I had everything all planned. I had seven titles picked out, for a total of seven column pieces this semester. I knew exactly what order I was going to write them in, knew exactly which aspect of my life I was going to connect them to, knew exactly what part each book would play in painting myself as a Sophisticated Intellectual.
According to K. Karivalis’ Adult Gummies, that makes me a Jen.
I picked up the slim, 90-page novella last week, mostly because it was short enough to finish in a half hour and I’m trying to keep pace with my 2018 reading goal. And now I’m throwing my meticulously crafted agenda out the window, so that, already, should be a testament to its impact.
Adult Gummies follows four 20-somethings who work together “in an office in a generic mid-sized US city with well-defined seasons (i.e. snow in winter).” Jen, Thad, Kat and Dirk are the Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte of a militantly PC, post-9/11 society. Do you wish to spend your life trimming weed in Colorado like Kat? Do you suffer from perpetual existential anxiety like Thad? Take this Adult Gummies quiz to find out which millennial stereotype you are!
The story starts out innocently enough, documenting workplace dynamics, recreational drug use, the revealing nature of one’s choice of tissue box — standard stuff — then swiftly ratchets up the absurdity until Jen is literally smashing her way through a glass ceiling with a baseball bat, only to fall to her knees in despair upon encountering a sea of heels. It’s window dressing all the way down (or up, in this case).
I’m ambivalent toward calling myself a millennial, because whether I am or not depends on which thinkpiece you read. The general malaise that characterizes the generation, however, I relate to with every fiber of my being. And I, too, feel vaguely nauseous at the prospect of graduating college to be shuttled straight into the corporate conveyor belt.
But I was most struck by Jen, who is consumed with her personal #brand, curating and constructing every facet of her life and interactions. She plays a perennial game of chess, and she is always five moves ahead of everyone else, calculating possible outcomes and subtly nudging the pieces in her favor. Which, come to think of it, sounds a lot like me.
Even though I use social media sparingly, whatever content I do post has gone through several iterations, been agonized over, the presence or lack of a comma deliberate and intentional. How I present myself — the clothes I wear, the way I interact with others — is all performative, all part of the chipper and sanguine or the cool and sardonic persona I’m adopting, tailored to my conversational partner. I’ve mastered the art of self-objectification. And when I’m alone, I just plug myself into an outlet and power down.
Adult Gummies is both darkly satirical and fondly affectionate, an eye roll and a love letter. Karivalis simultaneously lampoons the Baby Boomers’ laments over our laziness-vanityselfishness-immaturity and acknowledges the kernels of truth they contain, but celebrates them anyway. She explores office culture, the “Biz Caj” lifestyle, the gnawing trepidation over an imminent technological takeover. But most of all, she explores the shifting definition of “relationship” amid automated communication, the humanity inherent in the search for meaning, the yearning for beauty and authentic emotional connection that is singular to no generation.
As Karivalis writes in a hauntingly poetic, uneasily prescient forward: “It’s not our fault we want to be artists. Art will be the last human vocation.”
Kitty Guo is a sophomore majoring in journalism and computational linguistics. She is also the lifestyle editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Kitty Corner,” runs every other Wednesday.