Slacker

(Future Paper)

Written on November 26, 1991

"There's no future, no future, no future for YOU!! -- Johnny Rotten, 1977

Last week, I turned 29. In a month, I graduate from college, having been and out of school for a little over a decade. When my father turned 29, I was 8. He had also been married for 10 years, served a stint in the Marines, graduated from college, passed the CPA exam, and was beginning to teach himself COBOL computer programming. He had sired two children and was within a month of conceiving a third. I really haven't done shit.

My generation is the slacker generation; not doing shit is our forte. We aren't any less intelligent than any other generation, just less motivated. I know I am. It used to be that people picked a vocation, learned it, and did it for a life time. Yuk. Unless I can make a living writing, and I seriously doubt I can, there's no way that I'll spend a lifetime doing anything. There's too much that I might enjoy for awhile and nothing that overwhelmingly appeals. Sometimes freedom of choice really sucks.

We are slackers because we really can't keep focused on any one thing for too long. Too much information. When I first learned about radio waves, it really freaked me out, because I learned that right now, thousands upon thousands of radio and television waves of all different types and frequencies are going through me. I was really gld that the human body can only see and hear a tiny tiny bit of the entire spectrum, because the though of actually being able to see and hear all of those waves was a bit much. Too much information. On the other hand, as I write this, I am listening to a Bob Dylan CD (snuck him in again); discussing world events with my cat (she's glad that David Duke lost, because now he'll run for President and siphon votes from Bush); noticing my Christmas lights; glancing at the half-read newspaper; and I can see the 49er game reflected in my word processor. So maybe I could deal with all of those waves.

I think that one of the reasons that my generation hasn't done too much is those goddamned Baby Boomers stole all of our fun. They got the Beatles, Woodstock, acid, and free love. We got disco, Ronald Reagan, crack and AIDS. I'm not saying that any of those things is the Boomers' fault. Well, Ronald Reagan is the Baby Boomers' fault. They voted him in. So our entire lives are like a search for the same fun that the Boomers got in the 60s and of course it isn't there, because they grew up and turned into their parents. Then they turned around, gasped, and collectively said "I can't believe we lived through all of that fun. No way anybody else could, so we'd better hide it." Then they gave us MTV instead.

I just looked the word "Slacker" up in my big red dictionary (that's what its called too, "The Big Red Dictionary"), and it says: "A person who shirks work or responsibility.") That's not me. I work hard and always accept responsibility. It's reality that I slack off.

When my dad turned 40, he'd fathered four intelligent boys; was partners in a successful CPA firm; co-owned another business on top of that; was a high-school soccer coach; and a pillar of the community. He then had a mid-life crisis that was so severe that it shattered his life forever. It did a pretty good job on the rest of us too, especially my mom. I doubt that too many in my generation will be having the same sort of mid-life crisis. I know I won't, even though I've been joking for years that I've been going through one and when it's over I'll know my direction.

Sometimes I think that my life consists of sitting around and waiting to see what happens next.

There is this movie out right now called "Slacker." It's sort of done documentary-style and its all about people in Austin, Texas, who just sit around and talk about stuff. It's like hanging around with my friends. Well, except for the camera. The camera just follows from person to person on practically a whim and sometimes it can be boring, which is ok, because life can be boring, even when there is too much to do. Paralyzed by choice. I'm not all that sure how much I liked the movie, which is also ok, because I'm not all that sure how much I like my life sometimes either. But as my friend Don sings: "options aren't so great . . . because anywhere has got to be better than nowhere."

People ask me: "What are you going to do after you graduate, Jim?" I always tell them that I'm gonna go out and stay sober for a week, hahahaha. I don't know. How can I plan for tomorrow? Look, graduating from college is the first really major thing that I've ever started that I've actually finished. I used to tell people that staying in school for so long was a form of social protest against there being a Republican in the White House. Now I tell people that I had planned to stay in school until Communism was discredited in the Soviet Union. Besides, its not like I wasn't doing anything. I was living. I did help found KFSR and stuck around there for six and-a-half years whilst achieving some notoriety; I have worked my way up to manager at my job; taught myself drums; and seen the sun rise under some pretty strange and weird circumstances. I've often had a pretty good time in the process. I mean, if Plato or whoever said that the unexamined life wasn't worth living, then I must counter with: "Oh yeah, well I believe that the unlived life isn't worth examining, so there!"

The night after we saw "Slacker," a friend and I were sitting around in a bar discussing it. I pointed out that the only thing that rang false was that while the movie itself was funny, there were no characters that were intentionally funny from the character's standpoint. That is, we were always laughing at them, not with them. I wondered if that was because, in such a naturalistic movie, it was impossible to play intentionally funny without descending into camp. I asked her this because she acts and directs theatre and maybe she would know, but since the beer (Anchor Steam on tap, yummy yummy) was clouding my mind, I wasn't expressing myself with the same clarity that I do when I write (you know, like I'm doing right now . . . NOT), so I couldn't get my question across correctly. So while we were struggling to define what I meant about playing comedy, I suddenly realized that it was just like a scene in the movie! Imagine that.

