Somewhere Between X and Y

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about generations. Specifically, what you don’t understand or possibly learn from the generations that come before or after you. I have the unfortunate privilege of falling into the oft-maligned Millennial generation, and thus get to deal with all the little assumptions that come with it. I loathe being scrutinized and stereotyped based upon my age; you’re defined by your actions and experiences, not just decade in which you were born. No one ever gave me a trophy just for showing up. No one cared when I was being bullied. My parents were divorced and rarely around, so all those other happy, supportive families seemed unreal. You want to really teach a kid responsibility? Make them earn it. I paid for my college education the old-fashioned way: getting jobs and saving every last penny, barely scraping by until I earned my B.A. No parents or student loans to back me up, either. Yeah, it was miserable and rife with anxiety, but I got it done. I held a job for over a decade, and rarely bought anything extravagant. At 29, I’m still saving up for my eventual M.A. People think I’m insane for not owning a smart phone, tablet, e-reader, or any of that stuff. I get the most out of what little I have, and I’m not fueled by desire to constantly spend.

…Unless I’m in a bookstore. You know how that goes.

And for a long while, that was good enough. But now that I’m unemployed for literally the first time in my adult life, I’ve realized that everything has changed. I’m in this weird social limbo where my values, efforts, and independence have lost meaning. There’s an overbearing sense of shame and guilt in not going to work every day, simply because I know I can do so much more. I’m nowhere near starving, but I can’t idle around and eat into my savings. I’m not content with just sitting here reading; it’s very comfortable, but devoid of any real effort or personal development. And worst part? A lot of people out there think it’s normal. But I don’t. I’ve learned and experienced too much from the previous generation to just forget about things like being a breadwinner or the importance of interpersonal, non-computerized communication.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn new things.

While no Skype screen will ever trump a one-on-one conversation, the Internet and and its fast-paced technologies are undeniably helpful. I remember studying in a physical library, and (if I was lucky) with Encarta 95 at home. Encarta 95! Grade-schoolers like me would’ve killed for something like Wikipedia, JSTOR, or iTunes. There’s so much more stuff to learn, and it’s only within the last couple of years that education has caught up with the medium. We’ve got dedicated YouTube channels for all educational matters; the best I ever got as a kid was the Discovery Channel, National Geographic magazines, and Bill Nye.

However, not everything you learn comes from an educational program. Social media, for better and worse, has allowed people to become closer. Not necessarily in an emotional context, but through the communication of ideas. A lot of what we see in mainstream popularity is mindless drivel, but occasionally something clever or interesting shines through. Stuff like Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Stanley Parable would’ve been impossible 30 years ago. Not just due to the development of technology, but because now it’s much easier to blend concepts, influence each other, and question expectations.The younger generations have it far easier in terms of collaborating and quickly sharing opinions, but seem to be losing out when it comes to real world experience. These days, there’s this huge emphasis on safe and utterly, ridiculously politically correct topics. You know, how we as a culture supposedly abhor sex and violence yet revel in their fictional portrayals? Yeah, that’s not hypocritical at all. Despite all our new communication tools, conversations about some issues – particularly sexuality, gender roles, and mental health – are swept aside. Because not talking about problems makes them go away.

Wouldn’t want to offend anyone, right?

Ugh, this generational thing is complicated. What’s a guy stuck between two extremes supposed to do?

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Being The Weird One

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about being an outsider. This one’s such an omnipresent theme in my life (and probably in everyone’s in some respects), it’s harder to pinpoint parts where I’m not an outsider. You know how every family has that one strange relative? The one you always shake your head at and tell stories about during holiday dinners? Yeah, that’s me. I’m the weird one. On both sides. On one side, I’m the second oldest in my generation, and the only one with a university degree and who reads, writes, and studies regularly. On the other, I’m one of the older, quieter kids with an apparently rebellious, anti-religious streak. Never mind all that fancy know-how about science and the arts; why don’t I do all the stuff normal guys do? Family gatherings and birthday parties are ripe for awkward questions and confused stares. Conversations typically include gems like:

  • Sooo…do you have a girlfriend? Boyfriend? Any romance whatsoever? No?…Oh.
  • Uh, are you gay? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
  • When are you going to get married and have kids?
  • You still go to church…right?
  • Did you see what so-and-so posted on Facebook?!
  • Ugh, you still have that long hair? I’m gonna cut it while you sleep!
  • Whatcha reading? …Oh, never heard of that. I loved Twilight, though!
  • Still doing that writing thing, eh?
  • See any good movies lately?…Who the Hell is Hayao Miyazaki?
  • Traveling again, huh? I…um, went to Las Vegas recently.
  • You still play video games?
  • You don’t watch football?! Uh, what sports do you watch?
  • Whatcha doing here in this room all by yourself? It’s too quiet! Don’t you want to chat with everyone?
  • What do you mean, you don’t drink alcohol?!
  • Hey, I can’t figure out this puzzle! Let’s see YOU do it!…showoff...
  • Oh…hi, cousin! Didn’t know you were here! I’ll be, uh, over there with everyone else. Bye!

