Des Moines, Iowa: Politics and Prose

I was in Des Moines last week (…sorry, for those who don’t speak French, you might know it as “The Moines”) as part of the Des Moines Public Library’s 2011 AViD Author Series.

I’d never been to Iowa, and I have to admit that there were only two things I knew about the state: that they were famous for their potatoes (“That’s Idaho,” sighed Liz) and that it’s the first presidential primary in the country. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I’m a total political junkie. Always have been.

I was picked up by Jan, the Marketing Manager, who took me to three interviews that morning: two radio interviews and one TV interview. I purposefully never plan what I’m going to say, even when I’m giving a long presentation – I just kind of blurt out whatever pops into my head. Helps me not be nervous.

But on that morning in Des Moines, I found myself sitting in that first interview, furiously trying to figure out a good joke about visiting Iowa to declare my candidacy for president. I was answering questions, but in my head I was working through the various iterations in my head. Would it kill? Or does everybody and their dog make that joke when they came through Iowa? Would they roll their eyes?

In the end, there was never the right moment. That’s part of the problem with talking about child trafficking – I like to think of Little Princes as a fairly light read, but you end up using up all the getting-to-know-you chat on family and where you’re from, and by the time I was ready with my zinger, we were already talking about the plight of kids in Nepal. There’s pretty much no good time for it at that point.

Before I knew it, my window had closed, and I was off to receptions. For being a pretty small city, I met some impressive people: Dr. Richard Deming brought 14 cancer survivors to trek in the Himalaya. Charlie Wittmack completed the World Triathlon (including summiting Everest, all to raise money for Save the Children), Roxanne Conlin (our host), was a former US Attorney and gubernatorial candidate.

Meeting all those folks took my mind off politics, which is good because it’s way, way too early to start obsessing about this stuff. At least, I thought it was, until two nights ago when I turned on CNN to discover the GOP presidential debate.

Debates this early in the election cycle are all but useless; it’s candidates trying not to say things that will blow up their campaign (in other words, trying to avoid anything that smacks of the truth). Every answer was so mind-numbingly scripted that even I couldn’t stomach it. Liz and I turned it off in favor of the 2011 MTV Movie Awards, which we had DVR’ed.

If there is an opposite to an early season GOP Presidential Debate, then truly, it is the MTV Movie Awards.

I know how you ladies feel about Robert Pattinson and all, but I cannot remember cringing so much watching one man on stage. The guy had this nervous laugh, he cursed, he literally at one point said “Oh, is it my turn? The prompter just says ‘Ad-Lib’ but I don’t really have anything to say…uh….(nervous giggle).” And this was when he was supposed to be talking about about Reese Witherspoon’s charity work.

It got me thinking: which one of these performances is worse? Is it the Mitt Romneys up there who are staying so determinedly on-message that they literally repeat the exact same phrases over and over about how their father worked in the mines or whatever? Or is the Robert Pattinsons, who are so ludicrously ill-prepared that millions of viewers watch and pause, pizza en route to mouth, staring at this train wreck of an acceptance speech?

The fact is, at least Robert Pattinson was being himself. He wasn’t worried about what people thought of him, he wasn’t hyper-scripted, terrified that somebody might catch him saying something that didn’t fit his image. He was just being kind of dorky.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve been the Mitt Romney in this situation. I find myself trying to be liked by as many people as possible, which means that I try to not rock the boat. If I’m with a bunch of guys making some offensive jokes among themselves, how often do I actually call them out on it? Probably never.

But I want to be that guy. My friend Charlie seems to have this skill; he has this instinctive honesty in the moment. And while that made him probably a poor choice as a Best Man in my wedding (though to his credit he was uncharacteristically diplomatic), it makes him a good friend. It’s probably the trait I admire above any other: that honesty, combined with not worrying how that honesty will make you look in front of others.

The gutting thing is that this makes Charlie the Robert Pattinson in this scenerio, and it makes me Mitt Romney. (Full disclosure: I once actually tried to style my hair like Robert Pattinson – it didn’t take.) People don’t swoon over Mitt Romney. Not outside Provo, they don’t.

I want to be the guy who calls it like he sees it. I want to be the guy who is himself, no matter how many people are watching. I want to be Robert Pattinson. And frankly, I can’t see my wife arguing with that.

By | 2018-01-19T21:00:06-04:00 June 15th, 2011|19 Comments


  1. Charlie June 15, 2011 at 9:48 am - Reply

    well, well, well. This is undoubtedly the finest piece of writing to ever grace the internet. I’ve never seen its equal.

    Of course, i had to Google who Robert Pattinson is. The guy from Twilight, huh? Interesting observation, because being a pretty boy vampire actually comes in 2nd on my list of things i didn’t expect to become. Right behind minivan owning Omaha resident.

