Ten minutes from the other normal

March 10th, 2009

Bear with me, because this story is one very long exhalation before a breath of fresh air.

I can remember, with all the shiny embellishment of my well-oiled memory, that day of paralyzing dread and mortification. The day Karen P. Hughes stood on the steps of the Texas Capitol and began her steely assertion that her client, George W. Bush, had been elected president.

It was days after the undecided election of 2000. I was a relatively new mother, my baby just one year old. The air quaked with my fear for our future. I was a new mother, but I was a very old PR hand. And when I saw Hughes take the stance before the cameras, indispensable mouthpiece to a crime in progress, I was shocked with the horrifying intimations of what was to come.

This can’t be happening, I wasn’t alone in thinking. Except I’d been in the business, and I knew how it could happen.


I’d spent 20 years as a public relations person, until the weight of my freight and unfulfillment sent me packing. Don’t get me wrong. Speaking the truth can help groups and individuals get along. Communication can build good things. But I could no longer do the heavy lifting for my most prized clients, the revered and well-paying corporations hell-bent on getting you to overbuy, overpay, overindulge, overborrow, overinvest, overeat, overdrink and overmedicate – and slaughter the competition besides.

Although she had hitherto been unknown to me, I confess I despised Karen P. Hughes, and not for what she said and did on those steps or in the years after. In my egoistic view, she had already robbed me, but had just begun the process of blinding everyone else.

For starters, she had stolen my name, Karen, which means pure.

As your average local TV reporter, she’d shredded what standards remained in my early calling, journalism.

She and her gang had stolen my great state from the real deal, the inimitable Ann Richards.

She’d debased my profession, PR, with the indelible stains of deception and malfeasance.

Before long she’d be touted as distinguished, even genius, a bestselling author, a role model, a mentor, a diplomat and the most trusted advisor to the leader of the free world. This took all my faith away. As a publicist, I could attest that no PR person should ever be elevated to that echelon of counsel. I’d learned that clients who thought they had a “PR problem” never really had one. What they invariably had was a product problem. A very bad product problem. And that’s what we had.


Even before Bush’s first term was up, Hughes left to write a memoir, Ten Minutes from Normal, which turned out to be nothing but a PR ploy on the road to getting him reelected. She went on an audacious promotional tour that had her booked into schools and churches and libraries where eager audiences sanctioned her folksy tales by swallowing them whole. Everyday for two months I had to drive past a private Catholic high school in my neighborhood with a big banner strung end-to-end across its facade. Karen P. Hughes: Ten Minutes from Normal. There she spoke to another full house. I felt like the only wide-eyed bystander of an ongoing rampage.

Now they’ve stolen our schools.

They’ve stolen our churches.

They’ve stolen our towns and cities.

They’ve stolen our hearts, our minds, our goodness, and our faith.

Hughes earned her reputation as the best PR person in the world, but it turns out I needn’t have worried so much about it all.


I’ve been recalling that title, Ten Minutes from Normal, quite a bit lately. If you’ve read my book or heard me speak, you know that we are never ten minutes from anything or anywhere. We are never away or apart from reality. From life as it is. From truth. But if you are in the practice of systematically fabricating another reality, one you pathologically regard as your alternate reality, an empty construct of self-serving delusions and hyperinflated lies, if you practice naming up as down and wrong as right, then you most certainly are at least ten minutes from normal.

Those are the most destructive ten minutes in the world.

These days, which must be the very last days before we land on our rock bottom, these days seem to me to be really ten minutes from normal. Only this normal is going to be the real normal. Normal here we come! Normal here we are!

Fellow travelers, we are home at last. Free and brave. My message today, after all this ugly grumbling, is to take heart. This land is once again our land. I am once again proud to call it my own and to give it my name. This very minute is nothing but normal.

We are going to be okay. Thanks for sticking it out with me.


  1. Karen I just realy love your way with words.

    Comment by Cat — March 10, 2009 @ 9:58 pm

  2. I don’t even watch the news, just hear bits of public radio … are you sure it’ll be okay? I’ll believe you if you say yes, I’ll take a deep breath and let go of my worries and fears, if you’re sure it’s safe.

    I hope your right. Please be right.

    Comment by Mrs. B. Roth — March 10, 2009 @ 10:00 pm

  3. They packaged lies, fear, and stupidity and spoonfed it to our masses.

    It still stings.

    But, I am hopeful. It’s good to get this out, Karen. We all need to get this out of our system(s). Then, maybe, we can begin to heal, individually, collectively…

    I wish it had happened differently, but I am glad the veil has been lifted. Our old ways were not sustainable. I look forward to seeing what we can do now.

    Great post!! 🙂

    Comment by Cam@Journey Wildly — March 10, 2009 @ 10:09 pm

  4. Hallelujah!

    Comment by Puanani — March 10, 2009 @ 11:06 pm

  5. A fellow Texan? You put that wonderfully. I’m just sorry Ann Richards and Molly Ivins didn’t live to see this day.

    Comment by J — March 10, 2009 @ 11:16 pm

  6. I believe you. We ARE going to be okay.

    I share your exhalation.

    Fear be damned.

    Comment by Rowena — March 10, 2009 @ 11:20 pm

  7. Thank you

    Comment by Robynsart — March 11, 2009 @ 2:16 am

  8. Amen and amen (if I may be ecumenical.) Along with J, I hope that Ann and Molly (whom I believe are now one with the is-ness of all that is) rejoice with us and lend their humor and sound counsel to us who remain in this here and now.

    Comment by Holly — March 11, 2009 @ 2:42 pm

  9. with some hesitation i write this comment. but ive got to be honest.

    first let me start by saying how much i love you. your words have guided me in some of my darkest moments in this first year of mommyhood. i am often drawn to a corner in my house reading your book in comfort.

    now for the guts. a few weeks ago i decided i needed a mommazen fast. it seemed it had gotten, to me in my world(i know this is your blog who am i to say these things – write whatever you want, its your space), a slant negative. the place i used to come to get perspective on all things i percieved difficult, crazy, wrong, and hard had become well not such a place for a moment. the posts with the usual links didnt have the same clarity and sunshine in the end as i thought before.

    for whatever reason i decided to walk down cheerio road today and i am so glad i did. i have missed visiting you. this post was especially perfect in all the ways you are able to see and share the world.

    we are never 10 minutes from anywhere. oh how i love this! maybe for a while i thought i was 3, maybe 2 minutes from you. maybe not. mabye i dont know what im talking about…either way, im glad youre here.

    Comment by latisha — March 11, 2009 @ 9:14 pm

  10. I have this idea of a dog named Normal. Instead of calling the dog to come to us (Normal! Come here!), we let it know that we are ready for its faithful companionship. “Normal here we come! Normal here we are!”

    My brain is a strange thing some days.

    Comment by Judy Merrill-Smith — March 12, 2009 @ 12:40 am

  11. My husband worked on Ann Richards’s first run for governor. He got to drive her father around. He was devastated when she lost re-election even though he approval ratings were very high. To this day he still mutters how the world would be different today if she had that election.

    We are at last filled with hope.

    Comment by marta — March 13, 2009 @ 1:23 am

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