Yeah, it’s so much fun being the weird one.

I think it has a lot to do with the way us kids are grouped together. Both sides of my family have always had their own little cliques based on siblings, proximity, age, and petty drama. I’m older than most of them, and I live pretty far away. I’m also the lone one raised as an only child, which means I didn’t get the benefits of sibling interaction or anything like that. Many of them attended the same schools and made the same friends – they’ve literally had the identical groomsmen and bridesmaids for their weddings – so they’ve already had years to build strong foundations. As for me, I’m the quiet loner from out of town that shows up maybe once or twice a year. Since I’m the clever and artsy one, I’m apparently too strange for normal interaction. At least some of the kids think I’m cool.

It’s not limited to just family, either. There are people at church who won’t even look me in the eye. I’ve been nearly excommunicated a couple of times. I could regale you with dozens of stories about being the “strange” one at the office. Apparently, bringing my homemade lunch is absurd when I can spend dozens of dollars per week on local fast food. And that there’s something inherently wrong with not owning a smart phone and checking its messages every free second. And that not going out for drinks on Friday nights is a sign of mental instability. Someone incredulously asked what planet I was from. It was very surreal being the only one on the staff who bothered to read books, news, and anything at all. I once had to explain to a college-aged worker that yes, Germany is, in fact, a country.

No, seriously. That conversation happened.

I wish I was exaggerating. I really do. Maybe I really am just too weird for people to accept. I know that I’m part of the problem, too. I’m shy and introverted, so it’s not like I’m going out of my way to talk to people. I should probably cultivate more mainstream interests. It’s just that I’m so much more used to doing and experiencing things alone. It’s not about superiority or anything like that. I just have different interests. And I usually enjoy being the mysterious loner…until the awkwardness sets in. I guess I should keep looking. Maybe I just haven’t found the right place yet.

A Style All My Own

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about style. This one’s pretty awkward for me, because my personal style isn’t exactly…normal. I could never afford anything really fancy growing up, so the designer/label fads meant little to me. Instead, I’ve always focused more on simplicity. I’d take a good, sturdy pair of walking shoes over the latest Nikes any day. If I’m traveling somewhere and need to carry some extra gear, I’ll usually stick with cargo pants and a backpack. I typically wear a t-shirt as an underlayer, then have a dress shirt partially buttoned and untucked over it. The sleeves are always rolled up in case I need to do something potentially messy, or if I start sweating. No patterns or loud colors; I just mix and match my plain-colored clothes depending on the weather and how well they go together. I stick with combinations of green and brown shades to complement my olive skin tone and bring out my eye color. If I want a more formal look, I wear mostly black, but bust out a maroon dress shirt just to keep things interesting. During the winter, I use my black trench coat – which has a removable insulated layer for warmer temperatures! – and a nice, long scarf. Such ensembles are simple, elegant, and (most importantly) comfortable.

Alucard being one of my favorite game characters might have been an influence.

For some reason, such outfits make me stand out. I think it has a lot to do with expectations and stereotypes. As much as we all like to think we can see past physical appearances, such beliefs are still a huge part of our culture. Hey, here’s a little game to play the next time you’re watching prime time television: during the commercials, keep track of how many of them use beauty, age, or sexuality within the subtext. Remember that Nespresso ad? Because caffeine is supposed to be sensual and alluring. Gee, I sure wish I could have glamorous coffee time like (and hopefully with!) Penelope Cruz…and I don’t even drink coffee. There are similar commercials for eating yogurt, bathing, clothes shopping, cleaning the kitchen, etc. Forget being valued as a person; there’s nothing more important than being “perfect” in every way! Commercials are similarly condescending to men, albeit in different ways. Of course you want that new truck! Your worth is based on virility and ownership, so of course you want the most powerful, impressive thing out there. Of course men just wanna drink beer and act stupid. No self-respecting man would ever dare know about hygiene, cooking, culture, responsibility, parenting, emotions, or, you know, pretty much anything.

Sarcasm is such a wonderful thing.

Needless to say, I’m not comfortable with such expectations. That’s why I try to subvert them with my own style. I could easily get away with looking slovenly and mismatched. But I don’t, and people notice. Sometimes stare. “Real men” aren’t supposed to care, so I guess it makes me an anomaly. Men aren’t held to the same ridiculous appearance standards as women, but that also means less variety and individuality. How many bland suit and tie ensembles have you seen today? If it were socially acceptable and physically safe, I could probably rock a skirt and stockings. Since I can’t without risking a hate crime, I try to stand out more with shading and color contrasts. I also grew out my hair to create a more defining appearance. The two feet of curly, wavy hair have gotten me plenty of attention, in both good and bad ways. Women ask me about it all the time. I get called “miss” frequently. Occasionally someone will ask if I’m a rock guitarist, goth, gay, lesbian, or a Captain Hook cosplayer. It never occurs to anyone that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t like appearing as Mr. Another Generic Bland Guy and decided to do something more. Even if it means I’m more beautiful than handsome. If it makes people confused and intimidated, that’s fine. It’ll get them thinking. Ambiguity has a funny way of doing that.

