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Friday(ish) roundup: Immoderate '13 Edition

Posted by Robin Abrahams  February 16, 2013 11:20 AM

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Russian meteors. Unearthed monarchs. Murderous Olympians. Internet girlfriends. Horsemeat infiltration. Ex-cop cop killers. Resigning Popes.

2013 must be J.J. Abrams's latest project.

The past six weeks have had a wild lurchy feeling in my own life, as well. My mother celebrated her 80th birthday and moved into an assisted-living facility. My boss at Harvard is teaching a brand-new class that's getting national attention. Mr. Improbable is heading to Europe for six weeks. And so on.

And it's Lent, and Purim is next weekend. Purim and Mardi Gras have a lot in common--costumes, celebration of the inversion of the social order, drinking, traditional sweets, noisemaking. Blowing off the winter steam. Getting ready for a season of getting ready: cleaning, taking inventory. Preparing for that great celebration of freedom and redemption ahead.

Last Sunday I tagged a NY Times column by Frank Bruni as something for the roundup:

[C]ooking in trendy restaurants has never been fattier, while the trend of "cleansing" with a severe regimen of liquefied fruits, vegetables and nuts has never been hotter. Feast or famine. Binge or beet juice.

I turned from her lament to the front page of The Times. It reported the accidental death of someone participating in the X Games, a magnet for "extreme athletes," as the article called them. The word "extreme" stuck with me and struck a chord. We compete extremely (look at Lance). Work out extremely (look all around you). Eat extremely. Watch extreme amounts of whatever we've decided we love, which we love in extremis. Even our weather is extreme: superstorms, Frankenstorms, snowmageddons.

(I'd like to have been a fly on the wall when they were discussing how to capitalize "Frankenstorm" and "snowmageddon.")

The ancient Greeks believed in everything in moderation. The Jewish philosophy, I've been told, is everything in moderation -- including moderation. I like that. Purim, the holiday of Esther, is a time to celebrate immoderately. Esther herself was too moderate, at first. Faced with an extraordinary threat to her people, she tried to pretend everything was normal. When her cousin Mordechai tears his clothes and put on ashes, she sends him a nice new outfit! Esther doesn't get it. 

Moderation in the face of the outrageous is no virtue. Purim reminds us of our capacity to be outraged, and to be outrageous.

And it is a holiday meant to be celebrated once a year. And designed, frankly, to give you a bad enough hangover that you'll think twice the next time you're tempted to stray from the path of moderation.

Now we live in a world that tries to sell us both the wild decadent glee of Purim, and the existential threat of Esther, 24/7.

How do we live in a world of Permanent Purim? 

If anything comes to me, I'll let you know. 

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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