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The Disorderly March XII

January 1, 2011

Happy new year.  I feel a little smug since I’ve been living my “resolutions” since mid-October, ever since I went to NYC and didn’t go out at night because I felt too fat – this was the first time I walked the streets of Manhattan and wasn’t cruised once.  That’s when you know you’re fat.  Down 16 or so lbs. and from 38 to 36 pants since then, with a loooong way to go in my mind, but it feels good to have a head start on all the New Years’ resolvers, and to have at least maintained rather than backslid on my weight through the holidays. 

January, as I’ve noted before, is a good month for me – some part of my brain is counting the extra minutes of daylight and heaving a sigh of relief, all the more so as I’ll be sitting by a window at work again soon, after a temporary exile.  I feel pretty damn good about the fact that, despite short days, spent deeper in Cubeistan, all the holiday temptations, all my personal home-life stress (now over), and a tough project at work with an ever-shortened deadline, I’ve still managed to get my weight down, my writing up, and my brain on track (as far as it ever goes on tracks).  My best friend is coming to visit in a week, school starts the week after that, and all the villagers are back to work starting this Monday, so it’ll be possible to go – well, anywhere without having to contend with a mob. 

Conor Friedersdorf is providing me with much content these days over at  His “Question of the Week” about what work most influenced you in your youth has brought some interesting answers, some of them relevant to the question of Orderly Marching.  This respondee discussed David Brooks’ essay “The Organization Kid”:

I was assigned the article as a junior in high school, a time when my friends and I were starting to look ahead to the rat race of college admissions. Brooks’ assessment of my achievement-oriented generation as successful but empty struck a deep chord in the questions I was asking myself at the time. During the class discussion, my teacher posed a thought experiment: he could teach us a rich, intellectually satisfying course on moral philosophy, or he could teach us a numbing course that would lift our SAT scores significantly. My friend replied that he would take the SAT course, and then take the intellectually-satisfying course in college — to which the teacher replied that it doesn’t work like that, because in college the choices are between LSAT (or GMAT, or MCAT…) and meaning. The cycle then continues, on and on. I vowed right then to work for things for my own reasons, because I wanted them, not because it would earn me a gold star.

This reader chose “Ziggy Stardust”:

I was raised by very socially liberal parents who were all about being an individual and acknowledging and embracing diversity in many senses, and I went to a school that was much the same way. I had thought I understood that idea pretty well.  But the fact is that while the rhetoric was expansive and the intentions very good, the people I was around and the world I lived in consisted of a pretty clearly defined box. My peers and I were meant to grow up to be successful professionals who were socially liberal and infinitely accepting of others, but fairly conservative in behavior and identification.

Against this backdrop, the effect Ziggy had on me was the real, visceral, stunning realization that different people really are different in more ways that I had ever imagined, and that there were so many more dimensions of "difference" than I had thought. It turned the whole concept of "we are all the same inside" on its head – to greater positive effect, for me. The experience allowed me to consider diversity in people without the political edge of Diversity that I was being educated about in school (and don’t get me wrong – I’m still very glad I got that education). It also introduced me to the idea of actively constructing an identity on the outside as well as the inside–the ways in which managing one’s appearance can be a form of true self-expression. Finally, it helped me realize that creating an identity doesn’t need to be a massive undertaking of permanence – carefully assembling components that must never change (so you must be very, very sure about everything you choose to become) over the course of a lifetime; rather, it can be more like an artistic or academic career. You build something, enjoy it, live in it for a while, and move on. There’s a through-line, but not an edifice.

And as Friedersdorf himself noted, commenting on the Times article on grade inflation I posted about earlier,

Looking back on college, I am thankful that I didn’t intend on ever going to graduate school, even if I later wound up there. Unconcerned with my grades, I put tremendous effort into classes that seemed as though they’d prove rewarding. In doing so, I occasionally stole time from classes taught by subpar professors who assigned senseless tasks, or didn’t complete graded homework when I was certain that I had an exceptional understanding of the material.

Enjoy the holiday.  I plan to spend mine pettily cheering for all the Blue State teams to win the bowl games.

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