My Generation– where do I fit?

Two days ago, a student told me that because I was born in 1974, therefore I am a member of something called “Generation X”. So yesterday I googled around for a while to find out what that means. In the process I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that the music of my generation is not so bad.

So while cooking and cleaning up my house yesterday, I built a playlist of Oasis and Radiohead and Pearl Jam. Listening to all this great music, which I apparently missed, has made me wonder where I fit in the world. There are whole “generational” experiences associated with that era of music that I didn’t have.

What generation am I? According to one schema, popularised by Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland, Generation X is everyone born between 1961 and 1981, roughly the first round of children born to Baby Boomers. According to another, I’m from the “Baby Bust” generation, the period from 1967 to 1979 when birth rates tended to decline. Whatever the precise category, sociologists and newspaper columnists were saying we were slackers, “reluctant to grow up”, apathetic, cynical, disaffected, distrustful of authority, and generally ridiculous.

Another phrase I found to define my generation is “latch-key children”, that is, kids who carried their house keys on their persons because when they got home from school their parents were not yet home from work. My mom was always home so I was never one of those; but I shared with latch-key kids the experience of playing mostly outside, climbing trees or scaling the rockfaces of the Elora Gorge. We had games of Capture The Flag, riding around the village and the farm fields and parks outside the village, on our banana-seat bicycles, over a territory which measured something like three by nine kilometers. I might have been among the last “free range” kids, who could play outside with almost no supervision. But don’t misread me: I have very little nostalgia for that time. I was also the target of some very severe bullying from other kids back then, and the main reason I went on to my PhD was so that no one would ever push me around like that again.

One marker of generational membership is one’s age when certain society-changing technologies became available. I first got internet when I was an undergrad, and I got my first mobile phone during my PhD. (I organize the history of my life by what degree I was working on at the time.) But maybe a greater sign of your generation is the way in which you grapple with what your predecessors left you. I remember early in my Masters degree days having long conversations with my peers about how the baby-boomers in academia were refusing to retire “on time”, with the result that by the time we graduated there would be no academic jobs for us. As it turned out, when the boomers did eventually retire, the economy crashed and therefore universities hired us as adjuncts and sessionals instead of as real profs, and a lot of us dropped out of academia altogether.

To this day, I still feel as if a defining experience of my generation is of having been screwed by the Boomers. Boomers were in charge of the economy and the body-politic when the economy crashed, when global warming and climate change became more evident and nearly irreversible, when the the social-welfare safety nets that the Boomers themselves benefited from were gutted, when well-paying industrial jobs were exported overseas, and when we were put massively in debt by student loans. To this day the boomers refuse to let go of political power: it’s noteworthy, in my view, that both current candidates for the US presidency are boomers. And it’s the boomers telling the younger generations that their problems are their own fault because of “entitlement” or a supposed lack of individual initiative.

The end result of all this is that here in my early 40’s, I can’t help but feel out of place. And this is partly because of what happened to my demographic, and partly because of my own life decisions. I look back on my life and I see a certain pattern: a series of movements from one social world to another because of a feeling of non-belonging. As a kid I became a consumate recluse because I did not feel at home among the bullish and narcissistic asshole kids at my primary school. In my teens I made a point of not listening to most pop music, nor punk nor metal nor goth, because the kids who did listen to it were too cool to give me the time of day. I didn’t feel like one of them, so I didn’t listen to their music. After that, I entered the pagan world because I didn’t feel at home in Christianity: the doctrine of original sin seemed to me obviously wrong. I pursued higher education because I didn’t feel at home among the party-going upper-middle-class “preps” of my late teens and early 20s; nor did I feel at home in the factories and warehouses where I got my first real jobs. I entered left-wing activism, especially in labour unions, because I didn’t feel at home in capitalism: at the time, I felt that the local economy was a rigged game, designed to keep me out. I went to live in Newfoundland, then in my father’s country, Ireland, because I didn’t feel at home in Ontario. Then I went back to Ontario because I didn’t feel at home in Newfoundland or in Ireland– also because I couldn’t find jobs out there. I sometimes feel out of place when I am single, but when in a relationship I often feel like an imposter, as if I don’t really deserve to be loved; consequently I’ve never held a girlfriend for longer than about two years, and I’ve come to prefer living alone. I don’t feel fully at home in the pagan world anymore: I’m tired of the infighting, and the competition for attention, validation, and ideological purity. Finally, although I own a house here in west Quebec, and although I love my job and I love the Gatineau Hills National Park– still, whenever I go anywhere else in this city or in Ottawa, I still don’t feel fully at home. It’s partially the language barrier, but its also the culmination of all those movements in my life, where no matter what was going on around me, I felt as if I didn’t belong.

