Dear Governor Ducey,
I’m back from Minnesota where it was cold and snowy and windy. Maybe spring is windy across the northern hemisphere. Why it is 20 degrees in Mankato and 70 degrees here, I do not understand. I promised the Minnesotans I’d bring the snow with me, but the snow doesn’t listen to me anymore. It’s been a week of recognizing the limits of my persuasive voice. I taught a letter-writing workshop in Mankato where I argue they should listen to my suggestions. I’m batting 1000. I’ve written Governor Ducey over 200 letters, and he hasn’t listened to a single one. I tell them about how you know my kids, my husband and my writing projects. I say, write to someone directly so you can establish intimacy. Use a great example. Tell a story. Set a scene. Put your body in a place, and they will listen to you.
I tell the students, maybe one day, if you get the wording just right, something will click in the reader’s brain, and people will stop using plastic, stop idling their cars, stop driving their cars or support increased funding for education. I say, imagine that all your letters are a slow moving river but that at some point, one of your letters tips into the faster-moving channel, bounces over rocks and salmon and finally lands in the openhearted space of your letter recipient. I write letters to you about falling in the rivers, into cacti and in the snow because I believe you might see that mistakes, like decreasing funding for education, can be overcome. Just stand up! Write a check. Invest in your community, because it will take care of you in your theoretical old age.
My optimism also means that I’m always disappointed. I’ve written so many letters. Not only no response, but no budget increases. Instead, there’s a wave of new advertisements lying directly to voters that says “Education is being supported like never before” from people who support your campaign. Propaganda is a lie that presumes people won’t check the facts and will swallow whatever line is given them, hook, line and sinker.
Is optimism a lie too? I think it may be. It’s a mental trick to try to get out of looking at the hard, impossible things. It will be OK, I tell my kids. But it isn’t OK. I just came from a meeting where we talked about how to promote the humanities in the community, how to bring the sciences closer to the humanities, how to connect students with community groups—and we get so close until we realize that we have so little funding to achieve these goals. We meet on top of our regular teaching duties. We are trying to make progress but at 10:30 a.m., we have other meetings to attend, classes to teach, papers to grade, students to welcome to the new program. To say it will all work out is to gloss over the real truth that funding is being cut everywhere and, without it, we can’t do what we optimistically said we could do. I’m sorry to everyone to whom I said, it will all work out. I was wrong.
So this week, instead of talking my cheerful head off, I’m going to join with some fellow optimists, some skeptics, some pessimists and some cynics. We are all going to cover our diverse perspectives on the future and cover them all in red. We’re going to wear red shirts and red eyeliner. Red glasses and red pants. Red fingernails and red bandanas. We’re going to paint our faces red and our lips red. We’ll dye our hair red and paint our cars red. We are going to get together at Historic Brew and Bottle Co. and drink red beer. We’re going to eat at Fratelli’s and eat red pizza. We’re going eat red ribs at Satchmo’s and red hot chicken at Root Public House. We’re going to Flagstaff Ski Haus, and Macy’s European Coffeehouse and Beaver Street Liquors and Mama Burger because they support the people who believe that change must happen now.
So far, my snow metaphors haven’t made a difference. My river metaphors haven’t made a difference. My hiking metaphors haven’t made a difference. But maybe this ‘red’ metaphor, more wall than words, more wave than letter, will show you it isn’t just optimistic, futuristic hope that you’ll increase funding for education but an immediate necessity.