Besides, I look and feel good. When it comes to style, that’s what really matters.

Daily Prompt: Fear Factor, Or: Rejection VS Individuality

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about fear. Namely, what do you fear. Don’t be fooled by anyone who claims to be fearless. They’re either covering up insecurity, a computer, or an alien. Maybe all three. Everyone has a fear; it’s one of the defining aspects of your humanity. It’s a natural, instinctual response your body has to perceived threats. It’s just a matter of exactly what it is. For me, it’s nothing tangible. I don’t fear death, the dark, insects, etc. I mentioned recently that my fear is living a meaningless existence. Life is inherently meaningless; it’s up to each individual to find their own meaning. Putting that into practice is not only hard, but scary as well. What do you do when the whole world is out there, and you don’t have a dream? The scope of it is downright terrifying.

While this kind of fear works well for philosophical discussion, this particular prompt calls for something a little less…overarching. So, how about something a bit more intimate: Rejection. I’m not talking about the romantic kind; given the amount of barely-averted looks and flirts directed toward me, I wouldn’t have any problems…if I actually tried going with it. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a textbook introvert. I’m really shy and I try to avoid being in large groups of people. Not because I necessarily despise them, but because interactions are tiring, and I never know what to say. Hey, let’s see you bring up the psychologically manipulative set designs of The Shining or the recurring themes in Haruki Murakami’s novels the next time you’re chatting a party. By all means, go ahead. All I get those confused stares, a request to speak up, or a lingering sense that I never should have opened my mouth in the first place. I get through it with a (hopefully) charming smile and heavy doses of sarcasm. A lot of people find it endearing. Others ask me what planet I’m from. I scramble for the quietest corner, take out the book I smuggled along with me, and leave my horribly awkward real world behind.

But why?

It’s a lot easier to close yourself off from what you fear. Since I dread rejection so much, then why bother interacting with people at all? Oh wait, that’s right! Social interaction is the core tenet of human civilization. Can’t get around that one, can I? Well, technically I can, but it’d cost me my sanity. Pretty sure that’s something you want to hang on to. So since shutting everyone out isn’t feasible, that means dealing with the fear in question. How exactly am I supposed to do that? That’s not a rhetorical question; I really don’t know. It’s been a part of me for as far back as I can remember. A lot of my elders were – and still are – religiously conservative. Look, I’m not going to start a debate about this. I have no problem with religion; some folks need something to believe in. But when you use religion to oppress and slaughter people who don’t share your views? Yeah, humanity doesn’t exactly have a spotless record. Now, imagine trying to be the model son raised by conservative, often absent parents. Sound difficult? Try doing that with an independent streak as big and deep as mine. I’ll give you a hint: it’s not very fun. I was the kind of kid who’d always ask the difficult questions, the one who wanted everything explained in non-sugarcoated detail. The phrase “Because I said so!” was never good enough for me, and I refused to accept excuses. Many adults found it irritating, and it hasn’t won me many fans in my adult life. There are some at my church who still won’t even look at me.

Well shucks, I’m so sorry that I can’t just play along. That must be such an inconvenience.

I’m not trying to be rebellious. I’m really not. I just need to experience the world on my own terms. New ideas and concepts are fascinating, but not necessarily feasible for me. My concern isn’t so much about religious beliefs, laws, structure, etc. The only thing that matters is if it works. And a lot of what does work for me doesn’t do so for the people in my personal and professional life. I’d been rejected, bullied, and dismissed so many times growing up that I learned to expect it. Trying to conform to others’ expectations left me an emotional wreck. I’ve let myself become less restrictive, though. My contempt for gender roles is probably the most noticeable result. I’ve got enough long, curly hair to resemble a young Robert Plant or Dustin Hoffman’s Captain Hook. I rock the androgynous look. A lot of women find it fascinating and ask me about it, but others just frown disapprovingly or assume I’m transgendered. I stopped caring years ago. If I’m in a suit, I’ll occasionally get asked if I moonlight in a heavy metal band. I’m one of the few people on either side of my family that actively reads and writes. People think I’m weird because I don’t spend my free time on Facebook, clinging to my phone, watching sports, or going bar-hopping. I don’t know anyone else my age that doesn’t drink. You try being the only sober person in at a party. Or how about hearing the phrase, “Why don’t you have a girlfriend?” Gee, I don’t know. Maybe because it’s hard to trust people when you’re an outcast.

Just saying.

Gah, what a mess. I need to work on the self-confidence thing. How do I get over social phobia? There’s got to be a niche for me out there somewhere. If not, I’ll just have to carve out my own. That’s got to count for a little bit of courage, right?