Sunday, November 6, 2016

In Spite of Everything

In Spite of Everything, by Susan Gregory Thomas, is a memoir I read recently that is a reflection on the larger collective experience of Generation X.  While her thoughtful honesty and humor drew me in, there was this painful familiarity I felt as her story echoed the experiences of my own life and many Gen Xers I have known.

She mentions in the book that according to U.S. census and other data, almost half of all Generation X children's families split and 40 percent were latchkey kids. She makes the point that the "benign neglect" concept that was commonly embraced by Boomer parents in how they raised Gen Xers during the '70s and '80s wasn't so benign after all, and in many cases, it was truly just neglect.

There is a lot of insight in the book on how the difficult childhoods of many Gen Xers has made us want to give our kids what we didn't have, and has made us become the kind of parents we wish we could've had, and how in spite of everything, our best intentions don't always lead us to where we thought we were going. She does a beautiful job of telling her story as part of our larger generational story: her parents divorced the same year mine did.

With extensive knowledge of classic literature, she makes references to everything from Greek mythology to Proust to illustrate her struggles, and to a large extent the struggle of the lives of many Xers as we have tried to recover from childhood wounds and to hold our relationships together in the present.  Among the timeless literature she references, she points to the Bible and sees scripture as a way of finding peace among the stress, confusion, and loneliness of our lives.  She mentions the technique of Lectio Divina, which she began to use when going through a dark point in her life.  She points to God as a place of solace, she points to Christ as "the very definition of hard-core punk." No doubt that is the highest compliment a Gen Xer could give -- I have always felt that way, too.

An excerpt from the book that explains what has defined each generation over the last several decades:

"It is a hard truism that each generation is shaped by its war.  The Greatest Generation was forged by WWII; Baby Boomers were defined by Vietnam and the civil rights and antiwar movements. Generation X's war, I would argue, was the ultimate war at home: divorce.  We didn't get Purple Hearts or red badges of courage, nothing that could be culturally shared or healed.  Our injuries were private, secret, solitary..."

The hope that rises from her suffering is that in spite of the fear that we all are randomly in orbit around some larger force out of our control, we may actually be deeply connected because all matter in the universe is made of the same substance.  In spite of our fear that we are ultimately alone, it may be that we are far more connected to one another -- much than we ever would've imagined.  


(c) 2016 by Chloe Koffas 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ben Cooper and Collegeville: The Retro Halloween Costumes of Gen X

Staring at the illustrations on the costume box and admiring the mask through the clear cellophane just before I pulled out what I would wear for Halloween was a ritual that I remember with so much happiness. These memories come from the late 1970s and very early 1980s, yet I can still feel the fiber of the thin cardboard box against my small hands and I can still smell the vinyl as I would first pull the costume out of the box.  

And the Magic-Glo - there was nothing like the soft green glow coming from kid's costumes as the smell of caramel, chocolate, licorice, Blow Pops, and pop culture would come wafting from the plastic pumpkin shaped buckets or the super hero pillow cases little Gen Xers would use to hold their candy.  

At the time I never noticed the Ben Cooper brand on these costumes, though now that name is the perfect search term for looking up pictures of Gen Xers in Halloween costumes through the years as we grew up.  Considering how easily these types of costumes would fall apart if you tried to wear them more than just on Halloween night, I guess this company saw a market for "sturdy" costumes you could wear over and over, like when you just can't wait for Halloween, and maybe even when it's already Thanksgiving.  I have a vague memory of seeing this cardboard box in a fellow Gen Xer's toy box when I was very small:

Collegeville was the other main competing company to Ben Cooper at the time.  This is another good search term for looking up pictures of Gen Xers dressed as all the cartoon characters we used to watch.

My favorite Ben Cooper costume that I wore was Casper the Friendly Ghost.  Apparently both Ben Cooper and Collegeville had the commercial rights to's what was going on behind the scenes for retailers who were thinking of selling the costumes in their stores that we bought and took home as little kids: 

Happy Halloween, Generation X.  

