Cultural Compass (part 4: Adultolescents & Exaggeration)

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald

What is beyond insane? Is this *literally* the worst day of your life? Would you do anything for a Dr. Pepper?

My parents gave me my first cell phone at the beginning of high school. To kids today, this sounds oppressively old fashioned (I can already hear my future children clamoring for a device). Anyhow, I recorded my first voicemail greeting that said something like, “Hey! You’ve reached Claire’s cell. Leave a message and I’ll call you back. Love you!”

My parents were disturbed. They sat me down and told me they were very disappointed in me. I didn’t understand. I was a good student and never snuck out of the house. They told me I didn’t, in fact, love everyone who might call, and I was to change my greeting immediately. I agreed, but didn’t really get it. I totally love all my friends and want them to know all the time! My parents will never understand me

Right, so that’s what my parents were afraid of–my overuse and/or misuse of “love” devaluing the actual meaning. But hold on, Rhianna wants (and so do you!) to be made to feel like she’s the ONLY girl in the world. Bruno Mars caught a grenade for me! I admit, I’m a little late to this party, but now that I’m here, I’m going to open the bottle I brought and pour myself a glass.

Perhaps we are “a generation that is scared of commitment, linguistically deferring reality.” Maybe we’re all cry babies conditioned to understand that the louder we wail, the more attention we get. And, if that’s not enough, there’s a whole generation of 30 going on 13’s, or adultolescents that are now the editors (more in tune with being the interns) and the lawyers (more fit to be freshmen at the frat party).

It all seemed so real and true to me when I was 14 and composing my emo away messages on AIM. The intensity of emotions and increased excitement of adolescence is expected. This prolonged adolescence, however, is starting to look a lot like sensation addiction. The emotional exaggeration that has become a stylistic emblem of our society is scary.

Sensation addiction is not new. We anticipate the hedonic impact of certain actions and behaviors (AIM away messages grew up with us to become play-by-play Facebook updates about your baby or broken leg). At some point, we get desensitized to the dose and the next hit isn’t too hard to find. We don’t just need it, we deserve it.

In the end, though, how will we tell what extreme emotion is–good or bad–if everything is expected to be exaggerated? How can I tell if you’re interested or if you’re feigning because that’s what we feed Facebook? Being “thrilled” these days is just as good as my perky wedding planner’s e-mail template. Tragedy is just as good as the emoji with the long stream of tears.

I’m waiting for the reality check.


Cultural Compass (part 3: Faigy Mayer & The Extinction of Adults)

A week ago, Faigy Mayer committed suicide…and immediately started trending. I picked through the articles that were posted in my newsfeed. No shred of fact seemed to be shared by anyone about her “tortured” life or “shocking” death. Instead of launching a discussion about mental illness in young adults and support for the suicidal, we strip mined the girl’s social media accounts for sentimental images and meager meanings of her final days–all but calling her a hero.

I don’t care if she had a boyfriend. I don’t want to know what her tragic last Tweet read. I don’t agree that she exemplified “bravery.” Perhaps what she did was radical for her community, but on some level, she did what I consider that most people are expected to do in order to achieve adulthood: establish your own value system, make choices for yourself along those lines, and stop needing permission approval from your parents.

Yes, the process of individuation can be emotional. Sometimes it can even be painful. Nobody said it was easy, but it’s the very notion that it should be that scares me about my generation, in particular. Nobody held Ms. Mayer accountable for taking her own life. This wasn’t a murder. She made her choices and couldn’t live with them. Am I to teach my children that this is the definition of courage?

At the opening, I called Ms. Mayer a girl, but in fact, she was 30. (According to the Jewish law she so desperately tried to escape, she had been a woman for more of her life than not). A recent study of Millennials coming into adulthood, “Mission: Adulthood,” examines a number of Gen Y-ers coming of age and “transforming” this process.

One of Seligson’s subjects, (liberal arts educated, unencumbered by student loans) Lizzie, said in an interview with Huffington Post in 2012 that she felt “like” one of the major hurdles she faced in achieving adulthood was “figuring out all of the things they didn’t teach me.” Am I to believe that this is an argument against the “unfair” portrayal of the Millennial as “entitled”? Nobody held a gun up to her head and made her major in Fine Arts.

Seligson goes on to talk about this phase–one’s 20’s–as being “hugely confusing and disorienting,” and that it’s natural and important to be searching, trying to figure out what you “want to do with your life.” The author, herself, admitted that, even at 30, she doesn’t identify as being an adult. I’m horrified by this championing of extended adolescence–this insistence that life is about amusing ourselves, avoiding pain, and shirking responsibility for our choices and actions.

