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Meet Jen Y

I want you to start by picturing your idea of a Millennial.

First question: How old are they?If you imagined anyone under the age of 23, you’re already off base.Millennials, for the sake of this blog and as represented by poster child Jen Y, are between the ages of 23 and 37.

Second question: What are your misgivings toward her?Is Jen Y lazy? Is she overtly privileged having grown up with technology constantly at her disposal? Would you classify Jen Y as the end of [insert American value here]?

If so, this post is for you.

Here is our depiction of Jen Y. She is 28, a few years removed from college, but still paying for it whilst not using her degree at all. She could be your regular morning barista, the girl you yelled at when you had to return that pair of jeans you swore fit when you tried them on, or practically any minimum wage-earning 20- or 30-something female (or male really) in America.

circa 1995

Jen Y, like most of her peers, was raised by Gen X (or in B’s case Baby Boomer) parents who struggled to reach middle class status despite their gradual gravitation toward upward yuppie culture as they aged. Jen has picked up on their values of hard work, despite living the reality that hopes of a meritocracy are taking their last staggered breaths. She continues to trudge on carrying a heavy load of her own long-term aspirations, as well as her parents’ missed opportunities and expectations, while trying to embody anamorphic American values in the modern era.

Rural Millennials

I was born in 1994, during a time of technological transition but in an environment of rural tradition. I grew up with a Sega Genesis, which slowly and consistently upgraded to the peak of the then-glorious PS2. I knew how to set up the AV gear for our consoles by the ripe old age of six and even mastered the operation of the oft-infuriating memory cards. Yes, this qualified me as more tech savvy than my Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts by middle childhood, but it does not mean that I did not learn traditional and rural values, the importance of hard work, and how to be at one with the nature. My family did not actually have a functioning home computer until I was about five and we certainly didn’t have internet capabilities until after I had passed my “Intro to game consoles” life course. My childhood was predominantly filled with spy adventures in the woods, explorer missions behind the chicken coop, and cowgirl adventures that moved from pretend tree-limb ponies to actually-trained show horses. I played outside until the sun went down and listened for the dinner bell, or whoever’s mother could yell louder. Our rural parent community played literal landline telephone trying to keep tabs on us in the woods long before we even noticed that we got DSL.

So, yes, my generation grew up with more technology at our fingertips than any generation before us — foreshadowing the interconnected yet anti-social trope you may be familiar with — but WE should be remembered as the last generation to share the traditional American childhood experiences that form those core values you find us supposedly lacking. Hard work, perseverance, resilience, self-reliance, and tolerance are values that are steadfast in the face of changing times, the evolution of technology, and the suburban or rural backdrops of Millennial childhood. Millennials still had chores, were made accountable for their behavior, and learned their family morals in much the same way as previous generations; we just had more at stake with our VHS players, Playstations, and Tamagotchis when it came to timeouts and restrictions.

Even growing up partially in a suburb of Cincinnati in the early 1990s, I was never glued to a screen for long as a child. When I was young, technology was still burgeoning and mostly something I saw as a tool of education. I’ll admit my privilege so far as the fact that I had access to more of these tools than my Gen Xer counterparts. My mother – a Baby Boomer — taught Microsoft Office to adults and little four-year-old B often found herself playing teacher’s aide. I mostly used computers to make birthday cards on Microsoft Publisher and play “Read, Write and Type” to better my knowledge of home row.

Sure, I see how having those tools gave us an advantage, but it’s an advantage we recognize still.

Millennials, mostly, still appear to acknowledge their technological privilege. Sure, I spent several hours of my childhood kicking my brothers’ asses at Golden Eye 007 on the Nintendo 64, but I also got in trouble more times than not for being late coming home from playing outside in the evening. Sometimes with battle wounds included.

A Letter to Rich Cohen’s Vanity

In a Vanity Fair article called “Why Generation X Might Be Our Last, Best Hope,” Rich Cohen paints a picture of the Gen X cohort amidst the apocalyptic Millennials and griping Boomers. Cohen promotes the idea that Gen X is currently, and forever will be, the last generation to actualize traditional American values like hard work and nationalism. He believes the actualization of these ideals is achieved by keeping your head down and just getting it done.

