Stay Awake: stories

I haven’t written anything in awhile.  I had planned to write about my new job, working in an office that is an interesting mix of Gen X and Millennials, with a few Boomers thrown for good (or not…) measure, but that hasn’t really happened, now has it.

Yesterday, though, on my way home from work, I had to stop at the bookstore — Barnes and Noble because there are no more Borders (B-o-o H-o-o) — to by a copy of “Stay Awake,” a new collection of short stories by Dan Chaon.

I have been waiting for this book to come out ever since I first learned of it’s existence, which was some time ago, although how long exactly I can’t quite recall. No matter. It is here.

I have been following Mr. Chaon since his very first collection of short stories, “Fitting Ends,” was published in 1995 by Triquarterly Books.

I  was still a graduated student in the MFA program at Western Michigan University, hoping to be a writer of short stories myself some day. I must have come across this book at John Rollins bookstore in Portage, MI, right up Westnedge from Kalamazoo, where WMU is located. That was a great independent bookstore. But I’m not sure it exists anymore. A google search does not turn it up. <sigh>

Anyhoo…. I recall being so taken by the stories in “Fitting Ends” that I wrote to the publisher in hopes of contacting the author, Mr. Chaon. This was before it was so easy to track someone down via the internet. To my surprise, the publisher passed on my letter to Dan and he eventually wrote to me. For a time we exchanged letters and emails, which was a fresh technology at the time. Eventually, though, the correspondences ended and life moved on.

I remember I was in the Borders on Woodward in Birmingham, I’m pretty sure, when, scanning the shelves for something to read, I came across Dan’s second collection of short stories, “Among the Missing.”

I remember sitting and reading it but ultimately not buying, perhaps because it was in hardcover and I was a new father and concerned about money and therefore didn’t feel right about dropping that kind of cash on a book (huh, if only my ex had felt the same sense of fiscal responsibility when it came to her hair or clothes). But later I did buy it in paperback.

A few years later, not long after I started my job at the Baldwin Public Library, one of the hot fiction books at the time was Dan Chaon’s first novel, “You Remind Me of Me.”

I spent my early lunch hours absorbed in this exceptional novel.

And of course I was super duper excited when, years later, still working at the library, I saw that Dan’s new novel, “Await You Reply,” was to be released. I counted down the days until the book was available. And immediately devoured it once it was. Of course, because I was the main copy cataloger at the library I was the first one to get my hot little hands on this novel. I had the first hold.

In fact, I believe I wrote a blog spot about it.  Ah, yes. Here it is. In it I identify Dan Chaon as a GenX write, a label he agreed with, you’ll see in his reply to my post. Of course, I was tickled that he’d managed to find my meager little post on my meager little blog.

I remember being exceptionally fascinated with the premise of this novel, at least in part because it was about characters who “just walk away” from their life. I made a comparison to the movie “Grosse Pointe Blank” because it deals with the same sort of thing with John Cusack’s character, who had walked away from his life abruptly one day. I can’t help wondering now if that interested me so much because at the time I secretly wanted to walk away from the life I was living — the oppressively soul-crushing marriage to a narcissist part NOT the being the father to the sweetest little girl in the world part.

Anyhoo…. this brings us back to Mr. Chaon’s new collection of short stories, “Stay Awake,” which, after reading the first two stories, I am sure is going to be exceptional from beginning to end, and which is going to be on of my favored collections for years to come, if not eternity. Well, my eternity anyway. I wonder. What will my daughter do with all my books when I am gone? Will she just donate them? Toss them? Keep perhaps a few? I should probably discuss this matter with her at some point. But probably I should concentrate on getting her through middle school and adolescence and all of that first, hug.

These stories, so far, are hard stories. Harsh. In fact, there almost seem like horror stories in a way. Very grim. Unsettling. But I love them for that very quality. Unlike the  reviewer on amazon who didn’t like the collection because people suffer in it, because it troubled him. This is an attitude, frankly, that I don’t get. What do people want? Short stories are not TV shows; they are not meant to make you feel good so that you’ll be in a receptive mood for whatever advertising comes between portions of the show. But…everyone is entitled to his/her opinion….for good or ill.

What really struck me about the first two stories in the collection  — The Bees and Patrick Lane, Flabbergasted — was how for each main character there is this confusion between what is really happening and what is just a trick of the mind or perhaps a dream or even something else, something unexplainable, and how these worlds, real and imagined and otherwise, mash and mix together. It’s the kind of thing that I like to experiment with in my own writing from time to time, particularly in a longer piece (novella length) that I have been working on.

