, and then ultimately becomes a cog in the wheel of change.  To something better?  Hopefully.  But not always.  But life often evolves on the basis of trial and error.  That being the case, our real progresses can be charted by an up and down graph, not by one that is a straight line to what might likely be a trip to nowheresville.  The messy, back and forth exchange of viewpoints and ideas, some of which might offend, infuriate (Marcy, Missy what’s her name) is precisely the stuff that we need in order to actually be what people in the eighties thought they were aspiring to – a better world.  And take it from someone who has been in a 24-year relationship – it’s not always Zipppity-Doo-Dah, I can’t wait to get out of bed every morning because that would get as nauseating as eating my beloved pizza for every breakfast, lunch and dinner or as tiring as having to watch this clip over and over (or perhaps even once?)

As for ENJOYING THE RIDE, you can look at certain people in the news and arts and somehow know that their exterior jovial or scowling demeanor does not necessarily equate to the fact that they are truly ENJOYING THE RIDE.  To whit, some totally biased observations:

  1. Herman Cain – Thoroughly disagree with him politically and find him a bit of an offensive buffoon but yes – ENJOYING THE RIDE
  2. Tom Cruise – The biggest, richest, and perhaps most publicly enthusiastic movie star in the world, but in my humble opinion – NOT ENJOYING THE RIDE.
  3. Gloria Steinem – Brilliant writer, feminist extraordinaire, life contrarian to American patriarchy but still ENJOYING THE RIDE
  4. Bill Maher – Love his show, agree with him more than I care to admit, thrilled that he has the nerve to offend, but something tells me – NOT ENJOYING THE RIDE.
  5. Barack Obama – president during one of the worst times in American history – and yes, ENJOYING THE RIDE (How is this possible?)
  6. Gabrielle Giffords – Arizona Congresswoman shot through the head and still recovering from brain trauma, before and after clearly ENJOYING THE RIDE
  7. Katherine Heigl – Gigantic film star whose movies worldwide have grossed $1 Billion (yes, that’s a “B”), seems as if she’s the most fortunate actress in her age range at the very least yet ultimately NOT ENJOYING THE RIDE.

These observations are unscientific and totally my own yet I’m willing to stand up for them.  Which doesn’t make me right or wrong, or judgmental, just enthusiastically opinionated.  But as you ponder on just how judgmental I really am, consider the observations of current MSNBC female political commentator, business owner and former Congressional candidate with the unfortunate (or fortunate) name of Krystal Ball.  Yes – that IS her real name.  It came from her father, a physicist who did his PhD on crystals (look it up, I’m not lying) and her mother, who is an educator.  Aside from being a businesswoman and CPA, Ms. Ball ran for Congress in 2010 in Virginia and lost but, actually ultimately won.  This might be partially due to how Ms. Ball was able to lead not with her political views but by example of how she lived her life.

You'd think she'd already know the outcome...

In October 2010, one month before the elections, a photo surfaced on a right wing blog of her at a holiday party some years prior dressed as a “naughty Santa” while sucking a red dildo attached to her then-husband’s nose.  (UH, no, we’re not going to reprint it here.  You can google).  Confirming her likeness several weeks before the election and admitting the photos were “embarrassing,” she also saw fit to call the photos sexist and wrote in the Huffington Post “Society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives that are gong to leak into the public sphere.”  Yet, she posed the broader and more powerful issue of how society treats females, making “women into whores” and questioning “this whole idea that female sexuality and serious work are incompatible.”

Ms. Ball, who realizes her very name is both a blessing and a bit of a curse, was subsequently put on Forbes’ List of the “Top 25 Most Powerful Women of the Midterm Elections,” is remarried, has a young daughter and is now a regularly outspoken national voice on the issues of the day, owning the many facets of who she is and what has happened to her in the eye of the hurricane.  Her name is Krystal Ball and yet she seems alternately tough, traditionally feminine, angry, smart, argumentative, thoughtful and sweet.  Enjoying the ride?  You bet.  Most definitely. So am I.  On most days, at least.  Are you?