The Race for the Rowboat is Over!

Can I have my television back?  Please?

I mean, I’m awfully glad that my guys won and all (right down to our local representatives, which was sort of cool because THAT election came down to 200 votes.  It was like, “Hooray!  My vote really DID count!”)

But seriously– me and politics, not so much of a match, and I’m glad it’s over.

Because we all know I suck at politics, right?

I had a sudden moment yesterday (of all days, right?) when I was forced to meditate on the nature of politics and my insistence that, should we all be on a sinking ship and I yelled, “Everybody into the fucking rowboat!” I would be rowing that boat by myself watching the rest of y’all drown.  Not because I wanted you to go, mind you, but because when I say, “Everybody into the fucking rowboat!” that seems to be the world’s cue to make a sandwich, turn on the television, clean their room, pick up a book, or, really, anything besides getting into the rowboat, and, let’s face it, getting people INTO the rowboat is all about what politicians DO, am I right?

Now there’s a line from a song (posted down below) that says, “charisma is the key to opportunity.”  Now, I’ve always believed that, but it’s always scared me a lot.  Charisma is that thing that makes people want to follow you, right?  Well, the key to charisma is being absolutely positive that the thing you are doing is right and that the entire world SHOULD follow you because anything else is insanity.

The really scary thing about charisma is that if you have it, you very often ARE insane.

Think about it.  We just watched a BRUTAL political contest– and although I’m pleased that my guy won, I’m not all that excited about how either side played this.  The thought of living in a swing state, like Ohio, and literally breathing the filthy sludge stink oil of political ads as intensely as those people did makes me want to vomit.  And party members had to have known that this sort of endless campaigning is its own sort of evil right?

But they had to believe, really believe that it was worth it.

That’s charisma.  You believe in yourself with such force that people must believe in you.   They have no choice.

Have any of you seen American History X?  It features Edward Norton as a nazi skinhead who is paroled for killing two black men who broke into his house.  The scene where Norton kills the guys is chilling–not just because he’s cold blooded and ruthless about it, but because he’s beautiful–he is so absolutely certain that what he’s doing is right, you’d follow him into hell the proclaim his innocence.  Contrasted with the second half of the movie, where he is uncertain and second guessing his every move, you almost want that part of him back.  Forget that he was a mindless screeching sociopath–he was beautiful and you want to be a part of that.

But it’s when he’s uncertain and second guessing his every move that he shows wisdom and compassion and forethought and empathy and all of those very human values that we should give credence to in our own species.

But it doesn’t make people want to follow him, does it?

And that side of leadership is the side I’ve always been a fan of.  I am really great about embracing my faults and my human imperfections, and about acknowledging that, hey, I’m no one to follow.  My strategy in the classroom was to make education intrinsically valuable.  The kids weren’t doing it for me (although very often they did do it for me, if that’s the dynamic we had to form to make them achieve what they needed to) they were doing it for themselves.  I couldn’t scream them down– I’m a silly looking woman with a Minnie Mouse voice.  I had a baby face until I was forty, and I’m a terrible clod!  It’s hard to inspire awe and fear when you’re tripping over your own trash can three times a day, and the damned thing was never moved!  So I would make success–and good behavior– something they could control, and invite them to see why it was to their benefit to control in my class, and I have to say, it worked a lot more than it should have.  Giving them a choice– calming down and having me help them or continuing to talk and being left to their own devices to succeed, for instance– often made them see that they were powerful.  It was something I loved doing.

