Austin-basedbard Ryan O’Reilly rolls down the interstate thisweek with a message for the lost 20-something in all of us: The current 18-25-year-old demographic has a better-than-average chance of actually breaking the Jones’s mold, skipping the get-ahead mainstream job, the kids, and the mortgage in pursuit of true contentment. Why could a generation described as tech-savvy Peter Pans by the mainstream media succeed where the Beats and Flower Children failed? O’Reilly, whose new book Snapshot charts one young man’s quest for meaning outside of the big-box store of life, shared a few of his theories with the Current.
Is `Snapshot` really a new story? Hasn’t every generation at least since the Beat Generation tried to find its own way out of the traditional expectations for young people?
I think it kind of goes back further than the Beat Generation. No, I don’t think I’m forging any new concept here as far as trying to find freedom within a certain kind of very structured society. I think with every younger generation there’s always some kind of desire to break loose of the traditional processes of growing up, but certainly the need to do it changes, and the way to go about doing it changes from generation to generation.
Is there something particularly original about the “Twixters,” as your publicity people are calling them? I realize that you wrote a book, and then your marketing people decided to spin it a certain way ...
Yeah, exactly. Thank you. A new spin on the story — I think it’s a lot of sort of Renaissance principles that I just applied to people that are my age, in this century, the idea of going out on the road, taking adventure, going proverbially west, is nothing new. But certainly I think my spin on it has a lot of unique viewpoints. Specifically, it has a much more positive spin I think compared to the Beat Generation. I think they kind of looked down on society more than promoting the spirit of exploration and finding value in life.
Where does your optimism come from?
I think it comes from the pessimistic viewpoint, ironically, that human beings have far more potential than they like to admit, or like to try to achieve. I think it comes from the idea that we are basically a good species because we have the ability to laugh and love and to try to seek value in life and try to go out on the road and explore. It’s just we have this great potential but have as a general society failed to realize it yet. So my optimism comes from the desire to try to promote that.
Why do you think we’ve failed to realize our potential so far?
Since we are basically biologically animals, we have a lot of animal instinct, and it comes across in the form of competetive nature between people that try to vie for the best spot, to become the biggest and the best. And that competition, I think, sort of takes away from the desire to do good for the whole. That’s something that we really have to almost try to do. I certainly think that we have the potential to overcome that now more than ever because our society’s becoming less traditional. We have the ability to act against our instinct and make decisions for our good and for the betterment of life in general.
Are you a vegetarian?
No, I’m not. Unfortunately I still have a little bit of the animal in me, too.
The New York Times recently did a series on people without `health` insurance. There were stories on young people who were leading lives free of the usual corporate jobs, but then they don’t have health insurance and they’re just hoping they don’t fall during their stagehand job. And on the other hand, these end-of-life issues, these elderly folks who have worked their whole lives but they are also now living in very precarious circumstances. How do we balance out those two things? On the one hand living a life of freedom; on the other hand dealing with the reality of those needs?
The idea of the metaphorical journey can happen in any context, and I certainly don’t mean to promote the idea that everybody should drop what they’re doing, leave their jobs, and take off on the highway, because that would create a mass drain on our society. I think the point I want to impart is that finding value, finding a journey, within everyday life and still being a productive member of society — there’s got to be some happy medium; it’s not one extreme or the other.
If you were going to put your book on a shelf with some of your favorite books about similar types of metaphorical journeys, what would be the other three or four titles?
On the Road of course is always a good one to throw out there because it is very much a black-and-white book about a journey. I’ve always liked a lot of Hemingway, the early stories — the Sun Also Rises being one of my favorites because of its implications about the idea of comparing life to a journey. And then I think probably Hamlet. I wrote my college thesis on it, and that certainly struck me, the idea of the journey of the mind being something — that unpredictability — but still the journey was always something very intriguing to me.
Did you think of yourself as a Twixter before your publisher put you in that niche?
Well, I always thought of myself as being out to lunch, and “Twixter” just seemed like a good name for that. I really had at the time no idea what Twixter meant, so I was like, OK, well, whatever I was feeling at the time I wrote this book, we’ll just call that being a Twixter. I’m not sure what it really means other than my own interpretation of being inbetween generations, like what you said, the Beat Generation in the ’50s and the Lost Generation in the ’20s — I think there’s a group of people on the cusp of every generation gap, and maybe that’s just a good name for what we are. •
Snapshot by Ryan O’Reilly
5pm Wed, Aug 15
The Twig Book Shop
Wikipedia:“Twixter is a neologism that describes a new generation of Americans who are trapped, in a sense, betwixt (between) adolescence and adulthood ... somewhat analogous to the Japanese term parasite single.”
TIME: “the new breed of young people who won’t — or can’t — settle down”
“A Twixter’s approach to Life” on Iamnext.com: Prone to procrastination and daydreaming. Unaware that people like Abraham Lincoln weren’t born into the Hilton lifestyle, but actually had to overcome obstacles to success.
Twixting through time
The Lost Generation, circa the end of World War I – the Great Depression
Poster manchild: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Warped by: the Gilded Age
Hazing ritual: the Paris salon of Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas
Diagnosis: “You’re not a moron. You’re only a case of arrested development.” — The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
The Beat Generation, circa 1950s, ’60s
Poster manchildren: Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs
Warped by: the World War II “Silent Generation”
Ground Zero: City Lights Bookstore, founded in San Francisco, 1953, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin
Great bard: “All we do is for this frightened thing / we call Love, want and lack ...” — “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” Allen Ginsburg
Flower Children, 1967-70
Poster womanchild: young girl sliding a flower down the barrel of a National Guardsman’s rifle
Warped by: the Vietnam War, Kent State shootings
Pop-culture debut: 1967 Monterey Pop Festival
Timeless advice: “Stop, hey, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down.” — “For What it’s Worth,” Buffalo Springfield,
Gen-X: b. 1961-1981
Poster manchild: Billy Idol
Warped by: the Baby Boomers, Ronald Reagan
Priceless reduction: 101-ism: The tendency to pick apart, often in minute detail, all aspects of life using half-understood pop psychology. — Generation X, Douglas Coupland (thanks for the reduction, Scn.org!)
Immortal observation: “I mean the fact remains that no one gives a shit about their work, everybody hates their job, I hate my job.” — American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
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