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September 13, 2019

Oh hey there, I’m an out-of-place Gen-X activist

I’m a Gen-Xer, I know I am. Still, as if to underscore the cliche of the “Forgotten Generation,” I had to Google it myself today, just to be 100 percent certain. Because maybe, maybe I’ve had it wrong all these years. 

Nope. There was my birth year, 1981, tacked onto the end of the generation like a poorly placed pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey attempt. I barely made the cut, but I’m there, waving in obscurity. 

I wonder how much this plays into the kind of “odd” adult I feel I am. I have never, ever felt I fit within my own age group. In my younger years, I often identified with older-than-me people. And now, I find it easiest to connect with twenty somethings when it comes to lifestyle, or (certain) teens and tweens when it comes to anxiety over the state of the world. To throw everything into even more confusion, when I show up to local activist meetings or events, I’m often met with a room full of graying heads. 

. . .

Several weeks ago, I slipped into my seat at an environmentally focused, town hall style meeting on a Saturday morning. The woman next to me, in her fifties or sixties, leaned over for an introduction and whispered, “This might sound strange, but I’m glad to see you here. These things are usually filled with gray-haired people, like myself. We need more young people like you.”

I smiled and nodded. I look about ten years younger than I am, give or take, but I acknowledged that I had noticed the same thing and it puzzled me. In a college town, where are the younger activists? 

“It’s been hard for me to make friends here, to be honest,” I said to her. “The people with similar interests in town tend to be decades older than me. But it’s also inspiring to see so many in your generation showing up. Thank you for being here.”

But that’s just in my town.

. . .

Overall, when I see the Greta Thunbergs and Jamie Margolins of the world rising up, from Generation Z, I feel a fiery kinship with them. Not because I’ve ever done anything remotely as incredible as them, but because the urgency with which they speak and act, the anxiety and ecological grief they openly address, is in my bones, too. And I don’t see this often discussed among my own generation, with anything near the same frequency or focus. 

Ok, so there’s Leonardo DiCaprio. Shaun King. Waylon Lewis. A few of the more prominent influencers and fellow Gen-Xers I follow. 

Yet in my everyday life, I feel isolated from people who are more like me.

. . .

In less than two years, I’ll be forty. I have no children and no plans for any, while most people my age have several. It’s not only that I have never wanted to have children, which plays a huge role in this decision. It’s also that I can’t justify bringing a child into this world the way that it is right now. I know that sounds judgy, and believe me, it’s not. I speak only for myself. But the way I see things, we’re heading rapidly toward a climate apocalypse, and lord help us, maybe it won’t be this grim. However, if we’re really paying attention, with eyes wide open and not sugar coating anything, we must concede the future is not looking promising for the youngest generations. I can barely stomach this for myself, let alone for another life, one that has my whole heart wrapped around it. 

I also have no “regular” job or career at the moment. To be fair, I never really have had one. My generation was never taught to think outside the box in school, never shown how to “hustle” for a living so that you can live more freely and aligned with what matters to you. And sure, there are Gen-Xers who have learned to do this on their own, but it’s not in our cultural wiring. So, most of my peers are in steady, traditional and respectable jobs and are possibly quite happy being there. I’m happy for them if they are. They’re certainly more financially stable and successful than I am, depending on one’s definition of success. 

Meanwhile, for more than a decade, I’ve been an overeducated barista. A struggling artist. A freelance writer (also struggling). A small business owner (yep, still struggling). I live with a high tolerance for poverty, yet I also live in the daily gnawing anxiety of choosing between returning to a more structured life and continuing to pursue the life I want. My personality type (INFP on the Myers-Briggs, if you’re curious) isn’t exactly the poster child for “hustler,” but at my core, I’m most driven by a cause that supports my ideals. And I will sacrifice many things on the altar of convention for the sake of living in alignment with those ideals. 

I just need to figure out how to better support myself financially doing so. And there is the thorn in my side, and also, the thing that most connects me to millenials. Fellow Gen-Xers don’t quite get this and often knock millenials for being “too sensitive” or “too entitled” or “too lost,” or whatever else they’re deemed not-enough-of. But I get millenials in this way. They’re just not satisfied with the status quo, and at the same time, more deeply affected by wrongs of the world. 

If I were twenty years — or let’s be honest, a few more than that — younger, I’d like to believe I’d be out there every week with Fridays for Future, skipping school to protest. But I’m an old fart compared to these kids, and still, what they’re doing is what I’m also trying to do with my life. I may not have as many potential years of life ahead of me, but I understand, to a point, their fear and sorrow and rage over what previous generations have done to the Earth. 

So, I will continue showing up — on my social media accounts, in my writing, in my art, in person — as an out of place Gen-Xer trying her damnedest to be heard over the obscurity, in an arena that seems to belong to younger generations. I try not to be overcome with my own anxiety or sense of failure or loneliness. I will find my people in whatever generations I can, for we all need each other’s voices and passions and bodies to show up in the world with our whole hearts and support one another. 

Now, more than ever in history, those generational markers don’t really matter. We need all hands on deck. Maybe this once, we can all be known simply as Generation Earth. The ones who banded together to save all of us. 

Count me in. 

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