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Writing for the Blank Generation

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:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/rob-carrick/boomers-have-a-stake-in-gen-ys-success/article2435015/comments/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/2012-vs-1984-young-adults-really-do-have-it-harder-today/article2425558/

“What Is It About Twenty-Somethings?”  From the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22Adulthood-t.html?pagewanted=all

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Voter Turnout and the Olympic Legacy

I have been waiting to write this for over a year.

I remember the Olympics.  I remember opposing the original bid, opposing the constant mismanagement, the sacrifices made in budget cut after budget cuts to things I felt were more lasting than an international 10 day party.  But they came, and what’s done is done.  I remember the smiles, the sunshine, and the spirit of it all.  I remember high-fiving police officers and hugging strangers, I remember street parties.  I remember Canadians surprising themselves and the world with their sudden, positive, infectious nationalism.  We bragged about our mountains and water, our liberal ways, and our ‘free health care’.  We made Americans wish they were us.  I remember the pride in our humble nation bubbling off the lips of every drunken young person wearing a Canadian flag as a cape.  “This is the best place on Earth!  I love Canada!”  It was amazing.

I hope they wear these outfits to the polls. (Photo by Matthew Little for the Epoch Times)

And I remember then thinking, I hope it sticks.  I hope they take that newfound love for their country and they go volunteer.  Or clean up their neighborhoods after the party is over.  Just get out there and contribute to the nation they love so much.  And frankly, I doubt they did.  I doubt the nationalist fervour lasted beyond the last drunken street party.  But I hope I’m wrong.  And of course it’s easy to love your country when the world is watching, when the miraculous weather made our lovely city shine like a West Coast paradise.  When magical political Photoshop made the Downtown East Side all but disappear from consciousness.  When we forgot the cost, literally and figuratively of the whole ordeal.  But now, more than ever, we need to remember that feeling.

Something is happening here.  On May 2nd we have the chance to show our country how much we really love it.  The world has watched as the young people of Libya and Egypt stood up for their rights.  Consider Tunisia, where the whole movement began – where 20% of adults are illiterate, where citizens receive an average of 6.5 years of education (compared to our 11.5), where 14.2% of the population is unemployed despite their best efforts to seek employment.  Where Muhammad Bouazizi chose to light himself on fire after government officials violated his human rights and refused to listen to him, sparking a massive anti-government uprising.

We have something here people would die for, and it’s not a mountain view.  It’s a vote, and a voice.  The chance to influence the future of our dear nation.  And if voter turnout remains as low as it has in the past, it will prove to me that the Olympic legacy is as shallow as I always feared it would be.  If you were old enough to be drunk and wearing a flag as a cape a year ago, you are old enough to vote.  And if you love your country now as much as we all did during those 10 incredible days, you will get yourself to the polls on Monday.

Check out these links for more information:

Elections Canada – for information on how and where to vote

UN Human Development Index – where the statistics from this post came from, and where you can find more startling information on the state of education, health care, and equality across the globe

Reporters Without Borders – an organization that collects data on freedom of press internationally (note the downward trend in Canada’s ranking since the Harper government took over)

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Towards a Humane Theatre

Animal welfare and rights have always been an important topic to me.  I grew up volunteering at the BC SPCA with my mom and have had many pets over the years.  I have always questioned our society’s relationship with animals – are they friends, or food? Are they a resource and commodity, or living creatures deserving of rights?  I feel strongly that our current way of doing things – our pracitices with pets, livestock, and animals raised for the meat industry is largely exploitative and deeply troubling.  That being said, these feelings come with built in hypocracy – I would never wear fur, but I do own leather shoes (mostly second hand).  I don’t eat meat of any kind but I’m not vegan.  I am concerned about the treatment of animals in our society but I struggle with breaking free from the consumer cycle that is the main reason animals suffer for our convenience.

I find with these kind of issues, like the ‘greenwash’ movement, people tend to sieze upon the uncomfortable dualities of these things.  There are those who don’t pay any attention to their consumer habits and scoff at those who do; there are animal rights groups that believe strongly that vegetarianism is not enough, and that folks like me who aren’t absolute in our practices aren’t doing enough.  It’s a tough discussion to face –  I for one believe that the all or nothing approach will leave people (like the aforementioned naysayers) unwilling to try at all.  I believe that if we begin to shift our habits bit by bit as a society we can make great change.  And we must.

I’ve been thinking about how to make my passion for animal welfare and theatre work together and was inspired to give my makeup kit a cruelty-free makeover.  I thought it would be hard, given that I am working on a limited budget, but I was surprised to see how many companies have made the switch to cruelty free production. There are also a wealth of resources available to help locate affordable cruelty free products – I signed up to receive a free Cruelty Free Shopping Guide from Peta.  Their website is fantastic and comprehensive, and it’s easy to look up your favorite brands and see if they make the cut.  Through Peta I found My Beauty Bunny, a website/blog dedicated to finding fabulous products of all kinds that haven’t been tested on animals. Skeptics should visit My Beauty Bunny for proof that cruelty free cosmetics don’t have to be all hemp chapstick and vegetable dyes!

So who did make the cut?  I was so relieved to find Cover FX on the list – I’ve sworn by their kick-ass water based high pigment foundation for years and will proudly keep buying their products.  Revlon and Wet ‘N Wild both make drugstore-price cosmetics in great colors for the stage, and both are certified by My Beauty Bunny as cruelty free.  M.A.C, Sephora and Stila have also made the switch (UPDATE MARCH 2012: It seems that M.A.C. has backslid on its commitments – please check for up to date info from M.A.C. before deciding).    It didn’t take a ton of money or even a special trip to a different store to make my products cruelty free – just a little research and a commitment to changing my consumer habits. While I’m not always on board with Peta’s tactics in other areas regarding animal rights, I applaud their resources on cruelty-free consumerism.  By shifting our habits and ways of thinking,  we can send a message to companies still using barbaric animal testing that we prefer to stand behind those that have left those practices behind.  I plan to put my money where my mouth is and keep my art cruelty free.