Saturday, September 17, 2016

River Phoenix - I Don't Want to Stand Where He Died

It's hard to choose just one person as a the symbol or voice of a generation.  For Generation X, many say it was Kurt Cobain, many others say it was River Phoenix.  Strangely, Kurt and River died within just five months of each other.  Gen Xers barely had time to grieve River when we heard the news of Kurt.  I distinctly remember walking between classes in high school, the weight of the books in my backpack heavy on my shoulders, staring up at a pale blue sky and thinking how unreal it was that they were both gone.  River was 23 when he took his last breath.

We were in town a week ago for my husband's 20th high school reunion, sitting in the driveway of his parents' house in a suburb of L.A., he was ready to drive our rental car to Sunset Boulevard where we had planned for a long time to go where River Phoenix experienced his last day in 1993.  As we set up the GPS with the address for the Viper Room, I realized I didn't want to make that journey.  I realized that I don't want to be near the place on the sidewalk where River passed away, at least not for now.  So instead, the next day, I decided to scramble for a window seat on the plane going back home and to think of River on the journey.   Instead of Sunset Boulevard, it was the Pacific Ocean, and lapping beaches, and sandy mountains covered in Redwoods.   So much of River's history took place from Southern to Northern California, it made sense to remember him this way.

People say there was something about him, that there was this bright spark in his soul.  He had this extra large portion of kindness and gentleness that radiated from him.  This is how I picture him leaving this earth: ascending quickly from the crowded shores of L.A. and then more slowly over open blue waters looking down at a thousand circling fish, watching the L.A. haze diffuse into the peaceful fog that hangs over the Pacific, and then realizing for the first time, he was utterly free of everything.

River was, by all accounts, Generation X.  He was born in 1970, right in the middle of the first wave and the second wave of X. The first time I ever saw him was on VHS in my 4th grade classroom.  Our teacher had us watch Stand By Me. It seems strange now -- 4th graders watching an R-rated movie in our classroom, a script full of so many heavy subjects, but we were a generation that grew up fast.

I mentioned River at my husband's reunion while catching up with people at Roxanne's - an Old Hollywood style bar in Long Beach. People would have to pause to remember who he was for a moment, or they would mention that no one talks about River Phoenix much anymore.

Whether we are still alive, or whether we have gone to the other side, whether we find ourselves at our high school reunions or are sending a message online to an old best friend that we grew up with, we don't want to be forgotten. 

As our flight came near its end, I looked down on the mountains of Northern California.  I felt a world away from Southern California, and a lifetime away from that day in 1993 when we lost River.

As the decades go by, I hope that he is never forgotten, I hope the bright spark within him is always remembered.  He was an animal rights, political, and environmental activist.  I imagine that his hope was (and is) that the things he was passionate about are never forgotten.

As I was getting ready for the trip, I read Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind by Gavin Edwards. Going through these pages made it clear there was a lot of suffering in River's life.  It sounds like, as he grew older, he took movie roles mainly just to pay the bills to take care of his family, that he wanted out of the business, that he wanted to pursue music instead.  Edwards shows how River left a mark on pop culture and on Hollywood, I'll add that he left an enormous mark on Generation X.  Even if Xers have to pause a moment to remember him, they remember him.

Given that River had quintessentially Boomer parents, this led, as it often does, to a quintessential Gen X experience.  Sadly, the package that came with this Gen X experience for many was growing up far too fast, and sometimes, living far too fast, and dying far too young.

Sometimes, when I'm in LA, I look around at the way the palm trees lean silent in front of the sunsets, as cool evening breezes flow above the heat rising from the concrete, and think about the way Hollywood makes people, and then breaks them.  

As one of the Orthodox priests officiating at the funeral of my husband's family matriarch in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery last year said,

"Nothing is forever, 
especially not Hollywood."  

No doubt that's true about this world, that nothing is forever; it's something Gen X knew innately even before we watched R-rated movies as fourth graders, it's something we felt intensely the day we lost River.

(c) 2016 - all photos and writing by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Our Stories

In addition to the writing I do on this blog, I have recently become a regular contributor over at Are You There God? It's me Generation X.  My first piece is about telling our story to overcome lies with truth both in our own lives and together as a generation.

Feeling very excited about what the future holds for all of us Gen Xers as we tell our stories more, and as more of us tell our stories....

