January 12, 2013
Semi-Charmed Life: The twentysomethings are all right
Nathan Heller in The New Yorker:
Recently, many books have been written about the state of people in their twenties, and the question that tends to crop up in them, explicitly or not, is: Well, whose twenties? Few decades of experience command such dazzled interest (the teen-age years are usually written up in a spirit of damage control; the literature of fiftysomethings is a grim conspectus of temperate gatherings and winded adultery), and yet few comprise such varied kinds of life. Twentysomethings spend their days rearing children, living hand to mouth in Asia, and working sixty-hour weeks on Wall Street. They are moved by dreams of adult happiness, but the form of those dreams is as serendipitous as ripples in a dune of sand. Maybe your life gained its focus in college. Maybe a Wisconsin factory is where the route took shape. Or maybe your idea of adulthood got its polish on a feckless trip to Iceland. Where you start out—rich or poor, rustic or urbane—won’t determine where you end up, perhaps, but it will determine how you get there. The twenties are when we turn what Frank O’Hara called “sharp corners.”
Allowing for a selective, basically narrow frame of reference, then, it’s worth noting that much of what we know about the twentysomething years comes down to selective, basically narrow frames of reference. Able-bodied middle-class Americans in their twenties—the real subject of these books—are impressionable; they’re fickle, too. Confusion triumphs. Is it smart to spend this crucial period building up a stable life: a promising job, a reliable partner, and an admirable assortment of kitchenware? Or is the time best spent sowing one’s wild oats? Can people even have wild oats while carrying smartphones? One morning, you open the newspaper and read that today’s young people are an assiduous, Web-savvy master race trying to steal your job and drive up the price of your housing stock. The next day, they’re reported to be living in your basement, eating all your shredded wheat, and failing to be marginally employed, even at Wendy’s. For young people with the luxury of time and choice, these ambiguities give rise to a particular style of panic.
“F*ck! I’m in My Twenties” (Chronicle), a new cri de coeur by Emma Koenig, is a diary of these fretful years trimmed to postcard size.
Posted by Azra Raza at 08:20 AM | Permalink