An Open Letter to a Would-Be Constituent
For the purposes of this letter, the subject will be referred to as Miss Madsen. —Ty
Dear Miss Madsen,
My apologies for the curtness of my previous letter. While I will confess that I still find some of your presumption to be a tad annoying, and that your timing was not the best, I could and should have handled it better. I can’t undo my comments, but I can perhaps explain them.
You see, early in life I thought I had had an epiphany of sorts. I legitimately came to believe that I had been called to public service by the Universe. Specifically, to public office. Despite obviously not being built for such pursuits, a mixture of inspiration and encouragement from educators and peers planted a seed so deeply in my mind that for the longest time, I felt it was my destiny. Not that I was owed an office, but that I was built for it, and that it was my duty to follow through on that nature.
That was a mistake, and by the time you voted for me, I already knew that. In fact I knew that before I even announced that misguided campaign.
Going to a mediocre college whose political science department showed me no respect whatsoever contributed to that realization. As did several years of failed attempts to use a diploma in political science from said college to secure government employment on the local and (what I thought) was the most impactful government levels.
It was just not meant to be, and it took way too much of my life for me to realize that. The signs were there all along. The entire business is anathema to me and I should have known it. In high school teachers conspired with athletes to make sure I lost and they won a student government election. Colleagues with whom I had studied government in college wanted me as part of their group. The head of the department thought my questions in class were antithetical to a political scientist. The president of the college Democrats sent me on a goose chase by giving me wrong directions, so that the rest of the club could carpool and meet Al Gore and a rally while I stood in a parking lot waiting for them to show up.
Politics and political people wanted no parts of me even back then. By the time I decided to run for Congress, I had years before come to the realization that my epiphany had been a false one. The trajectory on which I had built most of my life lead me into a dead end, nay a vortex of despair and uselessness. Believe me I am still suffering the consequences of so much time and thought wasted during my young adulthood in pursuit of such a life.
But I was determined to do it at least once. I was going to seek public office, and officially close a misguided and poorly written chapter of my life that for years I had thought was to be the novel itself. I got a ride to Annapolis on an ugly winter day, (I’ve ever been good at driving to such places), and I filed to run for the United States House of Representatives. My signature was right below Senator Mikulski’s on the same sheet.
“I’ll raise issues,” I thought. “I’ll get attention for the things that this district never pays attention to. I will, by my presence at least force a few people to ask and answer different questions, instead of accepting that people on my end of the spectrum had no purpose. I would not win the party’s primary, but I would make sure people on society’s fringes were represented in the campaign. They would matter. I would matter.
The district I grew up in proved quickly, however, that I did not matter. No connections, no support, no money.
Each day of the campaign, I knew I should have left well enough alone and dropped out, leaving government in my murky and uninspired past. I knew it when nobody but family showed up for my campaign launch party and announcement. When People in town halls tried to nail me with the blame for everything wrong with the country, without allowing me to explain what I might do about it. When nobody ever called the campaign phone, except the belligerent, asshole editor of a local Washington County paper threatening to sue me for doing what candidates had done for decades…leave fliers in the newspaper boxes of houses. When no party machinery or candidates for other offices or issue organizations so much as returned my emails to engage in conversation. When they only email I ever did get were from people telling me I was shit for putting up signs they could see from their car or house and reminders that they would not be voting for me.
All of these things and more, removed any further doubt in my mind that I was never going to hold public office, and that such a life is not worth living. That is was not and is not a noble pursuit, even to lose. Not only that, it proved that it is a waste of time for someone such as myself to even be involved in the pursuit of public service by way of elected office, at least in these parts. It was not even worth showing up to raise the questions or to make people think about what I had said, because they didn’t think. Ever. The small-mindedness and bile of the average voter I encountered in my one and only campaign for elected office had made it clear to me that even before it was over, I had made one of the biggest mistakes I had ever made in my life.
The occasional reporter or more decent voter offering high praise for my excellent public speaking skills did nothing to counter these realizations.
So on election night, when the “party” consisted of two sisters (one of whom went home before any returns were announced) and my mother waiting for notoriously tardy returns to come in saw me coming in last (even behind someone who did no specific campaigning) I was not exactly in good spirits. Losing I could accept. I don’t know if I could accept coming in last in the field had the campaign been noble and had I been treated with any respect, because that didn’t happen. I came in last having gathered no respect, no attention outside of a few speeches, and not even so much as a notion of satisfaction. I vowed to never again partake in local elected office, and I have kept that promise. (I even recently refused to apply for vacancies on a few volunteer public commissions, despite encouragement. I knew what the result would be, and I wasn’t going to go through it again.)
And the morning following the election, I get your email.
The email, as I understood it, in essence revealed that you weren’t too worried about the election, and that you knew I didn’t “have a prayer” but that you liked my “pithy” answers to reporter’s questions, and you wanted me to tell you more about my future plans, or something.
I remember thinking that I had gone through enough less-than-helpful emails during the long, pointless campaign. I remember thinking at that moment that your interest, such as it was, would have been far more suited during the campaign, by way of a donation, (of which I got none from anyone) or at least from a few encouraging emails when it would have mattered. But to be standing there in the charred remains of not just a single campaign but what I had at one point thought was my destiny, I had to read about you and your wanting to know about my “future plans” even though you knew I didn’t have a chance?
It was too much for a disillusioned, insulted and ignored former idealist. It felt like too little, too late. It felt like more of a jab than a congratulations. (Here I have to point out that it is never a good idea to tell someone for public office, even after they lose that you never felt they had a chance.) So I snapped back at you.
“Who the hell are you anyway?” I asked. “I’m not a candidate for public office as of this morning, so I don’t even feel obligated to pretend that your assessment of me and my future is important to me. Perhaps you should mind your own business.”
All this time later, I of course know that I didn’t understand the intention behind your email. I incorrectly defined what you were saying and doing. True, you could have been a bit more considerate in the manner you chose, but the responsibility in the end lies with me. In the midst of fatigue and anger and general disgust with people, especially locals, I misinterpreted you. That is the first thing for which I am sorry.
The second thing for which I am sorry is for being so angry about it. I should have waited a day or two to respond to you. By then I probably would have had better insight into what you were trying to say. Or, if I were that upset about it, I could (and should) have just ignored your email. Left you to wonder if I ever got it, but I would assume not being that bothered one way or the other. But instead I left you with a parting shot that may have defined who I am in your mind in the years since. You have every right to think of me that way. I formed that image of my own free will and ignorance. If you see my name in a paper or a magazine or online today and think of how unpleasant and shallow I am, so be it. I accept it.
But perhaps as you read this letter, and combine it with what I have done with my life, my words, my energies and my time since my ill-advised foray into elected office, you will see the real me. The me that had no business running, and will never do so again. The me that now has a far better disposition, one that matches the humble, patient, helpful and forgiving person I try to be each and every day. If you can see that now, Miss Madsen, and you are willing, I hope you will accept my apology.
sincerely, Ty Unglebower
This post is part of the Open Letter Continuum.
- Posted in: Miscellany