Gen Y: “The Girls Look Prettier and the Guys Look Buffer”

Question: How do you feel about the \r\ncurrent generation of\r\nyoung people?

\r\n\r\n

Tim O’Brien: I don’t know enough.  I’m such a simple-minded guy; I just assume in most \r\nways,\r\nthere’s no difference.  The faces\r\nare younger and the bodies a leaner because the habits are better than \r\nin my\r\ngeneration.  Nobody smokes any more,\r\nor very few.  Everybody knows about\r\nthe right foods to eat.  Everybody\r\nlooks a little sleeker than in my era. \r\nThe girls look prettier and the guys look tougher, well not \r\ntougher,\r\nbuffer.  But aside from that, look,\r\nI can hang out with college kids or people in their 20’s and feel \r\nutterly at\r\nhome in a way that I don’t think I could have felt at home where when I \r\nwas 26\r\nhanging out with Kurt Vonnegut, or I think I would have felt \r\nill-at-ease.  But there’s a poise among young \r\npeople\r\nthat really does astonish me. \r\nReally astonishes me the way people can do something that was so\r\ndifficult for me.  So, I’m not sure\r\nwhat to say, exactly.

\r\n\r\n

Question: What’s your next book about—and\r\n do writers hate\r\nthat question?

\r\n\r\n

Tim O’Brien: I don’t think I hate it, I fear\r\n it more than\r\nanything.  Because you’re put on\r\nthe spot to articulate things about something in progress that have the \r\ndanger\r\nof freezing you.  That is, you say\r\nit enough times, “I’m doing this,” and then you damn well better do it.  You start telling yourself, "Well, I\r\nsaid I’m going to write this book and it’s going to be that kind of \r\nbook.And it freezes you where you are\r\nreluctant to go beyond it or push in another direction with the same \r\nbook.  

\r\n\r\n

Having said that, I know enough about what I’m \r\nworking on to\r\nsay it’s a book about being an older father, that I’m 63 and I’ve got \r\nthese two\r\nyoung kids and I can say that it’s about some of the stuff that I was \r\nwriting\r\nabout with “The Things They Carried,” the sense of your own mortality \r\npresses\r\nin on you in a war.  And you know\r\nintellectually you’re going to die some day, but in a war you’re \r\nreminded pretty\r\noften, and it’s right at you.  And I\r\nfeel that way as an older father. \r\nI imagine where I’m going to be 10 years from now. \r\n I mean, basketball’s going to be tough,\r\nand will I even be alive? And the two little boys who know nothing of \r\ntombstones\r\nand know nothing of the tick of biology or... you know, are facing it, \r\nas I\r\nam.  And there’s a sadness to it\r\nthat’s accompanied by exhilaration of the moments matter and "By God I’m\r\ntaking advantage of them." Which is what I meant earlier about writing.  That I’d rather—I mean, I could die\r\ntomorrow and as a writer be content with four or five of the books I’ve \r\nwritten\r\nas being good.  But I can’t die and\r\nbe content about these two unformed lives that are too young to be good.  And I want to be there to watch them\r\nbecome good and to do what I can to help. \r\nAnd so I’m writing about that. 

\r\n\r\n

But, it’s funnier than that.  There\r\n are funny things in it too.  The discovery of \r\nlanguage and the storytelling.  Part of the book \r\nis about the stories I\r\ntell these kids and their sources. \r\nPartly in the world now and partly in the world long ago.

Recorded March 22, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

Reflections on the younger generation, and on growing old.

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