Instead of stoops, East Village natives are in the park. For half a century, Tompkins has been the home of homeless punks, addicts, and East Village teens just itching to be free, and though the net population has definitely faded out, its prime audience has held strong.
In the open concrete field at 10th and A, the corner my high school friends and I nicknamed “the skate park,” was a whole celebration of Spring at a (social) distance. In the corner closest to the heart of the park, a pack of gym rats squatted, jumped, and stretched long. The teens with big-wheeled bikes who, during normal times, would ride the easternmost avenues doing wheelies, were idling by the fence closest to the basketball courts, watching one after the other practicing new tricks, and giving tips. Two parents blew bubbles with their toddler while the newest generation of skaters grinded on their homemade rail, the skater girls sitting on their boards six feet away, and apart. On the 10th Street side where I was sitting, a girl in a red t-shirt and rainbow leggings was blasting hits from the ’70’s and beyond, manipulating her hoola hoop which danced effortlessly despite the occasional spring zephyr. The girl eventually got on her bike, joining the big wheels as they rode around the open field, her hands off the handle bars, tracing the edges of the hoola hoop like a finger on a crystal glass.
Ever wonder why Millennials overwhelmingly supported avuncular Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2016 and again in 2020? It had nothing to do with his ‘Boomer’ status, duh, and everything to do with the fact that he was the only candidate, of any generation, who spoke directly to the overriding issue of our generation.
To rephrase a political truism from a previous era: It’s the student debt, stupid.
Last week my father and I went to see Penny Arcade’s final performance of her piece, “Longing Lasts Longer,” which she states was not a monologue, not a comedy show, and not performance art; which was her own special way of saying that it was not one, but a combination of all three.
It was funny, insightful, but most of all: loud.
Penny Arcade is a familiar character of the downtown art scene, and her style of writing and performing has long been talked about as one of the most unique of her era. It is unquestioningly true that there is no artist quite like her.
The set began as a critique of the modern world which is, as we all know, overrun by technology, social media, and consumerism. She contends that since the 1950’s, the waters of materialism have gotten deeper and deeper, resulting in a new generation of people born completely underwater.
And who are those alien water forms? Millennials, and now Generation Z.
Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard this all before. Millennials suck and Gen X rules, but the thing that has been starting to creep under my skin is, why do people hate us so much, even though there’s a new generation of kids to hate?
It’s no secret that older generations love to diss young people for being lazy, selfish, immature, and rash, and this trend generally stems from the fact that no one likes to get old, and most people don’t really like change. But the issue with America’s hate for Millennials stems deeper than that. It stems toward a dismissal of the world that Millennials have been given, that pushes them toward the bottom at every rung.
One of the things Penny Arcade said about Millennials was that they are so focused on buying new things that they forget that your 20’s used to be a time in your life to travel and explore, to try different things and to find yourself.
And to that I say, ever heard of student debt?
Upon graduation, students who took out loans to attend college have 6 months to find a job before their grace period ends, which sounds like a lot of time until you’re the one with a Bachelor’s degree in English or Biology trying to find a job in an economy that has no jobs for the likes of you.
And to that end, Penny Arcade was correct. We’ve been convinced to get degrees in specialized industries that have no job at the end of the tunnel, specifically a “Masters in Choreography” or “an MFA in Poetry.”
But the point I’m trying to make is, how does someone with $100,000 in debt with an interest rate of 4% (on average), who has 6 months to start paying them back, have any time to fuck around and find herself?
We don’t. We need money, and we need it fast.
Millennials have been handed the worst situation in history. Not only are we in debt from the age of 18, but we are the most educated generation in history, which has not lead us to a promised land of opportunity, but to depression, anxiety, and jobs which are entirely below our qualifications and experience. Do you know what it feels like to have two masters degrees and to be clawing your way to a salary of $40 grand? I bet you don’t.
But getting back to the set, another thing Penny Arcade talked about was the commodification of the East Village, which is a topic I write about often. The grungy lifestyle that so many artists had to endure has now become a characakture of itself.
It’s true, just look around.
The Bowery, which was once a place for poor musicians and junkies to live, now has a mural of Blondie amongst posh restaurants and fitness clubs. Avenues A, B, and C, which used to be dangerous up until the turn of the century, is now crowded, every single night, with party-goers in short skirts and douchey polos.
So the New York of the past is gone, and in large part, so is the lifestyle, since the people who made it so can no longer afford the neighborhood. And in that same vein, the life of the individual has also changed, and the effects of modern technology and globalization are for a large part, irreversible.
So, where does that leave us?
At a table at Joe’s Pub, with expensive cocktails and a two drink minimum, and two East Village natives stuck sitting with a view obstructed by pillars.
I slept in as long as I could today. I wore a big sweater, my L.A. Cowboy boots, and only a bit of makeup around the eyes. The sky was cloudy, and I knew it might rain, and it struck me as the perfect day to be watching a movie with my students.
We spent most of October discussing the uses of technology, the miracles and the risks. We read things like “Is Google Making Us Stupid” (2008) by Nicholas Carr and “Why the Web Won’t Be Nirvana” (1995) by Clifford Stoll.
So naturally, I planned on following these themes up with some first-class science fiction.
