Adulthood in the Naughties

Some people call this moment the Oughts. I, for one, call this decade the Noughties, or rather, the naughties. Ought versus naughty seems appropriate for this day and age, that early twenty-first century mix of obligation and duty with decadence and something like depravity. Actually, that sounds awfully like the early twentieth century too, but that's another post.

Thirty is the new twenty, they say. We (and by we I mean mostly white, mostly some variant of middle class New Yorkers) are dressing in t-shirts and jeans and hoodies til we're old and grey, as chronicled in New York magazine. Lots of people in this thirty-something range don't have proper jobs, proper apartments, or proper furniture. People are still doing bumps in bar bathrooms and eating frozen dinners. 

But more and more under-employed t-shirt wearing folks my age are buying homes and having babies. For those of us who aren't settling down with children, this can make you feel a bit like you haven't grown up – that you're living in the naughties, and ignoring the oughts.

I was talking to a friend who also spends his life working in the social justice movement, and he was saying that he sometimes feels like he hasn't grown up – we are still working for low wages, adamantly doing the work for the love and not the money. We can't buy houses, we don't have savings, and a lot of us don't have health insurance.

First, obviously, being able to choose to earn low wages, have no health care and very little job security is an incredible privilege.  It's not just rich white kids who are making that choice though.  It's a lot of people who feel caught between taking care of the movement and taking care of their families – families who also don't have savings, health insurance, or own homes, and our parents aren't getting any younger.  But we are made to feel not adult if we choose to grow the movement rather than owning a home or having children.   

There are different ways to be an adult.  Some of us spend our twenties and thirties working to raise and build the movement.  Some us spend our twenties and thirties working to raise and build our families.  Some few of us manage to balance the two.  But none of those are invalid choices.  Raising a family can be movement-building.  Building the movement can build family.  

So take heart, my childless renters.  You live here in the oughts too.  It's not the prettiest place to be, since our obligations include shutting down the war, getting the Republicans out in the mid-terms and 08, protecting the eroding right to choose, the degrading environment, rebuilding New Orleans, and the oughts go on.  And to all my friends having children and wearing that adult mantle not bestowed on the likes of me, come visit in the naughties – I did quit smoking, but the drinking and dancing are still a damn good time.    


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