Paul for Pete: Politics. Theatre. Life. One Man’s Adventures
(or, How I Became a Septuagenarian Fanboy)
recounts the 14 inspiring, life-changing months I spent as a volunteer for Pete Buttigieg’s campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, first as a successful grassroots fundraiser and digital investment captain; ultimately as a member of Pete’s Arts Policy Advisory Committee. There are sidebars and detours galore, including my travels as a professional theatre director, which made it possible to keep up with Pete: in South Bend, for his declaration of candidacy; at rallies in Reno; for dinner in Chicago; and on Zoom calls throughout the campaign. It was an exhilarating time, which I hope Paul for Pete captures, along with the various off-ramps and cloverleafs of my life, as I moved out of darkness and despair into daylight and hope.
Some well known friends offer advance praise:
“Early in his rich and beautiful book, Paul for Pete, Barnes tells us that Pete Buttigieg, his modern American hero, describes politics as a kind of soulcraft. For me, soulcraft aptly describes Paul Barnes’s deeply generous and sweetly moving memoir. This ever-curious and oh-so-alive-man brings us into the heart of his own history as an artist of the American Theater, as an out and proud gay man, and as a passionate lover of his country and its democratic system. With his fluid language, laced with delightful humor, he gives us not only his hard-won wisdom, but his soul. And perhaps even more importantly in our present political climate . . . hope.”
“I’m most struck by the life-ethics of authenticity and abundance Paul Barnes attributes to Pete in his very own way of being and living – in his generosity to the many places he visits, and the many people with whom he creates community. While he uses the joking reference of “fanboy” to describe himself, what comes across more significantly is the recognition in Pete of his own hopeful perspective on humanity and on the country that is so divided.
Paul’s writing reminds me very much of Philip Roth’s – who shares a playful humor in his asides, an ability to take the reader on many side-bars that provide a more nuanced fabric of environment and character, and that also reveals a curiosity that can follow any thread on its way back to main theme.”
“Paul for Pete weaves three compelling stories, three worlds for readers to discover. First, the journey of entering national politics through an astute beginner’s inspiring commitment to the Buttigieg presidential campaign; next, the life of a freelance stage director, which I have never found evoked so explicitly; third, the meeting of a friend in the author, whose life and love story unfold as the best of memoirs do. Beautifully crafted, delightfully wry.”
“Paul for Pete was a labor of love for me and I wanted to take time to enjoy it. Happily, I devoured it in one sitting with revolving cups of Coffee, Tea, Sam Adams and Scotch devoted to each chapter. It was a feast all the way around.”
“Paul for Pete is a love story. It’s a rapid-read romance with the American Dream, A Life in the Theatre, and True Love nurtured, created and savored over time. As a Series Editor for a London Publisher and longtime Editor of a Shakespeare magazine, I only dream of stories that weave love, honor, politics, sacrifice, and redemption into a coherent, authentic tale for the times. This is a remarkable 21st century experience captured for all those interested in the theatre and American politics.”
“I love first person accounts of history and was hooked as soon as I finished the disclaimer page. I fell in love on page one of the Dedication, regarding living in abundance — not scarcity. Once you read the chapter titles, you won’t be able to put it down.”
“I loved everything I read in Paul for Pete: Politics. Theatre. Life. One Man’s Adventures. But then I had to put it down so I could have my own adventure.”
…other generous friends offer their praise:
(click photos to enlarge)
“How could you not like a book by the gifted writer, Paul Barnes?”
“Paul for Pete is an anthem to taking a chance.”
“Don’t change a word! It’s like sitting with Paul for a wonderful, extended conversation.”
“Lovely! Reads like a dream!”
“I am completely captivated by your adventures, your passion for decency and justice in our country, and your observations of the world we live in as you criss-cross the country. I think strangers will be equally fascinated!”
“How fun to re-live Reno again through your writing! You have such a clear memory for detail and a direct way of writing. I’m so impressed how well you’ve put it all together, telling the story from such an important perspective. And the photos throughout bring the words to life.”
