My partner is off this morning to work as a substitute teacher. She gets this sub work because the full-time teachers are always out…with COVID-19. But then school is probably where she caught the coronavirus. So this is where we’re at now in Pandemic Phase II: sending essential workers through a revolving door of exposure and contagion and 3-5 days of quarantine. Maybe for other workers it was like this in Phase I, but we were all lucky enough in our house to be in lockdown the whole time. I guess as a society we can’t stop doing this, because oh no, there might be a Recession!
Another housemate has caught the ‘rona. Amazingly, I am still testing negative (fingers crossed). Isolation protocols and masking indoors work. Now that we’ve reached this state in our household, when I go out with a face mask on I don’t feel so conspicuously out of place, even though I live in an area where 90% of the public is not masked. I realize that I need to mask because there is a chance I am an asymptomatic carrier.
When I’m out in public and the only one masked I’m not at all self-conscious; I just feel like I’m in on a secret. But it was never really a secret, was it?
With these new protocols in place – wearing the face mask in the house, taking a rapid antigen test before going out – it’s like we’re in a new phase of the pandemic. Are we riding out the next wave? Learning to live with endemic COVID? I don’t really know; I’m just telling my story here.
Well, it was probably inevitable. Aileen has tested positive for Covid-19. She was feeling a little sick, mostly a sore throat, so we got some rapid antigen tests at the drug store across the street. We had already used up our supply of tests that we had accumulated earlier (including the government ones) because Aileen routinely gets notifications about exposure from the school where she teaches. That’s why this isn’t really a surprise, seeing as schools are incubators of disease.
We each took a test, and her result was positive. Mine was negative, but one has to wonder if it’s just a matter of time for me. We’re masking around the house, keeping our distance from one another, and have sent her son and the cat to go stay with his Dad. I’ll make sure to take a test before making any decision about leaving the house.
Meanwhile, I wrote this poem for the occasion:
An American With COVID
I know someone with COVID
and I love her just the same.
She only got the COVID
’cause she had to play the game.
She got her shot and wore her mask,
it’s really quite a shame.
She had to earn a paycheck
to have money to her name.
If you know someone with COVID
there’s no reason you should blame.
They’re just another person out there
trying to win the game.
Four years ago, a young woman gave a victim impact statement against a man convicted of criminal sexual conduct. It was a high profile case, because the criminal conduct had been ongoing for decades and involved hundreds of adolescent girls. The woman, Kyle Stephens, confronted her victimizer and made a powerful statement which included these resounding words: “Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.” It was a landmark moment in the history of the #Me Too movement.
Stephens is a member of the Millennial generation, while the man she was confronting is from Generation X. Her statement was like a challenge to the men of older generations: you can’t get away with what you used to do. It was a sign of a new young adult era, with a new young generation on the rise – a generation with high expectations, and one that wouldn’t tolerate bad behavior. A social movement was underway, and the careers of many prominent Boomer and Xer men who were guilty of sexual harassment or assault, even if it had been in the past, crashed and burned.
The Millennial generation had been the beneficiary of protection, regulation, and zero-tolerance policies throughout their childhood, and it was to be expected that this trend would follow them into young adulthood. With all that structure while being raised came boosts to self-esteem, along with pressure to achieve. This is how Millennials came of age with high expectations, which has caused older generations to complain that they are “entitled.” But how could older generations think that Millennials could – or should – settle for less, or be taken advantage of?
Millennial girls, in particular, were raised to believe in their specialness and in their capabilities. They were the high-achievement Lisa Simpsons, in contrast to the slacker older brother Bart Simpsons of my generation (Generation X). In popular kids’ entertainment their role models were empowered: Power Rangers, Powerpuff Girls. The pop superstars of their adolescent years were GenX/Millennial cuspers like Brittney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Beyoncé – independent ladies singing about how they were in charge in their relationships with men, if they even wanted a man at all.
Small wonder that Millennial women have taken the adult world by storm, and asserted their rights within it. True to the spirit of Destiny’s Child and Independent Women, they may be the most financially successful generation of women in American history. They are faring better than their male counterparts in today’s job market, which is not surprising given that they also dominate college enrollments. In fact, one of their hurdles in life is finding a partner who is a good match, given these disparities.
