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Jumping off a cliff in increments

Any politician who is neither completely out of her gourd nor Progressive will tell you that the key to successful policy is incremental adjustment. Unless you live in a place like New York or Milan, lots of people will tell you that – your hairdresser, who will only cut a few inches at a time so you have a chance to "work with it," your local Catholic priest, who won't let you get married without months of evening and weekend classes, your English professor, who claims that all Jane Austen novels are different enough to read in succession.

Interesting, then, that life changes rarely happen incrementally, even at Princeton. This is the 1998 managing editorial board's last issue of the 'Prince,' and if tomorrow morning I decide never to set foot in the back room of 48 University Place again, I don't have to. Admittedly, while that liberation represents a cold-turkey departure from my past two-and-a-half years of indentured servitude and a lifestyle change of great magnitude, it probably has little to no bearing on your own life.

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But just think. Each time you slam your pencil down after a final exam or sprint to the department office to turn in your take-home, a small era ends. After 12 weeks of studying your preceptor's weird speech patterns and gesticulations, odds are you'll never say more than "hey, what's up," to him again. And not that its looming presence is making me nostalgic, of course, but after graduation your once-daily, almost all-consuming relationship with the University will suddenly morph into a parting gift of drunken reunions, semi-annual donations, a 70-percent chance of meeting a future spouse and increased odds that Hargadon will like your kids.

The point is not that I want to keep writing for the 'Prince' or even that I wish not to be chucked out into the crazy world in June, believe me. And I'm convinced that most people focus on life's big picture simply so they don't spend all their time obsessing over their small skin imperfections and piddle away all their money on things like Bioré pore-perfect strips. But if all those incremental types are right, and if politics has a smidgen of relevance to real life beyond my thesis, we must be missing something.

I'd hate for the moral of this ten-cent psychology to be that real life is in the details and all you'll ever need to know you learned in kindergarten and Winnie the Pooh is your best friend so let's run outside and make snow angels. But, needing a snippet of something to hold on to as the ends of all these epochs converge in the face of incremental theory, I'm going with the first part about the details.

It's the difference between singleand double-breasted, sharp and extra-sharp, subdued and boring, Express and Zöe, loquacious and verbose, Simon and Garfunkel, sexy and trashy. If you need a scholarly reference and enjoy the pretensions of French, read Balzac – he said it better and with plus d'accents.

So I think that for the next few months, in my newfound spare time, I'll be focusing on the minute. Not in the romantic quest for heretofore unnoticed beauty, but to keep myself mildly entertained.

I'll be noticing what makes us adore some people and merely tolerate others, why Oprah won the People's Choice Award over Ricki or Jenny, why Matt Damon has more charisma than Ben Affleck, and why high-school kids think it's hip to be Goth but unspeakably lame to shop at Go For Baroque.

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Of course, some incrementalism is just plain nitpicky. J. Crew, for example, charges $84 for this season's nubuck slingbacks and only $38 for last year's because, viewed under a microscope, the latter's stacked heel is noticeably wider. Duh. Sometimes you need to take that little step back.

So I guess there's an optimal viewpoint somewhere between the wide angle and the zoom. I clearly haven't discovered it yet, and I'm pretty sure it's not to be found from where I sit here at 48 University. If you find it and you get a chance, I'm sure the new editors would appreciate your writing in to let them know. I'm off to take a look myself, but with those damn theses and the rest of our lives and all, who knows when we'll get around to finding it. Thanks for reading this year – and like I said, even if we haven't brought you all kinds of hidden beauty, I hope you've at least been mildly entertained.

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