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Wisdom of the Aged.
December 6, 2011 9:46 PM   Subscribe

Back in October, NYT columnist David Brooks asked his older readers (aged 70+) to send him "life reports." He wanted them to appraise their lives, in an effort to glean some life lessons for all of us to learn by. After receiving thousands of replies, he published his assessment of them a couple weeks ago, in two columns (Part 1: Nov 24, 2011; Part 2: Nov 28, 2011). He's also selected specific ones and published them on his blog.

tl;dr executive summary :
  • Divide your life into chapters. - think of your life as having chapters, to allow yourself assess yourself and change course if necessary.
  • Avoid rumination. - it's better to forgive and forget instead of hanging onto past slights.
  • Don't waste your time trying change other people.
  • Take risks.
  • Measure people by their growth rate, not their talents.
  • Don't be a rebel.
  • It gets better. - Life gets easier when you hit 60.
  • “Don’t stay with people who, over time, grow apart from you. Move on. This means do what you think will make you feel okay — even if that makes others feel temporarily not okay.”
posted by crunchland (61 comments total) 79 users marked this as a favorite

 
Avoid the Applebee's salad bar at all costs, insofar as there isn't one.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:50 PM on December 6, 2011 [11 favorites]


"On the other hand, some of the most inspiring stories were about stepparents who came into families and wisely bided their time, accepting slights and insults until they were gradually accepted by their new children."

... and it was only then that they unleashed a torrent of well-thought counter-insults specifically tailored to break these so-called "new children" completely from within.
posted by vidur at 9:56 PM on December 6, 2011 [10 favorites]


Take risks, but don't be a rebel. At first it sounds like a contradiction, but on reflection I think it makes sense. Take risks but work within the system. Cajole people rather than fight them.
posted by Triplanetary at 10:00 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nothing like getting people to write your column for free.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:10 PM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Get the tow package and undercoating
posted by KokuRyu at 10:11 PM on December 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm not quite ready to assume that all elderly people are 'wise', but I think he has distilled some good stuff from his mailbag. I'm not in his sample 'category' yet ... but having just turned 60, I think I can be permitted to comment that for every single one of the items in that summary list above, I can add a definite "yes!"
posted by woodblock100 at 10:14 PM on December 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


David brooks is an awful thing
posted by The Whelk at 10:25 PM on December 6, 2011 [26 favorites]


Being a rebel ain't so bad as long as you hang with other rebels.

<60
posted by tspae at 10:31 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Learning life lessons from other people is generally a losing game: you don't respect information unless you've earned it. I'm glad that these folks have decided to share their lives, but ultimately I'll have to learn things the hard way.

Oh, and David Brooks: feh.
posted by HannoverFist at 10:33 PM on December 6, 2011 [8 favorites]


David Brooks was engineered to make wealthy, dull people feel OK about being wealthy, dull, and selfish people.
posted by bardic at 10:33 PM on December 6, 2011 [21 favorites]


David Brooks was engineered to make wealthy, dull people feel OK about being wealthy, dull, and selfish people.

and engineered also to wax enthusiastic about prestigious educations! Ivy League! prep schools! prestige! Ivy League! great educations! name schools! well bred people attending good schools! Ivy League!
posted by jayder at 10:38 PM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think "don't be a rebel" is there because "be a rebel" would be one of those Alice in Wonderland style sentence conundrums. If you followed the advice to be a rebel, then you wouldn't be a rebel; if you don't follow the advice to be a rebel, then you wouldn't be a rebel either. Therefore "take risks" + "don't be a rebel" is the only way to tell someone to be a rebel and mean it. Or maybe I'm overthinking this. Old people are confusing.
posted by naju at 10:47 PM on December 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


David brooks is an awful thing

Yeah, totally, man. You know what the worst he does is? Write other people off.
posted by stroke_count at 10:53 PM on December 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, totally, man. You know what the worst he does is? Write other people off.

This would be clever. If you knew what you were talking about.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:00 PM on December 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Don't get the undercoating
posted by user92371 at 11:04 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Like all other columnists (especially those who take themselves too seriously) Brooks provides entertainment, rather than meaningful insight.

However, in this case, he has managed to curate something meaningful.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:05 PM on December 6, 2011


Yeah, totally, man. You know what the worst he does is? Write other people off.

