Reverb12 Day Twenty Eight: “When I Grow Up…”

What did you want to be when you grew up?  Are you that thing?  If not, are you working to become it, or have you chosen a completely different path?

Unlike most kids, I didn’t have a solid idea of what I wanted to be when I “grew up” until growing up was halfway done, i.e. 9th grade. I’ll get to that in a moment.

I just didn’t think much about being older when I was a child. I was just sort of…there I guess. By there I mean present. Some aspect of me has felt like an adult my entire life even in childhood, so the very concept of “when I grow up” was a bit elusive to me. I just didn’t care.

In 9th grade I had what can only be described as an epiphany. Having always been interested in the history of the presidents and in the government of this country to a lesser extent, I one day was watching a documentary about same and it hit me all at once; I wanted to seek public office. This awareness within me presented itself, revealing that not only was it something I wanted, but something I needed. Indeed something for which I had been specifically built all of my life. Public office was, in short, my destiny.

Throughout high school I would allude to it. I became known as the “politics” guy. Everyone, whether they believed it or not, told their friends outside of school that they were classmates with a future president of the United States. (Or governor/senator in some cases.) In any event, my name was synonymous in high school with elections, politics, presidents, senators, legislation, that kind of thing.

I ran for president of Student council two years in a row and lost both times. The first time due to the athletes at the school conspiring to run off copies of their ballots with which to stuff the box. It worked. Displaying the moral cowardice typical of the administration of my high school, the brass paid lip service to looking into the issue, but did nothing of substance about it, and the cheat was allowed to stand. Further, I was made to feel that I was less of a person for even suggesting that anything be done. (Such was my shitty high school, but let’s stay on track here.)

The second time I lost because I lost. I’m not even sure I wanted to win at that point. I think I ran to redeem myself from the previous disaster, but the support I had the year before wasn’t there. People weren’t worried about correcting a wrong, and they elected another athlete. I don’t think that athlete cheated though.

Despite this gut blow, there was little debate about what my major would be in college once I was out of high school. Political science it was. Never even thought about it being anything else. I was, after all, built for public service and public office. I attended one year of school with that in mind, but hated the college so I transferred sometime later keeping the same major.

But as my blog hath often showed, I discovered theatre in college. One of several majors to which I should have switched. I didn’t, despite the fact that with few exceptions, the core principles of political science study were simply doing nothing for me. The department didn’t like me because I spent so much time at the theatre instead of department events. So unpopular was I, that when I had a chance to go to an Al Gore rally in 2000,  the Young Democrats gave me the wrong car pool location on purpose. It was harder for them to deny this later when I saw them drive passed me on the street on the way to the rally. (Though they tried by saying the “car was too full”.) I left the group.

I didn’t like statistics. I didn’t agree with much of what was being said about political behavior, and none of it was inspiring the sort of fire I thought it would, and once did, when I was in high school. My grades were terrific.  I even qualified for the political science honorary society. (Though my wallet didn’t qualify if you know what I mean.) But my passion wasn’t terrific. I kept at it though, thinking it was just the nature of college work to be bored with it. Once I was out of college, I was destined to find some political job back home. I’d be able to help the people then.

My passion led me to a dead-end internship. Whereas others in the department landed primo political assignments, I ended up alone in a local congressional office once a week clipping out articles to be faxed to the office where the actual interesting people with interesting jobs did the interesting work. I learned nothing from the internship, and made zero connections in politics. I didn’t even meet the Congressman for whom I was interning.

Fast forward a few years. After college. Years of trying to get some kind of small time position, even if only voluntary in political campaigns or city government. Nothing. Nobody wanted me. I didn’t have the “experience” to be political, or to serve through government positions. I wasn’t good enough. Didn’t know anybody. And by then, I wasn’t sure I wanted to. Theatre, and later writing took up more of my time.

In 2004, I sought the Democratic Party’s nomination for U.S. Congress. It was a conservative district at the time, but I thought winning, or at least making a good showing in the primary would be a good step in a possible career in a number of fields.

I came in last. Outside of my opponents, (some of whom I actually liked) the only people I met at campaign events were either apathetic, or just plain rude to me. Nobody volunteered for my campaign. Nobody invited from the press even came to the campaign launch event, as they did for the other candidates. Other than my mother and one sister, nobody in my family came to the house to watch the returns on election night.

Worst of all of it…I wasn’t proud I had tried. It had all started out as an attempt at several things. First, so that in the future when somebody would ask me, “Well you complain about the government, but what have you ever done about it?” I could say that I had run for office. That I’d tried. That tiny piece of a reason still works sometimes today to shut people up.

Another reason, was that in the least I had hoped that by making speeches and writing letters to local officials (none of whom responded ever), my campaign would have brought attention to certain problems, and perhaps opened a door to a local notoriety that would at last allow me to help people on a smaller level.

It didn’t. (Though I look back at a tiny consolation…some of the ideas I championed ended up in the platforms of future candidates, here and across the country. Not because they were in my campaign, since nobody has ever heard of me, but because my ideas made sense. Sense catches up eventually, I suppose.)

In the end though, I felt that I had wasted my time, and the time of voters. Lots of people would have been happy to have received about 2,200 votes in their first ever election attempt. Perhaps I should have been, and today, I probably would have been. But in those days, that version of myself was not. I felt like a total failure, and to some extent still do in regards to my brief real-world political career.

Yes, I said brief, because in case you haven’t determined so by now, that campaign was my first and last. I left politics and the dream I had of helping people through it. Declaring the 9th grade epiphany a false one, I vowed after my defeat to not so much as volunteer for someone’s campaign again. And to this day I have kept my word; I have neither sought public office since, nor helped anyone else in doing so, (except by voting for them, which I still do each election.)

So many things contributed to my failure as a political candidate. Lack of money. Lack of volunteers. Lack of network and lack of personal charisma to convince people to join me. Lack of good luck in many cases as is so often the case with the big things I try to do. All things, (except for the luck) that a few people that knew me said I could adjust for a future attempt at elected office.

Maybe they were right, but the point is moot; I was then, and remain unconnected to politics. A public servant in some level of government, chosen and trusted by the people to improve their lives was for years what I wanted to be when I “grew up”. But the coldness, egotism, laziness, bitterness and cynicism required so to do did not appeal to me.

Losing is one thing, but being made to feel like less of a person for having participated is something different.  I experienced the latter in my only campaign and that’s why I’m now on a completely different path than I was in the days when people say “When I grow up.”

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