Speaking of maligning a generation, my sons inform me they’re sick and tired of all the articles maligning the Millenials. To be sure, even I am tired of those, and weirdly it starts me feeling sympathetic to my friends who are boomers, and understanding why they get so upset when people like me (the in between generation) and genxers pile on them using the worst members of their generation to pillory them.
To be fair to us, the obnoxious boomers are very obnoxious. And to be fair to those who pile on the millenials, what they’re mostly complaining about is the echo boom.
The echo boom was the long-delayed reproduction of most boomers, and technically my son Robert – born in 91 – is one of them.
Which shows you the craziness of this whole “generation thing” being by years, and not by “general definitional experiences.” To lump me with the boomers – conceived by WWII veterans after their return home, by definition – for instance, is fairly nuts, since my dad was a child during WWII, and since – born in sixty two – what the “summer of sixty eight” means to me is that I learned to write. (I’d known how to read for a while, but arguably my handwriting wasn’t readable till I was 19 – for a brief and shining moment, at that. Since I’ve typing mostly since then, my handwriting has gone back to “flog me if I know what I wrote down.”)
So, mostly the millenials who upset the general public – you know, the entitled, unique special flowers with “all the right credentials” who melt when asked to do any actual work – are the children of “the bad boomers” – the noisy stereotypical ones who give roughly half the generation a bad name. And technically those kids aren’t “millenials” so much as defined by being born to those boomers who thought they were re-inventing life. The president is one of them, and he’s a year older than I. BUT arguably my kids went to school with a lot of them. This was probably worsened by their being in gifted classes. In their case they were in gifted/advanced classes because they bore easily, but the system is gameable by determined parents, and the sort of parent I’m talking about is very determined to get their little display child everywhere.
My kids, and the other half of their generation, who weren’t born to parents who sent them to an urban public school with five hundred dollars of pocket money a week (you only think I am joking) had to work very hard from kindergarten on. Because this is when the generation of “question authority except mine” was in charge of education and therefore the children had to be (and often were) more responsible and organized than the adults. My kids had to compete against kids whose parents had had the one, special, important child late in life, and helicoptered around it so hard it was hard to hear for the sound of their rotors. They did their kids homework for them, sometimes engaging the resources of an entire office which they managed to research it for the precious snowflake. (You only wish I were joking.) This meant even when number two son, who is always a perfectionist, would devote a month to his geography project, including art and all, he would have a B, because you can’t compete with professionally-generated booklets. It also meant when applying for universities, they competed against professionally completed applications by people who are paid to get the special kids in. (They have a name, but I can’t remember it, so I want to call them Fluffers. They cost from a couple thousand of dollars to tens of thousands. They write the application essays, buff the resume, etc.)
At this point you’re probably asking “But Sarah, you have resources – why didn’t you help your kids?” Oh, I did. I spell-check, and copy-edit their essays or any other piece of writing. If they remember to show it to me.
No, seriously. Why not? Because that is the source of all the moaning we hear about millenials. “They can’t perform.” “They don’t take criticism.” “They have no idea what effort is.”
I’ve been fortunate, as a parent, to have my teeth kicked in several times while pursuing my chosen avocation. What I mean is, writing is a difficult field to break into when you have no connections, no idea how to navigate the network, and no interest in fitting whatever the flavor of the month NYC was looking for.
Complaining? Don’t you believe it.
This is not fifty shades of writer, and I didn’t enjoy my eviscerations by publishers and critics any more than the average human being, but I tell you what, it taught me that life is never a little padded playground. If you want to play with the big boys and at the big level, you’re going to get bruised. The trick to life is not to never be knocked down – it’s to have the resources to get up and fight again. Read the biography of any man who accomplished anything, from the founding fathers to oh, Heinlein, and you’ll see their eventual success was preceded by a series of often stunning failures.
Studies have been made. People who are most successful at love are those who aren’t afraid to fail at relationships. People who are most successful at business are those who survive failures and go on trying. If you’re afraid to fail, you’ll never get anywhere.
So I figured the best gift I could give the boys, given I don’t have a few million to cushion their way through life (and at that, that might be child abuse), was to let them learn to fight their own battles, skin their own knees, bruise their own noses.
Has it worked? Who knows? I’d say they have a tendency to be perfectionists, who try too hard and become more neurotic than shaved monkeys, but that’s probably hereditary. However, I do know they’re not like the millenials people complain about. They don’t require praise and cup cakes just to do their job. They work hard – really hard – at what they’re supposed to do and always go a little further. And they have learned that failure isn’t the end of the world.
Oh, yeah, and they resent being lumped in with the precious flowers. As they should, because they aren’t like them.
And because this isn’t generational or time bound.
Take the SFWA thing, for instance. No, I’m not going to harp on it. Yes, I find it palls, too. But I use it was an illustration, in this case, so bear with me. I use it as an illustration because I’m in possession of facts the average outsider probably lacks for what really is at the root of all this. And it relates to the theme of this article and is universal.
When I was trying to break in, back in pre-history circa 1998, as a young mother of 36, I read all the industry news religiously.
