Reinvention

When I was in high school, I planned to major in drama when I went I college. But then I didn’t get the lead role – or any role for that matter – in the senior play, crushing my Broadway dreams. I went to the other extreme: I decided to major in pre-law.

My step-mother talked me out of it. “Do you really want to be a lawyer?” she asked. “You’re too diplomatic for that.”

Diplomacy wasn’t a major so I went with International Relations. “What kind of job are you going to get as an IR major,” the adults around me asked. I didn’t really know. I figured I’d travel the world and eventually become a diplomat.

Senior year, the need for a respectable job looming, I took the Foreign Service exam.

(As an aside, my creative writing instructor encouraged me to become a writer. “You’re talented. You should really consider this writing thing.” His words still ring through my brain on a loop.)

On the Foreign Service exam, I scored one point lower than the cut-off for an interview. (14 years later, pregnant with Colin, I was offered that interview as part of the settlement of a class action lawsuit, but I wasn’t really in a position to take a post in a third world country, as amazing as that sounds to me now.)

I wanted to go abroad, mostly because I was in love with a foreigner. I applied for the Peace Corps. Got an interview. Was told my liberal arts degree didn’t arm me with any applicable skills. “I want to volunteer,” I pleaded. “I can teach English as a Second Language.” I needed experience to prove it.

So I applied to a program to teach English in the Czech Republic for a summer. It was a fabulous experience. This was the answer. I’d go home, get a Master’s degree in Education, travel the world teaching English.

I got a job teaching ESL in Boston and went to school at night. But three days after graduating with my M.Ed., I had an epiphany: my lifelong dream was to work on Capitol Hill.

I didn’t know the first thing about how to get a job on Capitol Hill. I flew to DC. Walked unscheduled into Senator Susan Collins’ office.

“Hi, I’m from Maine. I’ve always wanted to work on Capitol Hill and was wondering if someone could talk to me about the process.” That “talk” ended with a job offer.

I moved, driving solo in a U-Haul truck with all my worldly belongings to a city where I knew two people. I made friends. I figured out what “recess” meant and how to get to the Senate floor. At some point I was given the responsibility of writing letters on environmental issues, which led to a job on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

A moderate republican environmentalist was born. The rest is on my LinkedIn page.

Everything opportunity I’ve had in DC happened by accident. I’m some weird poster child for being in the right place at the right time. But were all these career moves right?

While I balance consulting for myself with writing my novel, more and more of my passion flows toward the latter. Just have coffee, lunch, a drink with me and time how many minutes I spend talking about the book versus talking about lobbying. I don’t picture myself pounding the marble halls of Congress forever. In an ideal world, I don’t picture myself pounding the halls of Congress next year. I know how dangerous it is to put that in writing; some future employer or client could use it against me. “She’s not dedicated enough to policy. She just wants to write her book.”

But that’s far from true. I’m still passionate about my issues, and as long as working on them helps me sustain this dream of being published, I’ll continue to pursue energy work with gusto. It’s admittedly hard. This isn’t a town that embraces the unconventional. By my own invention, I don’t fit the norm.

But for now I’ll wear the label of wacky lobbyist-slash-aspiring-writer and hope that my professional luck continues. Maybe someday, that long ago writing instructor will see my published book and remember my name.

kids and guns and horror

IMG_2321Across America this morning, parents dropped their kids at school, the bus stop or with early morning caretakers and proceeded with their day just as they did yesterday and the day before that and the day before that.

At our own school, we held a special program. As has become annual tradition, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer came to sit patiently and listen to our kids sing holiday songs. He does not represent our district, but our school bears his late wife’s name, and he never fails to make a December appearance. In fact, when his schedule would not permit him to attend the actual performance next week, he came today instead to watch dress rehearsal. He got on one knee with a gaggle of pre-kindergardeners to cut the ceremonial ribbon for our “new” (to us) school building. He laughed. He clapped. He addressed the kids, not the adults, and told them teachers are the most important people in a society. He was warm to one and all and appeared to be genuinely entertained.

I left school with warm happy feelings for my kids’ school, our community spirit and a driven PTA that makes being that organization’s president a pretty easy job. (As my friend Chuck whispered to me during the performance, “it’s amazing what a PTA can do when it’s run by a bunch of alphas.”)

I learned about the horrible news of what happened in Newtown, Connecticut not from NPR but Twitter. My first reaction was jaded. Another mass shooting. This is America. It seems to happen every other week. Then the details emerged. An elementary school. Scores of young kids shot and killed. The horror of it all quickly sunk in. As I came home to my own elementary-aged kids tonight, I thought of those parents who will never walk in the door to be greeted by hugs and kisses. I thought of the kids who are not tucked into their beds tonight. Most of them kindergardeners. And I felt helpless.

