Gen X singles: In their own words

First derived from a novel, the label 'Generation X' refers to a group of some 75 million people that appear to have few defining characteristics. To get beneath the label, Monitor staffer David Holmstrom interviewed four so-called Generation X-ers from the Boston area, all around 30, all single. Below are excerpts from the interviews.

First, all four are high energy doers who see Generation X as being someone and somewhere else; more a media construction.

"I close my ears to the whole thing as an oversimplification," says Michelle Poppleton, a singer with her own band, and a day job in biotech marketing.

"We know the TV shows are supposed to be about us," says James McClurkin, a computer-graphic artist by day and a swing-dance teacher at night. "They are our age on TV," he says, "but they don't seem to be our age. I'm a mixture of ages...."

Richman Reinauer is originally from Louisiana and a few weeks away from opening his own restaurant after managing several others. "I'm a foodie," he says. "My partner and I raised a lot of money, and we are confident about success, which is not supposed to be a concern of Generation X."

Julie Snyder, a former congressional staffer for four years, now working for a hospital trade association, is not concerned about the "X" label. She's more worried about political apathy. "To me the most tragic thing about the Clinton affair is not what he did with Monica Lewinsky," she says, "but that people my age are angry or indifferent to the whole system. There's a black cloud over government."

So, X is zero to them, and political involvement is problematic for three out of the four. But job satisfaction is important.

Happy at work (mostly)

"I spent two years on a job where I was miserable," says Ms. Snyder, who attended graduate school at the University of Texas. "I enjoy this job and value the people I work with now. So, I've put my life together pretty much - but I hope never really all together."

"My lifestyle is a little nuts," says Ms. Poppleton, juggling singing, working, producing a CD, and spending time with her boyfriend. "I'm on overload," she says. "I worry about what I want to achieve and how fast."

McClurkin, who came to Boston following a divorce, says. "My job is awesome, but my schedule is pretty crazy because I teach dancing three nights a week, and I travel. I'm not home before 11 on many nights."

Ambivalent about dating

Like the others, McClurkin alternates between wanting another relationship and being anxious about it. "We were really crazy to get married," he says now, "but we did it anyway. We'd been together four years and thought it was the next logical step, but that's not a reason to get married."

Mr. Reinauer says he has a "wonderful girlfriend," but worries that it might end. Ms. Snyder "worries about not meeting the right person, but I'm satisfied with where I am now, so that's a pretty good launching pad to take off into the next few years."

Poppleton has been seeing her boyfriend for about a year. Both are musicians.

"I usually spend most of my time at my boyfriend's apartment," she says. "My apartment building happens to be a sort of Animal House for male college students who live upstairs and have parties. I'm paying a lot for rent. Sometimes I feel a little homeless."

Making a home

Do they see their apartments merely as places to sleep or as comfortable homes?

"I live a long way from my family," says Reinauer. "It's a small apartment. I really enjoy it, and I spend a lot of money to make it comfortable."

Snyder had been living in a studio apartment, and recently moved to a one bedroom. "It feels like a spacious palace," she says, laughing. "I consider it a home, and I want to be comfortable in my surroundings, not just live with a microwave and futon."

McClurkin painted his apartment, hung curtains and decorated it. "The best part is that my sister is my roommate," he says, "but she stays with her boyfriend. So I get this huge apartment for half the price so far."

Eating lots of takeout

All four eat out a lot just like the rest of their generation. "The last thing I want to do after work," says Snyder, "is come home and spend an hour in front of the stove. Sometimes I eat out four nights a week or not at all. I can have a bagel and Power Bar and be fine."

McClurkin likes to cook. "I have a huge kitchen and cook maybe three nights a week," he says. "On weekends, after my friends and I go dancing we all crash and then get up in the morning for a big breakfast."

Sometimes it's sushi three nights a week for Poppleton. "Since I've been dating, we eat out a lot, or do take out," she says. "but I do worry about all the money I'm spending."

E-mail oxygen

A significant presence in all their lives is the computer and e-mail. E-mail is like breathing to them.

McClurkin says 50 e-mails a day are common for him. "Technology rules our lives," he says "There is no way today that you cannot be in touch."

Reinauer recently got a cell phone. "I've learned to think it's normal," he says as the opening of his restaurant nears.

Poppleton says her e-mail traffic is non-stop. "My e-mail checks itself every five minutes," she says. "Friends, business, family. Maybe 20 or 30 a day. Sometimes you have to use the phone."

Snyder laughs and says, "Nothing takes the place of the phone." But she uses e-mail all the time at work but calls her father because he refuses to learn how to use a computer.

Worry for the future

After work is done, and when they catch a few moments of quiet or reflection, what do they consider their top concerns?

"I had a really nice childhood with good parents," says Reinauer, "and I worry that when my time comes to be a parent, everything is going to be a little wacky. Politics are wacky now; media is a little wacky, and so are all the shootings. So I wonder if the same quality of life I had will be there for any kids I might have."

For Snyder the constant change in life is part of the fun up to a point. "I don't open a planner every morning and live by a set of goals," she says. "In a general way, all of life worries me, but I'm satisfied where I am."

In the broader picture, McClurkin eyes the economy with suspicion. "I have this wonderful job in a great city I love, and if I lose this, what is going to happen? We're riding this emotional high in the economy, but some day something could happen. I don't lose sleep over this, but I think about it."

Among Poppleton's concerns is garbage and children. "I worry about garbage," she says. "I worry about throwing things away because I worry about landfills. and I know everybody is throwing things away all day, and for me it's a guilt trip. I want to have kids some day, and I used to think life was too dangerous. But I have come around because I don't want fear making a decision about whether or not I have children."

*Last week James McClurkin left his job as a computer graphic artist to join the world tour of magician David Copperfield as production coordinator.

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