I’m not asking for counselling or “help”; I’m certainly not asking for commiseration or pity. I’m asking whether anyone else has a similar experience. I would like you to reason with me about these feelings. I’d like to know if it’s my generation, or if it’s just me. And I’d like to know where I fit in, if I fit anywhere at all.

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3 Responses to My Generation– where do I fit?

  1. – I too, have felt out of place and time. While some of my decisions have been made due to economic reasons, that imposter feeling is about “what resonates” within your soul. At least, how I see it. I am in my late forties, supposed to feel settled, and yet I made a whole bumch of rapid decisions to get back on track. While my pagan practise has been more low key, and personal, I also think that I am living more authentic than ever. where do I belong? maybe the answer is to “myself”. and maybe, just maybe, that role is something…else too. relationships? not compromising on that, and at some level, enjoying my home and space as mine too much. and the other thing, where does it say that companionship means, live together? sometimes, having your own home is a better thing. who knows? I dont worry too much about people drama from other pagan folk, it is not my stuff. just people working things out. I personally think I may never “belong” anywhere, because maybe I am meant to be anywhere I am, and embrace that. blessings, brendan.

  2. goksun says:

    Well I know quite a lot of people from different nations that are quite fine with what they have been born into… So I dont think this is a mass issue from our generation….Im not into labeling things yet in my entire life I thought I must be an alien.:)
    My difference showed itself at a very early age; i was questioning many things people didnt even think about. (I was 7 or 8 when I asked my dad; “who decides how we count time?”, “Why is there 12 months in a year that has different amount of days?”, “Why do we have seven days in a week?”, “Why is a day divided into 24 hours(why base 10 wasnt used?)?”…etc) I was very curious but kids seemed quite dull around and I didnt understand why I was different…
    In high school I wasnt bullied but the girls were talking behind my back “she doesnt understand anything from the books(Scifi or metaphysical mostly) she is carrying around, she is carrying them only to impress the teachers, she is just arrogant with nothing!” and I didnt understand how people can dislike someone without knowing them…

    Long story short we are different because we are talented and we use our brains and try to understand life and people, walk on the path of truth; therefore going by the norm is no concern for us; this comes with age(well we do this regardless of the age but the pain we feel is lessened by time lets say:)) and experience yes but courage helps you do the things you want when everyone else is shouting ‘nooooo’, ridicule/criticize/judge you or even threaten you… But the reason of this is because deep down, they are not happy being a sheep in the herd and you are courageous enough to leave the group taking the risk of being alone and this reminds them of their cowardice, the things they wanted to do but buried deep so out-casting you or damning you gives them a temporary relief….

    Your article touches certain points so I might have given unnecessary details but the words came like this…

    I think we are so much conditioned by the society and some things are not universal but corporeal/man made… -The need to feel belonging to a ‘home.’- Countries have been built by certain cultures so by humans, with their own norms; because we escalated beyond the norms, that makes us just individuals that doesnt feel home anywhere, I see this as simple logic….
    And maybe eventually it is because we will find our homes within… Like other things we inherited without our own consent, this must shed too for us to get closer to who we really are…

    When I left for living in Asia 3 years ago I have been pondering upon the idea of “home”… We didnt have homes like we know of now when we were nomads…so maybe the search for home is an artificial longing that is only couple of millennia old…

    PS:ENglish is not my native language so excuse my mistakes and hope I was able to convey some thoughts…

  3. I am also a Generation X person (only just realised that on reading this blogpost though). When I was younger, I listened to 1960s and 1970s music, when my contemporaries were listening to 1980s music. I ploughed my own furrow, and can relate to a lot of what you are saying in this post.

    I’ve also often felt like an outsider, which was why meeting other Pagans and Wiccans for the first time was such a powerful thing – I had found my tribe. Sometimes, of course, the irrationality of much of Pagan discourse, and its failure to grapple with ethics and theology, drives me up the wall, but I’ve found a few like-minded people along the way.

    I think the “I feel like an outsider” thing is more to do with being an intellectual than being specifically about generation.

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