Of Generations and False Categories

Sometimes, we write original, thought provoking pieces. This is not one of those times.

In spite of the relatively fluid categories of, well, everything, these days, grouping people by when they were born has been surprisingly resilient. These rough-sketched batches of birthdates get treated as hard and fast strata permitting no social mobility. It makes some demographic sense, but complex people must be grossly simplified to fit on such tidy columns. Common ground comes in many parcels–an 80 year-old and 30 year-old from the same town probably share more than two 50 year-olds from different countries (or different corners of the same country). This is to say nothing of temperament, beliefs, education, income, and dozens of other facts that unite and divide us.

So, who cares? I’ve always been a bit sensitive to the “generational” thing, consistently being called a Millennial when I see so little of myself (or my wife, or our close friends) in popular characterization of these up and comers. Some of the brushstrokes fit, some don’t. We have kids, we own a home (or at least “share” one with the bank), we put family before career but still show up on time and work hard at jobs we’re very glad to have in tough economic times, we use technology readily but prefer unplugged time, we put politics on the back burner and following God (in belief and in practice) up front, etc.

Apparently, I’m not alone in this assessment, as one wit has dubbed us early-80s kids the “Oregon Trail Generation” in an attempt to push back against the (mostly) negative picture of Millennials pumped in the wider culture. Even that, though, categorizes people across too broad a spectrum, assuming a great deal about a great many to grasp a shared recognition.

The flaws and gaps in facile generational clusters expose problems with group identities across the board. Calling people Millennials, Gen-Xers, Boomers, etc. doesn’t help you know them, it gives you an epithet to write off their needs or their contributions to your life. Race works in much the same way, as does political affiliation, and a number of other assumed postures. On paper, autonomous individualism is expanding its cultural and legal purchase, yet humans can’t resist the countless tiny nationalisms that allow us to form community power structures and wage war on other groups.

Next time you feel your back bristle at being pinned according to some label or other, let it spur you to resist the same temptation. At the end of the day, there is one distinction that matters: sheep or goat. If you forgo relationships and conversations with people you’ve stamped with other names (or whose own chosen tribal tattoos show with undue pride), you’ll never be able to know how much the Lord loves you both and wants you both to be with Him among the saints.


Character Development: A Bit of Self Disclosure

Blissful ignorance is a bridge too far.

I’m not a “critical observer of human nature” or anything so overwrought, I simply fail to see the simple side of things. Forgetting anything is difficult as well. This is neither a learned skill nor acquired taste, just a piece of my personality with which I’ve made peace. It doesn’t show off (too much) to the general public, though it has been known to drive my wife crazy on occasion (interviewed separately, she may up the frequency). Mostly it makes for a “normal” life with a few more details to liven up each scene. It’s a blessing…and a curse.

My radar is always up. Seeing more than I need to function leads to an informational and emotional overload which often results in awkwardness. It is surprisingly difficult to have a bland conversation when you are attuned to so many signals and every phrase (at least in your mind) is freighted with hidden meanings. I am quite introverted, but even some who know me well are surprised to discover this, since I tend to respond to that overload by talking too much rather than by retreating into myself.

Compartmentalizing inputs and outputs seldom works either. I soak up whatever happens nearby and start carrying it, and all these things refuse to stay put, dissolving mental barriers to slosh together in one central tank. Don’t ask me to start anything new if there are unresolved issues afloat.

Now, where was I?

Now, where was I?

None of this is in any way unique to me, I see it in other friends and family members, too. When my daughter exhibits this same bent, I remind her to stop worrying or to focus on the task, though I fear she comes by the trait honestly.

All this risks sounding like an old trope, parading out stereotypes of writers standing aloof from routine experience, sifting minutiae into meaning. Indeed, seeing and storing complexity is probably the root of my desire to write. To get all the swirling complexities out of my head, I fling them at paper. That’s the first step at least…truth be told, editing comes easier to me than writing, so polishing up those ramblings into legible prose is the better part of the work.

The funny thing, though, is that these quirks (habits?) often work against any decent writing. Controlling the flow is sometimes a battle against Niagara. What usually comes out is light on meaning and long on words–following a coherent thread through rambling asides does not come easy. That is, of course, if anything comes out at all. An all-too-common result is that I talk myself out of writing anything at all while wrestling through ideas.

The bottom line for “overinterpreters” like me is discipline. I keep telling myself that the difference between writers and non-writers is that writers write. Sometimes you just have to sit down and do it. I seldom regret this, and often find the solutions to the questions jostling in my head flowing out as I type. As for the rest of life, I really can’t thank my wife enough for keeping me grounded. She is loyal and patient to a fault, but takes no guff from me when I let my anxious wanderings stand in for making a decision and taking action.

So why post this here (“He said, suddenly acutely aware of the number of first-person pronouns throughout this site”)? I’m not sure. I suppose somebody like this might make a good character in a story someday, and he’ll always be my default narrator. Perhaps also I am hedging against anyone losing interest in my blog if it goes for a spell un-updated. I can always just post a link back to this piece as explanation. The words are inbound, they’re just trying to come up for air.