Years of Shields and Brooks have convinced me that David Brooks is an awful thing.
posted by eddydamascene at 11:05 PM on December 6, 2011


The stories here are great, by the way.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:12 PM on December 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm sure it's my folly of youth talking, and I suspect the individual reports will be much more rewarding, but is there anything remotely surprising contained in those two columns? Anything outside of the most conventional wisdom imaginable? I'm trying to glean some hard, uncomfortable truths here but it's all very Reader's Digest.
posted by naju at 11:24 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


naju, as you get older (well, at least as I get older), mistakes get made, different paths get taken, tragedies happen. It can be reassuring to read how others coped and succeeded (or, some cases failed).
posted by KokuRyu at 11:28 PM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]



“Children, who play life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than men, who fail to live it worthily, but who think that they are wiser by experience, that is, by failure.” -- Henry David Thoreau
posted by LucretiusJones at 11:29 PM on December 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


And reading the first report now, I see I've judged too soon. I think I'll ignore David Brooks' editorializing and just dive into these first-hand experiences.
posted by naju at 11:35 PM on December 6, 2011


it's all very Reader's Digest ...

And even a broken clock is right twice a day .... :) Reader's Digest may indeed be full of schlock, but I think those points outlined at the top of this post are indeed pretty clearly stated, actually useable, and not just hand-wavy platitudes. I can apply each and every one of them (in hindsight, of course!) to my own experience.
posted by woodblock100 at 11:36 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is nothing which for my part I like better, Cephalus, than conversing with aged men; for I regard them as travellers who have gone a journey which I too may have to go, and of whom I ought to enquire, whether the way is smooth and easy, or rugged and difficult.
Plato, Republic
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:36 PM on December 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


From the first installment: Most people give themselves higher grades for their professional lives than for their private lives. Almost everybody is satisfied with the contributions they made at work.


I'm not yet 70+, but I think this is well worth noting. Here's the thing: Most people can tell how they are doing at work. The get raises, promotions, bonuses, or "attaboys." Or they get negative reviews, little talks from their manager about where they're falling down. At the very least, not being let go or demoted usually means you're not fucking up too badly. There's almost always some kind of standard to tell how well you're doing. Even if you're treated badly, if all your colleagues are also treated badly in the same way – you know it's not just you.

At home? Most of those measures don't exist. Maybe you hear only the complaints... or sometimes don't even get any meaningful critical comments – just resentment and frustration. Is it "firing-level" bad, or just things-could-be-better bad? Often hard to tell. Are the things you do right noticed? Does it matter? Also, often hard to tell.

At work, you have a job description. Are you fulfilling your role according to your job description? It's usually right there in black and white; you can look and say, "yes, I'm doing everything required of me, plus more." At home, one's role is not so defined. It's easy to feel that you will never meet expectations, because expectations change, or they are amorphous, and you don't know where you stand.

At work, it's not unusual to know that you are depended on. People need you. People rely on you. As you gain more and more experience, it's easy to realize that you have skills, knowledge and insights that others don't necessarily have, and that you can solve problems and provide real benefit to the group. At home this can be harder to ascertain.

So, it's no wonder that people escape into their work, even to the degree of neglecting their families, and of course this then becomes cyclical: the more time you spend at work "over and above the call of duty," the more you are praised, rewarded, and respected there. The more time you steal from your SO/spouse/family, the more tenuous, blurry, and tense your relationship at home becomes, which encourages more time spent at work... and so on.

So. I've always made it a point to be explicit about how much I appreciate my loved ones, how important they are to me, how much I respect and admire them... but there's one thing I didn't really realize until a few years ago: it's also a really good idea to be able to say "I need you." Not in some big, scary, over-arching way, but about all the little things in life that your person does that you depend on them for and that make your life easier/better. I had actually been sort of withholding in this way, because I didn't want my husband, for example, to feel burdened by responsibility for me, or to feel that he must always take care of certain things for me. I didn't want him to feel weighed down.