Imagine how I choked on my own tongue when the editor of a large magazine said in print that no one under 40 had enough “life experience” to write well. Yes, the editor was one of those boomers, but then most of them were. Long march, and all that. I was 36 at the time, and I figured that this was their equivalent of “never trust anyone over 30” — now “never trust anyone under 40” since their parents weren’t trying to break into publishing, and designed to keep people like me out. Because it made no sense in any other way, since well… life experience has nothing to do with how long you lived, just like writing practice has nothing to do with how long you’ve been writing. You might have been writing since six, but you write an essay a year. Or you might have been writing since six, but you write five novels a year. Even if the first person has been writing for thirty years and the second for five, the second has more writing practice. In the same way, I know young people who’ve survived massive personal tragedies and fought for everything they have, who are more mature, more “experienced” than pampered college professors who have done nothing, their whole lives, than live in the hot house of academia.
But little by little I found out at that point in time, that was the general opinion of NYC publishing. (Except Baen, of course.) “If you’re under forty, you’re too young to write well.”
Fast forward five years. My first series had tanked, and I was submitting proposals everywhere. I kept getting back rejections not to the material but to me. “We’re looking for younger writers. Early twenties. See, we need to attract more young readers, so we need young writers, who speak their language.”
As someone who both speaks English, just like the younger writers, and who was reading Heinlein when she was in her teens and he was in his sixties, I tend to think no rational person could believe that the age of the writer has anything to do with the age of the reader. The cynic in me goes “Oh, so the editors had twenty something year old kids at that time. Or their friends did.” On the other hand it’s possible they aren’t rational. Certainly this sad tale shows that this thing is both still going on, and that it defines “not rational.”
That btw is the sad story of a twenty something year old writer, who got a 200k advance for a book of essays, which then proceeded to sell less than 8k copies, which didn’t daunt the publishers from offering her 30k for her next book. And she’s lamenting about it all in a tale that you’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at like an hyena. But see, she’s a “feminist socialist” and young and female and so, of course, exactly what NYC publishing was looking for, since well… they often confuse the wrapping for the gift and the writer for the work.
Anyway – the most important influx of these writers, who got doors thrown open for them because they were the right age/gender/upbringing – most of whom were very young and female – was about ten years ago. Young women just out of college were getting huge offers for books that were what young women just out of college and with no life experience would write (and no, I’m not committing the error above. This wave of what I call “red carpet acceptances” was targeted at young, just out of college and parroting the right “truths” – no life experience or rational thought wanted, or, in fact, accepted.) – very derivative, with a lot of sex and, in mystery, a lot of shoe and fashion shopping. (I read Manolo shoe blogger, but look, there are limits to how much I care about shoes.)
Which brings us to now. These young people, often very protected, were taken in and told they were the next best thing. Not because of what they did, but because of what they WERE. Success was their right and inevitable. Like the poor kid who wrote the essay I linked, they were told they were so smart and brave and stuff for exactly parroting what they’d been taught. And by and large – with a couple of exceptions – their stuff didn’t sell all that well, though they’ve won awards and been fetted and told how wonderfulglittery they are.
And even the ones who were successful are now shaky, because all they ever did was enter into traditional publishing and be massively supported and do fairly well within that framework.
I don’t even know if the smartest ones know all the breaks they got. I doubt it. First of all, because in publishing this stuff is all hidden and it’s hard to realize how much support you had, or even that other people didn’t get it. (Unless you don’t get it, in which case you start wondering how the process broke down, then find out this is standard.) Second because it’s human to take credit for our own success, no matter how helped.
So, you see, in their eyes, they think everyone else got this sort of magic carpet ride.
Now, as the carpet wobbles in the air currents, going indie is unthinkable, and of course someone else must be doing something wrong. It must be those old, antiquated people, out of touch with the current generation, who refuse to retire. Or perhaps it’s discrimination. Must be discrimination.
And now you know what is at the back of the SFWA hysterics, and also what is coming to us, in society in general. In the case of the SFWA darlings it’s worsened by their being now in their thirties. When you’ve been told you’re so special BECAUSE you’re young, the thirties have to be a shock. And you’re not famous yet, and people like Heinlein are still more read/influential than you – and… trembles lip… they’re dead.
But this is coming to society at large, because we do have a lot of kids my kids’ age, (and about ten years older) just about, raised by helicopter parents under the idea that children were trophies. They’ve been making sure Johnny and Jane (only for this set they’re likely to be spelled Gionny and Gianne) never experienced failure and had perfect credentials since kindergarten.
I’ve actually heard parents bragging about that entire generation as “the best educated, the nicest, kindest” – sorry guys, I vouch for my kids being fairly well educated, generally decent human beings. Not for any “generation.”
But little Gionny and Gianne don’t know that. They were told all their lives how special and important they are.
Only the economy – Summer of recovery 6 coming up! How that must perk you up! – not to mention technological change are ensuring these people – who have never skinned their knees — meet the wall at speed at face first.
How will they handle it?
One would like to think they will pull themselves up and charge on. Doubtless a lot of them will. Maybe even the majority. But that will still leave a vocal and noisy and very large group of people who will throw serial tantrums because it can’t be their fault. And who will try to pre-emptively protect themselves from any hurt-discrimination. And who will scream it’s all the fault of those bigoted old people who don’t have the decency to die.
So, hold on to your seats. The ride is about to get rough.
And if you have kids, let them fall and skin their knees and bruise their noses a few times. The most interesting people have scars. Being thirty five and behaving like an unspanked baby is a dreadful fate.(VERY interesting people are a mass of scars.)
And some things – like failing – you can only learn to survive by doing.
No one likes kicks in the teeth. But you learn to wear a mouth guard.
* Oh, and if you’re a beginning writer, there’s a post on how to start your career over at Mad Genius Club.