I am ashamed, some days, of how little I know. The Sunday New York Times comes in pieces throughout the weekend because there is just too much information for one day. I devour the Book Review, the Style Section, and Metropolitan. It doesn’t occur to me to even skim the real news, the Front Page.
I sit in this room, working, while I hear a wild surge from the television in the other room. The stand-up/sit-down cheer and hoot of the conventions these past two weeks. It doesn’t occur to me to watch either convention until our President speaks and then, I think, it might be a better time to clip my nails.
So it will probably come as a surprise that my first job out of school, after a series of random domino-falling connections, was at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. I worked for four months on a production team. I was as out-of-touch then as I am now. I was focused on the tasks given to me. We need 10,000 ponchos! a too-eager production manager shouted when the forecast for the first day of the convention called for rain. And that became my fourteen hour day. Buying out ponchos from every drugstore and big box chain in the greater Boston area. (I found a few thousand. It would have to do.)
In between driving 12-passenger vans and walkie-talkie-ing and carrying heavy things, I shook Bill Clinton’s hand. I listened, in fear of the secret service, as my friend asked Willie Nelson if he wanted to smoke a joint. I listened to Barack Obama’s famous speech. I met Maya Angelou. Don’t call her Maya, an assistant barked at me. Her name is Dr. Angelou. Then she thrust me forward and I stammered out a pleasure to meet you, before that same assistant told me my 30 seconds were up.
I remember these moments only because of the big names associated with them. But every single person I met from the moment I walked into the campaign office to the last day on the convention floor was pretty amazing: passionate and yearning and amped and shouting and full of limitless, unrelenting hope.
I had just graduated from school. I didn’t know what to do with my days only because what I wanted to do (write fiction) paid nothing. But I was lucky enough to know what I wanted to do. I stood in the wings of a wild roar.
Today, these pre-election months still don’t interest me. I’ll vote in November because people have fought for my right to do so. I’ll stay ignorant and ashamed because I don’t understand politics and parties and pundits and I don’t know how to change the world.
But this year, I’ll do the same as I did in 2004, I’ll remember the people I met and let the (good) energy of these days become mine.