That’s not to say that women don’t still face discrimination and harassment. Nor is it to justify anti-feminist backlash. But where such backlash exists because of the gap in outcomes between Millennial women and Millennial men, that is a problem. The solution is not to disempower women, but to find ways to empower men as well. Raising job prospects for those without a college degree would be a good start. Making life more affordable for the working class in general is also a good bet.
The #Me Too movement was actually started by a Gen Xer, a decade before it grew to prominence. It has come to the forefront of public consciousness at a time when Millennials are the rising young adult generation. In that sense it represents the demand of a new generation of women, raised in a sheltering social environment, that the adult social environment also be safe for them and respectful of them. Only then will they be empowered to achieve their destiny.
My last post, about the confirmation of KBJ to the Supreme Court, brought to my mind another African-American woman of my generation: NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson. I hope this doesn’t seem too weird, but I feel a connection to her, even though I don’t know her at all IRL. It’s because her birthday is very close to mine – both the year and the day. We are generational peers.
The fact that a black woman born at the same time as I was could have a successful career as an astronaut is a testament to how far our country has come toward the goals of racial and gender equality. It might not be perfect equality, but at least, for my generation, the opportunities have been there for achievement in any field, for anyone willing to put in the hard work. Seizing opportunity and excelling as an individual is quintessentially Gen X.
It’s also amusing to me to consider that as a boy, I likely dreamed of being an astronaut (and a firefighter, too, if I recall correctly). Clearly I made different life choices than Stephanie Wilson did, and ended up on a different path. Not to have any kind of Frank Grimes resentment energy about it, but most Gen Xers will not visit outer space in the lifetime of Generation X. But it’s inspiring to know that anyone born when I was born clearly could have, as one of my peers has proven. And that some Gen Xers have gone to space gives me a heartwarming feeling, a sense of pride, and a vicarious delight in the historical location and experience of my generation.
The confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the 116th Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court is being hailed as an historic event. From reactions on social media it is plain that partisan blue zoners are relieved that the latest replacement on the Court has occurred during a Democratic Presidency, and succeeded despite the partisan split in the Senate. No one could forget the Republican controlled Senate’s political tactics in 2016 that handed the nomination of Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement to a Republican President. That Jackson is the first black woman to serve on the Court is also rightfully being hailed as an important historic milestone. It reflects the long secular trend of the elevation of women and minorities as equals in our civil society. It is meaningful, in my opinion, that this historic moment occurred during the Presidency of Joseph Biden, who is from the generation of the civil rights movement – the Silent Generation. This moment is a fitting capstone to his generation’s legacy of fairness and inclusion in American life.
There has even been some notice of the fact that with Jackson’s appointment, the Supreme Court will, for the first time, have four women Justices serving on it. This reflects another secular trend of increasing gender equality on the Court. The first woman Justice was appointed in 1981 (O’Connor); this increased to two women Justices in 1993 (Ginsburg) and then to three in 2010 (Kagan following Sotomayor’s replacement of O’Connor). Ginsburg was also replaced by a woman (Barrett), suggesting that not even President Trump could bring himself to interrupt this historic progression.
There’s another story that seems to have been lost in the shuffle. Take a look at the birth years of the current members of the Court. The Justice who is retiring and being replaced by Jackson is Stephen Breyer, born in 1938. He is the last remaining member of the Silent Generation to serve on the Court (the first was actually O’Connor; only six members of his generation have served on the Court). After Breyer’s retirement, all of the Justices will be either Boomers or Gen Xers. Jackson won’t just be the fourth woman on the Court, she will also be the fourth Gen Xer. This is another historic moment for the Supreme Court: the replacement of the Silent Generation by Generation X.