There’s so much that’s wrong that it’s hard to imagine getting our nation back on course. We need to better address mental health issues, for sure. But we also need stronger gun control. I believe in the Second Amendment. But to say it’s outdated seems like an understatement.

I’d like to think as a nation we could have an honest debate about¬†guns. But you can already see the polarization occurring on that great social indicator, Facebook.¬†When Jack asked tonight, “why doesn’t Congress just make a law that you can’t have the types of guns that are only designed to kill people, not to hunt?” I didn’t have an answer. Deep down, I don’t think our government takes this moment to debate gun policy anymore than they’ve signaled a willingness to address climate change post Super Storm Sandy. As they have become so adept at doing, they will kick the can down the road until the next tragedy strikes.

on interns (guest post)

The following was submitted to me after my skin-tern post, and I loved it so much I asked the author if I could share it. This person needs to stay anonymous for obvious reasons but anyone who has ever hired, supervised, cursed or been eternally grateful for an intern will relate to this piece.

There was intern drama today of the unnecessary kind. The kind that comes with accepting an internship on Capitol Hill, a place where you may have landed because of your last name, but once you walk through the door the playing field is leveled by the likes of me.

Maybe it is because I have risen through the ranks from intern to senior staff because I kept my head down and worked hard. I let my work speak for itself. I showed up on time. I did more than was asked of me, but not so much people thought I was kissing anyone’s ass. My daddy didn’t write the campaign a check, my uncle didn’t go to college with the Boss, and certainly it wasn’t my GPA or SAT scores that got me in the door.

Capitol Hill is not summer camp and yet parents some how find a way to send their kids off to Washington, D.C. for six weeks and expect young staff, who let’s face it, aren’t much older than the would-be intern, play Camp Counselor to their kids.

For many interns, this is their first experience in the real world – they’re thrust into a well-oiled machine, a respected institution, and have the first chance to build a name and a reputation for themselves.

When you walk in the door, I take notice of details like what you’re wearing and how much make up you have on.

Yes, DC is hot, but you need to wear a jacket.

Yes, you have to give three tours today,

Yes, you have to take your Toms off.

You are a reflection of the Member you are interning for and more importantly, you must respect the hallowed halls that American heroes have also walked.
LBJ, JFK, John McCain, Shirley Chisholm, Barack Obama.

You are privileged to be here. We all are.

If you want to skate by and use this opportunity as another notch in you belt of extracurricular activities or as a topic for your grad school admission essay, fine. But don’t be offended when I don’t remember your name. You have four, maybe five weeks to give me a reason to remember you – how I remember you is your decision. But I promise you, if you show up everyday ready to hit the ground running, humble, eager, and do what is asked, you will earn the trust of those around you and you will be remembered. This will serve you much better than being remembered for poor attitude, tardiness, inappropriate language, or short skirts.

I resolve to write more

Goals. Resolutions. Whatever you call them, many of us set new, higher, more challenging expectations for ourselves at the beginning of a new year.

As you saw, I did mine visually in the form of a goal board. But all you seemed to notice were the shoes.

Yes, shoes figured prominently for both literal and figurative meanings, but what you never would have guessed, given how little I have written in the new year (as in, this is my first 2012 post) is that I made some writing resolutions as well.

Of course, I resolve to write more.

Last night, tired as I was, as I was falling asleep a post was taking shape. I thought about getting up and retrieving the computer, but then I made the age-old writer’s mistake of thinking my idea was so brilliant that I would remember it all in the morning.

I was wrong.

I resolve to write my ideas down when they come to me, even if it’s after midnight.

As Congress continues its journey toward deeper and deeper dysfunction, my job is going to feel akin to waking up every morning and beating my head against a wall.

I resolve to use writing as a means to personal and professional satisfaction.

When it comes to the blog, I would love to add an outfit-of-the-day component, though that option may be on hold until I find a boyfriend who can take daily photos of said outfits. (Honestly, I would probably suggest he take a week’s worth of shots over the weekend that I trickle out Monday-Friday since there is rarely surplus time in my weekday mornings. Doing so would be great for wardrobe planning purposes, and might give me more precious time in the morning to eat breakfast or sleep later.)

There is a goal I’ve had in my head since I was oh about 15 years old, and that is to write a book. How angry was I when Bridget Jones Diary came out. I could have written that book. I essentially did write that book in the form of the scores of journals I kept in my neurotic 20s. Sigh.

Last winter, when I was confined to the house in the back brace, I got about 10,000 words down on the latest idea in my head. But then the doctor cleared me to sit and drive, which essentially lifted my social confinement, and I haven’t touched these novel beginnings since then.

I resolve to finish my book.

I probably only have about 70,000 words to go. Give me ten days of solitude in a gorgeous setting that doesn’t have sightseeing distractions, wireless coverage or Congress but does have good end-of-the-day rewards in the form of wine and food and I know I can get it done.

Or find a new reason to bang my head against the wall.