Young Barack Obama

But he is so wary, wary. Has visions of his life, but in a hiatus as to their implementation—wants to fly, and hasn’t yet started to take off, so resents extra weight.

Journal of Genevieve Cook; Wednesday, May 9, 1984


Putting aside Vanity Fair’s poor title choices (“A Girlfriend’s Secret Diary”…?) for this excerpt from Maraniss’s Obama biography, it’s a pretty fascinating piece that tries to look at his existential early 20s and how he grapples with where he’s going and who he wants to be, as a product of both where he’s been and what he’s capable of…a confusion that resonates with plenty of early-20-somethings. He struggles with jobs that don’t inspire him, losing touch with friends, the state of the world and his purpose in it, thinking about how his childhood and past shape who he is and will be — all of the relevant headaches that many recent graduates face, suddenly without that strange world of rigid structure and academic purpose mixed in with the indulgent freedom to think abstractly (and spend your days churning out papers on T.S. Eliot).

Just so happens that it also uses quotes from letters and journals of his old girlfriends to give the context, but it comes out fairly classy, even more so because everyone involved speaks, writes, and acts very thoughtfully. And say what you want, but highlighting his relationships doesn’t just give the article controversial fluff, it also hits at some of the most personal parts of this whole process, especially for someone who was withdrawing from other social groups and activities during these so-called “New York dark years”.

The idea for the article might be a turnoff, but it’s worth a thorough read. Look past the details of the piece, and just think about the person as a person. Obama is highlighted as an observer, a trait that I respect and relate with. He and his girlfriends are also clearly well-read, and more importantly, willing to think carefully about the nature of their thoughts (and/or angst), and express it in some medium, to each other or to themselves. It’s something relevant to everyone: being able to take in information, but also synthesize it, and ultimately communicate it.

“But first, Why? Where does this come from? What place and how deep does it come from?”

Jerry Kellman, probing Obama during his interview for the first job he actually wanted