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Washington, D.C.–Nexus of Self-Importance 16 May 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Uncategorized.
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The metro, filled with important people--and tourists--going important places.

To return to DC is to return to a sense of importance, important people making important things happen always with this overshadowing sense of importance, importance importance. This stuff matters. When I worked here three years ago, I mentioned to my aunt, an inside-the-beltway lifer, the first time I saw Senators Kerry and Feinstein at a rally near the Hill. “Politicians are the rock stars around here,” she said.

And she’s no doubt right, even to the point that you might well extend roadie status to all the bureaucrats who make the show what it is, for better or worse. Only around here do kids write second grade essays about growing up to work as analysts for the FTC or the BLS, not to be firemen or astronauts. Fizzle pop! goes the magic of childhood under the care of status-hungry, beamer-driving, helicopter parents who hover only from 6:30-7:00 a.m. and then again 7 and 9:30 p.m–the time between commuting and sleeping.

That in part explains why I’ve chosen to move elsewhere: this place isn’t the real world. No city in America so desperately needs humility, yet remains so obdurate in its arrogance. By all rights, the city should share with Chicago the same inferiority complex toward New York, but the Wall-Street-be-damned feeling persists, inflated by the self-deceit that political power constitutes real power.

Time and again, I draw the distinction between this place and all the rest I’ve visited or lived over the years. Rarely, except in DC, will someone you’ve just met at a bar or coffee shop ask, “So what do you do?” in the first question or two. Instead, I’ve found the more common question to be a variation on, “So what are you into?” Or, to fit it into the same structure for contrast, “What do you enjoy doing?”

Witty banter follows, in DC always tinged with the response to that first question. “What do you do?” hides the intended imperative, “Validate yourself. Show me you’re important enough to take up my time.” Because, remember, DC is an Important Place where egos seldom fizzle or pop. The status game lives in the system here, in the form of barstool conversations that feel like job interviews, while in Oregon someone gets laid, with both the dogs watching, in the back of a Subaru.

At what point did DC’s citizens lose their wanderlust? When did the striving and ambition and jockeying begin? I imagine it was a gradual thing, like the realization that Mom and Dad weren’t just wrapping Santa’s presents for him. Four weeks after Jacob or Emily  in third grade said it was all a lie, Mom and Dad fessed up too.  And it was about that time that the piano lessons began, alongside the soccer practices and the homework that denied afternoon romps in the yard, neighborhood bike rides. Striving stifled.

Don’t give into it, DC. Leave open the the possibility that the work of defining life neither begins nor ends with a vocation. Instead explore those peripheries.

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