Some Have It Thrust Upon Them

When I was a senior in high school, my English teacher had the temerity to suggest I enter politics. I looked at her as if she had recommended I become a porn star. Didn’t we all agree that politics was for soulless ladder-climbers? This teacher, who was prone to melodrama, winced at my response and cried, “But if not young men like you, Bill, then who?  Who will lead us?” I didn’t know, and I didn’t care. But the very fact that she had suggested I consider politics made me uneasy. At this time the other job for which my teachers agreed I was best suited was television news anchor. A news anchor, it seemed to me, had all the polished shallowness of a politician only without the pretense of convictions.

This was a strange time in my life. Adults were hurling accolades my way, all of which had to do with leadership, none of which had to do with writing. I was chosen to attend leadership conferences; I was given leadership awards. I was made the editor of the school newspaper, co-edited the yearbook, and read the news on the school radio. It was all very flattering, but also a little bewildering. I didn’t want to be a damn leader. I wanted to be a writer. Leave me alone.

Many years later I wrote a very autobiographical novel based loosely on the summer between my senior year in high school and my freshman year in college. I was very protective of this book, and was finding the submission process particularly difficult. At this time, my wife had taken to pulling “angel cards,” little cards inscribed with a single word, on whose meaning you were supposed to reflect. Whenever I pulled one, the card that came up most often was Leadership.

“Lead what?” I thought. I had told the world to leave me alone, and it had—quite completely. Now I found myself in the position of asking that same world to invite me back to the party. I sensed those angel cards were right. If not me, then who? Who could lead me back to the world but the one who had led me away from it?

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