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-- b i o --
Elizabeth Weaver Engel, besides being a budding writer, is a stealth geek, a manager (but NOT the Pointy-Haired Boss) at a non-profit association, a distance runner, a "rabid" Lindy Hopper, and a connoisseur of fine B-grade movies.  Currently a resident of Washington, DC, Elizabeth grew up outside of Philadelphia and holds a Master's degree in political theory from the University of Virginia.  She fell into working with computers by accident and has since been struggling to pull herself out.  Writing for Mindjack is one of the steps she's taking to do so.

My Life, or Stories from the Bus
by Elizabeth Weaver Engel

OK, I know that ageism is one of the new, hot, victim topics, although I must say that it seems a little disingenuous for the group that originated the slogan, "Never trust anyone over thirty," to complain about the aftershocks now that they are pushing the AARP discount age.  Before we all get our panties in a bunch, yes, I do realize that seniors often have real problems in our culture with its insane worship of youth, beauty, and (literal, physical) fertility.  However, standard disclaimer aside, I want to kvetch for a minute about a phenomena which, as of yet, has no name.  I guess that means I get to name a new oppressed group - what a responsibility!  I don't know what to call it except reverse ageism, which sounds, I must admit, pretty silly.  But perhaps a few illustrations might suffice.

Why do boomers spend so much time dissing Xer's?  I know, I know, I can hardly be considered to be an unbiased observer of this phenomena, as I belong to one of the aforementioned groups (if you haven't figured it out by now, yes, I am a proud member of "Generation X" - incidentally, a boomer creation as well.  I mean, a group of people cool enough to bring you Web 'zines, Daria, and Ani DiFranco would hardly name themselves something as dorky as "Generation X" - it makes us sound like a science project.  In the words of the inimitable Alicia Silverstone: "As if!").  Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, even though I am undoubtedly tainted by subjectivism, you're just going to have to take my word for it.  People, people, have we learned nothing from Thomas Kuhn?

You know, the really funny thing about boomers is that none of them seem to know any Xers personally.  But they know we're all slackers - they've heard.  Why, Ms. (or Mr.) Boomer's racquet ball partner Bob/Sue has a sister-in-law whose second cousin's son's sophomore year roommate just graduated from (insert state) University with a double major in early Albanian Renaissance art history and late 20th century French feminist literary criticism.  He moved back in with his parents after graduation, is working part time at Starbucks, and spends the rest of his time lying on the sofa eating Cheetos and watching old Happy Days reruns and "The Real World: London" (the horror!), dontcha know.

Or what about (as I heard from the seat behind me on the bus the other day): "These young people today...

(pick one)
a. are lazy and won't get decent career-track jobs
b. work too hard on their careers and don't spend any time with their parents/children/siblings
c. are too materialistic - they want everything it took us 20 years to accumulate right now
d. don't care about their possessions/appearance - have you seen the junky cars they drive/the weird old clothes they wear/the crummy apartments they inhabit/the Salvation Army furniture they have?
e. are so cynical - we were never like that (do the 70's ring any bells, or did all the drugs you took leave you with a blank spot in your memory covering the entire decade?)
f. are too idealistic - trying to be an artist/writer/musician/poet/philosopher is a stupid, impractical goal, besides which you'll never be able to support a family on the kind of money you could make doing that

ad infinitum, ad nauseam. So what was the complaint on the bus?  New houses with fancy appliances built in to the kitchens.  I kid you not.  Of course, I refrained from pointing out that most Xers can't afford houses, particularly new ones with gourmet kitchens, and the generational groups buying places like that are hers and perhaps her children's (the infamous boomers).

So what are Xers all about?  Contrary to popular belief, we are not all like the cast of "Friends" or "Beavis and Butthead."  And while we're on the topic, I know that "Friends" is not great art (to say the very least), I know people can't live in NYC in apartments of that size on the salaries of waitrons and short order cooks, I know that they're all totally unrealistically attractive (but hey, so were the people on Dynasty, and I never heard anyone complain then), and I know from the experiences of my friends that the "Jennifer" haircut is just a big old pain in the butt in real life.  But it is entertaining and reasonably true to life (at least my life as an overworked, underpaid computer guru/even more overworked, totally unpaid part-time writer) for TV.  I mean, how many of us boldly go where no one has gone before, or write murder mysteries while watching the majority of the people we encounter get bumped off? 