 As a Millennial, I have two problems with this characterization as exemplifying American values. Firstly, how is it that Cohen can argue that Gen X was the last of the all-American patriotic hard workers when a large portion of its members participated in, or at least supported, the countermovement against “yuppies.” If a business suit, 9-to-5 job, financed home, and benefits were a part of your five-year plan you were a dirty yuppie following the path laid out for you by “the Man” – presumably the revered paternal figure Uncle Sam by Cohen’s estimations. How can Gen X harken to traditional values of powering through and getting it done when it discouraged, mocked, and reluctantly gave in to yuppie trends? Perhaps this begrudging acceptance of tedious hard work for “the Man,” is what constitutes Gen X’s tagline according to Cohen: “Gen X is steeped in irony, detachment, and a sense of dread.” Hell — if that’s all it takes to be classified as all-American, hard-working, and sensical, I think Millennials have beaten Cohen at his own game (with Gen Z quickly rising in the ranks).

Think back to Jen Y at the coffee shop. She is there despite dreaming of a life outside the confines of student loans and several roommates in less square footage than what she likely had in her childhood bedroom. She is marinated in irony rather than simply being salty or bitter, survives and grieves through a series of accurate dumpster-fire memes, binges YouTube and “Queer Eye” to escape from the constant fear that she will never break the poverty cycle, and is filled with what writer Courtenay Hameister aptly titles the “dreadball” of anxiety that marks daily life.

Secondly, Millennials join Baby Boomers in being highly patriotic in terms of voting, protesting, and paving the way for the next generation to have more freedoms than the ones before them. Think back to Kent State and the March on Washington in 1963 as well as the more recent International Women’s March, Black Lives Matter movement, and the March for Dreamers. We all –Millennials and Baby Boomers alike – headed to the polls in droves, be it to protect Women’s Rights, Civil Rights, and/or to stave off war. How can none of us be recognized by Cohen for proudly embracing Uncle Sam (and his sometimes uncomfortably heavy baggage) while Gen X, as depicted, only glibly shakes his hand at conference meetings? Add to that the fact that despite our wavering belief in a meritocracy, we show up to our jobs everyday with the intent to bring it back. We pull long hours for low pay at jobs that don’t always do our diplomas justice. Not only that, but studies show that Millennials are less likely to use all of their vacation hours in order to show their bosses they mean business. We strive to literally work our competitors under the table (from exhaustion presumably) in a sick workaholic showdown. This is not to say that Gen X does not work hard, or that Cohen is completely off-base. I know how hard it was for my parents to try to break into the middle class, own a home, and raise a family by decent standards. I know my dad did exactly as Cohen describes by keeping his head down and powering through a plethora of jobs that drained him, body and soul, to pay the bills. But how does that make Gen X the beacon of hope for American values when Millennials are working harder for less? We have accepted Gen X’s challenges, internalized parental expectations, and turned out thousands of dollars-worth of degrees to work the same entry-level jobs Gen X did with high school diplomas. Surely that counts for more than our negative superlatives would have you believe?

I’d say when it comes to these two Gen Y girls, Cohen has not found the Millennials he’s looking for.

Something that constantly proves to me the inaccuracies of certain Gen X or Baby Boomer perceptions of Millennials is the number of my colleagues – in the print newspaper industry – who are my age.

So, when Cohen says Gen X-ers are “the last Americans schooled in the old manner, the last Americans that know how to fold a newspaper, take a joke, and listen to a dirty story without losing their minds,” I vehemently beg to differ.

I, as a journalist of nearly nine years, can fold a newspaper – after writing the whole thing in less than a week.

Also, here are a few jokes I “take” on a regular basis:1. My “living” wage.2. The idea of “So, you write the fake news?” as a pickup line.3. The fact that some of my former employers didn’t need a degree to be a journalist, but I spent tens of thousands of dollars to do this.4. The idea that “dirty stories” are still perceived as something we should as modern women “listen to ... without losing our minds.” I guess the very recent Supreme Court appointment decision would suffice as evidence of why this ideology remains “okay.”5. Oh, and, of course, I read Cohen’s entire article, which in itself is a joke.

My question is this: Why is the Silent Generation exempt from Cohen’s reaming?

I love my grandmother – possibly one of the loudest, most opinionated members of the so-called “Silent Generation” – but if there ever were a generation further removed from today’s reality, even more so than Boomers, it’s the Silent Generation.

