When I was 17 and in my final year of high school, I saw something written on the wall of the bathroom that stayed with me. “I belong to the blank generation”. A quick google search revealed it was a snippet of lyrics from a Richard Hell song, which begins “I was sayin’ let me out of here before I was even born”. Though the “blank generation” referred to a specific breed of angry punk-rockers, at the time I felt it had an awful lot of resonance with my own. At the time I was bussing across town from East Van to a West Side public high school, and as we approached graduation the message was clear: You’d better go to school, and you’d better start planning your career. And if you don’t know what to do, you’d better figure it out soon if you don’t want to end up flipping burgers.
5 years later, my “blank generation” is flipping burgers with one hand and finishing degrees with the other. And it’s not looking like it’s going to get better any time soon. For them, that “blank” spot might be in their savings account, their employment prospects or their property ownership. Young adults are leaving their twenties still crippled by student loan debt and paralysed by a job market left scarce by the recession, and the dream of owning a home is more of a punchline then a plan. Something went wrong. Post-Secondary Education had been touted as the only way to make a career worth having – except that in reality, a bachelor’s degree can’t get you a job that can help you pay for it. I’ve been talking to friends, co-workers, reading messages from twitter and Facebook, comments on articles and I’m hearing the message loud and clear. Things aren’t looking good.
Right now I’m writing a show called STATIONARY: a recession-era musical. I didn’t set out to write a political show. But in writing a story about people my own age, I didn’t see any other way to do it. I don’t know what other story to tell than someone battling against huge obstacles in pursuit of the life they dream of (and I don’t think any other writer ever did). Those obstacles have looked different in generations, in centuries gone by, but at this moments, they look a lot like the battle between following “the plan” and paying the bills. The “Plan” would be checking off those boxes that have been laid out as the “5 Milestones of Adulthood”: Completing Education, Leaving the Family Home, Becoming Financially Independent, Marriage, and Parenthood. According to an article in Salon.com, in 1960 “77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had passed all five milestones by the age of 30. By 2000, fewer than 50 percent of the women and 33 percent of the men had done so”. Does this sound like anyone you know?
In trying to put the plight of my peers on stage I’m constantly catching myself listening the comments section in my brain (never a good idea). To look at it one way, we are a generation whose elders failed to protect us from skyrocketing tuition rates and have consistently taken political action that ensures a living wage is far out of reach. On the other, we’re labeled as entitled whiners who supposedly expect success without having to work for it. I can see both sides in a theoretical sense, but here’s the thing – I know lots of young people, non-artists included who work hard and have almost nothing to show for it. To succeed in today’s job market, candidates are supposed to be highly experienced, have tons of extra skills acquired outside of school, be bright, energetic, charismatic, persistent – so what about those who lack any one of these qualities? Too bad for them? Then what? I don’t have the answer to that.
Life happens. We get caught along the way by our family situations, our environments, or ourselves. So I’m writing a story about 6 young people that one way or another have found themselves stuck. Stationary, if you will (if you didn’t get the pun before, now I’ve laid it right out for you, just in case I’m not as witty as I’d hoped). Aren’t we all deserving of happiness? I sure think so. And I hope these folks make it there, even with the considerable odds stacked against them. It’s been a struggle to process what I want to say and bring it to life in story form, and I would love to hear your comments about what you think those struggles are. And you can judge for yourself if I am successful in doing just that when STATIONARY: a recession-era musical goes up at the Cultch with the Neanderthal Festival in July. For now, some reading material:
Two Articles by Rob Carrick from the Globe and Mail:
“What Is It About Twenty-Somethings?” From the New York Times: