English Class

It was the early 90s and Mr. Haviland seemed straight out of a different era. While many of us wore baseball caps with t-shirts and jeans, this guy had an actual suit on — with posture and diction to match. He’d often refer to us as Mister or Miss so-and-so — always proper and always polite. Although he wasn’t physically intimidating, his demeanor demanded respect.

A teacher from a bygone age acting his part. We students acted our part too, a listless bunch that didn’t care. We weren’t unique in our disposition of course, we simply expressed it in a manner appropriate to the times we were in. Skateboards, metal-bands, and ridiculing “try-hards” (people that actually cared and tried to do well). Think Beavis and Butt-Head.

While Mr. Haviland proceeded on his anachronistic course, we proceeded on ours — a civil exchange nonetheless. At this point, you’re probably waiting to hear a poignant anecdote. Unfortunately, I don’t have one. I’m not a storyteller. I mention all this simply to remember an interesting character I once knew. I’ve always been in awe at how well he performed his role.

He seemed to enjoy who he was and never varied, a polished professional. I was a freshman when he was my teacher but our paths last crossed in study-hall when he was the teacher-in-charge — taking attendance and doing whatever teachers did (grading papers I’d assume). I never saw him after that. I heard he retired not too many years later, having worked there for a few decades.

In life, there are those that relish their well-defined roles and there are those that avoid being pinned-down by labels. But are those living as nonconformists simply acting out the role of “contrarian” in their wholesale rejection of the status quo? Instead of some “square” that sold his soul to the system, perhaps Mr. Haviland was the most Zen-like of us all.

Can of War

There I was, just a kid, but I was in the middle of a war. Coke? Pepsi? I took part in the taste-tests. Look, you weren’t there! We had to pick a side! There I was, unmarked cups in front of me. I didn’t want to look greedy so I took just a small sip of each, I could barely taste the warm sweet liquid as the proctor stared impatiently. My pick was essentially random. I think I picked Coke? In some ways it didn’t matter. In some ways I suppose I lost some of myself that day. It was the Cola Wars.

Coke, the classic conservative, choice of the old generation versus Pepsi the progressive, the choice of a new generation. The new kid on the block challenging the champ. Being the age I was, I wanted Pepsi. I was that new generation. But we were lied to, man! Over some sugar water!? The things I did. The things I saw. There were even times when I had cola for breakfast, right alongside my Cap’n Crunch cereal. It was a different time back then, life was cheap, soda was cheaper.

I’ve got the battle scars to prove it. Brittle bones, yellowed teeth, war is hell. And the indoctrination, oh the mind-control we were under. Our eyes were glued to the tele-screens as they beamed in ad after ad telling us what to drink in every insidious way they could. You think he was called the King of Pop solely because of his domination over pop-music? Pop is also another name for cola. I saw the footage of that tragic Pepsi commercial, and the King of Pop was changed after that. The war affected us all.

No, I don’t touch the stuff anymore. Well maybe a sip for old-times sake every few years, but I don’t enjoy it. The taste no longer suits me. I guess without the stream of ads flowing into my brain, the flavor can’t stand on its own. Or maybe I’m just bitter. We were so young, man. Caught in the middle of a fight we didn’t want. We had no choice. What were we gonna drink? Ginger Ale? Dr Pepper? Tab? Water? That sh*t wouldn’t fly.

We did what we had to, and when it came down to it, we drank whatever cola the restaurant had on tap. None of it mattered. The war wasn’t one cola versus another, it was cola versus us — and we lost.

Exiting an Era

An excerpt from the fictional tales of Solve For X.
Life from the perspective of Generation X.

Truth be told, many of us hated the lives our parents led. We wanted nothing to do with the confinement it promised. They worked as drones for decades to delay enjoyment of life until their eventual retirement. Long-term corporate careers and pensions seemed like indentured servitude to us. Neck-ties were the leash by which corporate masters towed their underlings along.

Many of us despised the oppressive conformity of schools. The factory-like setting of indoctrination and rote memorization. Many saw these institutions as prisons constructed to house the bodies and minds of upcoming generations, actively crushing their creativity. And factional warfare amongst the uninspired prison-populace made it a miserable place from all angles.

The jobs we were offered were a mere handful of lackluster options, each more soul-sucking than the next. Accountant? Lawyer? Salesman? Cubicle dweller? Cashier? And for what? Certainly not for personal fulfillment, but merely a paycheck to maintain a preapproved lifestyle. Our role-models became those that rejected this false facade of a well-ordered society.

And that way of life has been crumbling apart for a while now. It would be hypocritical of us to lament such an event. We should be smiling as video-game playing has become a prominent career path. See mom, it wasn’t a waste of time. Yes there’s going to be bumps along the way, many will go without and see dreams unfulfilled. But this has been the case throughout all ages.

It’s funny to see some from younger generations glorify the life of that generation. At that time entire towns dedicated themselves to factory life — everyday the same. Yes, those particular places have been gutted and yes the transition could have been less cruel — but change comes with a price, sometimes steep — we must look forward though and assume the bigger picture is better.

Many of my generation are so used to perceiving the worst of our surroundings because we witnessed the end of an era. But now is the dawning of a new way of life, so we must shed our pessimism and embrace this newness. And as we go through this transformation, let’s not fight for scraps and cling to what never really worked — let’s help one another up, progressing along this path together.

Unknown Variable

An excerpt from the fictional tales of Solve For X.

We were at war with adults. Parents, teachers, the government, corporations — every adult was suspect. Our movies, our music, our way of life all said we were on our own.

Through the Vietnam conflict we saw the young shipped off to die. We viewed the government as a corrupted enemy of the people. The war on drugs was a war on us. We saw corporations sell our livelihoods out from under us, the lifestyles our parents enjoyed were shipped overseas. We weren’t the consumer, but the consumed. Our cities became post-apocalyptic crime-ridden cesspools. This was the world we inherited. And so we were aptly named, Generation X, the unknown variable.

But what would we become, this angsty skeptical generation of loners fending for themselves. We have no unity, no loyalties, no voice, no power, forgotten between two giant generations. But in our undefined state we find definition, a world weary wanderer seeking a peaceful home. As a disenfranchised generation longing to fit in, we seek comfort and calm within a turbulent world.

And so we, the generation left to its own devices, raise our children with an attentive eye. No tear goes unwiped, we nurse, we hug, we discipline with care. We provide our children the warmth we lacked. We stumble of course, being a gruff and grumpy group, but from our failings we try harder, obsessed with not repeating the ways of our parents.

Blessed are the peacemakers, so we will find our place in this world. Still the middle child, we have yet to bloom into full maturity. We are needy for love, and with nothing to lose we are willing to give every bit of ourselves to find it. Through our tribulations we’re adding resiliency to our brittle toughness. Our part in this equation has only begun.