The differences between generations-the Lost Generation, the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generations X, Y and Z (where do we go next?)-is a popular subject full of questionable simplifications. Sweeping statements about age groups in different eras are at best elusive, due to both sudden changes in history and the diversity at any given time among locales, classes, ethnicities and personalities. Lately one of the often discussed issues concerning the Millennial Generation is whether they suffer from hyper-parenting, with their perennially in-touch parents not giving them enough freedom to develop independence. They need to actually be allowed to make a few mistakes, the argument goes, in order to be inoculated against what to avoid.
Listening to my students, however, I don’t worry that they won’t have enough difficulties to face or enough mistakes in their lives. I worry more about their getting jobs when they finish school. And frankly, I admire the poise they are able to muster against the struggles of young adulthood, whether it comes from talking to their parents on cell phones (and quite often actually liking them) or from a more typical youthful insouciance toward parents and futures. It doesn’t require a cynic to realize that even if they are wonderfully fortunate, they will all sooner or later be tinctured by the accidents of circumstance.
Gail Sheehy in Predictable Crises of Adulthood uses the lobster as metaphor to describe adult life stages: each new phase requires shedding an old protective shell, going through a period of vulnerability before developing a new covering to replace the old. She begins with the Trying Twenties, when a person can be buffeted back and forth between the “safe” and the exploratory, between shoulds and wants, and between the ties of family and independence.
This issue is full of characters in some phase or another of life’s buffetings. Becky Haynes’s protagonist in “The Year of Perfect Happiness” is a twenty-something actively trying to dodge life’s vexations. Indeed he hopes to avoid any feelings of unhappiness for a full year. At first he has some success, then he travels back home to live with his parents, where perfect happiness somehow becomes a little more difficult to nail down.
One of the jobs of both philosophy and literature is to exercise and question one’s beliefs through imagination and empathy. As Lear, Hamlet, Humbert Humbert and the talented Mr. Ripley all vividly demonstrate, that doesn’t come only from the good examples. Whether he is cynical, irresponsible, destructive or an amalgam of bad characteristics, the anti-hero can do a wonderful job of scattering the pieces on the table, allowing us to better understand the puzzle and find our own order. In Wade Ostrowski’s story “I Think You Think I’m Still Funny,” his protagonist Carl turns out to be fortunate when an irresponsible old moocher friend Leif comes back to shake up his overly careful life.
Nathan Hogan’s first published story, “The Church at Yavi,” demonstrates the sad truth that wisdom doesn’t necessarily accompany age. A long-divorced couple journey to the site in Argentina where their daughter may or may not have died in motorcycle accident. It is a story of how avoidance and the failure to adjust to life’s traumas can keep one forever lost in the past. In Devin Murphy’s “The Linkage of Bone,” a utility company lineman has a high-voltage shock that nearly kills him. The after-effects of near death on him and his girlfriend are frightening, as the fragile order of their lives shatters and she falls into a state of manic destructiveness.
M. C. Armstrong’s essay “Between the Sailor and the Sail: the Faith of Ken Kesey” describes the effect of their son’s death in a bus accident on the lives of Ken and Faye Kesey, who turned the most terrible kind of crash in a parent’s life into a campaign of action, however imperfect its outcome. In her essay “The Witness Complains,” Sharon Solwitz allows herself to do something that even the wise person sometimes must do-she vents, telling it like it is, or at least how it can sometimes be-as her family deals with the late stages of her husband’s MS.
Jonathon Johnson’s poems find moments of insight and solace between the collisions of life, through music and attention to detail. Benjamin Grossman’s poems are from the viewpoint of a spacewalker who is wandering farther and farther away from what he has experienced and what he can remember. In “Space Traveler, Great Filter,” his spaceman has the urge always to move on, realizing, “You will do what all species do,/what life does: fling yourself/against it again and again/until it breaks you, or you find/a way through.” In John Evans’s requiem, which is elegiac and ironic, we hear the voice of a husband after the loss of his wife, showing how such a loss through time lessens but never goes away.