“Paul for Pete fills me with hope. Filled with humor, history, and extraordinary connections of all the people you met along the way — with Pete at the center, of course.”
“I knew when I met you, I would love your heart. What a treat this glimpse into your life has been! I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
“Incredible. So well done. Completely engaging. Best of all, you come through in every single word.”
“[Paul for Pete] should be required reading for theatre students to understand what a real life in the theatre looks like. And that you can find and cherish true connections with people And also, that you can make things happen . . . if you just do it.”
“It really is just so much fun to read. I saw an interview with Salman Rushdie in which he said a good book is one where you cannot wait to turn the page to see what happens next, and your book is just that.”
“I enjoyed it so much, in fact I read it in just two sittings, because I found it that convivial and engaging.”
“Absolutely wonderful! Whoever said your writing flows like water was . . . absolutely right.”
“Altogether a terrific read – informative, and moving. Enjoyed it tremendously, and I think your voice comes through beautifully and authentically.”
“Your writing is charming: witty and insightful, generous and warm. Your journey is compelling because you are so deeply curious about and interested in the world. You find a way to recognize and articulate the universal inside of the very specific niches and communities you inhabit. I am VERY impressed with my friend, Paul Barnes.”
“I’m in awe of the work you have done. Paul for Pete is immediately engaging and a joy to read.”
“Hilarious, moving, and gripping. It is always clear and engaging. It’s almost like you do this storytelling thing for a living.”
“Paul for Pete is a juicy book, drops lots of names, many interesting anecdotes. Now that I think about it, it could be diagrammed as at least four intersecting Hero’s Journeys, twining those threads in an engaging, unorthodox way: 1) Paul’s introduction to politics and his work on the Pete Buttigieg campaign; 2) his years as a free-lance director and the thousands of people he has encountered in some depth; 3) Jim’s stroke and Paul’s accompanying him on his long, still happening, journey through rehabilitation to recovery; 4) His coming to terms not with his own gayness but with the world’s reception of it.”
“I followed your journey with Pete’s campaign and your increased involvement throughout and felt like I was right there with you. It made me smile to feel your infectious passion about what Pete stands for.”
“I was in awe of your relentless, passionate, and generous work with Pete’s campaign. Your model of civic engagement and justice-making inspired me to more thoroughly engage in the election process and to create concrete action steps to make change. You are a true septuagenarian inspiration!”
“I became fascinated by the skills relations your book uncovers. You’ve been living the “campaign” for decades to generate compelling theater, train the next generation, carry the torch. How seamlessly and, I surmise, unconsciously (at least at first) that life’s work translated to your work for Mayor Pete’s campaign. In essence you noted how those of us in the theater are natural community builders, partly by the transient and/or ephemeral nature of the work, and how those things give us the ability to build community quickly and meaningfully. There’s so much to explore there: how shaping narrative collectively builds those communities in theatre; how a political campaign is, in essence, the attempt to create a compelling narrative in a fairly short amount of time, in an atmosphere that is highly competitive in terms of attention; and damn, how many campaigns could use professional storytellers in their midst to help with that??”
“I’ve known you for almost 50 years, and you have always been a tireless traveler, regaling your lucky friends with stories — sometimes humorous, sometimes frightful, always entertaining– from your countless road trips across America and intimate familiarity with every Courtyard Marriott between Oregon and Florida. But the journey recounted in this book — as Pete’s wingman, I like to think of it — is of a different sort. This journey began as a political quest before it transformed into something deeply personal and moving and downright inspiring — the steadfast devotion of one of the best humans I know to another of like mind, vision and heart. It is thrilling, but not surprising, that you found Pete and his campaign, and they found you. We’re all better off because of it.”
“Now, I’m going to make a confession. . . I was so moved and motivated by your daily Pete posts throughout the entire election cycle. Your enthusiasm was infectious and I just wish a few more people would have joined the chorus (including myself). Your passion and corresponding content made an impact. I can tell you that first-hand.