Faigy Mayer’s death is upsetting–it’s unnatural to bury your child. I wouldn’t call it tragic. In fact, to call it tragic dilutes the pain and sorrow of real tragedy, which is so insensitive and insulting to those who have actually suffered real sorrow and survived horrors. I’m sure she was distressed and confused, but I refuse to call it torture. I’m disappointed in my generation that at 30 years old, we are so willing and happy to blame our parents, the last generation of adults, for what we weren’t given instead of going out and getting it for ourselves. I fear for the time when the last of our parents will die and we’re left only with the myth of the anchor of adulthood.

Cultural Compass (part 2: SJWs & The Shame Game)

I have studied the SJW in and out of the classroom. I went to school in Boston and majored in Sociology. I now live in New York City where they run rampant ruining perfectly good picnics and dinner parties. I’d rather people point fingers fists at me than tell me, “check your privilege.”

There is no weight to those words. If you’ve ever found yourself saying that, stop. All you’ve done is expose your pious argument as unsound. You’re invoking guilt and doling out blame instead of coming up with and then communicating your own argument. I’ve got some advice for you: breathe deeply, come to terms with your insignificance, and tell me why you disagree.

Oh? You can’t? What’s that? It would be too draining to bother?

Guess what? You are a hypocrite. You are playing into the very system you’re trying to break: shame. You’re attempting to humiliate or at least humble someone who’s obviously done the misdeed of disagreeing with you. Unwilling to develop yourself through an intelligent debate over an uncomfortable issue exemplifies your intolerance (not to mention your inability to make meaning of and control your feelings, thoughts).

It’s ok to get angry or be vulnerable. The main criticism I have with SJWs is this collective disengagement and denial of the responsibility of feeling negative emotion, owning it and its accompanying actions, and tolerating the uncomfortable. All lines of communication are nuked. I find it terrifying that the immediate defensiveness behind “check your privilege” kills any discussion. No change, be it social or not, can be made in the face of such unwillingness to share experience and thus expand perception.

Political correctness is toxic in the classroom and pollutes our society. Offensive defense is crumbling the edifice of education and silencing the otherwise inquisitive and adventurous. I fail to see where this morality movement–or narcissism disguised as nobility–is producing any tangible impact on making the world a better place or enlightening our kin and country. (“But it’s really about raising awareness!”) It’s dusting off the blame and repurposing the fear.

Maybe what you meant was, “please try to be empathetic.” What you actually said was, “just shut up, your opinion isn’t worthy because you belong to group X.” We’ve strapped ourselves into social straitjackets and wriggle around in a worldwide one-uppance of shame survival.

Oops, was that too triggering?

On Being a “Writer” (part 13: Blogging & Bildungsroman)

I am a writer.

That’s what I tell people at dinner parties, while shaking hands with strangers on the street, across noisy tables of new friends. I like to let people think what they want about that.

There is a reason I don’t say, “I am a blogger.”

To dissect my self-loathing for a second, I hold a special contempt for the word “blog” (short for weblog). It is the product of lazy internet-speak that pollutes our culture, strangles our shapchatting children, and will topple our civilization. Phew. 

Some people ask, “What kind of writer are you?” mostly to understand how it makes me any money.

Before my peers were considering college, I was circulating the writing workshops studying under Poet Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners. I confidently commanded my art, as perhaps only a young artist can. I believed my art made me immortal. There was some magic in the portrait of myself at that age: an unscorned artist.

I started college and immediately advanced to senior seminars, studying poetry under the head of the department. I applied for honors thesis, awaiting my acceptance. I never considered rejection.

I was told I was immensely talented, that I “was not without support.” However, I hadn’t fulfilled the introductory requirements at the University, nor had I displayed maturity and variety through diversifying my coursework throughout the department. Heartbreakingly and haughtily, I hadn’t needed to take 101 and I had already specialized in poetry, given my experience before Brandeis.

Competition, canon, and criticism turned my Truth to torment.

I had long since rejected the regeneration of the tender part of me that made me an Artist. Maybe blogging isn’t directly the vein that brings me back, but it gets me writing. As an adult I realize that it’s not just me alone with my lightning. I carry the weight of the lessons from those who put intellectual energy into me and my art.

I recently learned of the death of one of my favorite poetry professors, Franz Wright. He helped me grow–delicate and direct all at once. We would share space and cigarettes during the break in workshop. My best memory of him was when he taught me how to be a kinder critic. He died of lung cancer in May.

We sit there
the mountain
and me, Li Po
said, until only the mountain

-from “Beginning Again” by Franz Wright

More from Franz Wright below: