September 5, 2011
I so, so wanted to like this article from the Times, about what some recent graduates of prestigious universities are doing with their lives during the economic downturn instead of the stable, decently-paying jobs in their career field that just aren’t available. (Generation Limbo: Waiting It Out) I so, so almost did like it a lot. Obviously, we didn’t get past the headline without another cute moniker for the latest crop of highly-educated youth left aimless and adrift by the recession (how many names have we had? Gen Y, Gen Why?, The Millennials, the Peter Pan generation…I’ve had a couple of ciders and I’m losing track. What are we now?), but it came so close to hitting a mark of sorts concerning how young adults are coping with this economy, without a heavy dose of the condescension and belittlement that so often accompanies Times articles about the generation that supposedly just won’t grow up.
It’s not the subject matter of this article that I find objectionable, because I’m very interested in what young adults and especially the newest graduates are finding to do right now.
It’s the slight tone of amazement and false levity that’s a little annoying. A summary of the article could almost have read “Some graduates without corporate jobs decide to not be miserable, live lives anyway, do something creative.”
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.
Some of the subjects profiled are Stephanie Kelly, who has two underwhelming part-time jobs, but sort of enjoys the spare time she has to cook and write; Amy Klein, who took up a friend’s offer to join a punk band when it was clear that a career in publishing wasn’t going to be forthcoming anytime soon; and Sarah Weinstein, who manages a bar while doing media relations for an animal shelter as a volunteer.
“No career? No prospects? No worries!” chirps the author in summation of the outlook of these graduates who are taking their situation in stride, or doing something unconventional instead. But this is simplistic and patronizing. No, there are plenty of worries associated with having no job stability, an irregular income, little affordable housing, no health insurance, and no idea when the economy might really turn around or how long you might be jerry-rigging a life this way. But you can let them terrify you into paralysis and submission and mope around your parents’ house sending out resumés that may get looked at sometime around 2015, or you can go out and do something–anything–anyway.
“They are thinking more in terms of creating their own kinds of life that interests them, rather than following a conventional idea of success and job security,” says Klein.
This is sort of how it’s always been for people who, for many reasons, can’t find a place in the mainstream or corporate job market. And I feel for the younger grads who are finding themselves not able to have the kinds of lives they were brought up to believe they should. And there are definitely bigger problems of economic justice when a significant portion of a highly educated generation just can’t make money. But that so many are relearning what they can and can’t do without, and what really matters to them, and questioning what kind of life they really want as opposed to what they once just assumed they’d have, I believe has the potential to be a great thing for America in the long run.
“They are a postponed generation,” intones Cliff Zukin, author of a study from Rutgers on the economic situation of recent graduates. But people profiled in the article like Kelly and Klein…well…they’re not. Just because they’re not doing what they might’ve been in a different economic climate doesn’t mean they’re waiting around with their lives on hold, as if the only life worth working for is comprised of traditional job stability, marriage, kids and home ownership.
Life doesn’t get postponed, though certain goals might; life gets lived, one way or another. Bad economies don’t stop time.
Why should writing, cooking, taking a punk band on the road or doing whatever paid job you can stand to do while you work as a volunteer or activist for another cause be considered stalling on the life path? Just because it’s a life path that doesn’t take for granted what the upper middle class used to, in the same time frame? Why is this necessarily considered being stuck in neutral rather than just in uncharted territory?
I’d be willing to bet, for instance, that the day will come when Ms. Klein, whatever she ultimately ends up doing, will be glad for the creative and organizational lessons that she learns on the road with her band, as well as feeling artistically fulfilled. Because life is funny and resonant and meaningful like that if you’re paying attention.
So godspeed to the young graduates who don’t see a reason to give up and stop living just because their expectations have been knocked around. I prefer their attitude to that of the experts telling us how stalled and postponed they are.
August 25, 2011
Last summer, I wrote a post rather emotionally detailing my issues with the thinking behind a new reality show, NERD GIRLS, which was then in the casting process. That post (Real nerd girls; June 2, 2010) has by far and away generated the most page views to my blog of anything that I’ve written…though not always in the way I might’ve imagined or intended.
See, WordPress has this nifty feature whereby you can see which search engine terms are bringing readers to your blog. The following are some of the actual phrases that internet surfers have entered into search engines which brought them to my post “Real nerd girls.”
“real nerd girls” (Okay, fair enough.)
“actual nerdy girls”
“real pretty nerd ladies”
“hot nerd girl not real nerd” (Yeah, well, sorry to disappoint you.)
“sexy girl in renaissance dress fuck” (I admit to being particularly impressed by this searcher’s ability to spell “renaissance” correctly.)
“hot actual nerd girls?” (The tone of that question mark is just so forlorn….)
“nerd girls in short skirts”
“live nerd girls looking for me” (Uh, no.)
“romantic girls girls hot sexy just engineers real” (Dude… )
“fetish pics from women in waders” (……. )
But then there was one that actually broke my heart.
“I don’t want to be a nerd anymore.”
I have no way of knowing who the searcher was who made this request, and I rather doubt that he or she is still reading, obviously having not found the solution here. But, I don’t know, just in case…or in case anyone else comes looking…
At risk of sounding patronizing, which is not my intention…I know how hard it is. I really do. I won’t try to minimize what you’re going through, because I’m sure you’ve got enough people trying to do that. I remember only too well what it’s like to feel awkward, ugly, left out, and like no one gives a damn about you.
But I can’t tell you how not to be a nerd, because I don’t know…and I’m not sure I’d tell you even if I knew. Because here’s what I do know:
High school (or, god forbid, middle school?) is not the best time of your life. Do not believe anyone who tells you it is, or that it should be. Life gets far better for nerds after high school in most cases. The adult world is much, much kinder to nerds than the adolescent world is.
Nerds are not superficial beings. What makes you a nerd isn’t on the surface, so there’s nothing you can do to yourself cosmetically that will make you not a nerd. Not makeup or prettier hair. Not better clothes, cuter shoes, or any amount of waxing or plucking. Not mani/pedicures, piercings or tattoos. Some of the most sexy and attractive people I know are still nerds. If you’re a nerd, you’re a nerd all the way through.
Nerds believe that knowledge matters, that information matters, and that truth matters. You might manage to hide or suppress that belief for social convenience, for a limited amount of time, but I doubt you can make yourself unbelieve it.
Nerds are passionate. Nerds are intensely interested in how the world works. Nerds thrive in places where bottomless passion is valued rather than scorned. Nerds care about the world around them.
Nerds tend to be very, very good at what they do, and doing something they love, because they do it for its own sake and not for what other people think. (And we don’t just do science or technology, but also all the arts and humanities, teaching, politics…anything that takes passion and attention to detail. Don’t let anyone try to push you into science or math just because you’re smart if that’s not what you want. I know dancers and actors who are Ivy League grads with higher SAT scores than me. You don’t owe anyone whatever use of your intelligence they happen to want from you.)
Nerds are in touch with their own inner lives.
Nerds never lose the ability to be amazed.
Nerds are genuine. Nerds aren’t ashamed to be sincere.
Nerds aren’t embarrassed to take things seriously, but also know how not to take themselves too seriously.
Because nerds aren’t addicted to popularity or social approval, they’re better at standing up for what’s right, and standing up for other people, even when it’s unpopular.
And in my experience with people, because nerds remember how hard it was to be young, they make nicer adults.
So to not be a nerd anymore, you’d have to somehow smother your curiosity, your sense of wonder, your joy for whatever it is that you love, your empathy, sincerity, and inclination to think for yourself. Now, you MIGHT be able to accomplish that–again, I wouldn’t know how–but my strong suspicion is that, much like the making of a Horcrux, it might seem like a cool idea from the outset, but the actual process would do such violence to the integrity of your soul that it would be soooo not worth it in the end.
Please reconsider? At least just give it some time. Because all the happiest people I know are the ones who have figured out how to accept themselves for who they truly are. And most of the very most wonderful people I know are nerds.
November 16, 2010
One of the latest video messages to have gone viral in the last few weeks’ public fight against anti-gay rhetoric is of openly gay 14-year-old Graeme Taylor speaking at a school board meeting in defense of a teacher who had apparently ejected from class two students who said that they “did not support gay individuals” during a discussion, on Anti-Bullying Day, that erupted after he’d asked another student to remove her Confederate flag belt buckle. The teacher was then suspended without pay for a day.
Sound like a First Amendment quagmire yet?
Graeme eloquently defends his former teacher, saying he was driven to a suicide attempt at age nine in large part by anti-gay slanders by classmates that long went accepted and unchallenged by teachers. The teacher says that he ejected the students for being disruptive, not for their stated opposition to supporting gay people, and I tend to believe him.
But…suppose that the students were telling the truth, that they only expressed their personal opposition to support for gays, calmly, non-threateningly and non-disruptively. Would their ejection have been a violation of their free speech rights? How should the teacher have handled the discussion?
Doesn’t the First Amendment protect even–especially–the most unpopular of speech?
Yes, I would say, IF the students in question merely expressed a position, as vile and unfortunate a position as I find it, then the teacher did wrong to punish them rather than guiding the conversation to a useful and potentially enlightening conclusion…even though he was right, doubtless in the eyes of some of his most vulnerable students, to oppose the sentiments as strongly as he was able to in the moment.
As much as I despise the opinion that gay people (or black people, Gypsies, Muslims, whoever) are morally inferior, in my understanding, the right of free speech applies equally to these sentiments. We don’t allocate the First Amendment’s protection based on the popularity of the content of the speech. So long as the speech does not constitute an explicit or implicit threat, well, people have the right to dislike whomever they dislike, whether or not their reasoning sucks.
But students also need to learn that the right of “free speech” does not mean the right of unchallenged or consequence-free speech, that just because their prejudice may be a religious belief doesn’t disallow opposition to it, and that if they choose to express their bigotry, they should expect to be strenuously challenged. Banning or punishing such speech (again, as long as it’s not actually a threat) will only give the bigots confirmation for their whine that they’re being oppressed by the fascist liberal homosexual agenda or something. Simply suppressing it doesn’t allow us to openly challenge it, to reveal its ugliness and violence for what it is, to discredit it with facts, or to show that the positions of acceptance and respect are stronger. Teachers are in an optimal position to do these things, and more importantly, to show their students how to do them.
Graeme Taylor has eloquence, grace, and self-possession of which I could only be passionately envious at his age; there will be no one more suited to take up the task than he will be. I’m sorry that he’ll have to. I shudder for his opponents to think of what he’ll be like to oppose in debate in a few years.