Thursday, June 14, 2012

Generation Next?

There is some discord among the experts as to the exact range of years within which one would have to have been born to qualify as a Gen Xer.  Sometimes it ranges generously from 1964 - 1981 and other times, the line is drawn more conservatively between 1965 and 1972. There seems to be no dispute about those that came before. The boomers sprinkled the continent with a curious juxtaposition of militia and hippies.  Equally recognizeable were those that came after, Generation Y (as in 'why can't my mother come with me to my job interview?' and 'why shouldn't I wear pajama bottoms to work in an office?  It's ironic!')   And though Gavin and I seem to fall between the most agreed upon range of X years, I feel we are part of perhaps a smaller subset within Generation X: Generation NeXt.  As in 'what's next?'

How do I explain our propensity for constantly looking forward?

Could the answer be that Gavin and I spent most of our grown-up lives moving, planning and packing. No sooner did we arrive at adulthood and we were pulling at our previous drivers - childish anticipation and adolescent restlessness - to guide us to the next checkpoint.  No.  After all, we had some 20,000 colleagues living this life of commuting to work by Boeing 737 every six to eight months and most of them are not tormented by the prospect of staying put.  Then, could it be my parents' view of travel as a right rather than a privilege (an inexorably European sentiment)?  Could this inclination be explained by the frequent moves that were Gavin's family life when he was growing up?   No, this is about more than peripatetic family tendencies.

Before I talk more about the call to action, I want to clarify: It's not about the helicopter.

The helicopter training thing was the easy part.  Sure, it's financially draining but it's emotionally uplifting for Gavin.  And it is, after all, his turn.  After years of subjugating his own professional aspirations to mine (turning down promotions, living in my hometown, being the income earning parent while I got to stay home and see our son grow) it was his turn.  And anyway, this did not start off as 'Mission Chopper'.  This began - as many giant waves of change do - as nothing more than a comment, a piece of a conversation that just as easily could have dissolved into something more urgent and quotidian like a ringing phone, or the cry of a toddler looking for his orange tow truck.  Our now everyday could easily have been swallowed up by our then everyday.  But it wasn't.

And so this little piece of talk between us was allowed to turn into a question.  I don't remember if it was as romantic and moody as 'Is this all there is?' or the more capricious 'I'm bored; What are we doing today?'  But I remember that once it took flight we could neither ground it nor let it whirl around in our heads like a tornado out of control. We could not turn our backs on our so-proclaimed generational contemporaries. We had to ask the question: What's next?

Our plan began in the UK.  That was to be our destination for emotional and cultural reasons.  Gavin is from England and wanted for us to have a taste of what life is like there and for himself to see a drop of his own history fall into the glass momentarily (really, I think he was jonesing for Maltesers and other English confections....but I don't think he would ever fess up).  We have some dear friends there who said they were willing to let us build our entire lives around them!

  But despite the promise of a year's supply of English candy and my dream of a perpetual fountain of coffees with my besty, Gilly, while our children played jubilantly on the nearby heath (they have a lot of heaths there), the stark reality of moving to the most expensive country in the most expensive continent on the planet with no job, no purpose and hardly any connections made even the knowledge that it would probably rain every day the most miniscule reason on the list of many that this was a colossally bad idea.

Enter the Helicopter.

I am certain that I have mentioned already that being a helicopter pilot has been a dream of Gavin's since he was a tike.  So inspired was he with this vision that he actually started a pilot fund made up of savings stashed away a little at a time.  So simultaneously aware was he that this dream was unlikely to ever be realized that he constructed said fund out of pennies!  I think when we finally broke open the piggy bank which, by then, had been receiving his contributions for years, we counted a grand total of $65.00.

In the meantime, our little life story was being sent up to its zenith of narrative tension and we had to be ready for the hurtling denouement that was coming.  Here we were, a few years post-ships, well into land life but not so entrenched as to have to give up too much to move forward. We were around - probably - the midpoint of our lives despite longevity in both of our ancestral lines. Luca had just turned two so we were in that short but glorious period of overlap during which he would be charming and communicative AND an unrelenting fan of his parents AND not yet bolted in place by the school year schedule. With virtually everything in favour of us taking off, we couldn't let this pesky purposelessness get in our way.

  And so, despite the disappointing returns from the Copper Investment Portfolio, we decided to unsave our savings, make ourselves a project and give flight (sorry, couldn't resist) to Gavin's dream.  The promise of all of us riding into the sunset (we'd be in England so of course there's no guarantee we would even see it from behind all the drizzle) in a helicopter with Gavin at the helm saved our dream from certain tragic end....

However, a very short period of research did not yield auspicious findings. The cost of flight school anywhere in Europe (yes, I'm talking to you too, UK ) was three times that of North American equivalent training.  The weather made the likelihood of flying blackout periods high and the flight school nearby where we would want to live did not offer the kind of training Gavin wanted.  The comparative approach that we had employed to get a sense of the aviation world figured in destinations that we weren't even actually considering, like South Africa (too unfamiliar), Thunder Bay, Ontario (too cold) and Hawaii (too pipe dream within a pipe dreamish). But their intended roles as planning placebos were eclipsed when their candidatures - flawed though they may have been -  all became more appealing than our original contender's.  And so we pressed 'delete' on our plans to make England our home during 'Project Chopper'.  One of the more viable destinations on our comparative study - and in fact where we eventually stuck the pin -  was Southwest Florida. Hot, humid, conservative: The South. I guess it seems an unexpected choice.  But then again, it all depends.

Consider the moment when you first wake up. For an unspecified time - a second, perhaps a dream vibration left over, a transition engineered by your subconscious - you don't understand your presence. You don't recognize your body and you don't know what to do next. You are an exotic, unfamiliar housing for your consciousness. Then, synapses fire all at once sending you a surge of recognition and suddenly you are fortified with yourself - reinvented exactly as you were yesterday before your dreams caught you up.  Most of the time we aren't paying attention when this happens and sometimes we are, but then we soon forget what it was like to have ahead of us absolutely anything; to feel like wherever we are is delicious and exciting.  We long to live somewhere and belong there.  We thirst for community in whatever form.  We work to establish rituals and comforting habits.  But it is in that time that comes before, when we first arrive in a place and don't understand our presence, when we don't know what to do next, when we feel like we, accompanied by our bodies are in exotic, unfamiliar environs, that we feel most alive.

So, patient reader, you see now that this decision was not about the helicopter and it was not about our itchy feet. It was about extending and noticing that moment when you first wake up or when you first plant your feet somewhere when it's all ahead of you; about making it last and remembering how it feels.  And it doesn't matter where we go because anywhere is exotic until we populate it with our familiarity, our habits, our consumption and our comforts.  The helicopter was just a prop, our true Deus Ex Machina rescuing us from the would-be tragedy of talking ourselves out of it.

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