GenX comets

As a GenXer, much of my childhood was spent hearing about all the things that I’d missed–cool music, cool clothes, cool politics–until I became thoroughly fed up with hearing how things would never be the same again, how all the good stuff was in the past, how we were just making do with what the folks who had the real fun had left behind.

When I started publishing–in the 1990s–it was much of the same: I was told there used to be there were tons of good markets and that everyone worthy sold their books and lived on their midlist royalties forever–but no more.

Both of which things dovetail off of something I was thinking about today: how in college, we awaited the arrival of Halley’s comet with some excitement. (I was friends with this guy who worked for the campus observatory, too, so had access to the roof of the physics department and really good viewing.)

When the comet showed up, it was a wash. 1910 had been the cool year, when Halley streaked the sky so bright everyone could see it. In 1986, we just got a smudge so faint that could only be seen through a telescope–and even then it was barely visible. We packed up the telescope and I put getting a good view of a comet into the same box as all those other things people had told me were back in the past and out of my reach. Halley wasn’t due back until 2061, after all. My chance to see a comet streak the sky was pretty much gone.

Which is why it was so very cool, in 1997, to stand outside my Tucson apartment and watched a bright comet-streak of light with my naked eye, night after night after night. No, not Halley–it had long moved on, of course–this one was another comet, Hale-Bopp.

No one had told me there were might be bright comets, and I hadn’t thought to ask. I’d only heard what I’d missed, and had left it at that.

And what we’ve missed is rarely the full story.

Whenever someone tells me the glory days of anything are gone now, I’m suspicious. Things are rarely as lost as those who mourn them say. More often than not they come around again, in the same way or different ones.

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