Saturday, May 08, 2010

Generation A

I'm reading this book by Douglas Coupland right now, and it's been a bit of a disappointed. Years ago, either at the end of high school or in early university, I read Microserfs and really really enjoyed it. So I suppose I expected Generation A to live up to the same hype... And maybe it has, and maybe that's the problem.
The book title is a reference to Kurt Vonnegut's statement, made in a commencement address in 1994 to graduating students at Syracuse University:

"Now you young twerps want a new name for your generation? Probably not, you just want jobs, right? Well, the media do us all such tremendous favors when they call you Generation X, right? Two clicks from the very end of the alphabet. I hereby declare you Generation A, as much at the beginning of a series of astonishing triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago."

But this book's actually about the generation after Generation X, my generation. We've been labeled everything under the sun - sometimes Generation Y, sometimes Generation D (for "Digital"). And we've been called a lot of things: lazy, self-centred, convinced that we're the smartest and best at everything, and that we deserve raises and promotions just for showing up to work.

So why don't I like the book? Well, while there's a lot of cleverness and wit, and while the author manages, with some irreverence, to capture the ridiculous materialism and media obsession of modern-time, there's almost too much of it, and the characters are pretty vapid and superficial. I have a hard time caring about vapid characters, and I need to like characters to enjoy a book. But maybe the book gets it just right and this is the problem. Maybe by being such an accurate description of Generation A, by portraying my generation as the shallow, materialistic people we are, Coupland's lost my interest. Are we all actually like this? I don't think so, but I think there's an alarming number of us who are (as evidenced by the characters (who are unfortunately real people) on shows like Jersey Shore and The Hills) to scare me about our future... How many of us, relative to past generations, read books? How many of us follow politics, or business, or something other than movies and tv shows? How many of us know what happens in countries other than our own?
I'll finish the book, but only because I'm so close to the end. Maybe it's frustrating me because it shows such a bleak and meaningless future. That's not the future I want.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Angels are Coming!

Yes, it's true. A couple of weeks ago, I got the fantastic news. After several months of bracing myself that my various international little angels would not be visiting this summer, a twist of wind blew fate the other way and both (both!) of my out-of-country sisters will be coming to visit.
What does this mean? Well, first of all, it means that my Dubai Angela and Angel will soon be meeting Baby Angela (our beautiful latest addition who arrived last September) for the first time, and I'm sure they'll be doing their best to "babysit" her from day 1. My younger sister tells me the story of speaking on the phone with Dubai Angela, who announced to her last fall, "Auntie, when we come in the summer, I'll be four and a half, so you can leave baby with me and take a nap or go for a walk!" (oh, to be four and a half again and think that four and a half is old!).
The California Angels will arrive shortly after, in June, and then the party will truly begin. Luckily, they'd met Baby Angela this winter when she and her mommy took a little trip south, and they took turns "babysitting" too. Ah, the fun.
What else does it mean? It means that Ottawa will be loud, filled with that gorgeous, ear-splitting decibel of children everywhere, in the back yard running through the sprinkler, in the kitchen asking for peanut butter and honey sandwiches, under your arm momentarily when you manage to scoop them up for kisses before they run past you to go fight over a toy or finish a game of tag or tea.
There is nothing I love more than watching my parents with their grandchildren, the conversations that take place between a child who still stares at the world with wonder and a parent whose wisdom and lifetime of experience has shown him its reality. Last summer, a couple of days before Dubai Angela went home, she and Grandma had the most beautiful conversation on the carpet in the living room after night prayer. The rest of us listened as Angela asked Grandma why she couldn't go back with them to Dubai, as she painstakingly explained where everyone would sleep, how there was enough room for everyone there around the supper table, convinced that if she solved this one little problem Grandma and Grandpa could get on the plane and come back with them... My mother evaded, pointing out that she hadn't bought a plane ticket, that maybe there would be none left, and finally saying to Little Angela, "but I can't live in Dubai - Ottawa's my home"... It was beautiful and sweet and funny and sad all at once, and you could see three and a half year old Angela growing up with the realization that sometimes you have to be apart from the people you love, sometimes it's not as simple as getting a plane ticket...
I don't think I'll ever forget that conversation. It reminded me of one I had with my Grandfather, long ago, on his veranda in Alexandria, the moment between my mother's father and I, his kind, knowing smile, my young mind struggling to understand. I used to cry each summer we would visit Egypt, when we'd get in the car to leave Alexandria for Cairo, and again, when we'd get in the car to drive through Cairo one last time for the airport. I'd look behind me at the waving hands and cry and cry, and ask why they couldn't all just live in Canada with me. I remember learning Little Angela's lesson and growing older with that knowledge. I remember, when I was little, it not being enough that I would see all those loved ones soon. And now it is enough. And now I'm grateful.