The other three Gen Xers on the Supreme Court were all appointed by President Trump. It is not surprising that Trump was able to find suitable red zone aligned jurists among this generation, which leans conservative and Republican. These three appointees may well be his administration’s most lasting legacy. They will steer the Court in a conservative direction for a long time to come. Even if, by some twist of fate, Biden should get the opportunity to replace another Justice, the Court will still be majority conservative (5-4 instead of 6-3). What does this new alignment, both generational and ideological, mean for the future of the Supreme Court?
I am not a legal scholar, so I can only speculate from the perspective of an educated layman. One thing I think is certain is that we will see breaks from precedent. This is already evident in the uncertain fate of Roe v. Wade – the dreaded (by blue zoners) overturning of that decision may be coming. One of the Gen X Justices, Gorsuch, reputedly disdains precedence and would prefer to craft his own conservative judicial philosophy. This sort of independence of thought is just what you would expect from Generation X.
Another trend I see is the continued success of the conservative mission to roll back the administrative state (a Silent Generation legacy) in favor of individual freedoms (a Generation X legacy). Case in point: the recent Court ruling that struck down the Biden administration’s vaccination mandate. Given her background as a public defender (the first to be appointed to the Supreme Court), Jackson herself might be inclined to rule in that direction.
Once Breyer has retired this summer, only one Justice will remain on the Supreme Court who was appointed in the twentieth century: Clarence Thomas, who will be the oldest, in his mid-70s. No serving Justice will remain from a generation older than the Boomers, and there will be four from my generation, Generation X, all appointed in the past five years. It’s actually quite remarkable that all of the Supreme Court Justices will be younger than both the President and the Speaker of the House, and that their average age will be slightly lower than the average age of U.S. Senators.
You would think that the Judicial branch would be where the old wisdom of the country resided, but a move to pack the Supreme Court with conservative thinkers has put my generation there instead. This historic generational shift in the makeup of the Court will have repercussions for years to come. Long-standing legal precedents and regimes that have been taken for granted are clearly in for a significant upheaval.
This is one of my favorite pictures of Aileen (one of many favorite pictures of her), taken in a kind of makeshift maze at a Renaissance Faire in Pennsylvania some years ago. She’s peeking playfully at me from behind a maze wall. We’re having fun, even though a maze has danger associated with it. It’s a place where you might get lost. But what does that matter if you are with your best friend? When you’re with the one you are meant to be with, you can’t get lost. You don’t even have anywhere to go.
Aileen and I have been more or less constant companions for years now. It started when we reunited at our 30th year high school reunion. We saw more and more of each other after that, and I relocated to be nearer to her. Then the pandemic came and the circumstances put us even closer together as I moved into her house. It was a test of our relationship – could we stand each other day in and day out for years? Could I fit in with the rest of her family? Turned out we all could. The pandemic was easy on us.
The only thing is, Aileen doesn’t handle sitting around at home all the time quite as well as I do. She needs to have work to do, some project to be doing, or she goes crazy (she’ll tell you she was already crazy). The lockdowns really hurt her industry, which is theatre, and she had to find other work when she could get it. But now that we’re coming out on the other side of the pandemic (maybe) she is deluged with work again. She might be going a little crazy with too much to do! But I know she’s happy for it, and I’m always amazed by her commitment and by how much she can get done. We both keep as busy as we can with multiple projects, like we’re running out of time.
Today is Aileen’s birthday, and I wrote this post to share how much I appreciate her in my life. We’re a couple of old fools getting older together. Ten years ago I never would have thought this is where I’d be in life. But now it only seems natural. We’ve known one another and loved one another since we were crazy kids in high school. We don’t even remember meeting; one of our inside jokes is that we must have known each other forever. Depending on your spiritual perspective, this may well be true.
Happy Birthday to you, Aileen, my dearest friend and my partner in life. Here’s to many, many more years together forever.
If you follow me on social media, you may have noticed that a lot of my posts lately are about going to see high school musicals. What’s up with that?
In some ways, it’s just getting back to normal. Over the past decade or so, my BFF Aileen and I have been going see lots of shows – professional, community theater, and at schools. This was put on hold for a couple of years because of the pandemic. This spring season, theater is back! At most of the productions that we’ve seen lately, the director’s notes in the program or the curtain speech make a point that it’s the first live show in the space since 2020.
