“I’m not a mystery
everything I think is written down”
-Allison Weiss, “Why Bother”
The sun is bright in Highland Park today, casting long stark shadows on the newly bare sidewalks and leafy lawns as people make their way through the crisp air. The sky is still, a pacific relief from two days of unchecked bluster, allowing the full light of early winter to crystallize and hang suspended among dying leaves still clinging to their lifeblood. Few will fall today.
Yesterday marked the second time the Rutgers debate team has graced the pages of the Daily Targum, perhaps the most-read paper in the city of New Brunswick. The article was quite flattering, relying heavily on Farhan’s and my testimony about the changes that have transpired in fifteen months of unprecedentedly hard work. The surreality of our current standing really has yet to fade, so I might as well try to grab hold of it and just breathe. After all, I still vividly recall years of desperately missing debate, of waking from dreams where I had a chance to be back in tournaments, back on the circuit, only to deflate amongst the reality of day jobs and intellectual incuriosity. Those days will be back, perhaps with less pathos given my second chance fulfilled, but I might as well store up for future winters now.
At the recommendation of Russ, I’ve been reading Outliers, officially my first Highland Park library book and perhaps the tenth non-fiction book I’ve read since the days of high school textbooks. In it, Malcolm Gladwell, the hippest pop-culture-meets-academics writer this side of Freakonomics, argues that success depends on luck and good fortune and ethnic traditions far more than Horatio Alger-style bootstraps stories. And while his case is compelling and obvious, he lapses too often into the same trap of Alger and friends, namely equating a mundane capitalist definition of success with true achievement in the course of a lifetime. Which, given his audience and the subtitle “The Story of Success”, is probably to be expected. He borders on really exciting delvings into the nature of real satisfaction with his discussion of what he calls “meaningful” work, but never stops to question the nature of capitalism in imposing the necessity of work itself on the population. Nor does he examine presumed pinnacle professions, like doctoring and lawyering, in the context of how meaningful or satisfying they are. He assumes these jobs and the acquisition of graduate degrees are innate goods in our society by which we can measure the success of potential geniuses on an objective scale.
It would be easy to say my political critiques of Gladwell are wholly tangential to the question his book is trying to explore, and that’s probably mostly right. But Russ felt this was an Important Book for me largely because of my own lifelong struggles with my early academic trajectory and its ultimate failure. Gladwell would blame these on unlucky circumstances (certainly Broadway and CCC failing to be supportive were not ideal situations), my family’s socioeconomic background (would money have made them more tenacious? maybe), and perhaps my culture of coming from European mutts based in the West (um, dubious). But what he goes on to describe me being locked out of just doesn’t feel like anything I’m missing. I could have been a successful lawyer had I wanted to be. Yippee. There’s plenty of good reasons I’m not, and they’re all based in my exercising of my own free will over my priorities. Would I have liked to graduate college at 16 as it once looked like was going to happen? Sure. But probably not so I could go on and collect a full complement of supplementary initials to my name. Probably, instead, so I could get on with it, as Monty Python would say. And the it maybe doesn’t look much better than status quo, save maybe for more public recognition that makes it easier to get published or something.
Tooling around the internet today, I discovered my new favorite musician of the hour. A quotation from one of her stellar just-discovered (by me) songs is above. She’s Allison Weiss and she’s apparently independent and sings mostly about heartbreak. Her song “July 25, 2007” cut right through me and I’ve already ordered her CD. There’s something about the simplicity and rawness of her storytelling that is pretty much what I’ve always loved about the music that I love. Given that Brad Wolfe and the Moon seem to be long done, I needed a new outlet for the band no one’s ever heard of slot in my life. Hooray.
The next few days are going to be mighty busy, especially in comparison to the quiet stasis of the last few. I almost have all my books sorted and dealt with and the Empire of Boxes has had its unprovoked aggression repelled to a couple small corners. Word is that the couch will be here before December is. Might even be able to get an armchair to go with it, with a little help from my friends.
Out my window, the blue patches through the overwhite collections of condensation almost precisely match the blue of the Prius below. My home is on the road and in the clouds.