Doing “Being Ordinary”

By Dr. Portia Sabin*

My husband called me last night from Chicago, where he is in seminary studying to become a Unitarian Universalist minister.  He told me he thought that the Harvey Sacks article I gave him — “On Doing ‘Being Ordinary'” — was quite applicable to his current situation.  He has an interview this Friday with the RSCC, a national body whose function is to determine whether or not ministerial candidates should be allowed to proceed in their candidacy.  Doing poorly at this interview generally means you should find another calling, and as such is a source of much discussion amongst candidates.  He reported that his conversations with other seminarians had led him to believe that they were all hard at work educating one another about the appropriate attitude to have regarding their upcoming RSCC interviews, and that this attitude appeared to require anxiety.  Indeed, NOT being anxious did not appear to be an option for someone who otherwise was doing “being ordinary” in that group.  Because it is so “ordinary” for seminarians to be anxious, my husband wondered if the RSCC board members would find it odd if a candidate was not anxious during the interview.  I said that while the board is no doubt part of the “culture of anxiety” in which candidates go about their daily business, they are also Americans, and that in America confidence and self-possession are also social facts.  Therefore I suggested that he could go into his interview without displaying anxiety and not fear that the board would consider his behavior too “out of the ordinary” in the given situation.

This is only one example of the many ways everything I’ve learned from my Anthropology & Education studies has influenced (affected? infected?) my daily life.  I’ve been having conversations like these with my husband for 14 years, as he became a convert to my theoretical perspective after our very first fight, where he told me he believed in nature over nurture and I said he wasn’t necessarily wrong but simply had chosen the completely uninteresting and unknowable over the interesting and knowable.  For some reason he said, “That’s the girl for me!” at that point and we’ve continued on in intellectual harmony every since.

*Dr. Portia Sabin got her Ph.D. from the TC Anthro & Ed program.  She interrupted her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Washington after one year to take over the family business, the record label Kill Rock Stars, started by her husband in 1991.  She currently sits on the boards of the American Association of Independent Music and The Recording Academy, Pacific Northwest Chapter.  She most recently dipped her toe back in academia by teaching Introduction to Cultural Anthropology at Portland Community College in Fall 2013.