My family of Boomers and Millennials is just concluding a week-long reunion. We have matured and ripened over the years so this recent gathering was rife with laughter and devoid of the tensions from gatherings in the past. The twenty-and-thirty-something cousins all get along now, respecting each other’s differences, and embracing each other’s partners, and my sisters and I have never been closer. I’m happy to have left behind the sniping, brooding days of yore.
A big source of laughter over the past week has been the repetition of old family memes, as well as the spinning of new memes. How quickly we seize on a word or a phrase that sums up our shared experience, sometimes fraught, sometimes humorous. Mill-enn-i-als became one of our new memes when we were discussing “geriatric millennials,” a phrase recently coined by the media. My text-to-speech device pronounced the word millennials with a long I, stressing the third syllable so the word rhymed with vials. Hearing that, we were off and running, using the word whenever we could to generate gales of laughter. Another meme arose when I said that I would welcome gifts of “adult bibs” to catch the drooling brought on by my ALS. Immediate riffing ensued. Adult bibs? Did that mean I wanted pornography? Exactly what images did I want on those bibs?
The coining of memes has always been a feature of our family life. It has been a feature in the life of every family I’ve ever gotten to know. Memes have also figured prominently in all of my significant relationships, both romantic and platonic. They serve to solidify our connections. They remind us of what we’ve endured together, good and bad, making us laugh and cringe, and identifying us as belonging to a tribe.
This past week our meme-making was partly directed to initiating some new partners into our family group. In creating memes with the new members, we were bringing them into the fold. As we explained some of the existing memes, we were sharing important and intimate information about how we operate, what we value, what we find funny, how we regard the culture at large. Memes are abbreviations that, while brief, are freighted with meaning.
Memes are an oft-ignored but very useful tool for fiction writers in elucidating character. In inventing memes for a…