An Alternative Theory of Prolonged Adolescence

It’s very popular right now to talk about the new generation and its prolonged adolescence.  The New York Times has hit on it; so has the Wall Street Journal.  And where they go the rest of the editorial pages can be assumed to follow sooner or later.

The basic summary (for the link-adverse) is that 20-somethings are immature children who live at home, avoid commitment to relationships or careers, and in general are maturing more slowly than the Baby Boomers did before them, or the Greatest Generation before that, and so on and so forth.

There’s probably some truth to that.  Even if we don’t take an economy that has less and less jobs for folks straight out of undergrad into account it’s probably safe to say that my generation isn’t always trying as hard as it could be.  There’s definitely some living with parents and bouncing from job to job rather than founding a career and so forth that goes on in my peer group.

But here’s what I’m thinking:

Why are we saying “maturing later” like it’s such a bad thing?  The alternative, after all, is “maturing earlier.”  Forty years ago you were expected to have a good start on a career by age 21.  Forty years ago you also probably started working, either in a cornfield or in the family business, at age 13 or so.

Eighty years ago you were probably married with kids and settling into a house by age 21.  You’d also, barring war, been at work since you could walk.

Are these really good things?  Are we sure that playing computer games or Ultimate Frisbee at college aren’t, rather than signs of a decaying moral state, signs of a state that no longer puts children to work?  I realize there’s some self-servingness to arguing that fuck you very much, my hardscrabble freelancing career is success enough for right now, but what would the world really have benefited from my going directly into actuarial sciences or whatever at age 18 instead?

Dad would be happier about his retirement prospects, I suppose.

I think it’s worth pausing to consider that if we’re maturing more slowly it’s because we’re also dying more slowly.  The pressure’s off a little.  Surely that’s something we can all get behind?

My Dirty Little Secrets

I don’t like babies.

There, I’ve said it.  I find pre-verbal children irritating and a little unsettling.  God forbid I should ever wind up in charge of one; I’m sure I don’t exude the love and support needed to keep the then-screaming-poop-bag from turning into a later-stabbing-people-with-prison-shanks teenager because it didn’t get the love it needed in childhood.

A baby (artist's rendition)

This is something in the order of a dirty little secret (bet you were hoping for something better when you read the title, huh?).  I’m also sort of unsettled by the notion of professional soldiers, and think we ought to be giving them counseling to help them make better life choices (like picking a career where you’re not trained to kill on command unquestioningly) instead of venerating them as heroes.

These are the sorts of opinions you can’t just casually drop at cocktail parties (and I know all about what writers can and can’t say at cocktail parties).  They go beyond good-natured misanthropy and smack of outright irreverence.  People can’t help but get unsettled when you stray from really broadly agreed on truths like “babies are wonderful” and “soldiers are doing the right thing.”

I like unsettling issues.  They make for good themes in faction (they make for less ideal non-fiction, mind you, unless you’re a professional pundit, which I strive not to be on this blog).  But while I mine them for content and watch for them in social interactions I don’t go out of my way to bring them up.

Outside of this post, of course.

Are you hiding your own dirty little secrets?  Will you share them here?  Or do you just want to send me pictures of your own squalling poo-bag asking HOW ANYONE COULD NOT LOVE THAT WIDDLE FACE?  I’m up for the challenge if you are.  Dirty little secrets that we mine in our writing!  Discuss.

How to Make an Easy Roasted Tomato Soup (That Will Utterly Destroy Your Kitchen)

From the cooking files of MA101:

Disaster Soup

  1. Slice about a dozen farm-fresh heirloom tomatoes in half.  Place on an oiled baking sheet.
  2. Roast tomatoes at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until soft.
  3. While tomatoes roast, heat about 3C of bouillon or other stock to a low simmer.
  4. Crumble dry, dark bread into stock and stir gently.
  5. Remove tomatoes from oven.  Load into an old Cuisinart food processor with a slightly sticky blade.
  6. Puree tomatoes and dump into pot with broth and bread.
  7. Realize that the spinning blade is jammed slightly up on the stalk.
  8. Yank futilely up and down for a few minutes.  TIP:  Burn your fingertips on the hot tomato puree still clinging to the underside of the blade rather than slicing them on the sharp outer edge!
  9. Finally give up on freeing the blade from its stalk.  Go online and Google “stuck Cuisinart blade.”
  10. Follow the advice to fill the bowl past the height of the stalk with hot water.
  11. Realize belatedly that the work bowl has been slightly loosened and now has an opening of about a quarter-inch at its bottom.
  12. Watch helplessly as about six cups of boiling water filled with mashed tomato bits pours out over the counter, the drawers, and your feet.
  13. Scream a bit.
  14. Carry the whole damn thing out to the trash, still leaking hot water all over you.
  15. Eat your fucking soup.

So that was my weekend.  How was yours?

Important Lessons About Word Choice (Poop Edition)

Let me paint a picture for you here.

Imagine yourself at the kind of the party where people get drunk, smash holes in the wall, and then patch the holes up with cardboard from spare cases of beers.  Drunken but not thoughtless, as it were.

