It was around 9:30 P.M., and I was waiting for the bus in Hollywood after being momentarily paroled from my job as a so-called telefundraiser. When I applied for the job, I didn’t think I stood a chance of being hired at that company or any other, having been out of the mainstream work force for the majority of my adult life, which I’ve spent eking out a living as an actor and screenwriter. The entertainment business used to be said to be recession-proof, but if that was ever true in the past, it’s true no longer; the minute the economy went to hell four years ago, I received fewer and fewer offers of acting and screenwriting jobs, until finally I received none at all. Even production-assistant jobs were, in my case anyway, scarce, though I did manage to PA for a couple of days on a teenage space musical financed by NASA, as well as on a Disney Channel spot in which Miley Cyrus was interviewed alongside her achy-breaky father to mark the end of Hannah Montana.

Scott Timberg, writing for Salon, with a compelling essay on the financial struggles of America’s creative class:

Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen write anthems about the travails of the working man; we line up for the revival of “Death of a Salesman.” John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson hold festivals and fundraisers when farmers suffer. Taxpayers bail out the auto industry and Wall Street and the banks. There’s a sense that manufacturing, or the agrarian economy, is what this country is really about. But culture was, for a while, what America did best: We produce and export creativity around the world. So why aren’t we lamenting the plight of its practitioners? Bureau of Labor Statistics confirm that creative industries have been some of the hardest hit during the Bush years and the Great Recession. But  when someone employed in the world of culture loses a job, he or she feels easier to sneer at than a steel worker or auto worker.

I.

For my sixth birthday, my family bought a house. It was 1990, and we Campbells already had the first-generation minivan, the gas grill, and the first kid; all we needed now was a piece of property to call our own. And our custom-built, 2,500-square-foot monstrosity, complete with Asian pear trees in the front and a gigantic deck in the back, officially marked our entry into the lower-upper-middle class. Maybe we weren’t partaking in the “irrational exuberance” of the Wall Street crowd, but to a family that just three years earlier had to forego Happy Meals on our European vacation in order to save money, it seemed like we had reached the suburban Promised Land all the same.

At night, the television confirmed that we were, economically speaking, in the right place. On weeknights, my parents and I would spend an hour watching the news, where segments like “The Fleecing of America” warned us about the dangers of a government with too much money to spend. After that, we’d watch sitcom families like the Tanners, Huxtables, and Taylors face every sort of problem imaginable, except those having to do with real financial insecurity or a lack of living space. On Sunday afternoons, I did my homework while listening to preachers of the prosperity gospel such as Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyers, who told me that God had a lot to offer me instead of the other way around.

But I received the strongest doses of fantasy in school, where I was subjected to the much-maligned “culture of praise.” It must have seemed like a good idea at the time; why not bring into childhood the same sense of well-being that the adult world was enjoying? As far as official recognition went, doing at all seemed to matter at least as much as doing well: I built an impressive collection of trophies, certificates, and glowing report cards, many of which reminded me that “Everyone’s a Winner.”

All this was supposed to boost my adolescent ego, but it only ended up confusing me. Humans are creatures of comparison, after all, which meant that in spite of my awards, I always remembered my actual standing in each event, whether I’d come in fourth place overall in the state geography bee or fifteenth out of twenty at a local chess tournament. I couldn’t really believe that everyone deserved a reward just for existing; instead, I assumed that such a system judged everyone’s personality and worth as a human being according to rules that were inscrutable, if not completely arbitrary.

As a result, I lived in complete fear of judgment from teachers, coaches, and even Mom and Dad, who, I’m sure, must have enjoyed my complete obedience. But I was quickly learning how to be paranoid. Although I didn’t understand how I could fail, I did understand that it would be social death to do so. And so I did everything I could to avoid the shame of failure. I never asked questions in class to avoid the appearance of challenging authority. I did not volunteer for show-and-tell, because I didn’t want to have my objects compared to everyone else’s. I tattled on anyone who had broken the rules even a little bit, and shunned those who had gotten into trouble even once. Like many of my peers, I understood failure not as a necessary and inevitable part of life, but as a cancer of the personality, like ugliness, laziness, or basic stupidity: it struck without warning, took an expert to diagnose, and was almost always a permanent condition. And all this from a system designed to increase our self-esteem!

II.

Fast forward a decade or so, and most of us kids have learned that the culture of success, which saddled Millennials with plenty of psychological baggage, has made us its victim in much more concrete ways.

First of all, our spending habits have not really evolved from the excess of the late nineties. In March 2008, TIME magazine declared that Millennials were poised to be “the next great luxury consumers”: nine out of ten Millennials surveyed agreed with statements like “I love wearing designer clothing, jewelry and watches,” or “I work hard, so I reward myself by splurging.” Apparently, we are also twice as likely as our parents’ generation to want to own a yacht, a private airplane, or luxury sports equipment—and we spend more than twice as much as our parents on underwear, hair and skin care, and fragrances. And to pay for those luxuries, the average Millennial accrues $2,300 in credit card debt by age 18 and $4,400 by age 35. Clearly, those of us who have gone into debt to buy the latest iPhones need to re-learn a thing or two about fiscal responsibility.

Those suburban single-family dwellings in which many of us grew up have also caused a problem or two. By late 2007, the heady cocktail of financial innovations, risky investments, and people spending beyond their means, which had fueled the boom of the ’90s and 2000s, left the United States with a collective hangover in the form of the worst financial disruption since the Great Depression. Another ghost from our past, come back to haunt us.

The fallout has been brutal, and it has happened just when the eldest of the Millennials, myself included, were starting their professional careers. As early as August of 2008, eleven months after the first major bank collapse of the recession (and, in fact, even before most people were calling the economic downturn a recession), business writers warned that the job market made it a “bad time to be young.” A year later, the picture was even worse, and you didn’t have to be an analyst to realize it. Younger Millennials who sought short-term employment for the first time in the summer of ’09 found that both seasonal work and minimum-wage retail or service jobs had all but dried up. Only one-fifth of the class of 2009 had found a job by the time they graduated. And friends of mine who had graduated that year from top-tier law schools like Harvard, Yale, and NYU, were having trouble finding and keeping associate positions. By September of 2009, the number of 16-to-24 year olds without jobs had climbed to 53.4 percent, more than double what it was just three years earlier, and the highest level it has ever reached since the Labor Department started tracking this particular statistic in 1948.

Economists, psychologists, and sociologists alike have started to worry much less about our consumption habits and much more about whether or not Millennials will become a latter-day “Lost Generation.” Historically, people who are lucky enough to begin careers during recessions still tend to earn less over their professional lives than their counterparts who start in more fortunate times—sometimes as much as 10 percent less. Those who instead remain jobless for long periods in their teens and early 20s tend to drink more heavily, become depressed more frequently, and die much sooner than those who start their working life in stabler times. If this trend of prolonged unemployment and career false-starts continues, we will be the first postwar generation to have a standard of living that’s lower than that of our parents.

So the expectation of success with which we grew up, and which gave us all a reputation as self-deluded spoiled brats, has all but disappeared. In the space of two years, we’ve watched the economic security promised us by our parents’ society crumble beneath the weight of mortgage-backed securities and credit-default swaps, and we’ve learned that no amount of self-confidence can insulate us from the brutal realities of the job market. We have, for the first time, had to take seriously the prospect of failure, and we are not taking it well, by any measure.

In fact, our acculturation to the outside world has turned into something of a public spectacle. We’ve been examined and re-examined hundreds of different ways in every media type imaginable, from books to blogs, TV shows to newspaper columns, and always with the puzzled disappointment of frustrated parents. And even though our critics have yet to agree on our sobriquet (to some, we’re the Millennials; to others, Generation Y; to still others, the Me Generation, the Latchkey Generation, the Trophy Kids…the list goes on), they have drawn up a rap sheet that they all seem to agree on.

The charges? We have outsourced our social lives from the real world to the virtual one thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and the myriad other platforms with which we can do online what people used to do in person (chatting, gaming, dating). We demand constant praise from our superiors in the workplace, just as we demanded automatic A’s for effort in the classroom. Many of us still live with our parents – and those who do are called a variety of flattering names that include “kidults,” “boomerang kids,” KIDDERS (Kids In Debt Diligently Eroding Retirement Savings), and YUCKIES (Young Unwitting Costly Kids).

Worse still, so the commenters say, is that we Millennials suffer from generational malaise. We have no real desire to shake up the political status quo and agitate for meaningful social change, except as the political establishment demands. According to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Millennials are “not paying attention” and “so much less radical and politically engaged than they need to be.” New York criminal defense attorney Stephen Greenfield is much more pessimistic (and much pithier); at a Chicago law conference, he said that “Generation Y is entitled, lazy, selfish, tech savvy, and incompetent.” Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University, has re-dubbed Millennials “the Dumbest Generation.”

