How I feel when Hillary People shake their heads at me

How I feel when Hillary People shake their heads at me

Throughout my life, I’ve worked hard to balance my idealistic nature with necessary doses of…realism? pragmatism? skepticism?

If you believe in Myers-Briggs, I’m an INFJ.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I married a cynic. Sometimes, the stuff that comes out of my husband’s mouth shocks the heck out of me, but mostly, I am just so thankful that he helps me prioritize and stay focused. When I met him, I was a puddle of naive disappointment. These days, I rarely get that low.

I can remember so many moments in my life when I’ve said something so idealistic that the other person looked away and shook their head in disbelief. “You really think like that?” they’d say, and I’d say, “You don’t?”

The first time I can really remember came in high school. I told my history teacher I wanted to write about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and how it “saved our country.”

He laughed and said, “Don’t let Mr. Jones [another history teacher] hear you say that.”

“Why?” I asked.

“He thinks that the New Deal ruined our country.”

I was floored. “Why would anyone think that?”

He shook his head at me.

In college, got the head shake a lot. I remember studying for a sociology test with a small group, and I said, “Doesn’t this stuff just make you you so mad about the unfairness in the world?” They looked at me and said, “Uh, no.”

Not long after, I was walking home from the library late at night. I’d been there for a few hours, reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle for the first time. It was snowing, so I took a shortcut through one of the oldest buildings on campus. I looked up at the portraits of well-to-do men hanging on the walls, the men who’d founded the school and donated large sums of money to educate their kind. Suddenly I felt my “first-generation college student” status most keenly.

A thought popped in my head. My people have always worked for men like this.

I remember talking to a classmate about Pell grants. He didn’t believe that the government should help people go to a college they couldn’t otherwise afford. “But nobody in my family would be in college if it wasn’t for Pell grants.”

“You don’t have a Pell grant, Cathy. You got an academic scholarship, right?”

“My sister didn’t get a scholarship. She’s here thanks to a Pell grant.”

He shook his head a little sadly.

“You’re saying my sister shouldn’t get to go to this school, but I should because I’m smart? And you should because your parents can afford it?”

There was a pause. “Yes.”

I remember arguing with people in lounges, at parties, at the bar about issues and being told, “Cathy, you just don’t understand how the world really is.”

In graduate school, I remember using Michael Moore’s documentary Roger & Me in first-year writing course. One of my students said he wanted to write his paper on trickle-down economics. I said, “Seriously? You watched this movie and you want to defend the economic policy that decimated this town?”

I’ve forgotten the student’s name, but not what he looked like. A young African-American first-year student wearing a red polo shirt and glasses. He looked at me and shook his head. “Miss Cathy, you just can’t worry about people like that when you’re trying to make money.”

In my professional life–both as a writer and as an academic–I’ve felt my soul itch plenty of times. I’ve sat in meetings and said, “This is a problem,” and watched people chuckle and shake their head at me. I’ve been on the phone and said things to the effect of, “This is not fair” and heard people chuckle and (yes, you can hear it on the phone) shake their head at me.

Also, if you want to see my idealism and naiveté on full display, read my memoir Comeback Season.

Also, if you’ve ever been a good friend of mine and my sounding board, then you know all this is true, and I want to say thank you for listening and aren’t you glad I got married so I can talk it out with someone else now?

I’ve been thinking a lot about that head shake for the last few weeks.

I’ve long since hidden or been de-friended on social media by most of my conservative friends (mostly people with whom I grew up and/or went to college), but my liberal and progressive friends seem to be split pretty evenly down the middle between Hillary and Bernie. And the rancor and disagreement I see really, really unsettles me. I’m not used to seeing so much divisiveness in my social media feed. I guess I got used to puppies and rainbows.

A few days ago, a few women who I greatly admire and who support Hillary shared this article, a satire about the Dem debate in Florida.

This part in particular really got my goat. 

Tumulty: Florida is going to disappear if climate change continues! Here is a map!

Sanders: Oh no! How awful! Do you know what will fix this?

Clinton: Let me guess. A complete political revolution?

Sanders: That’s exactly right! A complete political revolution! That will fix everything! Millions of people are going to stand up and tell the fossil fuel companies where they can shove it!



Clinton: And the same goes for your single-payer plan–


Clinton: We’re just going to — not worry about the Republicans who want to repeal Obamacare, because we will have a guaranteed political revolution that will fix all of this. (pulls out a flask) Sure. Great.

The Civil Rights movement was a revolution. The 19th amendment was a revolution. Marriage equality was a revolution. Many of my liberal friends were behind those revolutions, but fixing income equality is unrealistic? Ah, class. It’s the only -ism it’s still kinda-okay to be guilty of.

Over and over, day and day, I feel like I’m right back where I’ve been all my life: standing in front of people who are shaking their heads at me. I hate this feeling so much.

I need to go off social media so I won’t be subjected to that feeling anymore. But I can’t bring myself to do it. The world is too freaking interesting right now, and I’m just too curious to sever my access to people’s thoughts.

I try very hard not to share every article that revs me up. I try very hard not to argue with people. I hate arguing.

I don’t think I’m capable of changing anyone’s mind about Hillary. I want a woman president more so very very much, but there’s something else that matters to me. I wasn’t quite sure how to articulate what that was until I read this article yesterday.

Here’s the crux:

It doesn’t matter which one is more experienced, or which one’s policies are more likely to pass congress, or which one is more likely to win a general election, or which one is a man and which one is a woman. This is not about just this election, or just the next four years. This is about whether the Democratic Party is going to care about inequality for the next decade.

I know this blog post seems to be about politics, and I normally blog about writing and teaching and literary citizenship and sometimes life, but why the hell do you think I blog about those things? Because I’m an idealist. I’m a chump. If I had any sense, I wouldn’t even be writing this right now. I’d be working on my novel.

Maybe that’s what I’m really trying to get at.

When I write fiction, I’m not an idealist at all. Everybody dies in my fiction. Their marriages suck. Their jobs suck. They’re unhappy all the time. If my stories have happy endings at all, it’s usually just a tiny glimpse of joy.

A few weeks ago, I gave a reading in Indy and it was an angry and funny essay about some of my least favorite Indiana traits. A woman came up to me with a copy of The Circus in Winter and said, “Will you sign this for me? I hope it’s as funny as what you just read,” and I said, You’d better prepare yourself. 

Whenever I think about writing a story with a happy ending, my skin crawls. Why do I write pessimistic stories even though I prefer to live and vote optimistically?

The world is so unfair, I can barely stand it sometimes.

When the smart, humane, educated people I know shake their heads and say We have to be realistic about this, Cathy, I try very very hard not to get angry, as I’m sure they try not to be angry with me. We each think that the other has been taken in–and we have. We’ve been taken in by two entirely different paradigms.

Paradigm: a pattern or model; the generally accepted perspective.

I don’t want to tell you stories that give you hope and reassure you that everything’s going to be okay. Everything is not okay. Everything is really pretty terrible.

I want to tell stories that will make the people sing, Secretary. Singing the songs of angry men.

Perhaps writing fiction is the most idealistic thing I do. Because I believe that stories do cause paradigm shifts. I’ve seen it happen.

I don’t know why I needed to write this, but I did, and now I have.

Goodbye, and don’t forget to vote.




  1. L Toledo says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. I identify with this through and through, and it gives me hope that change is possible; that if you care and I care and enough people care, things can and will get better. I hope one day future generations will look back and wonder how the contemporary cynic was ever considered realistic or reasonable. You can’t see me, but reading this post, I was not shaking my head at you. I was nodding, and saying “Yes.”

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