But I digress.  I was going to explain life, the universe, and everything. Oh wait - it's 42.  So I guess I'll just move on to us mysterious Xers. Who are we?  Where do we come from?  What do we want?  And would we please stop getting all those scary looking nose-, lip-, eyebrow-, tongue-, and other-sundry-places-rings? 

First of all, the Cheetos and Happy Days reruns thing is mostly a myth. Sadly enough, "The Real World: London" is not - get a grip people!  Just say no to "TRW: London."  Just say yes to "TRW: San Francisco"!  Pedro, we hardly knew ya.  The moving in with the parents after graduation thing, not so much.  Before you start screaming about how we all studied Ming Dynasty love poetry and what did we expect, let me just say that it takes most of us a while to find jobs - even the Xers who studied traditionally gold-mine subjects like computers, engineering, and law.  Boomers know that companies are downsizing - some of you have lost jobs because of it.  However, what belt-tightening means to most of you is no raise - again - this year.  What it means to us is no new hires - again - this year.  And what do the companies who've downsized do when they realize they got rid of too many of the people who actually did something important every day?  Hire us as $7 an hour, no benefits, no vacation, no sick leave, no retirement plan temps. Why do we take jobs like this, putting you out of your nice 3 weeks of vacation, full medical and dental, 401(k) jobs?  Take a wild guess.  Here's a clue: it's not that we like having advanced degrees and working as $7 an hour temps.  However, when faced with that or being the latest PhD. to become a waitron/bartender at the local Olive Garden, many of us opt for the temp office jobs in hopes that we'll make ourselves so indispensable that they'll hire us...someday.  Which, to be fair, often happens, but not often at a large enough salary to let us pay off our college/grad school loans, pay our car loans/repairs on the $700 junker bought "just to get me through college," and rent and food all in the same month.  Hence the moving in with 'rents deal.  When faced with that or the prospect of sharing a 2 bedroom apartment with 3 other people and a small army of various types of vermin and living on peanut butter and instant oatmeal one week a month because that's all you can afford, it's not too hard to see why many of us pick the old homestead, where at least the food's decent and the plumbing works reliably.

Yes, it's true, many of us studied "impractical" things like art history, philosophy, music, poetry.  Many of us want to be writers, painters, sculptors, singers, professors.  And maybe we should concentrate more on learning trades, studying things like computers and business so that we can make a living.  But poetry, art, music - these are what we stay alive for. We're not stupid - we know that we aren't all going to be Walt Whitman or Georgia O'Keeffe or Thelonius Monk or Alice Walker.  But at least we dare to dream, and we try to make those dreams come true.  There may not be much money in that, but isn't there some nobility?

Yes, we're cynical, sometimes bitter, often angry, but not just for ourselves and the lifestyles we know we will no longer be able to support. We may not seem to be very interested in politics.  However, we're overwhelmingly concerned with the poor and hungry, the devastation of the planet, the sexual and physical abuse of our friends, our sisters, our mothers, ourselves, the denial of civil rights to our GLBT friends and selves, the state of the economy, and much more.  We just tend to go about things a little differently.  Savvy enough to realize that one legislator or president often cannot do much, and one vote even less, we contribute time in Americorps and soup kitchens, we give money when we can, we write e-letters, we march, we speak out, we write in 'zines and on Web pages.

So who are Xers?  Yeah, I saw Reality Bites.  And Singles.  And both Bill and Ted movies.  And Clueless.  (I have not, however, seen any Pauly Shore movies.  I'm not even sure he's human.  My cats seem more articulate and intelligent than he.)  And I enjoyed them all.  And some parts were fairly accurate to my life and some parts were way off base to my life.  Just like When Harry Met Sally and The Big Chill and Parenthood were for boomers. The moral: Beware judging people according to mass culture images.  Xers are your kids, your grandchildren, your nephews and nieces, your students, your new employee, your ABD waitron at dinner last night, the Entree computer service person who set up your computer for you, the clerk behind the counter at your favorite clothing store, the person who makes that half-caf, low fat latte for you at the coffee shop on your way to work. Sometimes we're bright and creative and idealistic and motivated.  And sometimes we're not.  What we always are is what you always are: individual people with unique strengths and weaknesses, problems, interests, skills, loves, and dreams.  All we ask is that you remember that the next time Bob/Sue tells you a story about her/his sister-in-law's cousin's son's ex-college roomie.

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