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Monday, February 22, 2016

In Defense of The Kids These Days and In Praise of Girl Waits with Gun

Mr. Hopper was breathing in that way that large men breathed, as if fueled by a boiler room instead of a pair of lungs. - Amy Stewart, Girl Waits with Gun
I'd be surprised if any criticisms you may have come up with on this journey that is my blog haven't already occurred to me. "Tonally inconsistent," you may say. "Sometimes he starts out with joke and then rapidly transitions into something very serious. I feel like he's maybe crazy, and by extension, maybe all of us are. What even is normal"


"It seems like he just writes something down without any pre-planned idea and spends very little time reading it through and editing it for clarity. Like, did he even know where it was going to end up when he started?"

Answer: often I do not.

"Lately it's just been a soapbox for political views, and also he's been repeating himself. Like, I get it. Guys are jerks."

Point taken. To be fair, though, sometimes we are.

And let's not even start with my tendency to include rambling, run-on sentences. Nor should it surprise you that I'm aware that my over-wrought metaphors for the sake of comedy sometimes fall flat. The problem is that they are just so fun to write, you guys.

And, as always, there's this question: "Why does he even do it?"

That, my friends, is a question with no answer. Truth be told. I don't know.

I do know that here I am again reporting dutifully on a book few of you will read. The problem is that this time I don't really have any point. Usually these posts reflect whatever my current obsession is, but right now I'm a little adrift. Maybe this means I'm more or less content with my life, and not looking for a material possession or additional cause to embrace. Maybe the local cold temperature and air pollution has put me into survival mode where it's just enough to get through the day and back to bed at night
A little peek into Howie's process: these posts usually get written two weeks in advance.
So while I know that it's nice and sunny now, this is where it was then.
Oh my gosh, I think I have something to talk about. Friggin millennials! Aren't they just the worst? Like, they don't care about anything except when they care too much about Bernie to the exclusion of Hilary even though she's a woman and a lot of millennials are women (roughly 50% is my uneducated guess) but they don't want to be scolded by old people like me! They do want to be scolded by an old person like Bernie! Also they don't care what I think about a lot of things! 

Here I am, a very hip, mostly bald man with very little real-life power and these young kids aren't hanging on my every word. This is certainly disrespectful. They spend all of their time staring at smartphones, I'm told. The only reason I know is that there are lots of articles and memes about this behavior that I read on my smartphone.

 Millennials are all liberals who have no moral compass. Especially the ones who are fighting on college campuses to make the space safe for people who may not look the same as them. This is definitely immoral. They just want to have lots of premarital sex (statistically less than my generation, though) and drink lots of alcohol (not as much as my generation, but still), and smoke that ganja (of the three things I listed easily the safest and least detrimental to society and probably nobody still calls it 'ganja').

These kids are obsessed with political correctness! It's all PC this and PC that. Like, we should be aware of marginalized groups whose feelings have historically been ignored now. Who is speaking up for the majority, though? That's what I want to know. Like, now it's bad when a football team's name is a racial slur, but then who speaks up for the fraternity that decorates their basement with topless photos of women they've raped? Don't they have feelings, too? Universities are supposed to be a place where one's philosophies (and safety) are challenged! Now they have to be responsible for our feelings (and safety) as well? Nonsense, I say. (In this case "I" represents a satirical straw-man I've invented to make fun of the complex discussion regarding the ever-changing landscape of the American university system.)

I know. I've talked about this before. I've given many statistics expressing optimism for the future and saying how the younger generation of people are actually amazing and awe-inspiring. This time I thought I'd leave the statistics at home and instead just give some anecdotal stories of my own.

(If you'd like to see the numbers, though, here's a fun tool where you can put in the year you were born and see how much better teens are than you.)

In the last year or so I've been volunteering in a few different capacities. And I discovered something I was previously unaware of, having studied, like, traditional science. Sciency science. Neil Degrasse-Tyson Science (NDTS). The stuff where the answers stay the same for hundreds of years. And where women were very instrumental but we didn't find out about any of them until like last week.

I didn't know much about the social sciences. I guess when you're studying social science you need to put in some volunteer hours in something related to your career to, like, graduate. So in my volunteer training and day-to-day do-goodedness I encounter a lot of college students who are literally babies. I was in a training recently where a young man sighed when he said he "graduated in 2007. I'm an old man."

Here are the kinds of people I encounter: roller-derby girls with purple hair who also serves in her ward's Relief Society Presidency, first generation immigrants from all over the dang world, people studying to be cops, nurses, and firefighters. A guy who grew up in dangerous slums as a victim of abuse now studying to be a police officer, and also the blondest, sweetest, Mormoniest BYU coeds you've ever met who also happen to be survivors of abuse and just will not let it happen to someone else.

