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  The Underachiever Speaks
 
 
Brown Alumni Magazine, July, 2006
   
This magazine is not, I suspect, intended as an instrument of torture. It is supposed to link us to our alma mater, to reconnect us with folks we last saw in the bathrooms of Emery-Wooley, to let us share in our classmates' accomplishments and support them in their misfortunes. But in the decade since my graduation, I've somehow developed the bad habit of using the BAM - particularly the class notes - as an emotional and professional yardstick. And its a yardstick that always manages to make me feel about two centimeters tall.

After all, since leaving Providence I haven't married anyone in a marvelously original ceremony attended by dozens of alumni and clergy of multiple faiths. I haven't produced or adopted any children. I haven't started my own company, appeared on Broadway, published a novel, or won any of those cool fellowships with hyphenated names. I haven't cured a single genetic disorder, and I've yet to find a really ingenious way of inspiring urban middle-schoolers to strive for academic excellence.

Neither have many others, I tell myself every two months, when the BAM shows up in my mailbox. Rarely do more than ten of my classmates write in to a given issue; in a year, that's more than 1,500 of us whose names do not appear in bold.

But statistics don't stem the tide of insecurity, especially since the further I get from college, the less "news" I have to report. In school, life broke neatly into little units of progress: we rose from freshmen to sophomores, doubles to singles, Keeney Quad to off-campus apartments. Missing those milestones in my early twenties, I went for lateral change instead, swapping roommates and career plans more regularly than I changed the oil in my car. I was always hunting for the perfect thing - job, city, person - to make all the other pieces fall into place, so I could write to BAM that Alison Lobron '97 has found fame, fortune, and a handsome-smart-witty-feminist husband, and that little Charlie and Ella are the most self-actualized kids in their progressive day-care center.

I never found that perfect thing, but some other parts of my life fell into place without my notice. Now, when I run into old friends, I'm embarrassed how often the word "still" escapes my lips. After seven years, I'm still teaching high school English; in fact, I'm still teaching the Odyssey. I'm still writing, but Random House still hasn't discovered me. I'm still living in Boston. I'm still not married.

I walk away from these encounters wondering why a life that rarely feels dull, in the living, is so devoid of headlines. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. Increasingly, my friends are still doing what they were three or four years ago. Yet if pressed, I bet they'd say their interests and relationships are deepening and their sense of self grows more solid each year.

Not long ago, I was flipping through another college's alumni magazine and read a note from a 1922 graduate. She offered four pieces of information: she's alive, she would like to hear from other classmates who are similarly alive, she keeps a phone by her bed, and she's most alert between 2 and 6 p.m. I was at once humbled and inspired by her straightforward simplicity.

I hope someday I can so fully dispense with pretension and reduce my life to its essentials. I hope it happens before life reduces me to them. In the meantime, each issue of the BAM still serves as a measure of just how far I've come - and how far I have to go.

 
 

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Copyright 2009 by Alison Lobron