Dispatches from the Dirty Dirty

Gaining some perspective during much-deserved time off

Edward-michael Dussom

I write to you, dear reader, not with an update quickly scribbled within the storied stacks of Lamont or Widener, but in absentia: I am far from Harvard’s hallowed halls, tucked instead in the comfortable confines of my home in New Orleans. This weekend, as New Orleanians the world over will happily remind you, marks the highest of holidays on the social calendar of a city known for its ability to rage: that massive city-wide party of “Girls Gone Wild” fame—Mardi Gras—is once again upon us.

Although the annual bacchanalia of beer, beads, and boobs constitutes a seemingly sacred and unchanging ritual ’round these parts, many of the area’s staunchest traditionalists are apt to comment how markedly today’s celebration of Mardi Gras has departed from the historical origins of the solemnity. New Orleans’ Mardi Gras has its roots in the older European festival of ‘carnival,’ in which widespread public feasting was meant to prepare pious Catholics for a subsequent fasting in observance of Lent. Incorporating elements from earlier pagan ceremonies (the Roman Saturnalia comes to mind), carnival was not only a time of raucous indulgence: its carefree and satirical character created a designated space for the inversion and subversion of social roles, performing a sort of societal bloodletting, if you will, that restored a careful equilibrium to the medieval cosmos.

This year, as I celebrate Mardi Gras from home, the festival’s celebration of upheaval and ordered chaos seems particularly apropos, as the unexpected necessity of taking a break from my studies in my penultimate semester as an undergraduate has certainly thrust upon me its own brand of confusion and chaos. How exactly have I responded to this confusion, you ask? While I continue to work on my thesis project at a leisurely pace that many a thesis-writing senior would venomously envy, I’ve also benefitted from a different sort of eduction as I scrappily scramble to earn my keep here at home.

Things I’ve learned include the acknowledgement that working in your aunt’s chocolate shop is probably not the best way to avoid looking like Augustus Gloop by the time Commencement rolls around. Here’s another: given the unpredictability of contemporary life, one finds that talents and abilities are often put to vastly different uses than might have originally been intended or expected. I, for example, have put my own wordsmithing skills to use writing cheeky product descriptions for the line of children’s watch accessories that my neighbor markets wholesale. After three and a half years of training in the liberal arts, behold, dear reader, the scriptural fruits of a Harvard education:

“Rrrroar ... let your inner animal run wild with Popocho’s Be Wild line! Available in striped or leopard fur and in blue or fuchsia scales, these skins are guaranteed to make you king of the beasts!”

As you might easily discern, my ample wit finds an appropriately sophisticated exercise in the creation of such gilded verse; in any case, at a rate of $15 for every 250 characters, it’s an easy way to make a truly quick buck, which, as I’ve learned in my five weeks at home, is as close as it comes to a poor college student’s ‘bottom line.’

A more unexpected lesson drawn from my experiences crafting shamelessly campy commercial prose might be my discovery that confusion and chaos serve a very definite purpose in life: renewal. They say that you can never really know what you’ve lost until it’s gone; I would like to think that I haven’t, in fact, really lost anything, but have simply been given an opportunity to find again those elements of my life at Harvard that make me most properly myself.

Perhaps that lost-and-found-again quality is expressed in the simple pleasure that I find in exercising skills and talents that I previously took for granted. Tying bows on boxes of Valentine’s Day chocolate may not be what I imagined myself doing my senior spring, but it has had its advantages: recall the famous episode of “I Love Lucy” in which the iconic redhead can’t seem to get the candies in her mouth fast enough, and you’ll have some idea of how I’ve spent many an afternoon this past February.

Too often as an undergraduate, I’ve found myself forgetting that what motivated me to get to Harvard—nevermind what (or better yet, who) is motivating me to finish—was a genuine sense of enjoyment derived from the hard and at times mundane work of being a student. As I release myself of the illusion that life will always go exactly as planned and continue to bounce happily from odd-job to odd-job, I have begun to recognize the oft-overlooked value of finding enjoyment in anything and everything you do, whether that be wrapping candy or writing response papers. My time at home has proven to be an education in confusion, a valuable time to learn that most experiences in life are exactly what you make of them, and that you’d damn well better make something entertaining out of them if you plan on staying sane.

As a local, the influx of obnoxious tourists and the piles of grimy parade debris that attend Mardi Gras’ festivities grow irritating and tiresome at times; but if the spirit of the season is what’s reminded me of the productive and life-sustaining value of shaking things up and turning them upside-down, I think that I’ve certainly found a reason to celebrate.

— Edward-michael Dussom ’11,  a Romance languages and women, gender, and sexuality concentrator in Currier House, is a former Magazine Comp Director. As a bona fide New Orleanian, he will gladly trade you some cheap beads for a quick flash of your tits; as a typically irritating WGS student, however, he may first demand that you discuss the social constructedness of the ‘breast’ within the context of phallic oppression.

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