What do writing, politics and the Tarot have in common?
On November 7th, 2017, I was elected Town Supervisor of Pine Plains, New York. Well, not exactly. I lost by 22 votes. Just as I was celebrating having survived campaigning and gotten that close in a Republican town, I got a text from a friend in politics: don’t give up—there’s the absentee ballots! On November 22nd, Thanksgiving Eve, I was running around the county buying groceries for the 20 people I was having over for the holiday, and baking pies and—“We’re counting absentee ballots at 1:30 today. You’re welcome to come down and watch,” said the head of Democrats at the Board of Elections on the phone. He sounded like Tony Soprano.
Every choice is a moral dilemma. Did I remain on my path, preparing to feed the people I love most in the world, or did I jump in the car and do my civic duty, knowing I was going to watch myself losing, but at least I would be a True American, participating in Democracy at the level just below actual voting itself. I chose to go down to Poughkeepsie.
The Board of Elections is on a side street of Poughkeepsie, an old river town. If you didn’t know it was there you wouldn’t know it was there. The interior was painted with a mint green leftover from State Institutions for the Insane. There are no walls, just a lot of desks, and one long table where Marco Caviglia, 6 feet 3 or 4, sat opposite a diminutive, young, confused-looking blonde female with a pony tail, who was representing the Republicans since the real Chair had taken off early to celebrate the holiday, and didn’t think the smallest towns in the County were all that interesting, I suspected. She was nervous.
I watched as they examined the ballots and threw a bunch away for being sent on the wrong date, or not signed across the flap. I knew they were probably Democratic votes. The Dems are fierce about voting but resent being told what to do, even by the instructions that come with just about anything. (There really isn’t anything wrong with Ikea furniture—Democrats and anarchists just can’t bear being told that there is only one way to assemble a cheap Swedish shelf.) Then they began counting votes. An hour later I had 42 votes and my opponent, who hadn’t come down to watch, had 19. When we added that to my previous tally, I’d won by 1 vote. Marco told me they’d run the ballots through a machine to certify them before sending them up to Albany to be certified again, but that I could tell my friends I’d won.
So I did. I called everybody.
When I reached Pine Plains, after blissfully playing the Allman Brothers all the way home through our blessed land of no cellular reception, there was a message on my phone: the final machine tally was 41 to 18, but we found a ballot, which makes 19 for your opponent, which means you are tied.
Now, I am no math whiz. But I knew something was amiss. I’d had 42 not 41. Where was MY missing vote? It was too late to call them, they were all gone out of the office. I would have to wait until Monday. 4 days.
The town went insane. Everyone was worried, no matter what the outcome would be. For many on my side, it was the difference between hope and despair. For those not on my side, it was all about a favorite son getting in and continuing the syncopated security of white men they knew, in charge of the town.
I was exhausted. I talked to many people. Most of them told me not to fight it. Something about fate and destiny and… I listened. Yes, fate. Let the universe handle it. It would sure be a relief to have all this over. The tie would be settled by the Town Board in January, which left the town without supervision for quite awhile, and no one in training to take over. That felt wrong. That felt un-Democratic. But there was nothing I could do. It was fate.
Saturday was Town Decorating Day. At the back of the Community Center, after I had perused the crafts tables and chosen a vast selection of hand-crocheted American Flag ornaments for my tree, I found myself at a table where, for $15, I could get a brief Tarot reading and the money would go to Puerto Rico. The moral pressure of that was too great. The hurricane had devastated them, and those in Washington refused to help them because they always voted blue. Here was one way I could stand up against fascism. I sat down.
Lisa is from Queens. She has always had “the gift.” She asked me to choose 4 cards, and I did, really staring at the backs for some indication of which to choose, a light perhaps, or an aura, the kinds of things I never saw anywhere. I picked my cards and she turned them over.
I hate reading and hearing about other people’s dreams. They are always so random, the images seemingly arbitrary and unstructured and ultimately boring. I can never follow them. Suffice it to say, I feel the same about stories about Tarot readings. So, in a nutshell, Lisa looked at me with her big beautiful dark eyes and said: You are going to have to fight for what you want. It’s not over.
Crap. I would have to change.
Monday at 9 a.m., determined not to roll over for no other reason than that Lisa and the cards had told me not to, I called the Board of Elections and demanded a recount. I had to argue at length with a very forceful man, which is so unlike me; and in the end, he told me he would try. On Tuesday, he called to tell me that they’d found the missing ballot, and I’d been elected by 1 vote. Again.
On January 1st, I was sworn in as Town Supervisor.
What has this got to do with creative writing? Everything. It was my training in perseverance, my training in collaboration, criticism, close reading, and breaking down lessons that prepared me for political office. I did not know this until I got into office and realized the similarities, and how I could apply the things I did every day to the task of running a town.
My MFA and my life working in the theatre has proved essential to working in government at the local level. My long list of rejections as much as my many small successes have served me well. Now I can apply it all directly to real people, not characters. Although I meet great characters every day at the office. Make an appointment and I’ll tell you all about them…