I started a new job in January. I became a middle-school librarian. Ideally, this part-time position would leave me with enough hours left in the day to write, but as is my style, I’ve also been overloaded with essentially volunteer work, participating in a presidential campaign. I’ve no desire to rehash the kind of miserable interactions I’ve had over politics lately so I’m not saying which one.
Late one evening, while I scrambled to plug in phones and computers after a phone bank event at the campaign office, a man hung around, talking to me (or at me). He asked me if I had plans to run for office some day.
“I’ve thought about it,” I said. “I might consider a run for city council eventually.”
“Oh, you should think bigger,” he said. “You could be Senator Sara!”
I’m sure he thought I’d feel flattered. I laughed. “No way.”
“Why not? Your kids are growing up. You might find your horizons expanding soon.”
Quick recap of my life for new readers: I grew up in a rust belt city in the Midwest. I have a B.A. from Wellesley College and I earned a PhD in History from the University of Michigan in 2009. By late in 2010, I realized I had no desire to be an academic historian. I quit trying to publish and revise my dissertation. My husband has a tenure-track position in a southern university with great students and good research funding. We’re not moving on. I’ve spent six years now figuring out what to do next.
My horizons have been plenty wide.
There are many models of success in our world. I’ve never really had a desire for the kind of power national office holders or corporate officers hold. I struggle with the possibly gendered reasons for or implications of that. I constantly ask myself if it’s just laziness or fear that’s kept me holding back. I don’t think so.
My ambitions are local. I would really like for our national politicians to fix our healthcare system and our infrastructure — I’ll donate to and work hard for politicians who promise to work on these major issues. But my passions are moved in the city where I live, among the people I can see and talk to every day. I don’t think my goals are modest.
Lines from “Self-Reliance” echo through my mind daily, and have for twenty years or more, “Are they my poor?”
I am not a Memphis native, but the city bears more than a little resemblance to Rockford, IL.
“There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison, if need be….”
I’ve never been poor and I’m no missionary. But “my poor” speaks to me of proximity. We’re all poor, only temporary vessels for the spark of life. We’re all fated to do only so much with our time, to have only so many chances to bring change. “My poor,” it seems, reside in cities struggling with flooding creeks, paralyzing violence, and blundering naysayers who can’t see the value of small spheres. I spent years running away from “my poor,” thinking I had to be more when more meant being someone else, elsewhere, elsewise. No longer.
Stick around this April as I post my thoughts about ambition and my zigzaggery life.