“I know, looking back, that your posts helped gradually crystallize my impressions of Pete as a viable candidate and, by the spring of 2020, my clear favorite. I was certainly subject to many other voices and media, but your passion and authenticity struck a chord with me. I liked Pete. I was curious about Pete and, early on, impressed by him . . . but you helped me to be inspired by him.
“And at the end of the day, I think it’s a really beautiful example of the power of the grassroots movement that carried him as far as he got. I mean, he wasn’t the odds-on favorite. Too young. Too inexperienced. Too gay . . . Not a household name and, shit, with that name . . . BOOT-EDGE-EDGE . . . he had his work cut out for him . . . But damnit . . . he’s a star. And I do believe if he keeps his nose clean he can, should and will be president. I think he’s that good.”
Part Two: Courtship
4. A Challenge, A Phone Date, A Bit of Back Deck Anarchy
It was in the middle of July we got word we’d have an opportunity to chat with Pete via Zoom, and if we were able to join this particular call, we could submit questions in advance. As I was on break between directing assignments, I was home and available to join the conversation. So I RSVP’d and sent off my question. I don’t remember the day or date, only that I was sitting in my office, mid-afternoon, when the call came through. Mike Schmuhl was hosting, and I remember the call was a helpful check-in opportunity to update us on progress, deadlines, and goals, and for Pete to express his gratitude for the work we were doing. After 20 minutes or so, Mike and Pete opened the floor to questions.
Several went by before I heard Mike say, “We only have time for one or two more; this one’s from Paul in Oregon.” For some reason I had been confident my question would be selected, mostly because I thought it was a little off-the-beaten-path and didn’t have to do with the standard issues (healthcare, women’s rights, climate change, immigration, etc.). And on this particular call, which seemed to involve a relatively small group of volunteers, if selected, we could pose our inquiries ourselves (rather than have them read by the moderator/host).
I introduced myself – “Paul from Oregon” – and mentioned I was a professional director, which seemed to ignite a spark of energy or interest from Pete (“Oh, wow!”) — again, unexpected. I then posed my specific concerns: “Could you talk about the value of the arts, and how being a trained musician helps prepare you for the office you’re seeking?”
Part II: Courtship
Paul Mason Barnes is an award-winning theatre director, administrator, and teacher. Inspired to get off the sidelines and put other people’s money where his mouth was, he became a dedicated volunteer and top grassroots fundraiser for Pete Buttigieg’s campaign for the 2020 Democratic Presidential Nomination.
Previous involvement in politics was as a one-thin-dime donor, occasional poll worker, Hillary Clinton volunteer, committed voter, and frequent kibitzer in the “Comments” section of the New York Times editorial page. Friends often tell him, “Get a room.”
He executed a near-death, 360-degree spin out on black ice returning from a Pete rally in Reno, got lost on a detour during a 10 PM downpour in Louisville on his way to South Bend for Pete’s formal declaration of candidacy, and ran into an almost burning building to rescue a Pete/2020 plastic water bottle before fleeing the climate fire about to engulf his neighborhood, giving new meaning to the term “fanboy.”
Barnes’s directing work has been reviewed by the Wall Street Journal (“Authoritative, resourceful”), Newsweek (“Superb”), the Washington Post (“Lucid, compelling”), Opera News (“Profound”), Denver Post (“Stirring, wrenching”), St. Louis Post-Dispatch (“Vivacious, brilliant, bold, impassioned”). He hopes Paul for Pete will do half as well.
Barnes makes his home in Ashland, Oregon with his partner, actor-director James Edmondson. This is his first foray as an author, except for program notes, love letters, long-winded emails, Facebook rants, graduation speeches, and forged excuses to get out of high school Physical Education classes.
Listen in on Paul’s conversation with fellow “Pete authors” Lisa Fleishman (Boots on the Ground: A Grassroots Tale of Neighbors Stepping Up & Into Pete Buttigieg’s Historic Presidential Run) and Sue Ann Rawlins (Traveling the Trail for Pete: Finding Belonging in a Political Campaign) on Sue Ann’s podcast, Twitter Travels for Pete. Find out what inspired them, how each found their own path of support, and what they think the future may hold.
More streaming options here.