But it didn’t exactly put my own power at the forefront, did it?  And how could I do that?  Looking back on it now, I think of all the ways that situation deprived me of power–all of the humiliating, soul-crushing ways.  The two principals who made my schedules more difficult when I asked for maternity leave– that comes to mind.  The asshole (and department head) who did the impression of my vibrator during lunch or who yelled at me about feminine hygiene in the middle of the quad– that was a winning moment!  The vainglorious prickweenie who wrote me up for calling him dude after locking me out of my room for half-an-hour.  OMG– there’s a moment in self-actualization, isn’t it?  The times students failed and I was pinned to the wall with ways I could take back the one power I did have, because somehow, in the many chances I gave kids to succeed, this kid refused to take those chances and it was all my fault.  What about the four years running that the administration publicly harangued all the teachers about how badly our test scores sucked without ever, once telling us that our entire population had changed, and we’d gone from a school with 58% of our students eligible for free and reduced lunches to 98% of our students eligible for some sort of government assistance.  God, nothing makes you feel more powerless than assuming all the woes of the world really are your fault, and having some jerkoff in an office with the numbers to back it up, right?

And that’s just my old career– let’s not even talk about some of the personal powerlessness that being the parent of a special needs child gives you.  Or having a pinball brain in a Hot wheel track world!

So yeah.  I was used to being powerless.

And I’m not anymore.

In fact, given the strength of my convictions, I might even be said to have a little bit of charisma.

It’s something I need to remember–especially when a member of my writing community is asking something of me that I can give.

Yesterday, I was on the phone with someone who has a lot of pull, and, yes, a lot of charisma.  In an effort to make me feel comfortable contributing some time to the union cause, he started heaping praise on me–and I started to crawl out of my own skull in an attempt to get away from it.

It was horrible.  I felt it happening.  I even knew why it was happening when it was happening.  Suddenly I couldn’t focus on the conversation, and whereas I was usually happy and fun and even charming when talking to this guy–he’s one of those people who invites happy, fun and charming– I was suddenly spacey and flaky and shy.  It wasn’t his fault– he couldn’t have known.  I was so used to being powerless that when someone told me I had some power, my first reaction was overwhelming terror that I couldn’t live up to this.  How could I?  I’d spent my past career–hell, I’d spent my life— living with all of the reasons I was an irredeemable fuck up, a goofball, a flake and a ditz.

I couldn’t possibly have the redeeming qualities that would make my voice important, could I?

Thinking about it rationally– at what I’ve accomplished, at the people whom I admire who also think I have something to say, it seems only right that I use some of my time and ability to give to my writing community.

But it’s hard to think about it rationally when your first instinct is to make light of your accomplishments before someone else does.

About two years ago, I posted (and it’s one of my better, more iconic posts) a blot titled “I Do Not Write Porn.”  It was there that I referenced all the times when I first started writing that I referred to my books as “trashy vampire novels” or “housewife porn” in order to be self-deprecating, and how my friends who had read my books got angry and upset when I did this. It was their reaction that allowed me to take my writing seriously, and to stop diminishing this thing– this weird, amazing thing–that I do with words that, for them, made the world such a better place to be.

I think I’ll take a lesson from that here, and try to remember it the next time someone wants me to lead a charge into a rowboat.  Yeah, sure, some people may choose to pick up their remotes and go down with the ship, but if there’s at least one other person in the rowboat with me, its worth the blisters from rowing like hell.  

0 thoughts on “The Race for the Rowboat is Over!”

  1. I always thought herding cats was the best example of leading people.

  2. Donna Lee says:

    And let's not forget that over 6 billion dollars was spent on the rowboat drill this year. Think of what that 6 billion dollars cold have done.

    As a woman who came of age in the 70's, there were so many conflicting images of what power women did/didn't have that I continually second guess myself. I'm pretty sure I don't want much power (I like my anonymous little life)but a little (just over my own small things) would be nice.

  3. roxie says:

    You point the way, I'll get behind and holler "Get into that rowboat right now or you're gonna die!" Leadership and charisma is over-rated.

    I think we go through stages of knowing. In our late teens and early twenties, we know what's right and what's wrong and it's clear to all but the most evil people. Then we find out that even good people like us wind up doing bad things, and we spend our time either denying it, trying not to get caught, hating ourselves for not living up to our own expectations, or trying to re-arrange our expectations so the way we live will fit them. Eventually we realize that EVERYONE, ourselves included, is broken and we are all doing the best we can with what we have available. At that point, we become less eager to dictate other people's behavior. This is the beginning of wisdom.

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