Well, in the even that you’ve forgotten, Generation X had a very good run between 1999 and 1999…
— X Saves the World, by Jeff Gordinier
Part of my intention is to reflect upon my own past in concurrence with this book and see how I fit or do not fit into the ethos that Gordinier is attempting to describe. So where was I in 1991?
I was finishing up my undergraduate degree at Eastern Michigan University, living in the honor’s dorm, Jones Hall. I remember the vague but persistent buzz of Nirvana’s music coming from somewhere in the dorm. As was (and perhaps still is) is my wont my first response to this new sound was mocking, or I suppose ironic (of course, right). I said that it sounded as if they, the band, were playing from the bottom of long, dark, dank drain, and wondered if the singer, Cobain, couldn’t really sing or was purposely doing “that.” Over time, though, the music, like a persistent dampness, seemed to seep into me and I loved it. Still do. Few songs affect (or is it effect?) the way Smells like Teen Spirit can, every time I hear it now. Later, still I recall going into the music store at the mall — this was after graduating and moving back home for a year before going to grad school — and the stacks of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden under a banner for the Seattle Sound or Grunge or something like that.
I was also introduced to the novel, Generation X, by Douglas. It was a gift from a friend. Ironically (because of course, being an Xer, I find irony in most everything; which begs the question, why say it? But let’s nevermind before I spin of into a pointless tangent as I am wont to do) it was the same friend who recently hipped me to X Saves the World. Of course, I’ve been rereading Coupland’s very cool novel these days.
That year 1991 was also marked by an event, I guess you’d call it, for lack of a better word, that I was mostly ignorant of at the time. And that was the beginning of the gradually but ultimate dissolution of the group of friends that I’d become part in my years at Eastern. For years after graduating we had little reunions and get-togethers but you know hot it goes. You get busy with work and family and other things. You make new friends…sort of. And so you tend to mostly lose touch. We’re all scattered about now, to New England and Ohio and Michigan and Idaho and Alaska. But, you know, in a way it’s more than just geographical distance. It’s just the way things are. However, recently we seem to be reconnecting, of course, via the web, by email and MySpace and Facebook and blogs etc. How typically Gen X, huh.
Anyway, before I get to wistful… I graduated in 1992 and spent a year working in a bookstore and reconnecting with my partying buddies from high school.
In 1993 I headed for graduate school in Kalamzoo and spent almost six years there, living the bohemian life of an English/Creative Writing grad student. It was cool. Lots of reading good books and hanging out in bars and pubs and at other people pads, drinking and smoking and talking and arguing about the books we’d read (or sometimes in my case only pretended to read — I carried on a twenty minute discussion on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein before being outed) about poetry and art and movies/films. I had roommates and we spent long hours talking about our lives and relationships blah blah blah and if it would be lame or not to audition for the latest round of The Real World. I was of the opinion that yes it would be but still considered it semi-seriously. And I was a teaching assistant (TA) while getting my MFA. And it was way cool to be up in front of a class of 20 younger people, feeding them what I knew, hoping I was getting through to them, actually getting through to them from time to time. Even inspiring one or two on ocassion.
In the midst of my grad school days, Kurt Cobain killed himself. I remember hearing the news on the radio. I was in my car, headed to my job at the bookstore in Maple Hill Mall (I had worked at the bookstore in another mall but the manager was a prick and I quit; but was fortunately allowed to transfer stores, but that is another story). I remember feeling kind of stunned and I just sat in my car, smoking cigarettes, waiting for further updates, but there was nothing really knew and I had to get to work. I was late as it was. Though it may not count for much, my connection with Nirvana, and Kurt Cobain specifically, was that he was born the same year as I was — 1967. Why that should matter I can’t really say? But it seemed to on some level. In any case, news of his death, though not devastating, was and to some extent remains a persistent sort of melancholy buzz in my consciousness… or whatever.
And then one day in the spring of 1998 I was packing up my car and heading back to Metro Detroit to move back in with my parents, temporarily of course, just until I got my barring, figured out what I was going to do because the break out novel and/or short story collection that I was supposed to produce, at least in part if not wholly, in graduate school somehow never really materialized, even though I got my degree and had a pretty high GPA, 3.8 or something like that. Besides the folks need work done around the house and I why couldn’t I do that, give back something to them. I could. I should. I wanted to. Until the day my old man made a flip comment about me not wanting a job.
1999: I take my first job in the corporate world, with a quickly expanding information publishing company that had just recently moved out of the city of Detroit and into one of those new office buildings in the outer suburbs, a building so uninspiring it made you want to cry. It made me want to cry, anyway. And suddenly those Dilbert comics were funny, but I couldn’t quite escape the feeling that I, and others, were laughing just so we wouldn’t weep. Suddenly, I was living in Douglas Coupland other novel, Microserfers, which I hadn’t actually gotten around to reading yet but when I finally did it was kind of painful in a way, but revealing and entertaining and just plain good.
I knew from the first day that corporate cubeland and I were and always would be disparate beings. I would never belong and never wanted to belong in corporate America. But you have to have a job, right? So I stayed.
For almost 4 mind-numbing, soul-sucking years, awash in a sucky septic swill of weekly team meetings and mangers who “just love my job” and cube decorating contests and secret santa games and email transition plans and udpated software training and team bounding exercises and budget meeting and more budget meeting and still more budget meeting and company picnics and ill-advised mass memos from idiot CEOs and on and on and on. Until the day I was summarily dismissed from my post. But despite the panic it induced because I had a family and a home with a mortgage and upkeep and repair costs and all that, despite the anger at the seeming injustice of it, at the rage that had to be bottled because there was no appropriate outlet,it proved to be one of the most liberating days of my life. The drive home had never been more of a relief. The sun had never seemed to shine so bright. The wind had never before smelled so sweet or felt so wonderful caressing my skin, blowing back my hair. I was free! I was fucking free. Oh fuck, I was free. Now what?
I didn’t know. All I knew was that it was a vastly different world. We had a letter for a president — W. And: 9/11 (what can be said that hasn’t already, just writing that date is enough, right). On the horizon: Iraq and WMD and …..you know.
Anyway. That’s where I was those years. Whether it means much, I have not a clue.