Having said all that, perhaps far too much at this point, I am eager to get back to the book now.

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Back to work

It’s been a busy month and a half.

Since the beginning of September I have taken two road trips. The first to Indiana to visit my brother and his family — daughter Addy came along on that one. The second was over Labor Day weekend to visit my relatives in West Virginia, a solo trip. Then I moved out of my apartment and back in with my folks. And, I collected my final unemployment check, not because my stipend had run out but because I started a new job. I was on unemployment for only 8 weeks. Don’t think I don’t know how lucky I am, especially when you consider all the people who have been out of work for months and and years, especially here in Michigan. I got lucky, I know it.

Speaking of my job, it is pretty cool. I’m not going to name the place, though. It’s an office job with all the Dilbert-esque accouterments that that entails, like cubes and copy machines and daily meetings, but the people are really cool. I like it there. Hey, we get free slushies (made from Faygo) and popcorn daily. Coffee too. This week’s slushy flavors are Lemonade and Rock n Rye. Last week it was Grape and Red Pop.

Recently JenX67 posted on her blog an entry that is, in part, about Generation X in the work place. My office is full of GenXers. I’d say mostly GenXers, from what I can gather. But there are plenty of Gen Yers/Millennials as well. In fact, my immediate supervisor is one. He’s maybe 24 or 25 years old. I heard someone ask him where he went to high school and he said Fitzgerald, graduated in 2006. I stood up at my cube and, speaking over the half-wall, said, “Hey. I went there.”

“What?” he said. “You taught there?”

I said, “No. I graduated from Fitz…twenty years before you did.” I graduated in 1986. He laughed.

My supervisor is very cool, very hip. And very good at his job. I like him a lot. I was asked by someone if it bothered me to be “taking orders” from someone so much younger than myself. But you know, it doesn’t. I could really care less. I’m there to work and to learn and he has plenty to teach, so my ears are wide open. You know, I think I’d rather have this young guy than some aging Babyboomer. At least with my boss I don’t have to listen to droning nostalgia about the 60s or The Beatles or anything like that. My boss digs JZ.

In my immediate area there a few other  GenXers. And few a Gen Yers as well.

The other day 0ur supervisor, in response to something someone else said, replied, “Awesome blossom.” He said he didn’t know why he said it.

I asked him if he was referring to the 80s TV show “Blossom.” The other GenXer’s near me just laughed and said that could not possibly be the case, he, our boss, was way too young. I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. Although strangely enough he was singing that Sade “Smooth Operator” today. So….

Maybe this is an opportunity to blog about GenX in the workplace. Gen Y too for that matter. We’ll see. I’ll be working long hours soon, 10 to 12 hours a day some day. This new schedule means I don’t see my daughter as much. She stays with her mom more, not an ideal situation or one that I want but one has to do what one has to do. Addy and I will just have to make the time we do have together count.

GenX parents v. teachers

Courtesy JenX67, here are a couple of really great advice/informational article for teachers re: GenX parents.

The first one is by a GenX mom who fully admits to stealth-parenting, which is so much cooler a label (I mean if you have to have one) than helicopter parenting, which was/is a Boomer thing.

Here’s a taste (i.e. quote from the article):

“They’ll go over your head if they don’t get the results they want from you,” says Anita Thomas, who taught science in a public school in Beaufort, South Carolina. That makes sense, says Lisa Chamberlain, author of Slackonomics: Generation X in the Age of Creative Destruction. “Anything that smacks of bureaucratic red tape or protocol is an irritant,” she explains. “We had to fend for ourselves, which is great if you’re an entrepreneur, but not when you’re a parent.”


The second is by generational guru Neil Howe:

Many Gen-X parents acquire a surprising degree of (self-taught) expertise about teaching methods and will bring stacks of Web printouts into meetings with teachers. A quip often used by former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings (herself a late-wave Boomer, born in 1957) speaks to many Gen-X parents: “In God we trust. All others bring data.”

This local, pragmatic, bottom-line perspective certainly contrasts with the more global, idealistic and aspirational perspective of Boomers. It has driven the rapid growth of parent-teacher organizations that opt out of any affiliation to the National Parent Teacher Association. According to many younger parents, the PTA is simply too large, too inflexible, too politically correct and too deferential to the educational establishment.

