Updated: May 26, 2020
The Next Great Generation
I’m a little bit blown away. My assistant-advisor-collaborator, the man behind the curtain at Phil Circle Music and Guilt By Association Records, reminded me that I haven’t written a new blog in awhile. We redesigned my site and all my previous blogs were put into storage pending rewrites or inclusion. Some of them are back up now. But I still needed something current. So, I went to my last blog to see what I wrote. It was about developing gratitude. In it, I used a look back at the world a hundred years ago to give a comparison to the now. I compared circa 1920 to 2020. This was posted at the beginning of February. It’s kinda freaky reading it now. The only thing I left out of the equation was the 1918-19 Spanish Flu Pandemic. Just a note, it was called the Spanish Flu, but is generally believed to have first popped up in Haskell, Kansas, here in the U.S. Being neutral during World War I, Spain was the only country to admit they were being decimated by an epidemic. So, the name stuck. Back to the freakiness. I commented on how it was a good thing we weren’t walking into an economic breakdown, or world war. Little did I know. While the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t a war, it can kind of feel like one. People are dying and unless we’re on the frontlines, we can feel powerless to help. And while it would appear it is indiscriminate, inequities in our socio-economic structure are made clear by the hardest hit demographics. This is also a little like war. Additionally, we’re looking at economic peril that is rivaling the Great Depression. Unemployment in the U.S. at the moment I’m writing this equals that of the Great Depression at its height. Keep in mind that it took years to reach its peak back then. This has all happened practically overnight. Of course, we’re hoping this is partially temporary. Still, as an event that is having an impact on literally the entire world, nothing is going to be quite the same ever again. If we play it right, we could see things improve over the long haul. I’m a positive-minded guy. I have hope. One prevailing and ongoing hope that I carry is that we don’t react to this challenge strictly with fear. Fear alone tends towards reactionary finger-pointing and can quickly become self-centered and self-serving. I’m scared, don’t get me wrong. I try to start by recognizing this and acknowledging it. But then I get ready for the fight. I attempt a thoughtful response. That’s where my positive-mindedness comes in. Now, I’m not a rose-colored glasses kind of guy. I see the hardship that’s hitting us. I see the decimation of economies and the uncovering of inequities. Inequities that were hiding just below the surface of what appeared to be a burgeoning economy. I’m feeling the impact pretty severely, in fact. But I also see humanity at its best. I see goodness, no, greatness, in action. I see hope.
Sorting out what to do when we don’t have any real idea of what our world will look like in 6 months to a year, is really freakin’ hard to do. Sorting out what I can do with my life and circumstances right now, and how I can treat the people around me as we move forward together? This is not so completely a gamble or a guess. Once I recognized that the world of live music was going to be stopped in its tracks and that I was going to have to close my studio until who knows when, I moved into overdrive. I sought out resources and places where I could apply for financial help. I researched the best livestream setup I could afford, to improve my online capabilities for teaching and performing. I promptly set about adapting. It didn’t take long for me to see more areas I needed to focus my time and energy on. My assistant got my online store fully updated and I sought out new outlets for products. And, I watched every dollar, especially since I needed to make each one work. This was how I can respond. While in the midst of all this business contortion, I have shared every piece of information I've found and every shred of hope I can muster, with my various online networks. This is how I can treat the people around me.
Now don’t be fooled. It’s not as if I wake up every morning and say, “Oh, I’ve got this! No problem! Let’s do jumping jacks and smile widely!” It’s more like I wake up, sit up, and look around hoping it was a bad dream, like all the other ones I’ve been having from stress and anxiety. I pray the dystopia fades as I shake my head awake. It doesn’t. But, I don’t roll over. I heave a deep sigh and drag myself out into my apartment to set about my morning routine, sometimes blindly, or just to get it done. I pick which project to work on and get to it. Sometimes blindly and just to get it done. I respond to emails. Not quite blindly. I have to think about most of my responses. But I do it all. I keep doing it all. I know that action is crucial. You see, I don’t want to come out the other end of this and wish I had done more. I don’t want to realize that this was something I would survive, and wish I had learned more from it. Instead, several things I’ve had on the back burner, because they weren’t totally and immediately necessary or weren’t inspiring a big “heck yeah,” moved to the front. Students have bothered me for years to write a guitar method book. Now I’ve become extremely aware of the need. Working online has its limitations. Having an interactive ebook will remove many of the shortcomings of virtual learning, and will make my coaching accessible to more people. The store on my main page and Facebook is current. There’s a list of items I’m in the process of adding, and I’m setting up affiliations with local artists.
