Living simply in a new millennium

by Daniel Koustoufis (b. 1982)

We live in a complex time. There’s no argument that can be made to the contrary. Our nation is at war on two fronts. We are in the midst of one of the greatest political about-faces of the last hundred years. Technology is advancing faster than most people can keep up with. The economy is hovering somewhere between recession and depression. The unemployment rate is the highest it’s been in nearly twenty years. As Generation Y, we had a front row seat on the day the world changed.

Like generations before us, we have our moment of, “Where were you when.” Our “when,” of course was September 11, 2001. The Baby Boomers had the day that Kennedy was shot. The Greatest Generation had the day when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Each of these events changed their respective generation’s world forever. Gen-Y’s world will never return to the idyllic and booming time that was the end of the Clinton years.

As a generation, we should be flattered to know that many of previous generations think highly of our generation. Historians Neil Howe and William Strauss thought that Millennials could be the next great generation as far back as 2000. In 2008, Generation Y began to live up to that hypothesis and changed the political landscape. Largely because of our political activism, Barack Obama is sitting in the Oval Office.

As a generation, however, we should seek to take examples on how past generations struggled through their great problems. In the Great Depression, the Greatest Generation, largely children at the time, recall memories of meager suppertimes, and their fathers waiting in long lines for bread or for work as a day laborer. Nearly every member of the Greatest Generation can tell us a story of how difficult life was in the 1930’s. To me, these stories are inspirational. The story teller tells us of perseverance and simplicity.

Simplicity can be a foreign concept to anyone living in Generation Y. In order to make it through the tough times, one must realize that it’s the simple things in life that really matter: food, shelter, clothing, family. Some of the greatest joys of my life are simple. I love sitting down to a pancake breakfast with my wife and kids on a Saturday morning. I love taking the kids for a walk to the park, and to just sit and listen to their squeals of joy. I love listening to the Red Sox on the radio. I love sitting on my couch in the evening, looking across the room, and just admiring my beautiful, strong, independent wife.

Let’s simplify our lives. Let’s cook at home. Let’s go for a walk. Let’s let our kids play outside and be kids. Let’s pull through this most terrible economic slump and prove to the world that we are the next great generation.

Daniel Koustoufis is a firefighter in Massachusetts. He is also a father, a husband, an active church member, and a deep thinker.

To teach us children well

by A. Grad (b. 1983)

I am a graduate student at a major research University. I'm in my fourth year of study toward a Ph.D. in history and, to earn my living stipend, the University requires I teach or TA two classes per year. I just finished grading 15 undergraduate papers, and I am not encouraged.
Many grad students see teaching as a burden. Me? I love it. It's why I got into this gig. I love history, but when I teach, I get to share with people my love for what I do.

Of course, I am supposed to do more than that. And that's why I am a bit defeated today. Sometimes my students expect me to teach names and dates (the 'answers'), but they will soon forget those things. I forget those things. I use wikipedia more than I would like to admit. But my job isn't about names and dates. And my job isn't about giving students the answers. My job isn't even about teaching them how to find answers. It's actually not about answers at all. It's about the questions.

My job is to help my students to think more critically about the world around them; to get them to step outside the mental models they use to assess their everyday existence and to see the world as a more complex, complicated, and vexed place. My job is to get them to ask questions and then use those questions look for solutions, not just answers.
To be honest, I have no idea how to teach this. There's no manual. I just do my best and hope that, week-by-week, I will learn what works and what doesn't. I hope that slowly my students will begin to respond to what I do.

James Livingston , a historian at Princeton University, recently wrote an article entitled "Their Great Depression and Ours" where he compares the Great Depression to current economic meltdown. His primary point is that policy-makers aren't asking the right questions right now. His larger point about the meltdown makes abundantly clear that, if you aren't asking the right questions in the right way, you won't get the best answers (IE: what REALLY caused these meltdowns?)

I want my students to learn to be better; to understand how to get to the root of a complex problem like this crisis. The only way we will get solid, well-constructed solutions to the problems we face in the world today is if our generation knows how to ask the right questions.

After reading my students papers tonight, I am again struck by the headiness of the task in front of me. I am in the unique position of being teacher of my own generation, and I am terrified of failing us. We absolutely must learn to ask the right questions. Our future, and yours, depend on it.

A. Grad was a dancer for 18 years of her young life. Now, at 25, she dances when she works with undergrads. She especially likes when this happens after a few hours stuck in the archives, with just the old books to see her pirouette.