Head on over to read the piece: 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The AIDS Generation, The Bravest Generation

I go to places that hold the untold stories of Generation X - especially the stories of our suffering.   I used to hesitate to use the word "pilgrimage" because this word implies a journey that is to a holy place.  Now I always use this word to describe all my Gen X journeys, especially memorial places, as I realize God is everywhere, especially in those spaces where we seek solace from the suffering we endure in our time on this earth, and especially when we do the holy work of remembering.   I had the chance to go to the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, and to do some photography here.

An initial walk through the grove with my family had me thinking about those we've lost from multiple generations.

A pause to look at the redwoods and then a walk back through by myself with my camera got me thinking about my own generation, Generation X, and how many we lost....

Down these steps there was a palpable sorrow. lingering especially above the soft green leaves of the plants to the left.

We cannot, and should not, forget those who experienced HIV/AIDS in a time before there was any hope for medication that could help offer a relatively normal lifespan.  While AIDS primarily affected multiple generations (primarily second wave Boomers and first wave Xers) they called us "The AIDS Generation". 

1996 was the turning point year in the history of the AIDS Generation story - those diagnosed before '96 had a very high mortality rate, as research for treatment was only beginning.  During this key year inhibitor medications began to be available, even if only in their most elemental stages.  I remember this pandemic overshadowed my growing up years, and especially my high school years, with fear.  I graduated just before 1996 when hope began to unfold.

A lot of hope resides in the beauty that was created here, in the flowers reaching toward the sky.

Yet, in the open space below, waves of sorrow come drifting through among the soft winds from the Bay. If you walk here, walk with reverence, below your feet the sand holds many tears have that been shed.

Many First Wave Generation Xers lost a friend, or even a whole circle of friends during their coming of age years. 

Many of us Second Wave Xers remember Ryan White as the first person infected who was our own age. He became infected with AIDS from a blood transfusion.  It felt as if these little white flowers were trying to bend and lean toward each other to somehow spell out the letters of Ryan's name.  It is as if he is forever frozen in our minds as a young teenager, it is as if he became forever young.

Ryan and his family went through enormous ostracizing and persecution when he was diagnosed, and then he became a spokesperson for AIDS....

My family and I had no hatred for those people 
because we realized they were 
victims of their own ignorance.  
-Ryan White, Generation X (1971-1990) 

Dr. Perry Halkitis, a Gen Xer, wrote  The Aids Generation: Stories of Survival and Resiliance.
I've skimmed the book and hope to eventually read it in its entirety.  He writes, "In the last year of the plague alone, nearly as many young Americans died of AIDS as perished in the Vietnam War."  He calls us The Bravest Generation. 

It took many years for this memorial grove to come into existence, Isabel Wade and Nancy McNally envisioned it back in 1988, and a dedication took place on World AIDS Day in 2012:

As I left the park that afternoon and headed toward the stone staircase, the sun was hiding partly behind the clouds that and then finding a way to slowly, bravely, make its way from behind the grayness.  

While we have made progress, much progress still remains.  To read about how AIDS affects income development progress in low-income countries, a new, very effective, mother-to-child transmission immunization, and what we can do globally and individually to help, follow the link here: The One Campaign: HIV/AIDS

(c) 2016 - writing and photography by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved.  
Feel free to comment below or to email me at genxpixels(at)gmail 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The 30th Anniversary of Hands Across America

It's the week of the 30th anniversary of Hands Across America  a historical event and a collective experience if there ever was one.

A couple of years ago, a relative from an older generation gave my daughter a small bag full of hand-me-down mementos from her jewelry box -- old buttons, little pieces of ribbon from gifts once given, lapel pins, and other trinkets.  When my daughter came home to show me her new treasures, my heart skipped a beat as a little pin reflected a sparkle of light and instantly conjured up memories from my Gen X childhood.   It was a Hands Across America pin.  Something that didn't mean much more than a spare button to the person who originally had it, and something that looked only like a symbol for a string of paper dolls to my daughter, but something that means a lot to me because of the history it is connected to.