Yet I realized that whenever he showed that he really needed me, for any kind of help, advice, action – anything... it delights me. I love to feel needed by the one I love. And then I thought, "of course. Pretty much everyone wants to know that they are needed. Duh." So I began to be explicit about that, too, and not hold back from telling him when I had a problem that I thought he could solve better, and expressing my gratitude for all the things he does for me... and it's been really easy to tell how happy this makes him.

So, my rather odd (under-70, but still older than most of you) advice to everyone is to make home more like work... at least in the sense of providing reassurance that the ones you love are doing a good "job" (you need them, you appreciate them, you count on them, you respect their experience, skills, attitude), and also in terms of being specific about what you hope and expect from them. Ideally this attitude will be reflected back at you, and no one will feel like they need to escape the family bond in order to determine if they are valued, needed, appreciated.
posted by taz at 12:54 AM on December 7, 2011 [97 favorites]


From the first installment: Most people give themselves higher grades for their professional lives than for their private lives. Almost everybody is satisfied with the contributions they made at work.

Taz, I suspect that this is also a generational thing - most senior citizens who work/worked outside the home do/did so in highly structured workplaces in which they stayed for many years or even their entire working lives.

This means that they were able to accumulate markers of success - promotions, very long-term relationships that turned into connections for one's kids, community positions from work recommendations, etc. I suspect that if you talk to people in their 70s in 2041 (those in their 40s now), they won't say this nearly as often.

Sadly, that does not mean that there's any more reassurance on offer at home nowadays - that's still something everyone has to work on.
posted by Wylla at 2:03 AM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Most people give themselves higher grades for their professional lives than for their private lives. Almost everybody is satisfied with the contributions they made at work.


I find that an intriguing one, too, Taz, but for the opposite reason I suppose. I have little idea what my "work" grade would be and intellectually at least don't care very much about it at all. Perhaps this is a product of having an uber-meaningless corporate job, but the only thing I really care about regarding work is if I'm visiting too much stress on people, or if I'm actually reducing some.

Home life, on the other, man, I feel like I'm playing for keeps there, you know? That's the hardball stuff. I can always get another job, but another family? I don't want to lose the one I have and possess little confidence I could find another in any case. That's the performance review that I care about at the end of the year, and I try to work my damndest to ensure it's a good one.

I would definitely give my private life a higher grade, accepting that the boundaries are malleable and even interchangeable sometimes; it's the one I really work at, frankly. For better and worse, I think I'm a better person at home.
posted by smoke at 2:03 AM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


it's better to forgive and forget instead of hanging onto past slights.

My least favorite people to be around are the ones who won't let go of past slights. What an awful way to go through life.

The actual stories are great, and with gems of sentences that pop out at you:

Cognac loved to ride through Central Park in the basket of my red bicycle on Sunday mornings, barking and bringing happiness to all in his path.
posted by Forktine at 5:36 AM on December 7, 2011


David brooks is an awful thing

And another bullet to the executive summary:

Ad hominem attacks on people instead of thoughtful critiques of their ideas gets you nowhere
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 5:40 AM on December 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Ad hominem attacks on people instead of thoughtful critiques of their ideas gets you nowhere

Aside from stumbling buckets full of favorites.
posted by kingbenny at 6:20 AM on December 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Ad hominem attacks on people instead of thoughtful critiques of their ideas gets you nowhere

Foreclosing thoughtful critiques is often the purpose of ad hominem attacks.
posted by John Cohen at 6:23 AM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


PS -- when you've lied for years in your column, made up facts on a regular basis, and have nothing original to say, ad hominem dismissal is sufficient. You don't get a thousand chances to be honest.
posted by spitbull at 6:24 AM on December 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


PS -- when you've lied for years in your column, made up facts on a regular basis, and have nothing original to say, ad hominem dismissal is sufficient. You don't get a thousand chances to be honest.

You don't seem to understand the problem with ad hominem arguments.
posted by John Cohen at 6:28 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


David brooks is an awful thing

David Brooks isn't awful enough to be truly awful; David Brooks is the semiotic equivalent of nutraloaf. In any piece by Brooks, all the meaning-making elements are there, but the insight is just ... absent.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:30 AM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Life gets easier when you hit 60.

Don't count on it. You're liable to be severely disappointed if you do.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:30 AM on December 7, 2011


Life gets easier when you hit 60.