MySpace is silencing Gen Y's musical promise

by Jack Rampant (b. 1984)

In one of Bruce Springsteen’s most recent hits he sings, “This is Radio Nowhere. Is there anyone alive out there?” Each time I hear him on the radio, I scream, “Yes! Me, my friends, and my favorite bands!” There are people my age playing songs with conscious lyrics. But you can’t, or don’t hear us, Boss. Why not?

I am a musician and many of my musical cohorts are writing excellent songs. They stick in your head, the lyrics are meaningful, poignant, and reflective of the lives we lead as young people in a strange new century, and in a nation at a crossroad. But Springsteen is right. The radio is nowhere, playing to nobody, and what’s worse, playing nobody. At least, nobody new.

The median age of artistic success seems to be getting ever-older in front of us, so most artists in their twenties and thirties have yet to be heard. Old names like Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, and dead names like The Beatles, who all broke into the mainstream young, still hog the covers and columns of Rolling Stone, while bands our age face a catch 22. Labels prefer their old stars. New names can only get “development” deals, which sign artistic rights away to the company. They can’t just sell our music because of the internet. They need control of merchandising. A band can’t survive without that profit in pocket. Result? Canned trash goes to market, and the market value of artistic greatness plummets.

If Springsteen would like to hear who’s “alive out there,” he should spend some time reforming the business, though I don’t expect him to be able to. The universal soapbox which is mySpace severely blurred the line between amateur and professional. It looks like a screen door for real talent to get through, but it’s a fa├žade. It is a lucrative advertising business, which devalues developing artists and their work.

If we are all allotted 15 minutes of fame, most of us are out at least five, in particularly unsatisfying platforms, devoid of respect for our craft. Our voice, then, is yet to be defined, as we reach the age when the Boomers’ heroes were already dead. We’re taking a slower road, hoping for a hand. Our poets will be discovered postmortem. In the meantime, enjoy the silence.

Jack Rampant is an incredible guitar player. If anyone ever hears him, they'll agree.

Over-educated, under-employed: Was college worth it?

By Jillian Evans (b. 1983)

As I sit in the office of the temporary staffing agency taking tests on Microsoft Word and typing accuracy, I can’t help but wonder: is this what my $30,000 a year college education has bought me? After almost four years of work experience, I have suddenly found myself living with my parents and vying with hundreds of other applicants for an $11 an hour clerical job answering phones.

Don’t get me wrong; I know I’m lucky to not have anyone to support or a house whose mortgage outweighs its value. I’m even lucky to have parents that will let me stay with them while I find another full-time job. All the same, I’m not exactly thrilled with my current life situation.

In the words of Tony award-winning Avenue Q lyricist Jeff Marks,
4 years of college 
And plenty of knowledge
Have earned me this useless degree.
I have not one, but two Bachelor’s degrees that are collecting dust in my basement. I understand and support a college education for all those who want it; I have spent the last 3 years of my life teaching middle school students that a college education is the sole route to a bright future. If they wanted to be hairdressers or auto mechanics, I still encouraged them to spend the time and money to get a degree in entrepreneurship so they could own their own shops. Now I wonder: did I mislead them? While white collar jobs are declining in this economy, many blue collar jobs are holding steady or even increasing. So, is college really worth the investment? John Stossel and the investigative reporters at ABC’s 20/20 think it may not be. Watch the YouTube version of the segment here:

Of course, there is another side. My bachelor’s and post-college experience have given me the opportunity to accept a two month temporary job that will pay $35 an hour, which would certainly not have been available to me without my degree. But come May, I will most likely be back at the temp agency, answering phones and managing databases until the economy improves.

Jillian Evans is unemployed, but not friendless.

Millennials Defined

On Urban Dictionary, a site that proposes to define American slang, there are four different definitions of Millennials. Three are relatively benign, but this one (pasted below) is the type that gets me riled. I don't even know what LiveJournal is! The search term "generation Y" turns up significantly more entries. Most, like this popular one, are negative and some are just ridiculously over the top, like this one (pasted below).

One of four definitions of "millennial" or "millennial generation":
2. millennial generation 23 agree, 29 disagree
The generation which came of age in the 21st century. They're fond of tattoos and body piercings and spend all of their time exchanging pics of their latest drunken blowout on Facebook or Myspace. They talk constantly on their cell phones even in the bathroom and text messages back and forth even during exams. Reading is a chore unless its the latest entry on a friend's LiveJournal. The only books they have ever read completely are the Harry Potter novels
A particularly over-the-top definition of "generation Y" (one of fifteen):
9. Generation Y 8 agree, 8 disagree’s called the “me” generation and known by its egos, superficiality, sensuality, materialism, entitlement, instant gratification, selfishness, poor work ethic, and a general lack of responsibility. Generation Y has been bombarded by violence, sex and too much information—mostly bad—being shoved down their throats by the media and our culture. As a result, Generation Y is the generation of school shootings; you can’t even go to school anymore without fear of being shot. This generation knows more about the Simpsons than they do about our founding fathers. Generation Y also looks to miscreants like Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton as role models rather than Martin Luther King. It pays more attention to what’s going on in Hollywood than what’s going in the world around them. Generation Y has given us the cell phone, IPOD, the iPhone, the internet, text massaging [sic], PDAs, Nintendo 64, Nintendo Game Cube, American Idol, TIVO, Starbucks, MySpace and E-Bay.

