Malcolm Gladwell  

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Nov. 21 1996 3:30 AM

Malcolm Gladwell  

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       I'm beginning to get self-conscious about the "diary" part of this format. I have to confess that I'm not much of a diarist, in the sense that I'm not good at imparting any fundamental inner emotions--which, if you've been reading along these past few days, you may have noticed already. Only once before in my life have I even kept a diary, and that was in my midteens, when I was running track, and all the entries read something like: "4 miles, then 4 x 800, with 30-second recovery. Felt strong." Somehow a diary isn't a diary when it includes the phrase "felt strong." As I've gotten older, things have gotten worse, particularly since I stumbled across the Theory of Disqualifying Statements. This was a principle that came to me several years ago, when I was seated next to a very attractive woman at a dinner party. During a lull in the conversation, I asked her where she went to college, whereupon she launched into an elaborate explanation of how her grandfather went to Harvard, her father went to Harvard, her mother went to Harvard, and her brothers went to Harvard--but she was way too much of a maverick to do something that safe and predictable.
       "So where did you go?" I asked, imagining this young rebel at Oklahoma State or the University of Kinshasa or even UTEP.
       "Brown," she replied, without missing a beat--and, at that moment, the Theory of Disqualifying Statements was born: For every romantic possibility, no matter how robust, there exists at least one equal and opposite sentence, phrase, or word (Brown!) capable of extinguishing it.
       There was a time when I was something of a connoisseur of Disqualifying Statements, and actually compiled a short list of the most compelling. (My favorite: A friend moved to a tiny town in uppermost New England and began to date a local. She managed to overlook their difference in class and perspective, until one night, during their inaugural amorous encounter on his couch, he removed her shirt, and, slack jawed, blurted out, "Nice Tits!" At which point, the Trans-Am and the Naugahyde furniture and the Pabst Blue Ribbon suddenly became unendurable. She walked out, never to see him again. "Tits," until then a word of harmless connotation, was the disqualifier.)
       I realize this has been a lengthy digression. But do you see my point? Do you now see why I've been so withholding? Diaries, by their very seductively uninhibiting nature, are breeding grounds for disqualifying statements. Any one of these sentences could irrevocably alienate any one of you (not to mention the very real possibility that merely owning up to the Theory of Disqualifying Statements is in itself a Disqualifying Statement). Hence my trepidation, and why I don't feel I can do any more than the most cursory of explanations of my day. So here goes: Got up 8ish. Made a few calls. Late lunch. Went to the gym. Felt Strong.

Malcolm Gladwell is a staff writer at The New Yorker.

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