When I was a young woman, the rallying cry of my generation was, “Do not trust anyone over 30.” I could not then imagine a time when my children could not be trusted, but I have grown accustomed to their shifty little eyes and lurking skepticism. Actually, life and the times have changed considerably and I truly cherish the friendship and advice of my children. At the same time, it is also heartening to see how our Marlborough students not only have faith in the adults around them but also engage so actively in the world in ways I could not have imagined at their age. I love meeting with my advisees and hearing their opinions, their thoughts about myriad topics, and their understanding that they can challenge me on anything I say.
My parents were the generation out of central casting for Mad Men, and my nascent adulthood was grounded on the tenets of being polite, offering a firm handshake, and looking adults in the eye when spoken to, but always being mindful that my young voice was neither welcomed nor particularly appreciated by adults. After several decades of being surrounded by girls and young women, I so admire the many voices of our students who want to be heard, who care about the world in which they live, and who are passionate about being part of the solution. And while I believe in their vision, I want their passion to be tempered by knowledge, understanding, and compassion. To that end, in my own quest for deeper and more complex understanding, I am educating myself about the lives of those people living on the margins and communities ravaged by addiction.
I realized some time ago that heretofore my political views were incubated by the bubble of privilege, first from those of my parents and thereafter by those of my college friends. Some were through social alliances while many were forged through an inchoate and sometimes vague sense of injustice. My awakening is really traced through an experience from many decades ago and while I have written about aspects of this former life, I find that it is relevant to these times in which we live.
Back during the recession in the early 1980s, I found myself living alone in Rhode Island with three young children, a small house with a mortgage, college degrees, and tiny jobs that I cobbled together. I was too proud to ask my parents for help so I wrote theatre and movie reviews for a newspaper, taught courses at the University of Rhode Island, and worked as a waitress in a short order diner. Five days a week, I awoke at 5:00 a.m. to put on a polyester top that by early afternoon reeked of cigarette smoke and artificially flavored syrup and was only faintly better once washed at night.
While waitressing, I worked with a group of life-hardened women whom I befriended. These women were smart, savvy, and extraordinarily hard working. They were career waitresses who prided themselves on the job they did and took me under their wing, while I provided help to navigate the red tape for pediatric medical issues, to find affordable counseling services when needed, to work with child services, and to be a shoulder when the stress of this bone-crushing job became overwhelming as they tried to parent while working at the whim of the owners. They helped me to understand that because my stint was temporary, I had options afforded me by my education and ultimately my privilege. I had connections, and my stint would last no more than a year at most. But it left me with a lifelong respect for people working in the service industry, the pink and blue collar workers who used to be middle class and who are now leading lives often in quiet desperation.
As part of my ongoing education, I have been creating a booklist for anyone interested in this conversation about lost generations, lost jobs, and lost hope. I have three books to recommend, as well as two podcasts. Your comments are always welcomed.
Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan Cullors and Asha Bandela
Revisionist History: Miss Buchanan’s Period of Adjustment
Why is This Happening?