...at least I hope so!
It’s Super Tuesday! Are you afraid? Are you very, very afraid? You should be. But let’s save that conversation for after the results come in, shall we?
Anyway... I have a story for you today. Well, a couple of stories. They're about people I've encountered through life who have taught me about intelligent interaction. Have a seat and start reading.
When I was in high school I became pretty interested in the political process. I used to think it was because I was obsessed with the television series, The West Wing, but it was recently pointed out that I was newly engaged to my husband when it premiered. I was pretty young when A. popped the question at our favorite restaurant, but I was at least a couple of years on the correct side of legal adulthood!
So, I guess all of the credit for this interest goes to my parents, teachers, and the week I spent in the Presidential Classroom program in Washington. However, I can’t leave Congressman Jim Clyburn out of this. One day I was allowed to skip the several hours we were to spend with at the Canadian Embassy* to shadow the South Carolina representative. I was pretty proud of myself when I walked into his office. I’d spent the week learning about the importance of going into a political discussion armed with facts and knowledge supporting both sides of an argument, been offered an internship by a lobbying firm,**and frustrated several boys by besting them in many of our daily debate practices. By the time I started playing authorized hooky I was about as bigheaded as a teenager can get. I wonder if Congressman Clyburn noticed my newfound arrogance when he found me eating cupcakes with his staff in his reception room. He probably did, because it wasn’t the first time we’d met (he and my parents were friendly at the time, and I’d been stung by a wasp on his Lake Marion fishing dock at least twice). I remember his Congressional aide giving him a good-natured roll of her eyes when he emerged from his office, then looking back at me and saying, “Don’t let him give you a hard time, but he’s about to completely wear you out.”
I basically had to sprint to keep up with Congressman Clyburn’s impossibly zippy stride as we navigated Capitol Hill’s underground tunnels. We waved to freshman Rep. Sonny Bono, who chuckled at the sight of a fit sixteen-year-old gulping for air in order to keep up with a man in his mid-fifties. I sat in on a couple of meetings. I don’t remember what they were about because I was too grateful to be seated, but I remember being asked by other representatives what I thought about a thing or two. Hopefully my memory lapse here means I didn’t say anything too embarrassing.
Later, Congressman Clyburn's aide met us and we pushed our way through the crowd heading to the floor for roll call and and voting. The three of us were smashed into an elevator in which the aide and I were the only females, and since I hadn’t yet hit my full height of 5’5”, all I could see was the black and navy fabric of several suits.
When the men exited, I remained on the elevator with the aide to continue further up to a viewing area.
“Did you see him?” she breathed excitedly when the elevator doors closed.
“Who?” I asked, worrying about the extent to which I’d sweat through my brand-new houndstooth blazer.
“John F. Kennedy, Jr. almost got into the elevator with us just now!”
At this point, our ten-or-so year age difference leveled out as we squealed, and when we got to our viewing spot we proceeded to crouch, lean, crawl, and whisper back and forth in order to catch a glimpse of Kennedy’s gorgeous hair. The thought didn’t even occur to me to ask why he was on the House floor. I was too enthralled by it all — the meetings where Republicans and Democrats convivially worked out the business of government and the feeling of being at the site where the country’s most important decisions were made. I was especially overwhelmed by my newfound humility as I realized the amount of knowledge, worldly acumen, and intellectual ability required to keep up with a crowd like this. While I never gained any political aspirations, I was a hooked superfan — not of a particular political party, but of the American political system. I wish I could say the same as an adult in 2016.
People sometimes ask when I knew I wanted to be a writer. The short answer (in what’s become a very long post) is that I don’t really remember not wanting to be a writer. The experience I just described with Congressman Clyburn (which I doubt he even remembers — he was busy working, after all!) was an important shift in my journey toward an inherent knowledge of who I was to become as a writer, which is more important than knowing what I want to write about or in what genre. I credit those few hours as significant to the directional pull of my life and work philosophies.
I found myself thinking about this the other day when my friend Alicia Barnes interviewed Congressman Clyburn the day after the South Carolina Democratic Primary. Alicia is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. Admittedly, I’m not an easy person to get to know past a superficial level. I don’t know if that’s due to my astrological sign (Capricorns rule the world!) or because I was one of those children who considered books to be better playmates than most humans could be, but it’s an understandably annoying trait to past, present, and future confidantes. I’m sure that as a result I’ve occasionally come off as snobby or self-centered, when the truth is that I’m easily distracted into becoming so hyperfocused that I forget there’s a world outside my office, which turns into a spiral of thinking the world is too busy to hang out with me. Alicia is one of those friends who doggedly pushed through that. She’s one of my little crew of friends who taught me what it means to keep special friendships as a grown-up.
When Alicia interviewed Congressman Clyburn, I could see that dogged care she applies to her friendships being applied to her viewers. She was honestly representing their concerns to their U.S. representative, while also asking the types of questions our population isn’t trained to ask anymore when it comes to analyzing and sizing up presidential candidates.
Even earlier in the week another friend asked a question at CNN's Democratic Town Hall Meeting. To say that Marjory Wentworth is an intellectual and thoughtful person does no justice. Her mind always works at an intellectual clip that is faster than everyone else's in the room. If you don't already know Marjory's work (she's poet laureate for S.C. and writes brilliant prose, as well), you will be unable to avoid it in the very near future.
It gave me hope to see some of the people who've taught me about grown-up interactions and friendships appearing in front of the world in an effort to make clear away some of the rhetorical noise and finally spur some important, critical thought into this mess of an election cycle. If these three got through my hard head during different phases of life, perhaps there are more out there effectively working to get through the hard heads who are making it unbearable to watch television or even have a dinner party conversation. Check out what Marjory had to say below, but first--and I hate to do this--I need to post a warning:
I’m not posting these videos here for people to leave comments that are anything but what I described above regarding the way one is supposed to enter political discourse. It would make my week to see proof that people can log onto the internet to discuss the political landscape without resulting to name-calling, rhetoric-parroting, and unintelligent babble. If you have something to say about the candidates or anyone else here, do so respectfully and knowledgeably, which means you should have read something about them someplace other than a partisan blog before having something to say.
*Sorry, Canada. Please don’t hold that against me if I come knocking at your door next January.
**Short version: I struck up a conversation with some guy on the Capitol subway, told him why there were so many 15- and 16-year olds on the train, and then proceeded to try out my new information-based conversation skills on the poor guy. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I hadn’t yet learned what one is supposed to do when given a business card and a request to keep in touch.