Generation (X + Y)
I have great affection for the year of my birth, 1979. I like the way it looks and sounds, and the way it is said in French—the lengthy, “dix-neuf cent soixante-dix-neuf.” Most of all, I like that it is in the seventies.
Born on the autumnal equinox, I spent exactly 100 days in the seventies. In those first hundred days, all I did was suck on a boob and poop my pants. It was a wild, primal time.
My parents took a family selfie on the eve of the eighties, wearing unironic flannels and holding a handmade sign in front of my big baby head. I am wailing, like I knew the eighties wouldn’t be the same.
Ever since then, I’ve just been trying to get back to the seventies—back to where it all began, back to where I belong. This is why I prefer bell-bottoms to skinny jeans, and like to wear that batik headband, and live in northern California.
In northern California, I have delved far enough into astrology to find out that my equinox birthday makes me a cusper—in between two signs, Virgo and Libra, on “The Cusp of Beauty.” (“They love nature and their feet are firmly grounded. Their heads are still way up in the air, though.“) And so, too, by this metric, am I a generational cusper. I am technically an X but in some ways, a Y. If time were a coordinate plane, this would mean I belong to the horizontal axis, but sometimes find myself on the vertical.
Technically, we 1979-ers are the youngest members of Generation X, pre-Millennial by two years. But I have been left back of couple of grades of adulthood, blooming late (if at all, it remains to be seen), with my slacker job and my Odyssean search for a suitable mate and the perma-adolesence brought on by artistic aspiration and adventuring, and so neither generation feels like mine.
The Millennials go all the way down to eighteen-year-olds, and Generation X stretches all the way back to the sixties, to meet the generation of my parents—the Boomers, of which my youngest uncle (b. 1959), is among the very the last. So I identify most with the more exact numerical fact of 1979. It feels to me like the end of history, in that the things that happened in that decade are historical, like the end of the Vietnam War and Watergate and Roe v. Wade, and the things that happened after that are memories–the Reagan administration, the Challenger, the ’86 World Series. But there is no such thing as the beginning or end of a generation, or the beginning or end of history. History is personal. History is what happened before we were here. History ends for each of us on the day we are born.
We ’79-ers aren’t as young as we used to be. We were 35 last year (our presidential birthday) and in 2015 we’ll have what I’ve taken to calling our Walt Whitman birthday—“I, now thirty-six and in perfect health, begin. Hoping to cease not until death,” he began his one book, which he updated and republished, like a blog, indeed until death. We are on a collision course with that number Victor Hugo called “the old age of youth,” which I cannot bring myself to speak aloud, or even write, so unfathomable and ominous does it seem out there on the horizon, distant as it is, but not as distant as it once was. History may not end, but youth does.
I’m scared to get older because I’m scared to die, and worse than that, I’m scared to die alone, and even worse than that, I’m scared to live, and worst of all, I’m scared to live alone, but things like Walt Whitman’s words keep me company through the long nights of this dark season in which the numbers on that great “big odometer in the sky [turn] over” (Dan Bern).
“I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world,” wrote Walt, wrapping up his song of himself with the only ending there is to any story we tell—our own personal end, the moment we become history. There is only one way I know to get to the roofs of this world, and when I get there, not a bit tamed, I do yawp.
This New Year’s Eve will find me racing the darkness to the desert in search of such roofs, before the exact midpoint of this decade. When it began, I was skating lonely laps on a frozen lake, at the same house where I spent New Year’s Eve ’79. I knew nothing of the monzogranite 3,000 miles West, nor the conglomerate barely an hour north, nor the people I would meet in my travels through the axis and generation called Y. When this decade ends, I will be 100 days into the old age of youth. This is a personal math, useful to no one but me. Still, when life seems at once so long and short and we don’t always know if or where we belong, it is of some comfort to keep track of the time.