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Nine Eleven

September 11, 2011 Leave a comment

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I didn’t take 9/11 very seriously when it happened (I wrote about comedy’s place in tragedy last year). I was 13, and I lived in a suburb in Minnesota. The day was filled with jokes about planes aiming for the buildings in our town: Go ahead, take out the teen center and ice rink. Nail the McDonald’s downtown.  That was how my classmates and I felt that day; there was no danger, no threat to anyone close, no damage done in our world.  We made jokes because we didn’t understand why our teachers were so solemn, so quietly fearful of how everything would turn out and what the ramifications of the attack would be.

They remembered the draft and they remembered Vietnam, so at that moment all of our teachers and parents probably had visions of their students and sons forced to wear camouflage, ready to fight another guerrilla enemy in a long war. History was again going to be repeating itself, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

But there wasn’t a draft, only a generation of volunteers heading to the Middle East to fight for whatever we had lost that day. And many battles have been fought, and many lives have been lost, and many things will never be the same.

What happened and what changed and what evolved in the last 10 years is nothing short of astonishing.

We’re still involved in the same wars. We’ve seen the feeling of unity and “God Bless America” patriotism mutate into polarized political factions.  One of them is an overwhelming celebration of anger, fear and jingoism hiding as“Average American” patriotism. The other party is full of idealists hiding under a veil of irony and cynicism because they just might actually believe in the “Hope and Change” rhetoric of yesteryear. Everything is black and white. And anyone in the middle better duck and cover, because there isn’t a place for reasonable people who see value in both sides. Politics isn’t a buffet, it’s a prix fixe menu.  If you aren’t with us, you’re against us.

Economically, we’ve seen empires crumble, then banks crumble, and then we crumbled. Jobs were lost, and many more Americans had to deal with layoffs and job reductions. Gas shot up, loans went unpaid, and houses still remain foreclosed. The rich get richer, the poor poorer. Again, the middle is no place to be.

We’ve now fully realized that we’re on our own. The institutions won’t make us whole. Our political parties will only keep fracturing and moving towards the poles. The banks will let us down, religion will not save us, schools can barely teach us, and the government cannot protect us.

But, as the Springsteen song goes, “at the end of every hard-earned day people find some reason to believe.” We still have hope. The internet has evolved from a place for nerds to talk about episodes of The Simpsons and Star Trek into an all-encompassing ecosystem of its own. Social media creates communities of geographically-displaced human beings, and is even aiding in revolutions across the world. Pop culture is making us smarter and more aware. There is some light, even if it isn’t that much.

There will be good years, and bad years, and we will keep moving forward. Just remember that good things will keep happening. Kids will still laugh, friends and families will still get together, and comedians will still tell jokes. We will still smile. We have our freedom, and no group or institution or moment has been able to take that away. And we will never forget one of the moments that changed everything and defined our generation.

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Categories: Culture, Gen Y Tags: , , ,

They Survived Madison, Wisconsin

July 10, 2011 1 comment

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Last August, I wrote about leaving the city I had come of age in and how it felt to leave all of my friends behind. As it turned out, I would get a job within the next couple of months, move out of my place in Minnesota, say goodbye to my temporary roommates (Mom and Dad), zip down I-94 and start a new life in my old town.

Now it’s almost one year later. Time flies, and I find myself thinking about how much movement happens in August and how much change occurs before the leaves turn shades of orange and red in this beautiful college town. New blood revitalizes the city and the old guard is packing up, leaving and transitioning to a new stage in their lives.

For the first time, I’m not part of it. My life is comparatively stagnant, though not necessarily in a bad way. I’d be completely immune to the moving and shaking of the August rush (a new apartment with a good friend barely counts as change) but for the fact that some of my best friends are moving on. 

It’s a strange feeling watching friends you’ve known for some of the most formative years of your life leave. I’ve gone through it a few times, but this time it seems more potent, more permanent, because the last batch of my college friends without jobs in Madison are taking off. On one hand, I feel happy for them, because I know they’re headed out to chase their future and become the types of people they always dreamed of becoming.

On the other hand, it’s such a huge sadness to see cardboard boxes packed with memories you helped create fade away, down East Washington or Gorham headed towards their next big adventure. Pieces of a “me” that no longer exists are in those boxes, pieces that only remain in memories and pictures and deep pangs of nostalgia. As much as I dread watching my friends leave, I’m also mourning a past version of myself that they take with them.

It’s weird to be on the other side of moving out. I know that I have a life here, and I’m very happy with it, but I can’t help but wonder what life will be like without being in the same zip code as some of the people I’ve formed deep bonds with. I’m worried that after they leave, I’m going to be a less interesting person.

Then again, I know myself well enough to understand that I’ll never be happy with myself if I get complacent. I’ll always be chasing fun and running away from boredom. I’m not friendless in this town by any measurement. I still have a network of people I consider some of my best friends. I’m meeting people I barely knew in college, people who were only ancillary characters in my life’s story, and we’re becoming very close. We cling to each other because we all haven’t quite figured out how to make new friends, and I’ve started to figure out what amazing people they are.  I also work with some very cool people, many of which I consider friends.

Everyone will move on eventually, and so will I, and we’ll go through these motions all over again. And that’s ok, because this change is good. It’s movement.  There’s really nothing to worry about, because it’s all part of life. I can take solace in the fact that wherever my college friends are, and whatever they do, we’re inextricably linked to a particular time and place together. We’ll carry those memories with us, and they’ll help shape who we become.

So here’s to old friends dispersed across the country, starting new lives and starting over. For now it’s so long and goodbye, but I have a feeling our paths are bound to cross again. My couch is always open.

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