This is how I’m imagining it: last night on Air Force One, after the President of the United States tired of listening to his aides discuss this and that for far longer than a lame duck president should have to listen, the POTUS stood up and stretched his tall, lanky body toward the ceiling of the jet’s briefing room. He’s tall enough to touch the ceiling and there are faint marks there of his handprints. The cleaning staff can’t bear to wash them away and the people in charge of “important” stuff don’t look up at the actual ceiling often, what with their focus on the horizon, so the marks stay, a secret the workers share amongst themselves.
Just as the POTUS turns toward his sleeping quarters, yawning as he goes, another aide comes in with the gift the Governor of Nebraska had handed him earlier in the day – a book, now processed according to protocol of the Federal Protocol Gift Unit policies, a book, now listed in the Daily Journal of the United States Government, a book written by an obscure author from Nebraska. The Governor didn’t have to read the book before he gave it, as many people who read many books had vetted it. He had received his copy just that morning when he signed the proclamation declaring said book the 2016 One Book One Nebraska selection. (I’m still working on the part of this fantasy where the book actually changed hands.)
Anyway, the POTUS takes the book and glances at the cover. It’s a nice cover, the photograph of storm clouds on the horizon compelling, as is the title, The Meaning of Names. He’s tired though so he doesn’t think he’ll read tonight. Still, it’s such a nice looking book, maybe just a sentence or two. “When Gerda was five, her older sister came home to die. No, not to die, to give birth, but dying is what she did.”
The POTUS has a soft spot in his heart for women and their stories, as many men raised by and married to strong women often do, and so he decides to read a couple of more sentences just to see what’s up.
At 2:06 a.m. President Obama shuts off his bedside lamp. Michelle will like this book, he thinks, as he dozes off. It’s not just about Nebraska, he will tell her, it’s about the grit and integrity of the American people, about the dangers of “othering” people from different backgrounds, about facing dangers and the importance of families and communities. Just read it, he will tell her. You’ll love it. I know I did.
A girl can dream, can’t she?
Parts of this fantasy are true. On January 13, 2016, Governor Pete Ricketts did sign a proclamation declaring my novel The Meaning of Names the One Book One Nebraska for 2016; At the Proclamation ceremony (a three to five minute event in a line of several proclamation signings) I did have the chutzpah to not only give the governor a signed copy of the novel, but also to offer another copy for him to give to President Obama when he greeted him in Omaha later in the day. I didn’t plan it. I just did it.
My inscriptions in both books were scribbled quickly and I can only hope they were coherent, or illegible if they weren’t. It was a rash decision that may yield nothing more than a whole lot of fun among my writing community. A journalist friend has already published a column about the experience, summarizing my Facebook posts wherein I bemoan being stood up by the governor who ditched me for the POTUS, only to be surprised that he didn’t ditch me and instead gave me a grand opportunity put a copy of my book into Obama’s hands. I told her I hadn’t stopped laughing and smiling all day after I handed the governor the books.
How can I not smile about this? Think about it, the president, a Democrat, and the Nebraska governor, a Republican, may, just may, have a copy of the same book on their bedside table. At the UNO MFAW residencies I’ve given more lectures on the importance of working together than I’ve given on any other topic. Sure, I give the lectures different titles, but basically I keep hammering that same theme. We rise or fall together, I say. The purpose of art is to push back the darkness, I say again and again.
The books I handed the governor yesterday weren’t just my books, they were gifts of peace, of connection. I hope those small sheaves of paper and ink are up to the true and mighty task I dream for them.