“It’s not healthy to live life as the succession of isolated little cool moments,” says Claire, one of the protagonists in Douglas Coupland’s Generation X, at the onset of the novel while she herself is inhabiting the cool moment of the sun rising over the California mountains.
“Either our lives become stories, or there’s just no way to get through them.”
It’s been nearly 26 years since Generation X was published, offering both an overarching narrative and credence to the collective dissatisfaction of America’s “lost generation.”
Although a millennial myself, I happened to pick it off my girlfriend’s bookshelf recently in a bout of weekend boredom. While I made my way through its oversized, stylized pages, as saturated and biting as the era itself, I found it as surprisingly relevant today as when it hit shelves in ’91.
Despite the last 26 years of social, political, technological, and cultural change, are we any more content than the protagonists of Generation X? Or have we simply become more lost?
“We live small lives on the periphery; we are marginalized and there’s a great deal in which we choose not to participate,” declares Andy, the novel’s narrator, affirming his and his friends’, Dag and Claire, decision to leave their lives behind and come out to the desert to “tell stories and make our own lives worthwhile tales in the process.”
Out to the desert, a place inhospitable to life as we know it. What are they fleeing from?
In the generation that experienced the explosion of mass media and targeted, aspirational marketing, amidst all that noise, for Andy and his friends, and countless of people like them, their own desires began to blur with those thrust upon them. They indulged ad-awakened urges in the hopes of inhabiting a life glimpsed on greener, televised pastures, only to discover an emptiness at the end of it all. Nonetheless, no matter where they looked, they were presented with nothing except more, greener pastures. Where else was one to go?
Over two decades later, the noise from which Andy and his friends sought to escape has only grown louder. We’re demanded to work longer, harder, and faster than ever before, despite our salaries stagnating. Advertising has infiltrated every aspect of our lives. So much so, Facebook is running out of space. And the divide between entertainment and reality has been blurred out of existence. On social media, our lives are someone else’s entertainment.
The decade notwithstanding, it really isn’t healthy to live life as the succession of isolated little cool moments, no matter how many likes they’re now able to get on Instagram.
A Life on the Lunar Side
Instead, we need stories to survive. By that, I feel Coupland doesn’t mean a Hollywood ending, narrative karma, or a “chosen one” destiny. Life is too chaotic to allow us these true luxuries. That’s what movies are for.
Instead, the need for stories is more basic: a need for meaning. Moments are inherently meaningless on their own, without context. And who wants to live a life without meaning? The characters in Generation X didn’t. No generation does.
The world around us, whether in the 80s, 90s, 00s, or the present day, will never provide that meaning to us, only more noise. Same, different; it’s irrelevant. Noise is noise.
A sense of self is the signal in that noise. Whether that’s what Coupland meant in Generation X, I can’t be sure. But it’s what I come back to whenever I think about how to live a meaningful life: the need to know yourself and what you want and to live authentically.
Easier said than done.
Even at the end of Generation X, Andy is still lost, albeit headed in the right direction. “I’m on the lunar side of the fence,” he affirms. “I don’t know where or how, but I definitely made that choice. And lonely and awful as that choice can sometimes be, I have no regrets.”
We, too, owe it to ourselves to explore the lunar side of life. To turn off the TV, log offline, escape from our cubicles the moment our obligation is fulfilled, and instead indulge our own passions and nurture relationships with our loved ones. In my experience, when we simply spend meaningful time with ourselves and others, that’s when stories are made.
-Christopher Brooks is the author of The Gertrude Threshold: A Novella, which is published by Ragged Right Media and available on Amazon starting at $0.99.