I guess you could say I'm a cheery pessimist.

This is my way out, I really know it. I can write about anything, at any time. I never have writer's block. And I hate it, I really do. I've been sitting here for about an hour and a half just cranking this arty, conceptual paper, but it kills me, it really does. Nothing less than a tremendous strength of will can make me sit down at this fucking word processor (that I'm still paying for, by the way) and do this. So realize that. I don't know how hard it is for other people to write, but I agonize over every word. It's just that I agonize rather fast. In any even, this is my talent -- which I've known since I was at least 16 -- and I'm afraid that I'll run away from it again after I've used it to graduate. How many others in this slacker generation are running from their true talents?

There are really only two non-provable philosophical concepts that I really believe in (or at least can think of right now): Karma and Serendipity. My problem with karma is that since I believe it is an ongoing thing (like the hardcore Christians believe that Jesus constantly interferes with their lives), I never know if the good things that happen are rewards for good things that I did or if they are the other side of the cycle for bad things that happened to me or, even worse, bad things that are about to happen to me. Or vice versa with the bad things. (When you make up your own belief systems, explaining them can get a bit confusing; luckily, I really don't think about it all that much because, over the long run, things seem to even out.) As far as serendipity goes, this word processor is a perfect example. The only reason I have it is because my ex-girlfriend Nicola talked me into going in on it with her for her schooling. I was skeptical, but got suckered into it anyway. So naturally, she then quit school and moved out. I had decided to go back to school, however, so it made some sense that I take over the payments. What I didn't know at the time I made the decision was that out of the five classes (over two semesters) I needed to graduate, my writing abilities made a major difference in four.

I do know one thing that I'm going to do after I graduate: campaign my ass off for Mario Cuomo. Unless he decides not run again. Sudden thought: he is the true slacker candidate, isn't he?

One of the reasons that I don't have a career is that those goddamn Baby Boomers stole one away from me: radio. I think I've already discussed this at some length in an earlier paper, but let me just say this: I was good. No, I was a fucking monster as a disc jockey. I was knowledgeable, articulate and witty. But when FM rock radio stagnated in the mid-'70s, they created an I.Q. test for Djs, and anybody who scored higher than "cretin" was summarily tossed off the airwaves. That's why coke-addled mutants like -- oh, never mind the names -- get second and third chances at your favorite radio stations.

Hamlet, yay!

The great slacker rock band was the Replacements. They were loud, crude and full of great songs. They were often also full of drugs and alcohol. They never even tried to make it on the industry's terms (read: video) until long after it was too late. But their lead singer and songwriter, Paul Westerberg, is the best songwriter of my generation, and I'll defend that to the death. He writes songs that are cocky and scared at exactly the same time. Songs with titles like "Hold My Life," ("Until I'm ready to use it"), "We'll Inherit the Earth" ("But we don't want it") and "I Don't Know." He wrote the best song of the 1980s, and it was all about whether or not to leave a message on an answering machine.

I don't think I heard the word "slacker" once in the entire movie.

So maybe the reason I'm the way I am, and my generation is the way it is, is that there are just too many choices. We are in the information age, where world events fly by at dizzying speed, and so there is nothing to grasp on to. Most of our families are in disarray due to divorce, and many of our friends are fucked on drugs, TV, or even both. Many of our options are frozen, and the rest don't look too good. Still, there are tons of choices, tons and tons and tons. Just not very many good ones. So we sit around and wait for something to happen. And when I do make a choice, whether it be a car, apartment, or even a TV show, I instantly wonder if it is the right one. That's why remote controls are so wonderful: they offer a measure of control in an otherwise hostile environment. On the other hand, the control is illusory -- we still have no control over the actual shows. Now matter times I push that button, there's still nothing on.

The whole slacker ethos can be summed up in one clever phrase:

TOO MANY CHOICES, NOT ENOUGH DECISIONS

(Having read this far, you might be wondering why I just didn't type that phrase, and be done with it. Well, believe you me, the thought ran through my head.)

Of course, one of the reasons that I often sit around and wait for things to happen is that they usually do.

You're probably thinking: "Wow, that movie sure made an impact on him." I'm not so sure. It might be a case of me taking something (the supposition that I am part of the "slacker generation") and twisting a few facts around to fit it.

My dad got remarried last week. Unlike his first marriage, this was a mature decision. Good for him.

"Whatcha gonna do with your life? Nuthin'." --Paul Westerberg, 1987

-- Jim Connelly

This piece was really my first flowering of Gen X consciousness. There was more to come.

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This page created on 04 July, 1995.
Last Updated on 15 January 1996
I was listening to Meat Puppets -- No Joke.