Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Not Perfect, but Impressive

For me, particularly at that time, writing was the way I sorted through a lot of crosscurrents in my life — race, class, family. And I genuinely believe that it was part of the way in which I was able to integrate all these pieces of myself into something relatively whole.
People now remark on this notion of me being very cool, or composed. And what is true is that I generally have a pretty good sense of place and who I am, and what’s important to me. And I trace a lot of that back to that process of writing.
- Barack Obama
Like many Americans, I am scared of what is being unleashed with the changing of administrations, but more selfishly, I will miss the picture of wholesomeness and hope I had come to be proud of these last eight years. I am not saying that Obama was a perfect president, or that I agree with his policies. He deported a ridiculous amount of people who were not harming our country or a threat in any way - hundreds of children among them. He has allowed for detention centers and the prison industry to become profitable businesses that are deplorable and ineffective. His actions regarding police injustices and issues of clean water were cowardly and dismissive at best. Despite these and some others, he made me proud to be an American.

I was lucky to travel to various continents and countries during his two terms and I always encountered people in those places who admired him. When in South Africa a German guy asked about Obama and when Warren said he had met him and shook his hand, the guy acted as though we had said we were friends with Micheal Jackson. He had all sorts of questions about him and seemed more impressed by that, than the safari we were on at the time. 

Aside from politics, it was the way he carried himself that made a positive impression. He was not arrogant and showed genuine interest in others. He came across as a guy with whom you would want to share a beer or coffee. I think a lot of that personability comes from being a writer and a reader of fiction.

As he states in the quote above, dissecting himself and his roots, as he did in Dreams from My Father, he had to come to terms with parts of himself that might never have been explored otherwise. The process of diving into where he came from helped him better understand who he was becoming. It's no surprise that the process of writing something so deeply personal and defining shaped how he wanted to be viewed.

While all his published writing has been non-fiction, Obama also wrote short fiction stories about the people he worked with as an organizer. Having worked in similar roles, I recall people sharing stories with me of their hardships and triumphs. It becomes heavy carrying those stories. Writing them in a way that gives you some kind of control over it helps alleviate that weight.

Obama also escaped his reality through reading a variety of fiction. This was no surprise. As having one of the most stressful jobs I can think of, leaving it behind to bask in the words of Junot Diaz sounds like a necessity. Not only did reading those books provide a place to go mentally, his reading choices also touched on some of the themes and topics he was facing in real life.

Going back to impressions, when I read his interview about reading habits I felt validated in my beliefs that books can change a life. They are tools of growth and reflection while providing a landing spot and launch pad. Having a world leader who understood and valued the role of both reading and writing, and could so eloquently state how it shaped him as a person and helped his career, is a point of pride and connection that I will miss as we prepare for a leader who lacks the same eloquence and articulation and whose example is already leaving vastly opposing impressions on our youth and future.  

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