They are Republicans and Democrats and Socialists and Libertarians. They come from very wealthy families. Poor families. Broken families. No families. They have parents who are educated and wealthy as well as humble parents who are proud of the family's first college student. They have soldier brothers. They have lost friends to suicide and been a lifeline to talk others out of it. They are punctual, respectful, and aware. They're good listeners. They're aware of their privilege, and know about and hurt for others who are suffering. They stare right in the face of the worst of humanity and say "how can I help?" And yes, they check their phones during breaks, but otherwise seem completely in control of their devices (more than people my age, I've noticed).

I know that my experience is with a very select subsection of young people, and if I were a counselor for juvenile delinquents, I would have a different experience. Though, from talking to counselors for juvenile delinquents, I don't know if I'm that far off. Those guys say that they're basically good kids, too. In short, I'm very excited to see what they do with the world. Honestly, I just want to stay out of their way.

In Girl Waits with Gun, Amy Stewart introduces us to Constance Kopp, a real-life person from history whose mention in local papers in 1914 caught Stewart's attention. The fictional account based on news articles of the day follows Constance, whose incident between a fancy new motorcar and her old buggy turns eventually into a harassment campaign by a spoiled dye factory manager against her and her sisters.
"How do three girls manage the running of a household on their own? Is there not uncle
some other male relation who could take you in?"
"Haven't any of you received a proposal of marriage in all these years?" 
They have not. Constance, Norma, and Fleurette were raised in a household where fear of the outside world pervaded. Sixteen-year-old Fleurette is a constant source of worry to the older sisters. She's imaginative, gregarious, talented, and beautiful. And unless they manage to marry her off young, this is a recipe for disaster. In a day when the papers are filled with young women being sold into "white slavery," it's understandable that Constance and Norma worry about her. To pragmatic and traditional Norma, she seems especially glib, flighty, and unaware of the dangers of the world.

Constance surprises herself consistently as she leaves her comfort zone. In her fight to first demand restitution for damages and later to protect her family, she steps out of societal roles for a single woman in her mid-thirties. But it's Fleurette's idealism and morality that pushes Constance to extend her fight to help someone else in need. Someone who has also been tormented by the same man.

Constance, who is tall and physically strong, as well as having more standing in society, takes Fleurette's energy and turns it into something miraculous for another woman with no power and no hope. Constance's young sister is, to a certain extent, her conscience. What if instead of complaining about younger people, we listened to them? Like, maybe not Miley Cyrus (though I think among her antics she's raised some very interesting discussions), but what about Emma Watson? Or Malala Yousafzi?

I'm getting into more and more situations where I'm the oldest person in the room. This began to happen when I was a perennial seasonal field worker in the biology world, where I was crew lead among a revolving door of fresh-faced college students. And has become even more dramatic as I volunteer. I'm also sometimes the one in the room who is too pragmatic or "realistic."

This can go for all sides of the political sphere (guys I know spheres don't have sides). I'll talk about my experience, though. I guess I'll tip my hat here, but I like Hilary. A lot. I think what she is promising is feasible and one of the most qualified people in the country to be in charge. I think in some ways it's hilarious that she's the "establishment" candidate, when her simple existence is a revolution. But there it is. And sometimes I'm feeling too tired for this new revolution (the one with a white guy at the head) and would rather sit in my easy chair with an afghan on my knees. Checking in with 20-something me, though, I see that I voted for Ralph Nader when I was in college. While I certainly preferred John Kerry over more George W. Bush, I wanted someone I saw as more authentic. It was more important that my vote matter than actually count, if that makes any sense.

A lot of young Republicans feel the same way. Part of the reason the primary looks like such a dumpster fire is because people are sick of being told who to vote for by people who look like their parents' boring friends. From the outside this looks like reckless idealism. When you're right in there, though, doing something great with these brand-new adults and watching them just get in there and be rad? It's hard not to get psyched.

I get these kids, and I don't want to be the one telling them that their dreams are unrealistic, because what do I know? Every day teens and 20-somethings are changing the dang world. Instead of trying to be an elder source of wisdom, maybe I can use the legitimacy that comes from being a dad, a professional, and a bald man, and maybe give those lil' dreams a boost, you know? I don't know. Maybe. I hope so.

Brief aside for any millennials reading this, though. I'm just about to post this and the Democratic Nevada primary just happened. And in spite of this being the beginning of some kind of revolution, there were significantly less people participating in the primary than in 2008. I don't care who you were going to vote for, if you don't participate in the political system and instead just spend your days posting facts and memes on Facebook and Twitter but stay home on voting day, then nothing new is going to happen. I think you guys are so awesome and have so much potential, but on this one thing I just want to plead with you from my withered old 36-year-old heart. Participate. Be a part of this. Otherwise your activism is passivism.