I biked to the subway with copies of chapters 3-6 of H.G. Welles’ The Time Machine (1895) in my bag, and The Matrix (1999) on the brain, and just after I parked my bike and began walking, approaching 9th Street: there was Neo… two of him.
It was definitely one of those moments when you ask yourself: “Holy shit. Am I stuck in the Matrix?”
I knew that teaching The Matrix was going to be awesome, and something about the sky threatening rain outside our windows added depth to the onset of the film, Neo dreaming, getting in and out of cars, getting drenched in the rain; his life before enlightenment.
But besides the overall excellence in film making were the themes of man vs. nature, man vs. machine, dream vs. reality, and perhaps the most haunting, human survival in a world becoming overrun by machines.
Welcome to the desert of the real.
And for some reason noticing things on a round year anniversary seems particularly meaningful, and so they are, which is probably the real reason I saw Keanu Reeves in the window, on the cover of New York.
But social media has been officially outed as a digital mine for user information, and everything from internet browsers to Alexa are somehow listening to our every click, reminding most of us of just how weary we have become of that feeling that someone is always watching, waiting to show us what we want to see. It’s especially pertinent now, with presidential elections just around the corner.
And in another vein, you can’t deny how much fun social media can be, narrating your world through pictures, through filters, and captions…
upping the exposure and tuning out the shadows.
It can be overwhelming viewing the lives of all the people you know, and many you don’t; realizing by and by that you have become consumed by the apparatus, projecting yourself out into digital space, crafting your unique, personal narrative…just like everyone else.
Inside the Matrix, they are everyone, and they are no one.
So are we everyone, or are we no one? Are we getting closer, or getting pulled further apart? Are we getting smarter, or is this obsession with Google, social media, and A.I. indeed making us stupid?
That’s right, snail fans! Last night’s debate took place in the same building where I worked out while watching episodes of Sex and the City, flirted with frat boys during Greek Week, and participated in late-night charity events with my sorority, Epsilon Kappa Tau. Which begs the question: Is there anything better than knowing that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren shared the stage where I received my diploma? Probably not.
All in all I was quite impressed by the debate, due in no small part to the fact that it was way less depressing than the last one. Elizabeth Warren had jokes, Bernie Sanders had clear answers, and Joe Biden was able to keep his teeth in his mouth.
But the person I didn’t expect to like all that much was Pete Buttigieg. He was witty, attentive, and he fought his way into the conversation in a way none of the other non-frontrunner candidates did. I didn’t agree with everything he said, but I commend him for being memorable.
Last time around I was a hardcore 2016 Bernie devotee, and the first rally I went to was in nearby Columbus, Ohio. I felt the Bern then and I felt it last night, which is saying a lot considering that I was having my doubts about his age and 2016 loser status, but that’s just the thing: He is just so damn likable! and he speaks to issues that touch my life.
Social justice, incarceration, income inequality, corruption in medicine and big business, reproductive rights, decriminalization of marijuana and opioids, dangers of subjective media, are all issues that need to be on the Democratic platform.
But will it be the message to get Trump out of office? Let’s hope so, or else move to Canada.
Last night I was on the F train, which turned into a C train, which left me on the wrong side of Manhattan at 12AM on a Sunday evening. There were teenagers who wreaked of tobacco while blasting videos with poor sound quality. There was a man with a poorly situated hole in his trousers. There was another man who had spilled what smelled like a vanilla chai latte from Dunkin’ Donuts, who was organizing a pile of another spilled substance that looked like a combination of oatmeal and bits of dry wall.
So one has to ask, if this is what Manhattan looks like almost each and every Sunday, why does anyone go out on Sunday at all?
I am a millennial with two Masters degrees and several part-time jobs, none of which provide me with benefits or a competitive salary. In fact, I am making half of what I thought I would after finishing grad school doing something I swore I’d never do. But maybe I should have seen this coming as the same thing happened four years ago when I graduated top of the class with a BA in Literature, and no job offers.
It’s not that I don’t like what I do: I enjoy talking to young people and teaching them how to write. I just wish I didn’t have to. I wish I didn’t have to do so much grading. I wish I didn’t have to talk to my boss about the surveys my students fill out. I wish I didn’t have to babysit on Sundays to have enough money to pay my student loans.
On Friday I gave my first lecture of the semester on the topic writing, and after going through all the ways in which we use language to help us communicate our thoughts and our feelings, and reading “Why I Am Not a Painter” by Frank O’Hara, I asked my students to write about two topics:
1. Why I am not a writer, and
2. Why I am a __________.
Part 2 asks students to write about what they are passionate about: singing, acting, sports, social justice, etc. This was my rendering of the assignment, choosing “writer” for both:
Why I Am Not a Writer
I am not a writer because I don’t write every day.
I am not a writer because I let life get in my way.
I am not a writer because my words don’t always flow.
I am not a writer because “how” to write is all I know.
I’m loud, I’m friendly, I’m silly, I’m emotional,
I’m on a journey, and I don’t always know
what to say; however…
I am a writer because I love to write!
I am a writer morning, noon, and night.
I write in my notebook, I write on my phone;
doesn’t matter to me if I’m with friends or alone.
I write to see clearly, to discover, to feel
because sometimes it’s hard to know what is fake
and what is real.
I’m a writer because I have no other choice.
I’m a writer because that’s where I found my voice.