GenX in recession

What is a recent Washington Post article (which I was hipped to by The Gen X Files blog) saying about GenXer attitudes in light of the current recession?

They’re antsy and edgy, tired of waiting for promotion opportunities at work as their elders put off retirement.

Huh. Doesn’t sound all that different than before the recession or during the last recession or before that one too. But there is something that’s different compared to when GenX workers were the age that Millennials are now. And that is this:

A good number of them are just waiting for the economy to pick up so they can hop to the next job, find something more fulfilling and get what they think they deserve. Oh, and they want work-life balance, too.

That’s right. Screw loyalty! To any company anyway. Because we’ve learned the hard way that such loyalty will get you nothing in the end.

I learned it long before I entered the work force, when I was witness to General Motors attempts to force my father out of his job as an engineer before he was ready. He worked for GM for 35 years but that mattered little because it was cheaper to higher a younger person who would work for less.  I say attempts because my old man is stubborn as hell and he wouldn’t budge until he got a good retirement package, even when they demoted him to a basically a data entry clerk. Of course, years later GM reneged on their deal to provide health coverage to my father and mother for the rest of their lives.

I learned it again when, in my first foray into the corporate world, I (along with others) was booted in order to balance a budget. Of course, it wasn’t put that way but it didn’t need to be said.

More recently, I learned that there is no loyalty in the economic world when CitiCard arbitrarily hiked my APR from 12.24% to 17.99%. No real reason was given for this increase, although later I was reminded of the bill that goes into effect in Feb. 2010 that cracks down on the credit card companies; they’re all uping their rates before that law goes into effect. Fuckers! And it didn’t matter that I’d had a CitiCard for 17 years, that I’ve always paid my bill on time, that my wife also has a CitiCard, that our mortgage is through CitiBank or Citigroup or whatever the fuck they call themselves. And this is a company that was given government bailout funds.

But enough ranting. Because this whole situation has me wondering. What will come of GenXers being put out of work and not being afford the oppor5tunity to return to the same level again. Perhaps a resurgence in creative endeavors, not just technology-driven but in terms of  art and Literature, music and movies, poetry etc. Certainly family cohesiveness will become stronger. Which is to say, as the article notes, Generation X is tought, resiliant, creative, and we’ve been here before. So bring it!

Funny. I don’t feel middle-aged.

JenX67 hipped me to another cool GenX article. Is it just me or do these pieces seem to be on the rise. I wouldn’t be a GenXer if I didn’t think that that was not entirely a good thing.

This quote from the article by Howe, particular struck me.

“Xers got noticed with a lot of talk about slackers and dysfunction and basically this image of an under-socialized, somewhat wild generation of hardened kids who took pride in their resilience, their individualism, their cynicism [and being] very much outside the system,” he says. “They didn’t vote, they didn’t take part in community affairs, they dressed dark.”

Because, though I’ve always voted, I’ve never really relished being “involved.”  When I did it was reluctantly. I didn’t want to cover the 1988 Presidential Election between Bush and Dukakias. I had to for my community college newspaper class.  And I didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity. I could have been a stringer for local papers on election night. I could have taken the initiative to write more articles beyond what I was assigned, even just a first person young journalist’s experience deal. But I didn’t. In fact, I pretty much purposely avoided making this work for me. I wanted to be a fiction writer,  not that being a journalist would have prevented that necessarily, in fact it probably would have helped it. But that would have required getting involved in some overt way. Of course, now I regret not pursuing such advantages, most days anyway.  Some days, though, I really don’t give a shit, and actually wished that I’d never gotten as involved as I have at times in politics and community issues, which isn’t all that much. It’s just an exercise in futility if you ask me.

As I commented on JenX67’s blog, often my fav part of these kinds of articles is the snarky back and forth in the comments section. For example:

Tossed Salad,  Monday, Sep 28, 2009

Aww. Feeling a little long in the tooth are we. The most pretentious, narcissistic group ever. The “me” generation. Well welcome to the world of failing eyesight and colostomy bags. Couldn’t happen to a nicer group. Schadenfreude. Oh and Farrah Fawcett was not a Gen X icon

Clearly a pissy Boomer that resents not being the young hip generation anymore. GenX may have turned 40 fuck-o but we’re cooler about it then the boomers ever could be. You all try to hard. You still are. You can claim that 60 is the new 40 or whatever ,but the fact is the Woodstock aniversary was pathetic. And btw, Farrah Fawcett was a GenX icon. She may not have been one herself but she was a major pop culture icon for GenXers, and NOT Boomers.