Not if you get rid of those bloodsucking socialist entitlements.
posted by DarkForest at 6:46 AM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Aside from stumbling buckets full of favorites ... [1 favorite +] [!]
*snort*

posted by octobersurprise at 6:46 AM on December 7, 2011


I feel like making this conversation about the relative worth of David Brooks is missing an opportunity to discuss something that's actually interesting. The nice thing about these pieces (and it's better to read the pieces themselves rather than his two summaries) is that they're not really filtered through his ideological prism and don't really have anything to do with him other than his being the one who prompted these people to write. I assume an editor at the NYT goes through them pre-publication, but they read as pretty authentic.

My grandfather is of this generation and recently went through a cancer scare (lung cancer, thankfully caught in time to be completely removed). He's my last surviving grandparent and is fortunately of sound enough mind and body that he can live fairly independently, despite being 87. The thought that I might lose him and have the window into his life and experience close forever has been on my mind for years, especially acutely now, and reading these pieces makes me wonder what he might write. As he's gotten older I've wanted more and more to 'interview' him in some way or another, but I haven't figured out how to do that in a way that's sensitive. I know he grapples with his mortality a lot and so I don't want to do things that carry "hey, I'm aware you might die sooner rather than later, and I want to know these things while I still can" as an implicit message, even if it's true. Some of them are things, like his war experience, that he's opted to take to the grave, but since he was already in his late 50s when I was born, and realizing that the balance of his life took place before I even existed, I would still like to know the colors of that world.

I took him to lunch last summer and we spent most of the time talking about his favorite subjects (business and career), but on the drive back he started talking, unprompted, about my grandmother and where they grew up in Brooklyn, just blocks from each other, the routes they'd take to school and what it was like in the winter, and all these things that were outside the normal universe of what we typically talk about in eight-to-ten minute stints at family gatherings, conversations which focus almost exclusively on the present. It didn't exactly solve my question of how to do an interview, but it did show me that sometimes all those things need is for you to give them an opportunity to flower.

So, I'm glad that someone asked these people to share their lives and that they took the time to write them up, even if that someone happened to be David Brooks.
posted by Kosh at 6:48 AM on December 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Kosh, I am in exactly your situation and am getting my grandfather this book for Christmas, with a commitment to visit him monthly and talk through it together.
posted by gauche at 6:51 AM on December 7, 2011


It was a bit odd to read the columns and realize that some of the advice Brooks distills from his reports reminds me of advice for how to cope with chronic illness. I mean the emotional advice like "don't hold on to slights" and "don't try to change other people" (mostly relating to attitudes about disability/illness) and the last item about moving on from people you're not in sync with. I can see the commonalities between that kind of illness and age from a physical point of view but I generally don't think about the ways it makes you think like an older adult.

Also, I agree with the folks upthread who think some of the work/life stuff is not just age-driven but driven by the historical experience of work during the writers' working lives. I expect the experience of people in my generation--GenX--will be different, with the exception of the classic that "nobody on their deathbed wishes they spent more time in the office".
posted by immlass at 7:11 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Brooks finally figured out how to write a column that isn't utter bullshit: get someone else to write it.
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:19 AM on December 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


It is probably more accurate to say that by 60 your expectations are finally low enough to match reality and hindsight bias adds a nice shiny gloss to that.

Almost all self-report research should lead to the conclusion that most people have no insight into their own lives. Of course most of it doesn't because the only thing that people are worse at then self-insight is other-insight.

I'm in my 40s and life has taught me this: As you get older your body will disintegrate around you just as you finally get your shit sorted. So take care of it before it does. I wish I had. Everything else comes lower on the priority list than that.
posted by srboisvert at 8:12 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Life stories are always interesting (see Studs Terkel for how to do it right). Advice ... each you know what they say about opinions and assholes, that kind of goes for advice as well, it tends to be too one-size-fits-all. Life does not necessarily get easier or less philosophical or less ideological or less anything as you get older. My stepfather was a brilliant man, but as he aged he got MORE ideological, encountered MORE problems and difficulties and generally became someone I could only stand to spend time with once a year or so. He passed away last year and what I grieve for is not the man he was, that turned out pretty bitter and twisted, but he man he could have been.