They value quantity over quality in a way that’s economically harmful. This can greatly be attributed to their Great Depression-era upbringing, but if Cohen condemn Millennials for the end of rotary phones and playing outside, he should broaden the lens of his not-so-rose-tinted glasses.

Then, he needs to realize, while attacking the Silent Generation, he’d be attacking people like Ted Kennedy, Walter Mondale, Madeleine Albright, Bernie Sanders, Bob Dylan, Julie Andrews, James Dean and Morgan Freeman.

By attacking the Baby Boomers, there’s Bill Clinton, Elton John, Steve Jobs, David Letterman, Dolly Parton, Bill Gates and Al Gore.

By attacking Millennials, he’s attacking, well – us.

And the fact that he is able to rattle off names of great Gen X-ers like Michelle Obama, Kurt Cobain, Patton Oswalt, Melissa McCarthy, Dave Chappelle, Leonardo DiCaprio and Derek Jeter, falls on deaf – or rather, preoccupied ears – since we younger Millennials are still quite young and figuring out how to navigate the terrifying landscape we’ve inherited while still working to leave it better than how we found it for our friends the Gen Z-ers and their children.

Catch 22 of Being 22

Being a 22-year-old in today’s life is akin to being “all dressed up with nowhere to go.” It is a real kicker being 22 when you are young and full of energy, potential, and ambition but none of the avenues you expected to take are available for pursuing. You are meant to be young and enjoying the fruits of your collegiate labor in your own apartment, with a full-time job in the industry you went to school for, not sunk into your relative’s couch scrolling through Indeed for any job that will pay the bills while you salvage your dreams and find a career.

This conundrum is what I like to refer to as the catch-22 of being 22. I may not be 22 anymore, but the phrase still holds water, possibly into my 30s.

Society allows for you to have fun and make mistakes because you are still young with a right to spirited fun but chastises you when you haven’t hit traditional milestones that marked Gen X and Boomer lifestyles. The pressure to conform and have your life together is immense. What should have been one of the happiest times of my life immediately post-graduation, turned out to be one of the darkest periods of my life. A few minimum-wage jobs and a nine-month period of depressed career searching later, I felt all of my worth stripped from me by onlookers who thought I had wasted potential, an inflated, ungrateful ego ill-suited for work, and a gnawing sense that I had peaked at university.

At 22 I had a degree, vague inclinations for a career, ambition, and a hunger to learn and do more. This is much different to what our generational counterparts would have had at 22. Things like a new car, a mortgage/condo/apartment of their own, a spouse, and maybe even a kid or two. It’s not that I even want or care about reaching these milestones in particular (or at all), I just wanted to reach one – a dedicated, purposeful career.

I swear, if I hear one more baby boomer or member of the “Silent Generation” ask me “Why pay so much in rent? I only pay X amount of dollars on a mortgage payment?” I’m going to explode.

Here are the facts:

Yes. Your mortgage payment is probably lower than my monthly rent. How nice for you.

I can barely afford my rent.

Therefore, I definitely can’t afford a down payment on a house. Hence why I am stuck renting and scraping together money into savings to only later have to take it back out so I can buy gas or groceries or go to the dentist.

I’m 24, the age of a lot of those generations before Gen X probably were when they bought their first house and started their family. These are different economic times.

Millennials have different principles and priorities than their grandparents’ and parents’ generations not only because we’re young and have high-tech gadgets and differing forms of basically everything, but because of the economy we’ve been born into.

When I was born in 1993, the country was in a fairly good place financially. The Clinton administration gifted us with a budget surplus the likes of which we have yet to see again. Then with Bush came the Iraq War, the housing bubble of 2008, which not even Obama could bring us fully back from (thanks to Congress), and just living was more expensive than ever.

The Silent Generation was afforded many things I’ll never experience. Those who went to college received more state and federal funding, and the degrees they received more-or-less ensured they’d have a job after college.

With that job they could make money to raise a family, possibly one or three or four kids. Hey, there’s a reason they call their kids the Baby Boomers. The population rose and with it the national pot was divided among more and more people.

If there was ever a time for the second coming of Christ, it is now. We could use his knack with loaves and fishes.

Throughout my lifetime a lot of things have seemingly depreciated, like my degree, my experience and my ambition, while others, tangible, material things like cars, gas, food, have only gotten more expensive.