  2. Conor June 15, 2011 at 10:22 am - Reply

    Well, this is awkward – I actually meant a completely different Charlie. “Best Man” was more of a figure of speech – like “Yo, that dude who mowed my grass? He’s totally the Best, Man.”

    You don’t have the hair for Robert Pattinson. You never will. Nevaaahhh!!

  3. Liz June 16, 2011 at 5:58 am - Reply

    I think Mitt Romney is very handsome too. And I second the compliments about our best man Charlie. We thank God for the Agullas all the time. (Literally, not figuratively.)

  4. Conor June 16, 2011 at 6:43 am - Reply

    I guess Mitt is pretty handsome – he’s got a jaw like a block of granite, that’s for sure. Though I don’t think he could pull off transforming into a vampire in the pacific northwest. Or even a werewolf. (Team Jacob baby!!!)

  5. HSeslteacher June 17, 2011 at 5:47 am - Reply

    I just finished reading your book! I am from central Iowa, so I’m disappointed that I missed seeing you here earlier this week. Can you suggest any good resources for high school students about child trafficking? We’ve read about it some in my classroom, but I’d like to point students toward more facts.

    • Conor June 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm - Reply

      It’s a good question, I should know – I don’t know any off the top of my head, I’m afraid. But feel free to email us through the Next Generation Nepal website and maybe we can figure something out!

    • Nancy June 20, 2011 at 10:23 pm - Reply

      Here are some resources about child trafficking, straight from the NGN website:
      Hope this helps!

      • Conor June 22, 2011 at 10:22 am - Reply

        I forgot we had that up there! Nancy, you’re awesome, thank you for keeping me on my toes!

    • zmy cheney June 22, 2011 at 3:26 am - Reply

      sold is a great book by patricia mccormick about child traffiking. It’s fictional.

      • Conor June 22, 2011 at 10:22 am - Reply

        I have to check that out. Thanks Amy! (Or shall I call you by your nom de plume: Zmy?)

      • HSeslteacher June 22, 2011 at 7:06 pm - Reply

        This is one book a few of my students have read and part of the reason I found Conor’s book so interesting. Another related fiction book is Iqbal by Francesco D’Adamo about a young boy in Pakistan. It’s based on a true story.

        Thanks to Nancy for pointing out the resources. Obviously I hadn’t explored NGN’s website thoroughly yet.

  6. Marcy Prager June 19, 2011 at 4:54 am - Reply

    Would Liz let YOU run for president? You are a better choice in my eyes! “The Real Deal”
    What makes a good president?

    Sense of humor
    Speaks the truth easily without looking at notes
    Has done good services in his/her life
    Is a parent
    Is a writer
    Is a global citizen
    Has visited the U.S. people BEFORE running for president
    Has a good work ethic and a growth mindset
    Is TRULY intelligent

    This is a no-brainer! I’ll be your education advisor!

    • Conor June 21, 2011 at 10:07 am - Reply

      And I get to play golf with John Boehner!

  7. Jo June 20, 2011 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    I live outside of Des Moines and I am glad Iowa treated you well…even with the potato gaffe…

    And, Mitt with Edward’s hair and Jacob’s abs! That may actually work. Twilight fans are serious business. Maybe this will be the new demographic, like ‘soccer moms’ or ‘NASCAR dads’.

    • Conor June 22, 2011 at 10:24 am - Reply

      This is the best idea ever. Get ’em young, like the Justin Beiber fans. Yes We Can rule the world!

  8. Elizabeth June 22, 2011 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    Hey Conor! Wish I’d known about the Des Moines visit in time. You’re Kind of a Big Deal in my family at the moment. So far, your book has been read by me, then my 82 yr old mother, then my older brother, and now my 19 yr old son. In your description of yourself, hope you’ve reserved room for the word “multigenerational”.

    Best wishes to you and lots of admiration.

    • Conor June 23, 2011 at 8:09 pm - Reply

      Thanks Elizabeth, I really appreciate it! Would love to get back to Des Moines – had such an amazing time there. Next time I’ll meet the whole fam!

  9. Karina August 24, 2011 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    Hi there! I’m a teen living in central Iowa and just completed my absorption of your book. I call it an absorption because I quite literally started reading and sat in the same place oblivious to the rest of the world for four hours until I had read the entire thing cover to cover. It is…incredible. Your story is inspiring and it makes my decision to go into public policy work even stronger. However, that’s not my point. I wanted to ask you if you had an advice for teens in their late years of high school, or perhaps beyond, to get into public policy and help the world in the way you do? Helping all the people who so desperately need it. Thanks for your time, haha; I realise I just wrote an essay…

    Also, I’m so sad I missed you while you were here! I hope you come back some time soon!

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