I am not quite 60 (20 years off the mark), but am starting to get older and I too find myself in some ways more radical than I was when younger. Perhaps less prone to risk taking, but a lot more vocal and confirmed in my core beliefs.


Overall there is a "individuals are great but humanity sucks" whenever we run across things of this nature. When we (or I) read about peoples lives there is always some spark of empathy, but! Keep in mind this was also the generation that perhaps has been the most resource wasteful in the history of the world, a generation that put us where we are, environmentally, economically, politically... As individuals one has trouble faulting any one person, as a generation it is a clusterfuck.
posted by edgeways at 8:33 AM on December 7, 2011


After the Mefi threads of "what would you in your forties tell your 30 year old self" and their ilk, all columns like this pale in comparison.
posted by Theta States at 8:54 AM on December 7, 2011


Work within institutions or crafts, not outside them. For a time, our culture celebrated the rebel and the outsider. The most miserable of my correspondents fit this mold. They were forever in revolt against the world and ended up sourly achieving little.

This is idiotic. I am going to ignore all his advice.

Resilience is a central theme in these essays. I don’t think we remind young people enough that life is hard. Bad things happen.

Just shut up. What a condescending retard.
posted by polymodus at 8:56 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think "don't be a rebel" is there because "be a rebel" would be one of those Alice in Wonderland style sentence conundrums. If you followed the advice to be a rebel, then you wouldn't be a rebel; if you don't follow the advice to be a rebel, then you wouldn't be a rebel either. Therefore "take risks" + "don't be a rebel" is the only way to tell someone to be a rebel and mean it. Or maybe I'm overthinking this. Old people are confusing.

This article has helped me to make my next crucial life decision, which is to become a pirate.
posted by polymodus at 9:04 AM on December 7, 2011


polymodus: "This is idiotic. I am going to ignore all his advice.
...
Just shut up. What a condescending retard.
"

polymodus, I don't know much about you, but right now I'm picturing a 14 year-old smoking a cigarette out behind the school building.
posted by charred husk at 9:07 AM on December 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


My problem with advice like "don't be a rebel" is that most of my absolute heroes were outsiders their entire lives, and didn't fit into any mold that society placed on them. Gandhi died at age 78 and probably wouldn't have said this on his deathbed: "I've been miserable and have achieved little by going against the system. I don't recommend it." Lou Reed is nearly 70 and probably wouldn't say anything of the sort. So why should I take the advice of [fairly random person who has life experience] over [one of the towering respected legends who has life experience]?
posted by naju at 9:28 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


My problem with advice like "don't be a rebel" is that most of my absolute heroes were outsiders their entire lives, and didn't fit into any mold that society placed on them. Gandhi died at age 78 and probably wouldn't have said this on his deathbed: "I've been miserable and have achieved little by going against the system. I don't recommend it." Lou Reed is nearly 70 and probably wouldn't say anything of the sort.

I think the logic goes like:

"But if we do this, we'll be hanged as traitors!"

"Only if we lose!"
posted by furiousthought at 10:00 AM on December 7, 2011


This is good stuff. Thanks, crunchland.
posted by BurntHombre at 10:03 AM on December 7, 2011


Kosh and others: if you are interested in getting those interviews with grandparents or friends done before you lose them, there are absolutely resources out there.

I think Miko knows more of them (this has come up before) but one place to start is the Library of Congress: American Folklife Center's site on conducting family oral history interviews. It looks both fairly comprehensive and fairly helpful. If you are a good interviewer, and more importantly a patient one, folks will often reveal their stories without much prompting.

I conducted, as part of a school assignment, an oral interview with my grandmother when I was in elementary school. I wish I still had that tape, because she talked about things she never talked about again, and she slipped into dementia before I got the chance to revisit it with her.

I urge you to talk to those folks who carry the family lore (or interesting stories!) in their head, before something unexpected happens. David Brooks, while not my favorite person, has the right idea on that one.
posted by librarylis at 10:21 AM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


> After the Mefi threads of "what would you in your forties tell your 30 year old self" and their ilk, all columns like this pale in comparison.

