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First Person My millennial colleagues remind me how to stand up for what I believe in

Wenting Li

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I write lifestyle and entertainment news four days a week. I do it sitting in my second-hand chaise lounge by the window in my rented stone house, with my coffee and my reading glasses and my seven open tabs and Twitter searches. I never write about Canadian news, of course; when I’ve pitched ideas in the past, my young bosses in Manhattan tell me anything in Canada is “too regional” and that’s simply that.

I work as a remote freelancer for a feminist website whose target demographic is millennial moms. I am older than the next-oldest person on staff by about 15 years. When Prince died and my editors (two of whom are named Kaitlin) felt his death should be covered. I was asked to write an article about it because they were having a hard time getting emotional about someone who was nothing more to them than a shadowy purple figure from the past. They asked for something that could run under a headline such as: #ThrowBackThursday Prince Is Dead And We Are All *Literally* Crying Bags Of Tears.

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I struggle to keep up with the latest vernacular; things stopped being “fire” and “extra” long before I realized they were either. But the word “literally” appears to be the misused mainstay of the next generation.

I love all sorts of things about working with the young and hungry. The other writers, young and fresh as they are, are still so angry about all the things the rest of us have forgotten to be angry about. When Donald Trump became President, I was covering election night from my home in Ontario. After months of researching every awful thing he said, every subliminal threat and lie and jaw-dropping misogynistic bon mot, he won. In actual real life. I felt a deep well of reflected sadness, a weariness and disappointment with the millions of people who didn’t care if he was racist or sexist or stupid or simply and utterly ill-suited for the job, so long as he wasn’t a woman.

But the girls I work with were wrecked. When we cover live events, we have a special channel we use to communicate with each other, and they were literal bags of tears for real this time. They were frightened for their reproductive rights, for their health care and for their parents, since a few are undocumented immigrants who have been in the country since infancy.

Sitting at head office in Manhattan, a place I have yet to visit but imagine it looks exactly like everything I’ve seen in a romantic comedy, my co-workers arranged a group field trip to the Women’s March in the hours after the election. I was elected to write about it instead of going, so I sat at home in my pink hat and felt included about as much as I deserved.

My colleagues are not just mad about Donald Trump, of course; they’re mad about everything. They’re mad about stereotypical gender identification (I once wrote an article where I used the word gender for a new baby and was gently admonished for being insensitive), they’re mad about mom-shaming, about sexual harassment, about the pay gap, about toxic masculinity. They’re mad at women who don’t support other women, at old-fashioned feminists who remain stoically comfortable with slut-shaming. They’re mad at their parents, at traffic, at jokes about millennials and avocado toast and Snapchat updates that don’t make their lives easier or better.

All of this anger reminds me that I’m still probably supposed to be angry, too. I’ve been worn down to a nub, wearied by endless trips to the grocery store and the numbing, fluorescent lights of Wal-Mart as I wander the aisles looking for cheap bath sheets to no avail. The day-to-day details of living, of raising my four sons and trying to get ahead in my job with little to no education has made me a sweetly pliant zombie: a woman happy enough to spend her life on the couch scrolling through Netflix.

Until I became a copywriter for millennials, working with people who are just spilling feelings out of every orifice; either they’re sobbing at the Opening Games of the Olympics, praying for a celebrity who just went into labour (not real prayers, obviously, just prayer-hands emojis), or falling desperately in love with a couple they’ve never met who seem to be #RelationshipGoals. They’re always feeling something about nothing. And I find all of their histrionics sweetly nostalgic. Their extreme reactions to the smallest of events, such as “NOOOO!” or “I can’t take this! I’m DYING!” reminds me of the days when I used to feel things, too.

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When something terrible crops up in the news, a terrorist attack or a death of someone famous or another school shooting, they are mute and stunned by their emotions – so overwhelmed in the face of actual drama that they’re at a complete loss.

They’ve affected the way this sweetly pliant zombie sees the world as well. Now I’m feeling things all the time; when a lone gunman shot up a school in Florida in February, killing 17 people including several young students, I happened to be working. I wrote about the statistics of gun use in the United States, covered a video of a distraught mother interviewed by CNN who begged Mr. Trump to “please do something!” and wept quietly from my house in Canada. Where, despite everything, I continue to feel pretty safe and warm.

It’s possible I’m overselling the doom and gloom of my job as a fly-by-night writer of lifestyle news. For the most part, I spend my days writing about various members of the Kardashian family and their pregnancies, also a massive family called the Duggars from a hit reality television series who are devoutly religious and openly sexist but produce handsome children. I can never quite tell if our staunchly feminist fan base enjoys this show ironically or otherwise. But when bad things happen at work, it’s impossible to remain removed any longer. Not to mention unconscionable.

That’s the thing about working for millennials: They are endlessly teaching me, whether it’s how to figure out an SEO-friendly title, or how to make GIFS and memes so I don’t have to use words to express myself.

But I’m also learning how to affect real change: how to call someone out for manspreading on the subway or go to bat for another mom who is bent double with the weight of her responsibility; how to research what goes into my skin products, my coffee, my food.

Without their guidance, I would still be drinking diet sodas and wondering why all of my hair was falling out.

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Without my millennial colleagues, I would still be content to watch true crime and eat Bold Barbecue Doritos. I would still be a pliant zombie. It’s entirely possible that I would not have an audience, a voice, an opinion worth sharing with the wide world. That they’ve stripped me of my numbness and reminded me I still might have something to offer.

And I am *literally* so grateful.

Jen McGuire lives in Annan, Ont.

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