I am fortunate to have a full-time job with benefits, but even with it it will probably be a long time before I can afford a mailbox with my name on it.

Fortunately, I have wanderlust in spades, so a nomadic existence is only slightly panic-inducing, but I’d also like to be able to even fathom buying a house in my home country.Until that’s possible, it would be great if all people over the age of 37 would kindly not judge me for not doing something they’ve made impossible for me to do.

As B mentioned earlier, Millennials simply have different ideas of what constitutes happiness and success. We’ve had to invent and adapt in order to find ways to survive the emotional fatigue that comes with living and surviving in the current world. Millennials want to promote change globally. Part of the reason we feel so oppressed is we’re not able to help the world and we don’t have enough financially to give at that level. You have to be able to save yourself before you can save others.

I’ve experienced the dilemma of attempting to give form an empty cup.

Even if I shared Jesus’ skills for turning water into wine, I’d still need the water first.

I give of my time, wherever I can. I volunteer in two groups on top of a busy schedule, and I’m usually the first point of contact for most of my friends during times of crisis.

I give by inviting friends into the home I’ve created for myself. I bake cookies for them to take home, cook dinner for them to fill their stomachs and try my darnedest to fill their souls with laughter.

I can very literally give of myself by giving blood, but I can’t usually give much financially.I make just enough to survive myself. I’m on the cusp, one might say, of being able to give more. But the target seems to keep moving.

Once a Cusper Always a Cusper

I didn’t just grow up a cusper between Gen X and Millennials in terms of an idyllic rural childhood, I am actually on the chronological cusp between Millennials and Gen Z. Although generational lines tend to be fuzzy (giving or taking a couple years), the majority of us will tell you that the race to be a Millennial ended around 1994.

Growing up on the cusp has made for an interesting socialization that allows me to mingle with and move between generational groups but does not quite afford me authentic status in any particular one. Taking in my parents’ music, humor, experiences, values and references, makes me able to understand jokes that Gen Xers and Boomers may think over my head, while making nice with my younger friends at college gave me insight into the latest slang, trends, music, and social media etiquette.

In my head lives a mixture of Dave Chappelle episodes and “In Living Color” sketches, and Pearl Jam lyrics and Macarena choreography, juxtaposed against the lit “Damn, Daniel” and cross-faded “Suhhh, Bruhhh” Vines. I understand the importance of professionalism, respect, and integrity among Gen X and Boomers, and the importance of compassion, acceptance, and solidarity among Gen Z.

Despite my chameleon-like efforts to socialize across the generational divides, I am definitively and comfortably a Millennial. Skeptical yet motivated, cynical yet secretly hopeful, and intermittently depressed yet good-humored. That’s us in a nutshell – walking oxymorons coping with life through nights in with friends and nights alone with memes and Instagram. Here’s a prime example of typical Millennial interaction that is “steeped in irony, detachment, and a sense of dread,” taken from a Skype date B and I had a few months ago.

“Hey, how are you?” “Well, my grandmother just busted her head open and had to get stitches so I’m pretty concerned.” “Oh B, I’m sorry that’s terrible. What can I do?” “Nothing really, we are just waiting to see how she recovers.” *Several minutes pass with us silently typing on our keyboards* “Anyway, here’s a quiz to tell you what flavor cupcake you are.”

In lieu of facing trauma head on and risking spending all of our time in fetal position, we share GIFs of condolences, memes to cheer each other up, and mindless quizzes to distract each other in times of panic.

This brings us to the evolution of language and modes of communication from Gen Y to Gen Z, our equally as intelligent yet communicatively unique successors. Their use of media, concept of connection, and broad sense of community make them truly remarkable and worthy of notice.

We still – both S and I – very much identify with Gen Z. We too use GIFS, memes, slang our parents don’t quite understand (like every generation before us) to express everything from joy to existential dread. Therefore, to Gen Z, we promise this:

We will never judge you for aspects of our life that are out of your control, namely, when you were born. You did not choose your birthday, but we’d love to have you choose to join us in making this f***ed up world we’ve inherited better and perpetuating a culture of tolerance and proactiveness. We know at some point you will be the leaders, creators and dreamers in charge.

We’re just glad we get to be here to pave your way.

xo S & B

Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment of this series titled “Slanguage through the Ages,” to see two Millennials’ take on up and coming Gen Z.

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