Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Book Tour. I Feel Sort of Important.

When I was asked to host Stacy Parker Aab as for a book tour - my first thought was, "Dude, I love that last name. I bet she was always first on the list!" (I am an odd one. And my maiden name was Wagner, so I may be bitter about always being last in elementary school.)

So, Stacy wrote a memoir called Government Girl. Stacy is a 30-something and you may have never heard of her (no offense, my dear). You might ask yourself, "Why would I read a memoir about someone I've never heard of? Who is so young? How much could she have done by this point in her life?"

I will tell you why - this memoir is equal parts coming of age, a glimpse into the culture of White House, and commentary on what it means to be "young and female in the White House" (and many other places). Stacy, an incredibly driven individual, began interning at the White House as an 18-year-old college student, and didn't stop working hard - graduating from George Washington University, studying at Oxford University, becoming White House staff, and now an author. (My bias: If her emails are any indication, Stacy seems likes an incredibly sweet and sincere gal; she is down-to-earth and witty and I might have a crush.)

I've never had a desire to be involved in politics (the first I'd ever heard of George Stephanopoulos was on a Friends episode, which was happily referenced in Government Girl), so I surprised myself being enthralled with the descriptions of even the most mundane details of working in the White House. ("You mean they have a cafeteria in the White House?! I want to order take-out from it like Stacy did!") My imagination ran wild.

I also appreciated Stacy's honesty about working a job that wasn't best utilizing her talents and the frustration she felt with the mundane tasks of being support staff. I think many 20-somethings can relate to that restless feeling of wanting to do more, of wanting to seek where we are meant to be. Simply wanting more.

There's so much more I want to say about this book (like, oh! the issues of being a woman!), but I will stop because Stacy put up with my interview questions did a little interview with me and what she has to say is so worth reading.


You are have been very, very successful from a young age - interning in the White House, becoming a district finalis for Rhodes, joining White House staff. (And I'm sure I'm leaving a million other things out!) How did you become so driven?

My friend Andrew and I used to joke that if you wipe away the gloss of a hyper-achiever, you’ll find an anxious or damaged soul in desperate need of proving herself. I was born in the city, to a pretty unstable household. Once my father died, we moved to the suburbs. Suddenly life became safer, more stable. However, as a brown girl in the white suburbs, I learned what it was like to feel like a minority—what it meant when the majority made assumptions about you based on their ideas of black & brown people in general. I learned that if I didn’t speak up, if I didn’t keep trying to prove myself, I could be misunderstood. Or worse, rendered invisible. The needs of others like me could be blown off, too. Now, this may not have been the objective reality, but this is how I felt. And I think it’s what pushed me to try and be a strong communicator, and to see if government action could right many of the wrongs around me.

You seem to have followed your passion over the years, which I really admire. What advice would you give to the 20-somethings of the world (ahem, me and many of my blog readers) about following their passion?

It’s easy for me to say, hey everyone, follow your passions, which of course is what I want to say. The reality is that I was blessed by supportive family members who never tried to stop me from pursuing my career, be it in government, teaching, or writing. (Though my mom used to ask all the time: “How long are you going to intern? When are you going to get a paying job?”) I hurt for people who have controlling loved ones who try to keep them from blossoming into their true selves. Perhaps that is the test, though. Maybe you need to break free from those who only accept you as a mirror of their image. However, this is much easier said than done, and to do so can take a lifetime. As they say, freedom is never free. Patriots like to bandy that truism about. But no one will understand that more than a woman—no matter her nationality.

When did you decide to write a memoir? Were you ever afraid that the White House would not approve of you writing about your time in White House?

I decided to write this book 2 ½ years ago. When I left the White House, I wasn’t ready to write a book. Needed time to think and mature. Also needed the time to work on my craft so I could write something worth reading.

I ran some of the early chapters/galleys past some of my ex-colleagues and bosses. I wanted people to let me know if they felt I got anything wrong or if they objected to their portrayals. For the most part, requested changes were few—a few misremembered details. That was about it. People were either supportive or hands-off.

Was I ever afraid of disapproval? Definitely. While I feel I have a right to tell my story, my staff streak still runs deep. Internal alarms go off anytime I might be stating or writing something that could be deemed troublesome for my old bosses. For example, I spent a long time deciding whether or not to include the balcony scene with President Clinton. But once I committed to writing a memoir, one that promised to tell honest stories of being “young and female” in the White House, I didn’t know how I could leave it out. The moment was an extraordinary one—not typical of my day-to-day life. But I'll never forget it. And any reason to leave it out would have been totally fear-based, and I didn’t want to feel cowed or afraid to tell the full truth.

You talk in the book about how much power girls have over men with their body - and how they don't realize that power or use it as a tool. Do you think women (or girls) should use their bodies to get ahead? Or do you think women should use other ways to get ahead?

I think manipulation is a mistake, period. Why push your power on someone else? All I can think about is how awful it is when the tables get turned. If not on you, then on your vulnerable loved one. Live like that and you can’t be surprised when the karma comes back.

Unfortunately, I think it’s way too easy to turn on TV and see all of these vixens and jerks using sex, lies, and force to get ahead, and it’s easy to believe that only the cold-hearted can succeed. However, I’ve been lucky to know and love many good, warm-hearted folks—both male and female--who showed me by example that you don’t need to be an ass to win.

When do you think we'll elect a woman president?

In the next 20 years. I think we’re ready, just need the right person. I think Gov. Jennifer Granholm (MI) could have been a contender—if only she hadn’t been born in Canada. As far as Gov. Palin goes, I don’t think she’s going away anytime soon. But President? No. I can’t see her convincing the middle-of-the-road voters that she can handle the Oval Office.

I met Hillary Clinton once. Are you impressed?

Very impressed. Loved that piece. [Ashley: Ah! A real-life author loved something I wrote?! And called it a 'piece'? Mini-fan-girl moment!] Though I’ve found myself most moved by her when she speaks at events—especially overseas. She really does inspire. Talk about a woman with incredible experience and wisdom. I wonder what she will do next…

1 comment:

  1. You should check out Sammy's House (or it's almost-as-good sequel, Sammy's Hill). They are written by Kristin Gore, Al's daughter, and are also really interesting, fun, and truthful behind-the-scenes-of-government novels.


C'mon, leave a comment. They're the best part!