The young-to-me man ringing up my lunch order said, “That tomato soup is on point. Or as the young would say, on fleek.” (Spelled like it sounds.)
“On what?” I asked, and added, “You look like the younger generation to me.”
“No,” he said, “I was born in ’90 so I’m not the younger generation. And yeah, they say on fleek. It’s the same as saying on point.” (Which I think is really en pointe, the french term for ballet dancers when they are on their tippy-toes.)
“But why? What’s the logic of that? Where’s it from?”
He shrugged. “Kids today.”
Indeed. After supper I asked the 14 y.o., “What does on FLECK mean?”
“Oh my god mom, do you mean on fleek?”
“Yeah, that’s it. On fleek. What the heck is that?”
He doubled over, in shame or wordless laughter, I couldn’t tell. “Just don’t ever say that again, mom.” And then he hollered up the stairs to his older brother, “Guess what mom just got wrong!”
I am so of the older generation now. I like being of the older generation — I don’t worry about my looks or whether someone else likes me, etcetera. There’s a lot of freedom in middle age. And true to the stereotype of middle-aged mom, I despair about the younger generation some of the time. I’m baffled by on fleek. My hubby and I lament the screens that engage our children although in my reflective moments I think that perhaps slaughtering forests of trees for paper on which to print essays and books isn’t all that great … and how ironic that plenty of those essays and books are about how the next generation doesn’t get it because they’re on their devices all the time … and those kids in my community who went to school in t-shirts bearing the confederate flag don’t seem to have ever read a history book! How is it that they don’t grasp the complexity and nuance of how that symbol affects their fellow community members? Kids today.
Kids today! Some thing never change. And as a writer I have been struggling with whether and how to enter the increasingly-heated political frays occurring all over the place, not least in my own confederate-flag-divided community.
photo of Adam Zagajewski 2014 in Stockholm by Frankie Fouganthin — from WikiCommons
I found guidance in Susan Sontag‘s essay, “The Wisdom Project,” which centers on an extended exploration of the book Another Beauty by Adam Zagaejewski, a Polish writer:
Life, when not a school for heartlessness, is an education in sympathy. The sum of stories reminds us that in a life of a certain length and spiritual seriousness, change — sometimes not for the worse — is just as real as death.
All writing is a form of remembering. …
That memories are recovered — that is, that the suppressed truths do reemerge — is the basis of whatever hope one can have for justice and a modicum of sanity in the ongoing life of communities. …
That every generation fears, misunderstands, and condescends to its successor — this, too, is a function of the equivalence of history and memory (history being what it is agreed on, collectively, to remember). Each generation has distinctive memories, and the elapsing of time, which brings with it a steady accumulation of loss, confers on those memories a normativeness which cannot possibly be honored by the young, who are busy compiling their memories, their benchmarks. … The rule seems to be: each generation looks upon its successor generation as barbarians.
Sontag goes on to point out that
…history should never be thought of with a capital H. The governing sense of Zagajewski’s memory-work is his awareness of having lived through several historical periods, in the course of which things eventually got better. Modestly, imperfectly–not utopianly–better. … Lesson: evil is not immutable. The reality is, everyone outlives an old self, often more than one, in the course of a reasonably long life.
I don’t agree with those who claim the confederate flag is “just” a symbol of their heritage: such a statement places the mask of simplicity over our uniquely complex American heritage of–and present-day schizophrenia about–slavery. I don’t think on fleek makes a damn bit of sense. And give me a book made from dead trees instead of an e-reader, please.
But I do agree with Sontag and Zagajewski’s words about hope — I have outlived several of my old selves. I am hopeful that our current political and personal experiences will prove to be an education in sympathy. And that writers, myself included, will contribute to our collective memory, our collective story. To our modest, imperfect betterment.
May it be so.