When I was a kid, I thought being famous had to be the best job in the world: everyone taking your picture, clamoring for your autograph and hanging on your every word. Never a moment of insecurity or doubt about your self-worth or inherent awesomeness.
I remember my last night as a grade-schooler, unable to sleep as I pondered my upcoming first day on the big bad junior high campus. Instead of the same familiar pack of munchkins I’d been running with since kindergarten, I’d now be forced to meet an entire legion of new students.
And I was terrified.
Whether or not you’re concerned that the White House is in danger of turning into a satellite campus for the Kremlin, there is one thing we can all (hopefully) agree to be thankful for: we live in a country where we possess the freedom of expression.
Think about that. I mean, really let it sink in.
If you have a book, film, artistic work or even a simple bumper sticker-sized message to share with the world, no one will physically prevent you from putting it out there.
You can proclaim your faith – or lack thereof – and you won’t be thrown in prison.
You can champion a cause that sears your soul. At the top of your lungs, and in broad daylight.
So, in honor of this privilege, it’s time to realize that “just add water” is only a good directive for condensed soup and Chia Pets. Not so much when it comes to speaking your personal truth.
One of my very favorite Far Side cartoons is the one where the guy is admonishing his dog, “Ginger, I told you to stay out of the garbage! I’ve had it, Ginger!” and all she hears is “Blah blah blah…Ginger…blah blah blah…Ginger!”
I find it hilarious because – more often than I care to admit – I converse with my dogs like this after they’ve dug a hole to China in the backyard or treated the cat box like their personal snack bar. As they listen to me ranting in exasperation, I can see the thought bubbles forming above their canine noggins: “Oh, silly woman. If only you knew the joy of dirt flying in your face, or the delectable taste sensation of fresh cat turds. But alas, I shall let you continue in your blissful ignorance of the finer things in life.”
(Okay, so my dogs have ridiculous thought bubbles. They get it from their Mom.)
I confess, I am a sucker for talent shows. Okay, so they’re cheesy, overproduced and hosted by vapid mannequins with serious self tanning issues. But I can’t help it. Every time I see one of the hopeful contestants take the stage, I am drawn in. Not just by their stunning voices, but the bravery and backstories that got them there. As I listen, I am praying that they don’t have to go back to anything that involves a cubicle or wearing a giant rat costume for a herd of screaming five year olds eating pizza. Considering my own shower-and-car-only voice, I believe each and every one of them should be the next world dominating superstar.
But then they’re eliminated. And I fall prey to the same insta-thought that nearly everyone else does:
“Well, they didn’t make it. Back to obscurity.”
But really…says who?
I don’t have human children. But if I had chosen that path, I would’ve wished for one just like my friend Amy’s daughter, Audrey. She’s intelligent, sweet, hilarious, creative and can rock a pair of glasses like a mini Tina Fey. And she adores the many four legged beasts that rule our household, so bonus kid points right there.
So when Amy told me that Audrey was singled out by a girl named Kale who whose sole mission was to turn the entire third grade against her, my heart sank. In spite of Audrey’s best efforts to reach out, no one would break ranks and dare to be her friend. And in typical mean girl fashion, everything from her hairstyle and clothes to her name was subject to ridicule. (Note to self: a chick named after a cruciferous vegetable is critiquing the name Audrey?)
Years ago when I was still a scripting newbie, I decided to enter a fairly well known screenplay writing contest. One of the perks of coughing up the $50 entry fee was receiving an evaluation of your script by a professional screenwriter, so I was pretty excited about that. I envisioned that even if I didn’t win, the person critiquing my story would tell me that it was hilarious, engaging, unique…and, with a few tweaks here and there, virtually Hollywood-ready.
A few months later, when the winners were announced (and none of them were me), I received my evaluation via email. I was nervous as I opened the document, but still eager to receive some encouragement from a pro. Instead, my eyes jumped immediately to these words: