Boomers, the Joneses, and the Voodoo of Writing

A couple of things floating out of my brain matter today….

Among the list of Things I Now Know That I Didn’t Know Five Minutes Ago, there is this:

Younger baby boomers are sometimes referred to as Generation Jones. How do I know this? Because I read it in The New York Times – twice! I first read about it in “Ask Judge John Hodgeman,” a wry faux-advice column that appears weekly in the Times Magazine.

That column linked to an older NYT piece by Jennifer Finney Boylan that ran about a year ago. In that piece, Boylan details how latter-day boomers, born between 1954 and 1965, differ from their older peers who were born between 1946 and 1953. She writes:

We might be grouped with the baby boomers, but our formative experiences were profoundly different. If the zeitgeist of the boomers was optimism and revolution, the vibe of Gen Jones was cynicism and disappointment. Our formative years came in the wake of the 1973 oil shock, Watergate, the malaise of the Carter years and the Reagan recession of 1982. Above all, we resented the older boomers themselves — who we were convinced had things so much easier, and in whose shadow we’d been forced to spend our entire lives.

The fact that most people have never even heard of Generation Jones is the most Generation Jones thing about Generation Jones.

But if you identify more with punk, funk or disco than, say, Elvis, Buddy Holly or the Beatles, you’re a Joneser.”

I had no idea the term “Generation Jones” had been laid upon this particular group of people. But I agree with the sentiment. The term “Baby Boomer” has about as much usefulness as a cup with a hole in the bottom. It’s just another media invention that found the right runway and took off. Just like the terms “Generation X,” “Millennials,” “Gen Z,” and whatever comes next. Because something always comes next.

This generational branding thing seems like a fairly recent phenomenon. I’m not sure anybody much cared before the year 1960 or so. Young people in 1898 probably felt different from their elders, and found comfort in the company of folks around the same age group. But they weren’t all poured into the same cultural/media mold and run through the same assembly line the way later generations would be.

I was born sometime between 1954 and 1965. Never mind when. I have no memory of the 1950s. My experiences of the 1960s were all seen through the eyes of a kid, and my memories of that iconic decade are kid memories. The Flintstones. The Monkees. Batman. Baseball cards. Tony the Tiger and Frosted Flakes.

If I am the product of any time period, it’s the 1970s. That’s the decade that formed the person I was to become and remain today. Even though I share a generational identity with people who were formed during the 1960s, my adolescent and teen experiences were probably much different than theirs – as different as people born in 1975 are from those born a decade later, and so on down the line.

As Jennifer Finney Boylan so deftly noted – and as I myself have written about on this very blog site – I probably identify more with punk and funk than with Elvis or the Beatles, even though the Fab Four provided the soundtrack to my childhood, and I love their music. I don’t remember any Age of Aquarius when I was in high school and college. More like an Age of Wariness.

I’m not the guy holding the picket sign or strumming folk songs or walking around stoned with flowers in my hair.

I’m the guy holding the beer and wearing a ridiculous leisure suit and walking around stoned with a worried look on my face. A Joneser, through and through.

***

One rule of writing is that you’re not supposed to think about how good the material is, or how it might be received by the public. You’re supposed to just write it, word after word, line after line, paragraph after paragraph, until it’s finished, and block everything else out.

That’s great in theory, but it doesn’t always work that way. I tend to think about my readership when I’m writing, and how they might react to it. I bet plenty of others are the same way. It’s not the best method, but you can’t help it.

So it’s always a thrill for me when someone reads something I’ve written and then takes the time to share their feedback – especially when that feedback is positive. Thankfully, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback (so far) for my new novel, “Voodoo Hideaway.” That’s certainly been the case on review sites, where it has an average rating of 4.67 stars out of 5 on Goodreads, and an average rating of 4.9 on Amazon. About half of the Goodreads reviews are from strangers who either bought the book or got it as part of a giveaway. That’s an encouraging sign.

I don’t bring this up just to hype my book and implore you to buy a copy. Okay, I’m lying. That’s mostly why I bring it up. But it’s not the only reason, so bear with me here.

I have also received personal emails and messages from friends who have read “Voodoo Hideaway” and enjoyed it. One such email hit my inbox yesterday, from a fellow writer and former work colleague. This person wrote:

“I just finished reading your book. It was so intriguing I read it in two sittings. I just couldn’t put it down. It was just a wonderful book — with so many twists and turns brilliantly woven together. It is a stunning combination of mystery, romance and spiritualism. It draws you into a parallel universe that gives you a glimpse into several different worlds. Human nature remains the same no matter what zone you’re in… The book is “you.” I can hear you talking…”

Again, I don’t bring this up just to hype…..ha ha, just kidding. Sort of.

Here’s the thing: This was a real email from a real person, and it made me real happy. I didn’t ask her to write it. She did it on her own, no prompting. When I got it I was like, “Really? You really feel this way? No need to worry about hurting my feelings if you don’t.”

Yes, she replied. That’s really how I feel.

One thing that stood out was the part about the book being “me.” Because she’s right: The book is me. It has my own voice and worldview, my own rhythm and cadence. This doesn’t always happen when I write fiction. I often find myself writing for someone else: publishers, contest judges, literary professionals. But not this time.

“Voodoo Hideaway” started out as a short story, inspired by my wife. She suggested going out of my comfort zone and taking a shot at something science fictionish, which I never write and rarely read. I figured what the heck, why not. I had just started writing fiction regularly after a career in journalism. Things were stop and go as far as fiction went. It just didn’t come that naturally to me, even though I read a ton of fiction.

But this story was different. It kept moving forward, against the odds, and against the precedent of previous attempts at longer fiction, which usually had me giving up after 30 pages or so because I had no idea where I was going, or what I was doing, or much of anything.

I wasn’t exactly sure where “Voodoo Hideaway” was going, either. But I knew I had something maybe special here, and so I pressed forward. The characters seemed to pop in on their own, without me even seeing them. The plot seemed to have a mind of its own, taking the story this way and that, and carrying me along for the ride. The story flowed in a way most of my fiction never does. It just kept pouring out of me, all the way to the end, more than 350 pages. And the more it poured out, the better I felt about it.

Now I think I know why – because the book became mine, and nobody else’s. At some point in the process, fairly early on, I forgot about the readers. I forgot about how it might play to publishers or agents. I simply focused on the writing, the characters, the story, moving the ball forward, letting it go where it led me. I became so engaged in the story itself that I didn’t have time to worry about whether it was any good, or whether anyone would like it.

And it worked. It got me to the end.

This is something any writer or artist should remember – including myself. Be true to yourself. Don’t worry about what anyone else might think. Trust your own instincts, training and talent.

Also, remember to buy “Voodoo Hideaway.” Here are some places to do so:

Atmosphere Press

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

Waterstones

End note: The photo accompanying this article is of musician Patti Smith and her then-boyfriend Robert Mapplethorpe, an artist and photographer. They were two of New York City’s biggest cultural icons during the 1970s, back when New York was the global epicenter of music, art, film, media, and culture. The photoshop wizardry you might have noticed is courtesy of my 12-year-old daughter, an artist in her own right who can do amazing things with digital images.

5 Comments

    1. Nah, I have a pretty good idea of what to do, and I’ve sketched the outline in my head. It’s more a matter of the daily grind of actually doing it, making the time, putting in the hours and the effort. Simple laziness, my friend. Plus the side gig work writing for websites has been pretty busy of late. I just need to carve out the time.

      Like

      1. Ah ok. Well once summer is over, I suppose that mood may change as everyone gets back to work and school.

        There’s a special atmosphere summer brings which is just not conducive to hard work 😌

        Liked by 1 person

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