Hands Across America, an event organized by Ken Kragen, raised millions of dollars that were distributed to charities across the country. To be a part of the chain, you were asked to submit $10, and the money was used to help Americans living in poverty.  Other than it just being a one-day event, the idea was to raise awareness of the effects of poverty in America in a broader and more long-term sense -- to help people think about how they could be continually involved by doing volunteer work or contributing  in other ways.  The chain went from New York City to Long Beach.  Of course there were breaks in the chain of people, and apparently in some places where the desert sun was too hot,they used stretches of ribbon to connect people to each other.  

Even though the 1980's were full of materialism and vanity, there were these events, these bright points, that became part of the history of that decade, like Live Aid, where people united themselves to help others on a large scale.   I think those big events that happened in the mid 1980's had a lot to do with who I became as a person.   As Gen Xers who were kids and teenagers at the time, these bright points not only were a part of what formed our collective consciousness, but also our collective conscience.  Celebrities of the time were a part of the Hands Across America promotional video and part of the chain itself.   In the video, we see young faces of people that are now much older and faces that we miss of those who have since passed away.  The event came right through my city at the time, Albuquerque, NM, and the celebrity who made a local appearance for the event was Don Johnson.  I didn't get to be a part of that day, but I do remember watching the Hands Across America promo video in the same classroom where I watched The Challenger Disaster earlier that same year. 1986 fell right in the middle of my formative years and holds a large number of my Gen X memories, including Chernobyl, and the beginning of the Iran-Contra affair.   It was a year that showed me that even though the world is full of much confusion, disappointment, and suffering, we are capable of great things when we come together for a cause larger than ourselves.   When 1986 began, we could not have known how much history was unfolding around us, or what an enormous role it would have in forming who many of us became as Generation X adults.  

(C) 2016 writing and photo by Chloe Koffas

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Psalms - Why What is Beautiful is What is Real

Fuller Seminary, a theological graduate school, recently launched Fuller Studio, a place to embrace a wider circle of voices from around the world.  This includes intercultural conversations on the Christian faith, along with women's issues in the leadership of the church, and interfaith dialogue.   Recently, Fuller Studio released a short film that includes conversation between Bono and Pastor Eugene Peterson about The Psalms from the Bible, and about The Message, a version of the Bible which Peterson translated from the original Hebrew and Greek into English in an idiomatic sense and in contemporary language - an extraordinary scholarly effort both of the mind and of the heart.  

An afternoon spent in a cozy lakeside cabin with a mug of hot coffee, in a discussion about  literature, art, and theology near a crackling fire with kindred souls, I can't imagine a place I'd rather be....

The Psalms are full of the rawness about the agony of life, the questions we have that can go unanswered for so long, and the deep sorrow, despair, and confusion we all experience.   The Psalms are beautiful because they are real.   Praying, in the way that the Psalms are prayed, isn't being nice before God, says Peterson, it's not pretty.  It's honesty, brutal honesty.   Bono said he would like to see more of this type of realism in life and in art and in music - write about a bad marriage you had, he says, write about why you are pissed off at the government....

U2 had an enormous impression on my spiritual life in my formative years growing up Generation X, and they still do.  I spent some Sundays of my childhood in church surrounded by Protestant hymns from the last two centuries; I spent some afternoons of my twenties listening Catholic Gregorian chant CDs, and now my Sunday mornings are likely to include Byzantine chant of the Orthodox liturgy, yet to be honest, nothing reaches my soul or connects me to God like the music of U2.  On that same wavelength, while I appreciate reading or hearing Scripture in any translation of the original text, I truly love experiencing it in my own context - in contemporary language that resonates with the relationship I have with the English language - including the metaphors I already understand.  This is a profound comfort to me, and because of Peterson's research and translation, we have this.  What U2 has done, and what Eugene Peterson has done for contextualizing Scripture into our modern lives, is very similar.  Many thanks to both of them for what they have done for Generation X.   As a quintessential Gen Xer, I can say that both of them have helped make my faith more beautiful, both of them have made my faith more real.

Bono often reads (or sings) from the Psalms during U2's concerts.  If you are interested in reading the Psalms that Bono refers to in the film as they are translated in Eugene Peterson's The Message you can download the first 40 of them for free here.


(c) 2016 -  writing by Chloe Koffas -
feel free to leave a comment, or to email me directly here: genxpixels@gmail