Spoilers for Life

Spoiled Brats by Simon Rich

The “conceit,” or unifying thematic idea, behind Simon Rich’s Spoiled Brats is not simply “Millennials are spoiled” or “Millennials are silly,” as so many surface-skimming reviews and blurbs suggest. Rather, some stories in the collection, like a piece where aging parents are represented by prideful, over-the-hill chimpanzees, and one where they are oblivious, backward-looking ghosts in the modern world, poke fun and point a thoughtful eye towards the older generations as well. The object of exploration here is interaction and change: between generations, between individuals and groups, between the young and their changing ideas of themselves, between dreams and the pragmatic onslaught of maturity in the real world, between a person, culture, and life.

And the real “conceit” that Rich employs is a fun one: extreme, exaggerated what-if scenarios played for dry humor, like a teenager’s self-absorbed obsession with her shallow relationship during her study-abroad semester on Venus, where alien races are engaged in a fierce and genocidal battle. Or a rock band of young adults on the cusp of pursuing more practical life paths like law school and finance being visited by the literal Angel of Death at their big show (it’s not what you think).

All of these idea seeds are brought into intelligent, self-aware short stories that play as fun speculative shorts on their own – and most of them will make you laugh out loud in your pajamas, like it or not. Together, though, they create an extended allegory that speaks to the unique and yet universal experience of growing up – in your late 20s – in a world with mixed feeling about us Millennials: some justified, some not, some simple, some as complex as the strange places we inhabit.

I defended Millennials in a previous post on this blog in response to a viral article that I felt grossly over-simplified and pandered to generalizations that, in most of the individual cases I personally know, simply aren’t true. I also highlighted there that in addition to the broad brush-strokes of our joint negative traits, there are broad brush-strokes of positive traits: the level of supportiveness we exhibit towards each other, the earnest desire to make the world a better place through activism and choice, the eagerness with which we hold onto a drive for personal growth and cultivation.

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The Most Valuable Things For Real-Life I Learned From Teaching

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Part 1: The Importance of Framing

It seems unfair, especially for laconic introverted people (my favorite kind), but the attitude you use to present / convince / ask things is extremely important to how people respond to it. Even if you have the best, most brilliant – or necessary – ideas and plans, if you don’t use a little people-person enthusiasm, then nobody is going to listen to you or follow you. I know. People are stupid. But you’ve got to work with that. Continue reading

Books Aren’t Cadavers

Two blog posts in two days. Pretty wild, huh?

Yesterday I wrote the first new post since January, about how my New Years Resolutions have more or less been dashed but that a greater goal has emerged: completing my first novel in 2014. It appears to be doable. I calculated how many words I think it will take to come up with 16 different endings to the story (it being a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style book for adults), and it’s looking like at the current rate I would only need to write about 280 words per day to complete the book by the last day of the year. But I’m hoping it doesn’t actually come down to the wire like that.

Coming up with this project, along with being on a Stephen King kick in advance of my trip to New England this summer (which will include a Stephen King tour in Bangor, Maine on this awesome van), had inspired me to think about what kind of books are worth reading and writing.

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“What Do I Do?” In Response To What?

 

Man struggles with umbrella.

I’m a firm believer that if you can’t explain what you do in one short, clear sentence, you don’t have a real job. And it needs to make sense to anybody, including toddlers.

Consider: “I leverage market synergies to present new opportunities for clients.” That’s make-believe. There’s so many vague generalities and buzzwords in there that your job description is designed to obscure what you’re actually good for, which must mean somewhere deep in the consciousness of your career’s fabric, you’re either ashamed or you don’t want people to figure out you’re actually on the payroll to swindle them.

Look at this job description: “When there’s fires, I save people from them.” Boom. That’s a real job. “I fly planes.” “I design bridges.” “I teach kindergarten.” Real. Real. Real. Those people do a thing.

“I analyze metrics for building consumer-centric brand consciousness.” That’s witchcraft. You’re awful.

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Those Who Can’t Teach, Control Education

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My go-to teaching story for describing the student atmosphere where I worked is when I kicked a girl out of my classroom and she threw an open condom on my floor, shouting about how turned up she was before striding out the door. The thing about teenagers disrespecting teachers, though, is that if you sign up to be a teacher in America you’re asserting that being disrespected by teenagers is a major part of your job description. The unexpected is how much adults will disrespect you for being a teacher.

A few weeks ago, a video was making the rounds on the Internet showing how ridiculously demeaned and condescended to American teachers are – an example from none other than the district where I myself taught, Chicago Public Schools. There does come a point where you become a parody of yourself, Chicago Public Schools, and then as you stand in the way of everyone you were built to support, you go from being travesty to being tragedy.

What most people don’t realize is this Professional Development session made headlines because someone happened to record and release it, not because it’s unique. At all. Certainly, that session is on the far end of the badness spectrum, but teachers don’t go a day without some other adult wasting their time, looking down on them, treating them like second-class citizens and daft non-professionals – all while they still have hours and hours of actual work like planning and grading waiting at their desk that they wish they could actually get back to. This happened all the time.
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I Name the Next “Silver Linings Playbook” Follow-Up

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It’s easy for people to mock the stock-formula book title schemes of writers like “The Bourne Identity” author Robert Ludlum (his Wikipedia page says “The (Proper Noun) (Noun)”) or “The Firm” author John Grisham (in a story by BJ Novak, he’s enraged when his publisher releases his latest novel as “The Thing” – a placeholder title he gives all his novels and forgot to replace as a formality when he turned it in). Continue reading

The Invention of Youth, or, Are You A Real Adult?

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It’s a commonly-taught aspect of history that kids-as-kids, helpless and cherish-able beings who should be provided a nurturing and protective lifestyle completely different from adults, didn’t exist before the modern era. A hundred years ago, grade-schoolers had to toil in the factory or the field and get their hands whacked off by machinery or be immolated cleaning out the chimney flue. Only recently has society started to think of childhood as a thing and books like the new All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior explore how we’re still trying to figure out and codify what childhood is (but this is not a book review about that book).

More recently, in my generation and maybe the one right before it (us Millennials and our big siblings the Gen-Xers), there has come an extension of young-adulthood into a nebulous grown-adolescence gray area of Twentysomethings.

The average age at which we get married and start having children is older than anyone before (almost 30 for those with college educations). The average age at which we leave home is older than anyone before (Millennials have the sad reason that old people destroyed our economy and left us no jobs; Gen-Xers were just disaffected and stoned). The expectation of immediately beginning a long-term career with one company and starting to climb the ladder like a corporate puppy is gone, because in the new market people change jobs every few years and no one is rewarded for staying in one place. Continue reading