The incredible labor of 'The Mediocrity Issue'
by Aastha D
February 5th, 2022
A statement of purpose (SOP)––the ubiquitous demand of educational institutes’ admission committees––is a fascinating piece of writing. Your past, present, and future compressed to 750 words, to convince the reader that you are in fact no ordinary candidate. You are exceptional, ahead of the curve, and have never known to be another way. You are unique, different. Different from the pile of letters lying at the reader’s desk waiting to compel with the same thesis of remarkability; different enough to bring value to their school and yet similar enough to not disrupt its standing, standards, and curriculum. Exceptional enough to be capable of keeping your grades above average, and average enough to do so with some difficulty––an indication of the school’s rigor.
I have been working with students’ personal statements for a while now, which is to say, I have been giving feedback in the form of comments and edits to letters written by hungry minds with appetites for academic acceptance. Each of these minds scramble to propose a compelling enough argument as to why they are a good fit for their aspirational institute (like many of its alumni and teachers), and at the same time how they are fantastically distinctive as personas (like many of its alumni and teachers). This isn’t to besmirch the sincerity of these students or the veracity of their statements. That would make me a disgraceful and bitter renegade to pedagogy. This is to ponder over the frail contrariety between mediocrity and excellence, that presents itself as an eligibility criteria over and over, like a motif of human experience.
To be average and unique simultaneously is the seemingly impossible paradox of being human among humans, and yet we go through life achieving it rather successfully. Each of us knows when and for whom to present as unremarkable, and for each of us that backdrop and audience is different. We know where our exceptional qualities lie, and we know with greater intuition how to deny them; even from ourselves. Especially from ourselves. Again, for each of us this intuition develops at different times, with varying degrees of vehemence and expresses itself constantly, deceptively, or worse, not at all.
The mediocrity issue, as I like to call it, is one I have struggled with painstakingly—to live with, measure to, to reject, be repulsed by, to dissociate with, to embrace, and to put together in this literary form. For its literary manifestation, thankfully, I have had tonnes of help. Joseph Sgambati III, or Jo as I call him fondly, is the ingenious curator of this themed issue, and (miserably) ignorant of his own brilliance. His relationship with the phenomenon of mediocrity, and its many manifestations in our media and material culture are elucidated in his signature sardonic style as ‘The Curator’s Note’. Jo, true to his multi-disciplinary talents, has also created artwork for some of the pieces and informed all of them. The eight selected prose and corresponding artworks have been carefully put together after an overwhelming response to our open call “On Mediocrity’. Each of these pieces speaks to the theme in beautiful ways. Eloquent mundanities of rigorous minds have found themselves in essays, poems, drawings
To be average and unique simultaneously is the seemingly impossible paradox of being human among humans, and yet we go through life achieving it rather successfully.
Proseterity launched with Issue Zero last May (2021) when it was supposed to launch in the January of 2021. Issue One is launching in February of this year (2022) when it was supposed to launch multiple times between September 2021 and now. With great difficulty, many struggles over the months, I, with some flagrance, refuse to think of these delays as failures and refrain from making promises as to the punctuality of future issues (my belligerence could be a coping mechanism).
The issue, ‘On Mediocrity’ has seen itself in our Instagram posts as: the ‘Myth of Merit’ (which was also a clubhouse event), neologisms, social media, grief, toxic positivity, reels, comics, essays on mundanity, reading recommendations, and our own thoughts. Creative Intern Rohit has been instrumental in keeping these discussions alive and thriving on our Instagram page among other research and management tasks. Art Director Jery John, the creative force behind everything visual on Proseterity, has worked relentlessly with artists to illustrate the featured prose, and designed its magnificent cover along with some other artworks. Inspired by the many discussions that took place in the process of creating Issue One, Jery created a piece of digital art which is out in the world as an NFT, entitled ‘The Urge to be Mundane’.
Proseterity was birthed from the constant nagging in my head to find a platform that does what this ‘manifesto’ tries to explain. It was forged in times of deep anguish personally, and is funded by my frugal savings and earnings as a freelance writer. I am forever indebted to the Editorial Board, spread across the world and its various social locations, for all their time, thought and labor. Holding conversations, writing, and advocating for this venture while also navigating their own challenging and full lives has been no easy feat, and I look forward to making it worth their while with a growing readership and your support.
‘On Mediocrity’ is an issue you will want to savour at leisure and come back to, perhaps take breaks in between its lines to look at the horizon. I invite you to revel in the many meanings mediocrity has taken for our contributors, and perhaps discover your own in the process. I wish you a rich, fulfilling, and frustrating experience in reading this issue. I hope your status quo with the average is disrupted and reimagined, just like our curator Joseph’s, as he poured over the many details of this issue’s contents; incubating ideas, selecting pieces, and agonizing over how he describes mediocrity—(an) endemic.