Boots and Rallies
An important woman in my life once told me that “minor distinctions make the man” — a token aphorism whereby she justified her ceaseless vituperation of others, often me, for transgressing upon “Good Style” so criminally as to put prepositions at the ends of sentences (something up with which she simply could not put). “Fitzgerald said that,” she said, after saying it herself two or three times. “He always had his suits tailored at Brooks Brothers, you know.”
Later, I would learn that Fitzgerald bore also the minor distinction of habitually passing out and nearly dying of fever after two glasses of wine, a behavior that Hemingway, to paraphrase, considered quite unfrat. I additionally failed to ever discover any textual source for the quote, provoking some wonderment over whether its transmitter had just dreamed it up in her memory — which would be unsurprising, since this same woman also told me that she had been raised on an Apache reservation and once impersonated a college admissions officer, offering me a fictional scholarship over the phone.
Big laughs at my expense. Nevertheless, I can always appreciate a mind that deliberately disregards the partition of reality and fantasy. If we’d never mixed red and blue, there’d be no purple, which Plato said is the most beautiful pigment. And if we kept our lies and truth quarantined, we’d live in a world without art — or porn, for that matter.
Anyway, the span of years between taking the “minor distinctions make the man” catchphrase to heart and the moment it occurred to me to sit down and Google it was sufficient time to for it to ingrain itself deep in my person. Uncloseted narcissist that I am, I have always hunted down ways to stand out. But rather than wait for the moment to stand out in a big way and skyrocket myself to heaven’s center-stage, I’ve found it easier, and more enchanting, to follow the pseudo-Fitzgeraldine advice, and make distinction a lifestyle, microscopically exploiting the outer rims of possibility and permission.
Here are a few tips.
Bring a scented candle to class. I find nothing more relaxing amid the stressful havoc of Public Policy 5. And if I hold my laptop on my lap and my notes on my knee, there is plenty of room atop my desk to accommodate both a full-size Seabreeze Mist and my cup of African peanut soup. My professors may object, but I let them bear the awkwardness before I have to.
Hold Fancy Italian FoCo Fridays. With three like-minded friends, I like to pick out a table on the “dark side” of FoCo at the end of the week and lay a nice tablecloth over it. We play classical Italian music over portable speakers and put gourds and a candlestick at the center as a decorative garnish. Then we avail ourselves of DDS pizza and pasta and, being all over 21, pass around a little Tuscan wine.
From time to time, I set up a table outside the glass-walled Jaffe-Friede Gallery, pretending that the entire space is itself a large conceptual art installation. I tape up a label: “The Museological Panopticon. Mixed Media: Glass, Tile, Found Art, Student Employees, Laptop. This installation explores the power dynamics of inverting museological space by turning the locus of the gaze into the object of a higher-order gaze. The living elements are cognitively doubled according to the aestheto-Hegelian Master-Slave dialectic, being at once the guardians of art and appropriated artworks themselves.” In this age of anything-goes polysyllabic Francophilic mumbo-jumbo, I find my sassy metacommentary quite well-received!
Go camping on the Green. Build a better snow sculpture and trick freshmen into running around it 118 times. Trick-or-treat on Webster and go all the way to the president’s house. Establish a scholarship in your name. The Aaron Pellowski Memorial Foundation for the Pursuit of Excellence, if you do not know, is a real scholarship. Because why not?
They tell you that part of being creative is learning how to “think outside the box.” I guess this is true, but not helpful — just kicking the can down the road. After all, if everyone knows this rule, then how come most to all of our “edgy” choices seem to remain comfortably prosaic? I see a young lady with a nose ring and an ankle tattoo and dyed streak or feather clipped into her hair, or a boy with a Skrillex cut wearing all denim with YOLO in gothic lettering on his knuckles and a Che Guevara T-shirt and I think “Wow, this look just screams — ‘hey, I’m unpredictable in the most predictable way possible!’” These sorts of minor distinctions make the man worse than dull.
The real challenge is not thinking outside the box, it’s detecting the box in the first place. The box is invisible. It’s made up of all the little passive mental obstacles that choke out inspiration before it can even be knocked down by doubt and deterrents. I am pretty sure that none of the aforementioned activities are even technically forbidden by Dartmouth’s rules, but then why doesn’t this occur to people? We may be just a little too imprisoned in the quotidian, taking relief in the art and porn that are always the handiwork of others. But why not make our own?
An important man in my life used to tell me: “Create the true fiction of your own reality,” something that made even less sense at the time than the false Fitzgerald. But as my mind’s grip on reality becomes increasingly relaxed, the words begin to reveal their meaning, like a split geode. The box is what protects truth from lie and lie from truth. You have to learn to see it before you can think outside of it.