That Time You Saw Your Reflection--A candid letter to a millennial
When I first saw you running down Broadway near Tulane University, I thought you were naked and I almost wrecked my car. “Who were you running from without any pants?” I thought as I placed my La Croix in my cup holder. But then I realized that you actually had on rose gold high waisted, midi leggings that blended in with a spray tan that freakishly glowed. In that moment of puzzlement over such a strange gleaming creature of wireless headset and free-spirited Lycra, I couldn’t decide what to make of you.
Off you jogged to some crappy, overpriced apartment near The Boot, listening to a song I’d probably mock, and off I drove to Winn-Dixie in my SUV, listening to “Here You Come Again” by Dolly Parton because it’s in a chicken tender commercial on TV and I’d forgotten how much I loved that song. I briefly wondered if you even knew who Dolly Parton was, but then I remembered that “Dumplin’” is on Netflix and full of Dolly. So, of course you do. I also wondered if you had cable and exposure to chicken tender commercials, but then realized that of course you don’t because you’re a millennial and you hacked the cable TV problem long before the rest of us realized that we should too.
“What would I have binged on when I was your age?” I pondered. “Friends” maybe? And then I remembered that “Friends” is on Netflix and perhaps you’re binging on that now? I wondered if I were to say the names Phoebe, Monica, and Rachel to you, if you would exclaim, “OMG! I love that show!” And then we’d have a good laugh about our favorite episode. Suddenly our two worlds would collide, generational walls would crumble, and we’d get each other – if just for a brief situational comedy moment. I could finally ask things like if gluten free is so important, how come none of my friends died when we were kids? And what’s an agrihood? But I drove onto errands, carpool, and dinner waiting in my Instapot. You jogged toward Happy Hour and an unwritten future.
You already know this, Millennial, but most of my friends don’t like you. And even though you’re so fun to hate, I’d like to set some things straight.
For starters it’s generally agreed that you’re narcissistic. We get it. Your Instagram is your calling card to anyone whose attention you’re out to get. Every image needs to be hot or cute or sexy or whatever your brand is. Same with your Bumble and all that other “swiping left” that took the charm out of the meet cute. And while I do agree that your Instagram is utterly ridiculous with obvious poses that never come across as the candid you’d hoped they appear to be, if I were you, I’d be doing the same silly bullshit because mating adapts to its environment. You’re doing a very natural thing on a platform that is seemingly unnatural to your…er…elders, for lack of a less humbling word. And while you do often look stupid, and one day probably sooner than you think you’ll wonder what the hell you were thinking, I don’t think you’re stupid. I think you’re making a split decision of which qualities and details of your life you want to share and remember. You’re just making it in a matter of seconds.
Next, it’s believed that you’ve been dumbed down by an adolescence of texting and Snapchatting and that you can’t speak or write. This is an actual opinion by some, but here’s why. When we see penmanship and cursive chucked, it’s basically like our entire second grade year never happened. Why did we even bother going? Your laptops in class drive us nuts because passed notes aren’t special when messaged. When your earth-shattering breakups are done over texts, we wonder if you even have a heart at all. How haven’t you lost one another completely when multitasking three apps and ten threads at once becomes so regular that 100 percent isn’t given to anything? How will you be able to work your first mundane job?
Which leads me to entitlement to a lifestyle some of my generation are just now earning. My first post-grad job was to book the music acts for what was then a small music festival. By day I listened to CDs of local musicians and by night I’d catch their acts in seedy French Quarter bars. They’d buy me drinks, vying for a slot that would hopefully elevate their career – all from a twenty-something nobody who made only $20k a year! That was crap pay even then. But I sucked it up because long hours, sweat, and scraping by was just the motivation I needed to move ahead. No one told me I was being snowed because everyone started on the bottom. Then along came different expectations. Suddenly a basic culinary degree is lauded with an executive chef salary all because your bearnaise was best in class. And the forty-something chef who minced onions for ten years is supposed to feel bad for telling you just how not so special you are?
But before you hate me any more than you already might, there’s more to this letter than I’ve disclosed.
If fake personas played out on social media mark a particular generation, then we’re all part of the same generation. If hours spent staring at a screen mark a particular generation, then we’re all part of the same generation. And if being called snots by the generation above mark a particular generation, then we’re all part of the same generation.
I do think too many participation trophies were given to you. I know from experience that coming back from feeling like a total loser builds character. But let’s be honest, the first numbnut who came home plastered and paid a 13-year-old babysitter ten dollars an hour is really to blame here. You were sheltered and paid too much early on. But no, you’re not the first generation to frustrate the crap out of those above you and you’re not the first generation to reveal a very painful truth: Just as you believe your best days are ahead, many before you believe our best days are behind us.
Adaptation isn’t accepted without struggle. Ask any polar bear and I guarantee there are copious stories of resistance to the largest carnivorous land mammal becoming aquatic. Some confused Baby Boomer polar bear stood on a sliver of ice refusing to jump, bemoaning: “What the hell happened to our breed?!”
That is us. We are like the polar bears. Every generation has a period of fear of what is to come from their investment. Every generation has the choice to preserve what worked and accept that some things either aren’t working for enough, have stopped working entirely, or were just wrong from the start. Every generation can either scream from their sliver of ice or move on because the only proven constant in life is that life does goes on with or without us.
I now know enough to know that one day, Millennial in the hypnotizing leggings, you too will be a polar bear. You will pass a younger version of yourself. You’ll see her through the window of your hybrid car and for a brief moment, you’ll wonder if it’s actually your reflection in the window that you see because what you see is something you once were.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.