Get out of the mayor's bed: Gen Y says leave politician's sex lives alone

by Patrick Mongeau (b. 1984)

If there is one thing Barack Obama did to influence presidential politics in this last election, it was to reverse the nature of the conversation from negative to positive. He responded in a positive manner to accusations against him, careful not to keep silent when attacked, but thoughtful and direct in his response. It wasn't always easy, but it gave birth to the important conversation always lurking underneath.

Obama made sure that the 2008 campaign talked about governmental issues, instead of frivolous scandals that might oust the right person for the job from the race based on hearsay. But Obama wasn't able to pull local politics up with him.

Case in point: the newly elected mayor of Portland, Sam Adams, had to skip Obama's inauguration because he is facing a personal scandal. Apparently, in 2005, he dated and had sex with Beau Breedlove (real name), who was only 18 at the time. Adams was 42. Now, the establishment is clamoring for his resignation, based on the pretext that he denied the relationship in his 2007 bid for office. I’m only two years older than Breedlove. At eighteen, I was fully capable of choosing a sexual partner, but I'm still not capable of telling the world specific details of my sex life. Why ask so much of our public officers?

The great triumph in Adams' election, he is openly gay, was that it seemed we had accepted the simple truth that his sex life has nothing to do with how qualified he is for the job. The mirror of Obama's election is too obvious to ignore. If someone wants to use his race against him now, they'd try to get him to lie about a personal matter dealing with his race. This is abusive politics.

In the private sector, Adams could easily win a suit against a company ousting him for the same action. We have a government that is run by the people, meaning by some among us. We must allow those in government, then, to be people, and that means accepting their humanity. Let us find compassion for each other in public life.

Patrick Mongeau is a screenwriter, poet, songwriter, joker, thinker, friend, brother, son, cousin, movie critic, bike commuter, bus rider, babysitter, futon seller, pedi-cab driver, temp worker, production assistant, guitar player, and all around good guy.  He lives in the world. 

A shout out

Check out the shout out Millennial Voices got this weekend on the Schiff Report!

From alienation to hope: A different experience of my generation.

by Daniel Koustoufis (b. 1982)

It’s ironic that in a blog about Generation Y, I write about my past contempt for my generation. In the past, I tended to have a view of Gen-Y straight out of a John Mayer song:

They say we stand for nothing
And there’s no way we ever could.

I left the comforting confines of adolescence much too early. I married my wife Jacqueline at nineteen years old, and I had my first child, Kaitlyn, when I was twenty. I left school, because, of course, I had to support my new family. I thrust myself into a demanding and stressful career. I became an EMT at the tender age of 19 and went on to deal with domestic violence, shootings, stabbings, cardiac arrests, strokes, and car accidents. I dealt with more death and carnage by the time I was 21 than anyone should deal with in a lifetime. Every patient I took care of throughout the course of a shift was having their worst day ever. I had to learn to deal with death before I even knew what life really was.

Many of my friends from high school fell away from me; partly because I didn’t have time for a social life, and partly because I couldn’t relate to anyone’s problems anymore. Turning in a term paper on time is stressful, but taking care of a patient whose legs had shattered because she was hit by a car on the highway was not even comparable. I never got to live my life for myself, and I despised my whole generation for that. I watched all of my friends as they went to school and lived according to their own wants and needs.

For my whole adult life, I worked in service to others, first as an EMT, and then as a firefighter. I still work as a firefighter, one of the few graduates of my high school class that remained in our home town. Along the way as my life became more stable (and brought me four more children), I began to accept my life as it was. Whether you believe in God or not (I am an ardent Catholic), I believe that every person is put on this earth to serve others. I serve my community, but I also serve my family.

With the election of Barack Obama and his call to national service, I have incredible hope for our generation. Generation-Y does stand for something. We stand for hope. We stand for change. We stand for something bigger than ourselves. Let’s hope Gen-Y lives up to the promise we made to this nation by never forgetting our call to service.

Daniel Koustoufis is a firefighter in Massachusetts. He is also a father, a husband, an active church member, and a deep thinker.