It’s hard to find fault with this evidence: we do seem to be a generation that is self-absorbed and socially and politically maladjusted in unique ways, and we have grown so accustomed to the culture of consumption and success that we cannot realistically think our way out of it. Clearly, we have a complicated relationship with authority, recognition, and praise; we learned to expect constant approval and success, but not to understand why we should deserve it. And now that our world has been turned upside-down, we seem to be striving to piece together some semblance of the emotional bubble in which we were raised.

III.

But is this worthy of all the public hand-wringing? For one thing, the overpowering generalizations about Millennials are a bit unfair. One could just as easily say that the Boomers deserve a generational censure even more. After all, Boomers bought houses they couldn’t afford and ignored the long-term risks of the financial instruments that they sold, Boomer politicians turned a blind eye to the worst corporate excesses, and two Boomer presidents – Bush and Clinton – promoted reckless federal spending, the dismantling of public assistance programs without paying heed to their social costs, and a dangerous scaling-back of government oversight that has led to economic and environmental disasters. Millennials’ failure to launch seems like a venial sin in comparison.

In any case, the narrative of Millennial malaise is not so tidy as it seems. When journalists or commentators talk about Millennials, they never discuss those people under 30 who work in low- or middle-skill jobs like manufacturing, construction, or retail. They are instead mostly interested in that small subset of young people – suburban, middle-class, college-educated, more likely to be white or Asian American than black or Hispanic, and bound for a managerial or professional career – who were supposed to be the next generation of world-beaters but who have amounted to exactly nothing. Thus the resentment (YUCKIES and KIPPERS) and the name-calling (“the Dumbest generation”).

Even more galling must be the fact that those same Millennials who have ended up back on mom and dad’s couch are living reminders of the failure of the Baby Boomer lifestyle. Millennials were, remember, supposed to be made in the Boomers’ self-image: to put career ahead of all other considerations, to aspire to the suburban lifestyle, to value individualism and economic gain above all things. Instead, we have turned out exactly wrong. We crave praise like Gollum craves the One Ring; we have no work ethic; we only know how to spend, spend, spend.

As surveys from the Pew Research Center and the Center for American Progress show, the majority of Millennials also have an entirely different political outlook than their parents do. They are collectivists rather than contrarians; they prefer social and economic justice to complete individual liberty; they trust authority and expertise; they see government as a potential good rather than as a useless parasite. When combined with all of the other seismic shifts that Boomers have had to face in the last twenty years, from demography to technology to fashion, it must seem like the world has turned itself upside-down. And leading the way have been the Millennials, who have resisted or rejected their parents’ goals, values, and very way of life (as well as no small amount of psychological manipulations) to become the anti-Boomers.

But none of this should be all that surprising. The years between adolescence and adulthood are called the “odyssey years” for a reason, and given the set of circumstances that Millennials are living through, no wonder many young Americans are rethinking their curriculum vitae in ways that their parents cannot immediately understand. After all, didn’t the Boomers themselves pull the cultural rug out from under their own parents, forty years ago?

In other words, we’re dealing with variations on a very old theme. In fact, it seems like the only thing different about Kids These Days is that, thanks to statisticians, sociologists, and market researchers, there is much more data to show what’s wrong with them, and why.

To my mind, this is cause for celebration: Millennials, we are not as screwed up as our elders want to believe (and want us to believe), and Boomers, your kids are doing just fine, even if they might not be following exactly in your footsteps. After all, if Millennials’ problems can be solved by public nagging in newspapers and magazines, then they must not be that bad in the first place; if not, then no amount of cynical commentary is going to help, and we need not worry about the inter-generational censures.

“We’re moving,” I tell my dental hygienist when she tries to set up my next visit, six months from today.

“Oh! Wow! Where to?” The inevitable next question.

Honestly, I really don’t care much for dental friendliness. I like clean teeth and gingivitis tops my pet peeve list, right along with things that involve a seething crowd of fans, but I am not here to make friends. Perhaps it’s the vacuuming of my spittle that makes me feel so vulnerable and mean, or the lead vest, I don’t know. I shut my eyes behind my colossal sunglasses and run my tongue across the polished surface of my incisors for strength.

I do not explain how we are planning to pack our family into our Honda CRV, drive ourselves to Lincoln Mortgage, sit for our property closing, hand over keys to our house and then drive out of town. It’s a long story.

I also don’t tell her that I wish she were a robot.

“West,” I say, not so helpfully, and only because she’s blocking my exit with her Care Bear scrubs and confusion I add, “Seattle maybe.”

We really don’t know, I don’t say.

We are among the millions that have been directly affected by the recession. I hate that word, that euphemism. It’s an insult to eupha-mizing. It’s a euphemism that needs euthanizing. We have been unemployed for a year, our house is under contract and we simply have no reason to stay, so we decided that we might as well be in a place we love and we love what’s west of here, so we’re going there.

When we tell people this, the responses vary from interest, excitement to sadness and heartbreak for the missing that comes with leaving. The dental hygienist is easy. The good friends are definitely harder. It’s one of those all-inclusive-full-spectrum kind of experiences.

“Fear not!” I say to the friends, but not to the hygienist. Actually, I probably don’t really say, fear not to my friends either. But I certainly do imply it when I assure them that although we may not have a firm destination, we do have a plan, we do have faith, and we do have job prospects, talent and are unabated survivors. We will land.

In the interim, relieved of the weight of our things (having traded them for garage sale cash) we will be light and expansive! With a loose itinerary and a sense of adventure we will zig zag! We will take the long cut! We will have spitting contests with our son over canyon lips and notice the difference in the shape of the sky, the varied species of clouds over Wyoming, Montana. We will get cricks in our necks from gazing up the to the peaks of the Rockies, the tips of the Redwoods. But most importantly, we plan to laugh in the face of our homelessness and bestow onto it, with an avowed sacristy, ineffable calm, hearty and appropriate euphemisms. We will not undermine it like that “recession” crap. Instead, we will enhance! Transform!

We will not be Homeless. No way.

We will be Nomadic. We will be Gypsies. Vagabonds. James Bonds. Free Willys. Rolling Stones. Pigs in Zen. We will be Superbad and coming to a town near you. We will be cruising with the windows down, making terrific wave formations with our arms and we will be shaking our heads at the naysayers and the game players because we will know we are indestructible.

We will pretend we are flying, we will know we are free.


I just used my boyfriend’s shaving cream to shave my legs and now they smell like a man.  On the one hand, I’m still shaving my legs, which I consider a coup in the war against the loss of my beauty regime.  On the other hand, my legs smell like a man’s face.  Sometimes that’s okay, but it’s better when you’re lying in bed with oxytocin rushing through your veins and the sheets rumpled beneath you rather than fresh from the shower.

I used to have my own shaving cream, fancy bath oils to make me smell pretty, creams to make my skin glow, creams to slow the aging process, top of the line make up to cover the aging process, expensive hair products and monthly mani-pedi excursions.  Truth be told, none of it was for anyone other than myself or maybe, as fellow TBN’r Kimberly Wetherell suggests in her short documentary, for other women.  Regardless, I loved it.

Thanks to the bankrupting war on Iraq, Bernie Madoff, those parasites at AIG and a global recession, I am cutting back with the rest of the world.  I’m grateful to have a job, a roof over my head, food on the table and Maybelline in my bathroom cupboard.  “Maybe she’s born with it?”  Maybe she’s broke!

Berlin seems to house an above-average percentage of folk who look like life has been pretty damn hard.  Perhaps it’s the horrible weather, perhaps it’s the harsh, mineral-filled water, perhaps it’s the marathon chain smoking or the beer. I’m often surprised to find out the 50-year-old woman next to me is actually 35.  It’s not helped by the trend toward androgynous fashion, either.  Of course we have our beautiful people in Berlin, but it’s not as important or prevalent in the culture as it is in places like New York, Miami and L.A.

The truth is, life probably is pretty damn hard.  Berlin has always been a poor city.  It’s where you come to live cheap, protest and create weird art.  Everyone here seems to be starting over and barely making it.  La Boheme is alive and well all around this city and, while there is some fantastic art in all its forms produced here, even moderately famous people are squatting or trying to squeak by on unemployment and an occasional commission.

What to do?  On the one hand, it’s an absolute release to escape the daily pressures and expectations of image that was part of my life in New York City.  On the other hand, there were parts of that I truly enjoyed.  Come on, I’m an opera singer.  I’m genetically coded to play dress up.  It’s nice not to feel like the fat girl in a sea of anorexic waifs, but at the same time, being a “girl” in some ways is something I really enjoy.  There has to be some middle ground.

For now I’m doing what I can not to lose myself entirely in the tightening of the purse strings.  I’m learning how to use TRUblend and remembering how to paint my own toes.  I guess if my legs smell like my boyfriend’s face, I’ll count that as a win over not having a razor to shave them with at all.  The creams will have to go.  I will try to embrace the grey when it comes and remember to love the creases around my eyes.  I have enough to get by–more than some–and I guess it won’t kill me to finally look my age.  Oh God.

An empty cargo boat is sitting in the Puget Sound with nothing to do.

I see as many as three of them at once sometimes from the window of my apartment.

Tonight, my girlfriend is going to cut my hair, which might be the reason the Northwest is in a recession.