Got a favorite link for that?
posted by bukvich at 10:24 AM on December 7, 2011


This one was great:

One workaholic describes the time his 6-year-old son brought a family portrait home from school. He wasn’t in it, but the dog and cat were.
posted by bukvich at 10:33 AM on December 7, 2011


My problem with these two columns is that the advice is gathered from the type of people to write to a insufferable, middlebrow, prestige-obsessed NYT columnist.

He's not getting life reports from the type of people who despise David Brooks, which are the people from whom I would most appreciate getting life wisdom.
posted by jayder at 11:40 AM on December 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


"The wise learn from the mistakes of others, fools learn only from their own, and the great mass of people never learn at all" - Gene Wolfe
posted by Sebmojo at 11:56 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


My personal view (at 41) is that wisdom is actually all over the place, and yes, can be found in airport bookshops. But what actually matters is the ability to recognise it.

My bit of homespun wisdom is 'everything is true everything is false'.

There is nothing - no person, idea, state of mind, whatever - in this world that doesn't have some fragment of beauty and utility in it. And vice versa - everything has its flaw.

Wisdom comes from knowing the difference.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:05 PM on December 7, 2011


"The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao."
posted by naju at 12:10 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Overall there is a "individuals are great but humanity sucks" whenever we run across things of this nature. When we (or I) read about peoples lives there is always some spark of empathy, but! Keep in mind this was also the generation that perhaps has been the most resource wasteful in the history of the world, a generation that put us where we are, environmentally, economically, politically... As individuals one has trouble faulting any one person, as a generation it is a clusterfuck.

???

That's odd. I never heard this about this particular generation...only the boomers, who were their children.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:49 PM on December 7, 2011


Don't be a rebel.

Bullshit. Don't be a sheep.

(50+)
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:38 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


No surprise that David Brooks selected "don't be a rebel" as worthy advice out of thousands of letters he received, considering that he writes stuff like this:

Jan. 20, 2009, will be a historic day. Barack Obama (Columbia, Harvard Law) will take the oath of office as his wife, Michelle (Princeton, Harvard Law), looks on proudly. Nearby, his foreign policy advisers will stand beaming, including perhaps Hillary Clinton (Wellesley, Yale Law), Jim Steinberg (Harvard, Yale Law) and Susan Rice (Stanford, Oxford D. Phil.).

The domestic policy team will be there, too, including Jason Furman (Harvard, Harvard Ph.D.), Austan Goolsbee (Yale, M.I.T. Ph.D.), Blair Levin (Yale, Yale Law), Peter Orszag (Princeton, London School of Economics Ph.D.) and, of course, the White House Counsel Greg Craig (Harvard, Yale Law)…

… Already the culture of the Obama administration is coming into focus. Its members are twice as smart as the poor reporters who have to cover them, three times if you include the columnists. They typically served in the Clinton administration and then, like Cincinnatus, retreated to the comforts of private life — that is, if Cincinnatus had worked at Goldman Sachs, Williams & Connolly or the Brookings Institution. So many of them send their kids to Georgetown Day School, the posh leftish private school in D.C. that they’ll be able to hold White House staff meetings in the carpool line.

And yet as much as I want to resent these overeducated Achievatrons (not to mention the incursion of a French-style government dominated by highly trained Enarchs), I find myself tremendously impressed by the Obama transition.


Being a rebel gets in the way of burnishing your resume.
posted by jayder at 8:48 PM on December 7, 2011


Kosh - one of the best things I did was write to my grandmother and ask her to tell me her life story. She was 94 and had just survived a pneumonia scare, and while she was still sharp as a tack, she was confined to a nursing home, and who knew how long she had left.

I am told she greatly enjoyed composing her reply - she spent many days on it as she had little else to do but watch the sparrows outside her window. It arrived some time later, along with a few follow-up addenda, 20 pages in a smooth flowing script that would rival a schoolteachers. It was not a novel or biography - more of a highlight reel. But it painted a fascinating picture of her life through her own eyes, with many vivid stories, such as being chased around the boardroom table by a creepy old boss as a 19-year old secretary ("fortunately I had youth on my side and could run faster than him") -- and first moving to the house where my father grew up -- and beating breast cancer in her 60s, half a lifetime ago for her and before I was even born.

We exchanged letters once more, but she passed away six months later. I shared her responses with the whole extended family and they were all so grateful to have it. In her own handwriting, no less.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:23 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


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