But there’s also a particular reason for going to all these high school shows. Starting this year, I am an adjudicator for the Philadelphia Independence Awards. That means that I’m not just watching, I am judging the performances and technical aspects of the shows, and providing constructive feedback. I am very grateful for this opportunity, which I’d like to think I earned through my excellent writing in the past, though I know that mostly I owe it to the recommendation of my friend Aileen.
In the years that I have been going to live theater with Aileen, I have learned that young people are just as capable and talented as adults. Seriously, we have seen some high school productions that were better than stuff we’ve seen on Broadway. As an educator, Aileen has always believed in teaching children that they can do anything they set their minds to, and the kids at the shows we’ve been seeing have certainly proved her point.
Looking forward to more shows in the weeks to come!
Lately we’ve been getting into Peaky Blinders (available on Netflix), a very artfully crafted period crime drama set in Birmingham, England in the 1920s. It’s dark and brooding, ruthlessly violent, and bristling with attitude. It has occurred to me while watching it that it exemplifies the qualities of Generation X, and may well reflect the peak of Gen X influence in today’s entertainment world.
Now, I realize that the show is British and therefore not technically Gen X, since that is a name for an American generation. And I realize that the creator, Steven Knight, would be a Boomer if he were American, and that the younger actors on the show would be Millennials – if they were American.
But the principal actors, the ones who make the show so tough and gritty, and so cool, are Gen X. I mean, they would be if they were American. They are superbly skilled and nuanced in their performances (particularly Helen McCrory, God rest her soul), portraying characters that are stylish and brash, with a hard shell of bravado that disguises a vulnerable soul.
The setting is the criminal underworld in an industrial town, just after the First World War. In fact, the older criminal gang leaders are all veterans of the war. In other words, their characters are from a generation that matches Gen X in archetype – hard-hearted survivors in a rough and exploitative social milieu.
The beautiful costumes and sets, and the brilliant cinematography, with everything shot in dark lighting with a gray and grimy color palette, contribute to my judgment that this show is an epitome of the new golden age of dark and harrowing television. On top of that, the show features a soundtrack of modern indie/prog/hard rock. It’s completely anachronistic, but it works, much better than in other shows or films that I’ve seen try the same thing. It just cements the affinity between the Lost Generation characters and the punk Gen Xers who play them, their archetype resounding across a hundred years of history.
That’s why I say Peaky Blinders isn’t just peak TV, it’s peak Gen X.
Last weekend I went to see a high school musical show – Shrek, to be precise. On the way in I was handed an LGBTQ pride flag and told it was my “freak flag.” I didn’t really know what this was about, having never seen Shrek before, but I eventually found out. “Freak Flag” is actually the name of a song in the show, sung by the fairy tale characters. It celebrates diversity and inclusion, and through it the characters resist how they are treated by the oppressive chief antagonist (you may recall the story from the movie).
It’s not a stretch to associate the unique fairy tale characters in Shrek with minority groups in real life who face discrimination and barriers to acceptance. So it seemed fitting enough to have these flags to wave while the fairy tale characters sang their “fly your freak flag” refrain. As I watched the kids dressed as fairy tale characters walking down the aisles of the auditorium, I wondered how many of them might experience discrimination in real life, given how kids on the fringe – whether gay, or neurodivergent, or just outsiders – are drawn to the arts and to theater.
This message of inclusiveness and acceptance was part of the show from the onset, as in the curtain speech (the speech made before the show to introduce it) the director spoke, as if assuring the parents, of how much he and the staff make sure all of the students feel accepted and valued. Everyone of them, like each unique fairy tale character, knew how special they were. To my mind, this was a perfect generational moment – this is exactly how I would expect Generation X (the director’s generation, as well as mine) to treat the children of the Homeland generation (to which all but the oldest of today’s high school students belong). Sheltering them in a protective bubble. Teaching them to be sensitive and considerate of others.
It was a moment that perfectly captured the zeitgeist of this era. I should have more such moments in the future, as the spring season is upon us and I will be attending a lot high school performances in the weeks to come.