As a child, and many times throughout my life, my parents and teachers told me, and so many others, that anyone could grow up to be president of the United States of America. I vaguely remember wanting to truly believe this. At the time, I think they were trying to encourage me to dream. My teachers and parents wanted to inspire me to be all that I could be. In fact, or in myth, they wanted me to be more than I could be; or, perhaps, they wanted me to leave them alone. They wanted to distract me, while all that was solid was melting into air. They wanted to distract me so that they could watch television or drink beer or have affairs.
My black friends and my African American friends were much more skeptical than I ever was. That is, until Barack Obama became president of these United States of America. And, once again, we all heard the rallying cry that anyone can become president. We were all inspired again. Anything was possible.
Now, when I think back to my mother telling me that if I tried hard enough I could become president, I no longer think she was trying to inspire me. I think she was warning me. I, however, could not hear her warning. I wanted (or needed) her and my teachers to be inspiring me, not warning me.
The problem was that I could not hear my mother italicizing the word “anyone”. Had I heard the word “anyone” in italics, I would have been more prepared for what has been happening. Indeed, it is now very clear: “Anyone can become president of the United States.” Anyone is different from anyone. My mother and teachers did not know how to italicize their words when they spoke. Shame on them.
Our dreams and our fears are now true, terrifyingly true, and anyone (if we are not careful) will become president. Anyone. And, indeed, anyone will become president if we, all of us, not just the we that lives their lives like me, or that share my values, or my education, or my love for my children, but the larger we, all of us, do not wake up.
And this means more than voting. This means becoming a citizen again, so that when we say to our children: “Believe in your intellect, believe in your heart, believe in your soul, and anyone, you, even you, can become president.” And we can say it to them honestly, with meaning, and we can say it to them without italics.
And we must say this to them to do more than to inspire them to go on their own narcissistic journey. We must say this to them so that they are inspired to participate in creating a world that they want to live in. And we must encourage them to understand that their world will not be realized by them merely voting, and it will not be realized by them merely pursuing their own dreams (if their dreams are simply those of an ego gone mad with wanting power); rather, their world will come into existence by them actively being in the world.
I know there are clichés aplenty about this. But we have to live lives that create a world of light where anyone (without italics) can become president. Because living in the world we have created means that unfortunately anyone can become president, and that should frighten us all.
I am not in any way trying to tell you who to vote for in the upcoming Presidential election. That is not my point. After all, as Adlai Stevenson has said: “In America, anyone can become president. That’s one of the risks you take.” And he seemed to be saying this without italics; although, I would argue, his words do express a hint of italic-fear. Given the right circumstances, Stevenson and Carlin know what kind of anyone might become president.
We must trust these talking heads over other talking heads. We cannot let the days go by. But perhaps because we have allowed our days to go by, we have the muddled madness that we have been experiencing. We, therefore, have a duty to transform our daily ways of living with each other.
But, we must do more than simply cast a vote and rely on someone else to change our world for us. This is our world. We are responsible. We create our world. We cannot simply cast a vote, and then forget our responsibility to live differently. A vote for change is not change. Change is change.
If we can change, if we can truly look into our souls, beyond capital, beyond memes, beyond t-shirts and posters, beyond clicking “like” here and there, and beyond the desires that distract us from truths that are deeper and that often exist prior to speech, prior to words, then we can create a daily practice of living that will change how we experience the world. Doing so will terrify politicians and panic narcissists, because what they value and what they consider success will no longer matter to us. Their desires for their own interests will be replaced by the desires and dreams of people (Plato would call these people citizens) seeking to create communities.
The tiniest revolutions in the practice of living our daily lives will unnerve the prisonhouse of consumption that we have fallen prey to, a prisonhouse that now owns our behavior, because too often we live unconscious lives. Once we become convinced we are free, not merely free to choose, but truly free to live our own lives, we will no longer need reminders from those who have power over us that we are free. Until then, the very fact of those people (members of the they) telling us we are free will keep us trapped.
Look in the mirror. Go ahead. Narcissus did not have a mirror. He could only see his reflection in water. Stare at that mirror. We are responsible for everyone who ran for president, and for everyone who is still running for president. We are also responsible for all the beautiful people who did not run for president. I can wax nostalgic and ask where have all the flowers gone, I can do that, I truly can. I can ask why the Bobby Kennedys of America have been replaced by what we have created.
But honestly, this is our fault.
What to do?
2. Look into your life. For 21 days, write down everything you do or experience (every action, every feeling, every thought, and so on). Decide which ones to change. Change at least one of them.
3. First thing every morning for the rest of your natural life, write a poem. See how seeing changes.
4. Be like Augie Wren, and at the same time every day do what he does. See how seeing changes.
5. Use your turn signal when you are making a turn. See how your fellow humans see you.
6. Drink coffee at a coffeehouse or diner. Do not take your stupid phone (even if your phone tried to convince you that it is smart; it is not, it is stupid, leave the stupid smartphone at home) or iPad or i-this or i-that or laptop with you. Go alone to a coffeehouse and talk to someone who is different than you, who holds different values, or who is from a different social class. And stop drinking coffee alone in your car.
7. See how many sentences in a row you can begin without using the pronoun “I”.
8. Go on treasure hunts daily.
Let us go then, you and I, while the evening is spread out against the sky and share simple dreams. Let us begin, right this very second, creating a world through our own actions so our daughters and sons can live in a world where anyone, without italics, can become president. In fact, let us now and forever f*ck italics and all they too often stand for and suggest.
And let us hope that anyone does not become president.
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