I can’t tie down one thing that has caused me to stand up amid hardship and keep moving, but it helps that I’ve done this before. I have perspective from many past personal storms of adversity. And one person’s life that provided an example was my Dad, Bob Circle. There were many others of his generation that had the same qualities he did. Anyone whose parents or grandparents were born in the 1920s in America (or a number of other places) dealt with the Great Depression, World War Two, The Cold War, The Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of world leaders, violent protests, and the cultural revolution of the 60s and 70s. The modern world emerged through the turn of a “century of progress” and was shaken and threatened at every turn. The people who emerged from the smoke of so much fire became known as our “Greatest Generation.” In my Dad’s case, you can add the loss of his first wife to cancer, with two children to raise. With all that behind you, I would guess there’s a point at which you say something like, “Well, I watched my comrades gunned down by Nazis, this can’t be as bad as that.” Or, “This is nothing like the abject poverty of the Depression.” Or “I dunno, I thought we were all gonna die in a Nuclear War and that hasn’t happened.” And, as I mentioned, my own struggles have provided me the perspective and strength I need when that ole fertilizer hits the fan.
This brings me to a realization I’ve had. I believe that our youth today may be the next Great Generation. I’ve dedicated decades of my life to mentoring people in music and thereby have always been connected to youth. I’ve watched countless young people make their way out into the world. I’ve heard their dreams and aspirations. I’ve seen it as an important part of my work to try and perceive what they may be dealing with in the world they’re entering. Nowadays, Millennials and Generation Alpha get a fair amount of flack, and I get it. I’m guilty of the verbal smack down of “kids these days and their iPhones,” but it usually passes. I don’t like sounding like an old fart. Except when it makes my wife laugh. Besides, these are the people I continue to dedicate my life to helping. I’ve heard and seen it repeated in many places that youth are “the ambassadors of the future.” Think about that for a minute. Do you really want to put faith in someone you can’t bring yourself to believe in? If you are Generation X or a Baby Boomer, you may be talking about your own kids or grandkids! So, whose fault is it if they’re not prepared? Besides, why are we complaining about “kids these days” having it so easy? Isn’t that what we hoped for? How is this a bad thing? Didn’t we work for that? And did you really, seriously think for a minute that the current generation of youth would never, ever run into hardship? Life is rife with vicissitudes. They've already got climate change? The climate change we’ve mostly failed to stem. Although we’ve made headway from the smog-filled skies of my youth. And we had that financial collapse in 2008 that has made youth very nervous about spending, in a consumer-driven economy, and they were no doubt already worried about job security. And, while I was pretty clear at age eighteen that college wasn’t the first, best way forward for me, it took another couple, two, three decades for mainstream America to begin questioning the promise of jobs for grads. And I still ended up with gobs of college debt when I finally went at age 27. Now, of course, we’ve got it. We’ve gotten the catastrophe we asked for. Life is going to teach “those kids” what hardship is really like. And, frankly, this pandemic and its socio-economic impact looks far worse than anything we Gen X’ers or Boomers (I’m on the cusp) have dealt with.
So, I’m just going to put it out there. Let’s stand together for our youth and give them all the hope we can muster. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one with some solid life experience to bring to bear for the benefit of sharing this hope. I truly believe that the seasoned lives of mine and other older generations can give us all a leg up. Hopefully, we can be of some real help to our youth, and thereby, to the future of humanity. None of us lose anything by giving of ourselves. We are all lifted together. We’ve got this. If we don’t want to look at our world in total despair twenty years from now, we need to reach out now. We need to step past fear and lead with our hearts. How great would it be to see the blossoming of so many unshakable youth in the face of this great adversity? We are looking at our next Great Generation. I have total faith in it. I see hope. We simply need to ask ourselves if we have this kind of courage. Together, I believe we do.