We old kids are like china plates
on a high shelf of a wall, waiting . . .
We old kids, decked out in our Superman Underoos,
with our folks at our backs,
cheering our high, riskless feats,
in this deserted flea circus
that must somehow save the Earth.
These are the words of a man I am proud to call friend (and not just because he is a really good poet – he’s also an amazingly kind person) – Josiah Bancroft.
Last night, I had the honor of seeing him read in Delaware, and this poem struck me square in the chest, a blow of recognition to my heart. He introduced the poem by saying that The Beats spoke for and to their generation; he said that he hopes to do that. Just that comment alone redeemed the Beats for me and made me love his poetry even more.
You see, this poem echos a lot of what I have been thinking about what our generation is about. We were told we could have everything we wanted; we were told to live our dreams. And many, many of us have, and that has been glorious. But it’s also been hard. Many of us don’t have our what our parents had at this age – a house, a couple of children, jobs that we will work in for decades. Instead, we have student loans, rent, and lots of ideals. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but it is heavy. How are we, “these china plates on a high shelf” supposed to save the world?
Lately, I’ve been thinking about writing an essay (or maybe a series of essays) that begin with the phrase, “I didn’t think that when I was 35 I would . . . ” Have a roommate that wasn’t my husband, not have children, still not know what exactly I wanted to do when I grew up, have acne and grey hair (as my friend Shelva notes – the greatest injustice). I really thought that by now I’d have “made it” wherever “it” may be. This is not what I expected.
But then when I think about what I did expect, I’m not sure I ever knew what that was. I didn’t expect to live on a suburban street in a rancher with a Volvo in the driveway. I didn’t expect to be working in an office. I didn’t really expect to be making cupcakes for someone’s class.
Yet, I did expect more stability, more solid ground holding up my toes. I know, though, that stability is what I want to want, but not necessarily what I really want. I’m kind of okay with sitting precariously on a shelf. And I have lots of companionship in my instability . . .
It’s the saving the Earth part that’s hard from here.