This GenXer give TS what for:

JETSOLVER,  Monday, Sep 28, 2009

Tossed Salad; There is little funnier than a Boomer telling us that they gave us everything that we have in life, and then asking us to give it all back. The Boomers still can’t accept the laws of evolution, and its starting to get old…

Of course, even GenX  has it’s knuckle heads. Such as this person:

Denis Pakkala,  Monday, Sep 28, 2009

What a ridiculous article, comparing Tony Hawk to a typical GenXer. Must have been written by another old fool, who doesn’t understand why today’s young people don’t have any resect for their elders. GenXer’s are waiting for the Boomers to move over and let us clean up the mess that you’ve made.

Tony Hawke is the epitomey of GenX. How you cannot see that is….baffling.

This person can just bite me, because GenJone is bullshit:

Mary5000,  Monday, Sep 28, 2009

But this article leaves out a whole generation–Generation Jones (born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and GenXers). Further, 1961 is certainly not the usual year used to start GenX…most real experts start GenX in the mid-1960s. The Associated Press’ Annual Trend Report chose The Rise of Generation Jones as its top trend of 2009, and many top media outlets now regularly use the GenJones term.

GenJones is cleary a device created by Boomer to further deflate GenX’s numbers, as if we weren’t small enough as it is.

This commenter I thin captures the essence of the current GenX ethos:

Conrad White,  Monday, Sep 28, 2009

I’m a GenXer and wish some of those fat contented Boomers would get out of my way. Large companies, law firms, banks, accounting firms are all run by Boomers who have enjoyed sr. mgmt positions and hi comp for an extraordinarily long time. Big houses in great neighbourhoods, kids in private schools, vacation properties and 7-figure RRSPs. Sweet. I am weary of following Boomers. What other generation would have seen the need to invent Viagra?

You know, people are always dismissing generational studies and yet emotion run high and opinions are strong in regards to it. So suck on that!

millennials in the classroom…

…as teachers, not as students.

Just returned from curriculum night for my daughter’s third grade class and her teacher is 25, 26 tops. I wasn’t entirely surprised, because I’d heard she was young, but still… Made me feel more than a little old, which I guess I sort of am.

What really stunned me is the amount of technology that my daughter will be utilizing this year. We’re talking a class Wiki, PowerPoint, flashdrives, email, blogging, something called Moodle that allows students to work online, flip vid cams and digital cams, etc. Blew my mind. By the time my daughter’s done with third grade she’ll be more tech savvy then I am, which isn’t saying much, but still…for her age. At one point I commented on how, when i was in school, I thought it was a big deal that we had Texas Instrument red LED calculators.

HP-35-Calculator

Talk about hi-tech, eh.

Of course, it’s necessary. Kids have to be able to do all this stuff and be able to adapt to new technology as it comes up. And a Millennial generation teacher is perfect to teach that stuff. Just to reinforce how much of a Millennial this teacher is — she said to contact her email, because she never checks her voicemail, hasn’t in years. Voicemail is so Boomer, because they’re so chat chat chatty.

Addy will need to improve her typing skills, though. At some point that hunt peck mode ain’t gonna cut it.

Very pleased, with the teacher and the curriculum. Gonna be a great year, I think.

Where was NPR when things sucked for Generation X?

That’s what I want to know.

Today on NPR there was a discussion show — probabl Talk of the Nation, but I don’t know for sure — that was addressing the difficulties that  recent college grads where facing as the enter the lousy job market, which of course is wothy topic of discusion, but I couldn’t help wondering where the hell was NPR (which is, come on let’s be  honest, a Boomer dominated news sourc) when things sucked for Generation X?

I’m not saying they didn’t address it. Maybe they did and I just missed it. I wouldn’t be surprised, since I was too much of a slacker to tune into NPR most of the time. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that no such discussion every took place on NPR. Furthermore, I would not be surprised to learn that GenX slackerdom and cynicism was a topic of discussion. Would anyone care to confirm or deny?

I wonder if Mellinnials appreicate the attenion they’re recieving. Considering all they’ve ever receieved is attention, I’m guessing not really. Besides they’re no doubt too busy being upbeat about the situation.