#6obama teaching

I had a good idea for a dissertation: I was writing about the relationship between Darwin’s theory of evolution and the narrative structure of British fiction published in the twenty years after On the Origin of Species. I wrote a good introduction, and a really good chapter two, which I was preparing for publication.

I lived in Hyde Park, at the same time that Barack Obama was writing Dreams from my Father and teaching in the Law School at the University of Chicago. I think about what he was doing then, while I sat on the couch with my dog and my academic books watching the same action movies over and over. Obama had a plan, and he had his struggles: after graduating from Harvard Law he worked as a state senator, commuting to Springfield, leaving a frustrated wife and two young kids back in Chicago. I wonder how close Michelle came to leaving him then, knowing that he had turned down million dollar offers from big Chicago law firms to stay in the Days Inn in Springfield three nights a week.

Successful people, I think, have a calmness to them, a serenity they can draw on when things get difficult. I can imagine Obama sitting on the couch with Michelle and explaining his vision. He listens to her, and he agrees that it is difficult, agrees that the job with the big firm has its advantages, and could also allow him to make the kind of difference that he is talking about, through pro bono work, and maybe by sponsoring community organizations, and democracy in action programs. He agrees, but at a certain point he says, “I need to do this. Can you understand?” And she says: Yes.

I don’t have that ability to convince someone else to trust me. I don’t trust me; the kind of obstacle that throws me off for the day is a cashier not returning my smile, or a quick look at my shirtless reflection in the mirror. Funny that he and I were living across campus from one another during those years.