Now imagine that the owner of this newly-perforated home comes staggering out of the bathroom in the very latter hours of the party, when everyone has comfortably transitioned from their mostly-vertical simian hunches to a sort of protoplasmic horizontalness, bulging with veins pumping pure, red-hot anger through his body.

In the awful silence that follows his arrival he screams:  “WHO SHIT IN THE TOILET?!”

Man we've been talking about toilets a lot on the blog this week.

If you’re good at imagining things you should have come to the same conclusion all of us present did:  stupefied confusion combined with the immediate nagging fear that yes, somewhere in the course of the drunken evening, we probably had shit in the toilet.  It was a long party, after all.

Apartment Owner, veins still bulging, repeated his urgent query as the first few hands began to rise:  “WHO SHIT IN THE TOILET?!”

Enraged repetitions followed.

I have no idea who finally managed to struggle to his feet, skirt carefully around A.O., and peer into the bathroom.  Whoever it was would have seen the problem immediately:  the lid of the toilet tank was askew, and floating in the tank next to the small inflated bladder that usually floats in toilet tanks were three or four things that do not usually float in toilet tanks.

I like to think I learned something about word choice that day.

Sometimes It’s Important to Not Write What You Feel

One of the things writers like to talk about is feelings.  Writing what you feel; expressing the inexpressable in words.  That’s the name of the game, right?

Freelancing has a way of shattering writerly illusions like a sixteenth-century Dutch church window.  When you are being paid to write for a wide range of employers you often find yourself pouring expression into ideas that you do not actually share, and may in fact with grievous bodily harm upon the holders of.  Case in point:

now i get to write about newborn baby photography all day. i did not sign up for this.

what i have been writing: “blah blah blah precious moments.”

what i would like to write: “newborn baby photography is basically like sack of potato photography. you will pay us and we will place your sack of potatoes in a variety of places and take pictures of it. we especially like putting a little hat on your sack of potatoes and placing your sack of potatoes on a stack of folded towels. in fact, we always place your sack of potatoes there at some point, with a little hat, whether you like it or not.”

I promised I would be good and not share the author’s name, because he/she would sort of like to keep that job for a while (don’t ask me why).  But I think it captures the problem fairly neatly.

Here's that window-smashing I was talking about.

Different freelancers seem to deal with this different ways.  I know of professional writers who come home (well, stay home, usually) after a hard day of work writing for other people and pour their heart and soul into novels or other creative writing.  Others spend extra time and effort making sure they’re querying for articles they want to write and building leads with people in the industries they’re interested in.

Me, I drink heavily.

But I assume at least some of this self-editing has to go into fiction too; we can’t wear our hearts entirely on our sleeves.  Or can-we-slash-do-you?  And do you have any interesting thoughts on baby photography?  If you do, I might know someone who can get you a job…

How Long Since Your Last Shower?

It’s really very important that I know how long it’s been since your last shower.

Ok — it’s not actually important for me to know.  But are you aware?  Because if you have to think for a minute, chances are your own O Best Beloved (or whoever else you might live with, or work with, or otherwise offend with your presence) thinks it’s been too long.

One of the joys of the writing life is, of course, that you can do it in your bathrobe, or whatever else you like.  (And there’s a good question for the comments section — what do you write in?  Baggy sweatpants and a T-shirt?  Work clothes to make yourself feel more professional?  The locking bondage pants your Mistress left you in?  Inquiring minds want to know!)  But the freedom to be a slob has to come with a bit of responsibility, at least if you plan on interacting with other human beings.

So I don’t really use how often I’ve showered as a metric of how busy my week has been (although it’s not a bad one); rather, I tend to use how long I have to think to figure out when my last shower was as the indicator.  That way you get a useful cross-section of your personal hygiene and your processing power all at one go.  Very representative, I find.

These are things you discover about yourself when the work is good and you have a lot on your desk each week.  When do you know that your work week is getting out of hand?  And are those locking bondage pants starting to chafe yet?  Leave a comment…

If All Else Fails, Publish a Coffee Table Book

Do you remember that Seinfeld storyline where Kramer wanted to make a coffee table book of coffee tables?  (I don’t, as it happens, but I know it exists because people bring it up whenever I advance this theory of publishing.)  The joke was basically that there’s already a big, glossy-paged book of full-page images with text captions for almost anything you can think of.

Well, that was before the internet.  Or not before it, but before the internet of lolcats and Michelle Bachmann’s eyes superimposed on other celebrities and, to pick the example that put this post in my mind, hipster puppies.

Hipster Puppies is out in large paperback format for $14.00, and it is a wonderful example of how you can make picture books of anything, especially if it’s something that’s been on the internet first.  Of course, they’re also publishing it as an e-book, which sort of seems to defeat the purpose of a photobook unless you leave your Nook lying around the coffee table.  I suppose soon enough we’ll be able to hook it up directly to the HD viewscreen built into the table.

So if you’re currently struggling with creative writing and publishing — just can’t seem to get a book out there — grab a camera and start clicking.  A coffee table books of coffee table books, perhaps?  It’s a thought.

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