‘I’ll have a shark sandwich. You like shark? Never had it! You’re in for a treat.’ I thought.
I wasn’t so much paraphrasing Jeff Bridges in the contender as I was riffing on my memory of him. I mean, shark sandwich. Come. On.
Not that I have a taste for killer beasts of the sea. Not much for seafood, actually. But what a cold and cool way to announce your power as President. Invite your opponent to come to the east wing and order someone near you to get you some shark. Damn.
No one ever imagines life in the governors mansion. Not from here. Not sitting in council chambers suggesting yourself as next town council rep. Why would you place such limitations on yourself. Nope, I could already imagine it. Life in the White House. Hell yeah.
I had written a statement to read that had gotten a very positive response from the organizer of our event. She was enthusiastic beyond words. Her email calmed me down before stoking my Walter Mitty like daydreams of shark sandwiches and front yard Easter egg hunts.
You have to understand. A writers work has an emotional ebb and flow. Allow me to illustrate using art. ‘Talledaga Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby’.
At the beginning of the movie Ricky is running hot. Winning everything, on a roll, full of confidence and unable to imagine it ever stopping. In an interview he makes a statement that is EXACTLY what it feels like when you are writing and it’s flowing. He said…
‘Look. Here’s the deal, I’m the best there is, plain and simple, I mean
I wake up in the morning and I piss excellence.’
Okay, it’s crass. But you know what, I don’t care. That is how it feels when it’s working.
There’s another scene in the same movie. This is later on. Our main character, the beloved Ricky Bobby is in the middle of his comeuppance. He has failed and failed and failed and he finds himself imagining a himself being engulfed by a fire ball and he has stripped naked and is running wildly on the abandoned track in tighty whitey’s and a helmet screaming in a panic…
‘Help! Fire! Oh god help me. Help me Oprah Winfrey, help me Tom Cruise!’
This quote (paraphrased from memory) typifies exactly what it feels like as you push ‘publish’ on the writing you were so recently so confident of while producing it. It’s a pretty extreme variation between unflinching confidence and bed wetting fear, to be sure. Especially considering these emotional states exist without any transitional states between them. Typically, at least.
So when the organizer replied to my email, sent with all the confidence of a church farther hoping to god it be both silent and odorless, with the opening of WOW! Well, I was right back to my writerly confidence. She wrote a bunch more, but to be fair ‘you had me at wow’ is a statement I feel fairly confident making for all writers.
I arrived to the council chambers with humility in my heart, not that you’d see it on a topographical map as it was a tiny sparrow sitting behind a mountain of confidence. Warmly greeted upon introducing myself I was so very excited to be around similarly minded resisters. A moment of sincerity here, it was truly heartening to see all these folks, neighbors and friends I’d yet to meet who felt the same as me. We have a town council that by what I can gather has been 100% republican for decades, without so much as opponents to run against them.
So newly friendly with my neighbors who’d come out of the shadows I took my seat and the evening began. We pledged allegiance. Off we go. I had no idea there would be so many folks here. This was a real meeting, not just a town gathering. County officials from the party there, candidates for state office. It was a real thing happening. The pros got up. The first stood behind the table at the front of the room. Party guy told her to come around front, but I knew what she was doing. There was no podium. It had caused me a moments panic, but I had my WOW in my back pocket, already committed to paper, why should I worry.
I’ll tell you why. Because when she came around front of the table it snuck into my mind, around the mountain of confidence. The tiny sparrow was on my side of the mountain now. I’ve only once read my own work to a crowd from a stage. I barely got through without sobbing. To be fair that one was about my son, it was a tender piece about the fears of a father. This wasn’t that. It was a political speech. Still, I learned through the many times I’ve spoken to groups at work that holding my paper was a bad idea. The hands would start to shake.This would trigger the completely illogical loss of breath control. Then, yep, the water works. But this was a friendly crowd. Why should I worry.
Her reason for running was profound, heartbreaking, personal and touching. I was definitely in the right place, with the right people. Okay, I can do this.
Next candidate got up and announced that she was working on her speech. She would be reading from cards. CARDS! Why the hell didn’t I think of this. It would give me a natural way of looking up and realizing I’m not naked, these people are with me. And when the hell did this sparrow get so goddam big! WHERE THE HELL IS MY MOUNTAIN OF CONFIDENCE! And I was totally wrong about the sparrow being humility. The sparrow was humiliation!
At least I was still confident in the support of the audience. It would appear my rabble rousing, ‘conscience of the liberal left’ speech would meet the tenor of the room. We were all here to organize resistance. What the hell am I so afraid of. Get out of here, negative self talk. I don’t need you!
‘Okay, I know it’s been a long night, but we have some people that have offered to run for Town Council and they will all address you this evening.’
HOLY CRAP. HOLY CRAP. DEAR GOD, I KNOW I’M ATHEIST BUT PLEASE BECOME REAL AND TRANSPORT ME YODA LIKE TO SOMEWHERE, ANYWHERE ELSE… Maybe I won’t be fir…
‘First I’d like to bring up Joe Medler.’
Shit. That’s not a sparrow. Is that an eagle? Why does he seem so angry and threatening. Shit. That’s a vulture, dude. Oh no, when I start calling myself dude in my brain something is way off. Crap. Don’t trip. Wait, why would I think that. I’m a grown man in fine health, I won’t trip. But god it would be the worst time to trip. I’M NOT GOING TO TRIP.
Breathe. This is easy.
‘Hello everyone.’ I said.
This isn’t so bad.
‘I’m not a politician. I filled out a survey, literally last night, and said yes, I’d be willing to be a candidate for town council. Then Tracey, wrote to say I should prepare a statement on why I was running. So I did. Thank you for being here and here goes.’
That was fine. What was I so worried about. All I gotta do now is read.
I pick up my paper, chin nailed to my chest, head down and we’re off.. that’s a strange tremble in my hand. Maybe two hands will be better. Wait. That’s supposed to stabilize not double the shaking. Where was I. Oh my god, why did I write suvch a personal piece. I really am kind of naked up here. Where are you mountain, don’t disappear.
NONONONONONONONO! It was just a simple crack of the voice nothing to worr.. shit, again. Is that water in my eyes. Fuck. I’m doing it again. Hands up, Im done.
‘And I think that’s a good place to stop.’ I said, and started to make my way back to my seat to see if I can fit under it. Forget the shark sandwiches, forget the glory of being a vessel for equality and democracy, forget the more humble aspirations of serving the town and being a politician.
‘Okay, Joe, do you mind if I read the rest. It’s really powerful and think it’s worth everyone hearing.’ said, Tracey.
‘My goodness, I can’t thank you enough. My god, yes, please, save me and this moment from the disaster it feels like!’ I thought. It came out more like a barely audible, ‘Yes. Thanks.’
She proceded to complete my story. I have to say whether they were just taking pity or genuinely appreciative of the writing, I don’t really care. Everyone was so generous with their kindness. Handshakes and thank yous and people sought me out to tell me they enjoyed it. I was in the right place after all.
But perhaps it is time to go back to the drawing board in terms of figuring out how exactly I can best serve the goals of our group. After all, there is very little need for a crying call to arms. Might play into the worst stereotypes of liberals, actually. I’ll stay a bleeding heart, but perhaps i should retire the crying eyes;)