Web Exclusives: Raising Kate

a PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (kswearen@princeton.edu)

December 17, 2003:


Mail call
Readers read and respond to Raising Kate

"Raising Kate" is now in its fourth year; during the past three-and-a-half I've received quite a few e-mails about the column, some of which are excerpted below. At one time I thought this column would be an avenue to a great career, and that I would be deluged with e-mails from prospective employees who would offer extravagantly paying jobs and invitations to lunch at the Princeton Club. That hasn't been the case, but I'm not complaining. For one thing, this writing thing has been good for beer money. For another, I like getting mail. It's always a pleasure to hear from you, whether or not you like what I've written and whether or not you have a job to offer me.

"Kate: Hello, I was reading your article on the Internet about fracturing your wrist in Cairo and the subsequent hospital visit. I am desperately seeking info on medical care in that part of world and have no idea where to start. My husband may be stationed in Ismailia. I am trying to get pregnant and would most likely deliver a premature baby. From what little info I can find on the Internet it appears the hospital you were treated at is as close to Westernized care as possible. Do you have any thoughts or information? I appreciate any insight or recommendations you may have."

I understand your anxiety. When I go to McCosh I always hope for Westernized care, too. Sometimes they surprise me. My recommendations: Don't get sick in Egypt. Or pregnant. That said, the hospital I went to there wasn't bad. Really, it was far from Westernized care only in the sense that X-rays cost $10.

"I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed reading your collection of stories about your adventures in Egypt. If you haven't already, find yourself a camel to ride. It's almost like riding a bike, except you have no control, humps hurt worse than bike seats, and you can't dismount without paying, but it's worth the experience. Have a great time in Egypt."

I seriously considered buying a camel, a lovely she-beast with furry forelocks and a proud, droopy mouth. The only problem was finding somewhere for it to graze — Poe Field is being eaten up by new buildings faster than a Cottage girl on a Stephens Fitness Center stairmaster. A future dromedary acquisition is unlikely unless the Springdale Golf Club agrees to let my camel live in one of the sand traps.

"I'm a theatre teacher from Odessa, Tex. I was reading some of the columns you have written on the archives page. It's a long story on how I came across them, as I am not linked to Princeton in any way, shape, or form (poor white trash Okies don't tend to go to Ivy League Schools), but I will say that I found them by accident. (I am, by the way, a proud graduate of Unkle Earl's school of Art and Refrigeration Repair — take that!) I was just wanting to let you know that I enjoyed your writing very much and I obviously have no life. My favorite column of yours was the one about how your mom was always bothering you about Prince Hamzah. So, tell me, have you gotten to meet him yet? Is your mom thrilled? I was just curious."

My mother hasn't gotten to meet Prince Hamzah yet, although this is his fault and not mine. Incidentally, several months after I wrote about the heir to the Jordanian throne and speculated on his experiences at the Sandhurst Military Academy, I received the following bit of correspondence. Whether it is really from Prince Hamzah himself is, of course, a matter of conjecture.

"I was reading your article 'Late Summer Thoughts about Princeton.' You know what, the bugle calls [at the military academy] were not that bad, thank God it only lasted a year though. Sorry to have disappointed your mom."

Prince Hamzah, if that's really who it was, declined my subsequent request to be introduced to Prince Harry.

"Not so quick note.....I was browsing and somehow came to your Princeton column.....too funny.....My son Nate will be attending Princeton class of 2024, he just doesn't know it yet. Keep up the comedy. There's far too much depressing stuff in this day and age."

Agreed. The next letter, for example.

"Dear Ms. Swearengen, I don't understand why you feel the need to smear a student group which you evidently know nothing about in the pages of PAW. It is shoddy journalism and intellectual Mau-mauing of the worst kind...You and your friends on the far left might do well to consider that attacking and slandering people simply because you disagree with them is an act of true totalitarianism. Your column is a disgrace."

This letter was in response to an article I wrote about the then-impending war in Iraq and the reactions of Princeton students. Alas, I did not have the opportunity to smear the Princeton Brownshirts "in the pages of PAW" — "Raising Kate" only appears online. As for the column being a disgrace, I will point out that it's a lucrative one.

"Dear Ms. Swearengen, I take grave offense at your July seventh installment of 'Raising Kate' in which you erroneously assert that Princeton suffers from: 'Height Flight'... (the mysterious phenomenon that makes male students taller than 5'10" choose Columbia or Yale over Princeton).' As a member of the 6'+ cohort, and as a member of the Princeton male undergraduate body, I find your research shoddy, your methodology flawed, your reasoning spurious, and your syntax bereft of rigour. I am sorry, we are not all gentle giants. Alas, how many nights must be spent crying myself to sleep, cursing the genes that caused me to grow to this terrifying stature?"

Point taken. There are some tall male undergraduates at Princeton. But they're all dating girls shorter than me.

"Kate...I couldn't help but laugh, and reminisce, when I read your article regarding the activities of Princeton students during the summer months. You are absolutely right; summer should be the domain of sweltering summer afternoons doing menial labor without the academic mental acrobatics, of playing baseball under an infinite blue sky, of slowly padding down the beach with an attention span extending not far beyond the waves breaking at your feet. I admit, though, that I fell victim to the same drive to flog myself during the summer months. When I was an undergraduate, I followed the last day of classes with a 2-day hiatus, diving directly back into routine following the "break." I spent summers working in chemical plants and quality engineering labs, learning much but realizing that the classic summertime was lost. Those days of blissful wanderlust are gone, evidence of childhood days slipping back into memories."

This letter is beautiful and wise and a warning to any future Princeton parent hankering to couple the words "summer" and "enrichment."


You can reach Kate at kswearen@princeton.edu