No Ordinary Life

It's my father's fault, really.  He always used to say, "You three kids are so smart.  If you would just put your heads together, you could make a million dollars."  He was never very specific about how, exactly, we were supposed to make this million, but it generally included something along the lines of writing/acting/movie making.  He was trying to be encouraging, I think.  But, not yet having made our million--nor, indeed, put our heads together about anything since his 60th birthday party--it's hard not to feel that we've somehow missed our chance.

But at what?  I write (here, but also in an academic context); my brother writes novels as well as lectures and blogs; my sister works as a script supervisor.  We might have the talents to make something spectacular, but spectacular is not (necessarily) what makes millions.  Pop is.  The real question is, do we want to be pop?  Or, indeed, famous?  You know that I've struggled with this one over the past couple of years.  Yes, I've told myself, I would like to be famous.  I would like millions to read what I've written, have thousands come to my next book launch, change people's thoughts and lives for the better with what I've researched and thought.  I'd like to be the next Elizabeth Gilbert, the next Marilynn Robinson, the next Dorothy Sayers.  I want to be a great writer.  But I also, in my weaker moments, want to be, yes, a movie star.

Julie Benz at Wizard World Comic Con Chicago
Like, say, Julie Benz, whom I have watched for hours and hours over the past several years portraying first Dexter's damaged girlfriend Rita Bennett and then the supermom/scientist Dr. Stephanie Powell.  She is fascinating to watch, so poised and elegant, clearly showing the years that she spent training as a figure skater.  And she has such a sweet voice, just a little bit husky and worried, but strong as well, even when she is playing a character like Rita who has had so many things to be worried about.  I confess, I liked her better as Rita than as Dr. Powell.  She was somehow too proper to be a scientist, too poised.  Nor was I persuaded by how she played being a mom, even a mom with superpowers.  But.  But watching her, I could still find myself wanting to be her, not me; wanting to be there on screen with so many people watching me steal their hearts.

Or did I?  I had a chance to see her in person, as it were, this weekend at Wizard World's stop in Chicago.  There she was, on Autograph Alley, with a line of fans eager to make their way up to her signing booth.  And she kept at it, as far as I could tell, all day: smiling, enchanting, being herself.  The question is, was I jealous?  Oddly, unexpectedly, seeing her in person amidst all those fans, no.  No, I quite truthfully wasn't.  Which is strange.  Because she is very pretty.  And personable.  And clearly good at her job.  (One of the benefits of having my sister be a script supervisor: she talks about how impressive it is watching the actors and actresses work--reminding me that, yes, they're acting, not just being themselves.)  And much, much more popular than the other stars in her row.  (Which couldn't have been much fun for her neighbors.  Just saying.)

Autograph Alley
Was it simply the context in which I happened to see her (along with her other headliners, Sir Patrick Stewart, Christopher Lloyd, Lou Ferrigno, Felicia Day), not at all as glamorous as I had been expecting, indeed, the very opposite of glamorous, quite common, really?  There Christopher Lloyd was in a t-shirt, and Felicia Day looking quite ordinary (albeit chipper).  And even Patrick Stewart, albeit clearly the most professional of the lot, just an ordinary man in a nice shirt.  The superheroes and Stormtroopers and steampunkers who came dressed for the occasion were far more exciting, far more--oddly--real.  Would I want to be Julie Benz signing autographs as myself?  Not as much as I would like to be Princess Leia in her bikini costume, if preferably after being rescued from Jabba the Hut.

Which makes me wonder.  When we (fans all) say we want to be like the stars on whose faces we obsess as they enchant us on screen with their craft, do we really mean that we want to be them--Julie Benz, Carrie Fisher--or is it that we want the lives that their characters have, full of danger, adventure, and--you guessed it--meaning?  Because, after all, is not this the real difference between our lives and the lives of the characters whom we watch on screen?  The characters exist only in stories, which means they exist only in a context to which their makers have given meaning.  Purpose.  Direction.  Enemies to overcome.  Victories to celebrate.  Souls to save.

Princess Leia Organa
It's not the money that's important, I see this now.  Nor is it the fans.  It's the feeling of having a purpose in life other than making money, other than being recognized in a crowd.  It's being the hero (or heroine) of your own story.  It's being loved.  For which, as we all know, fame as such is a wholly inadequate substitute.


  1. As a teenager I was quite the music fan, to the extent of waiting backstage at the concerts I attended for just that one closer glimpse or even better, an autograph, from one of my revered musicians.

    What I learned is what you describe above - they're just people. Maybe prettier or more talented than us "mere mortals", but mostly just doing their thing that happens to be a lot more visible than most.

    I decided a long time ago that being famous looks like too much trouble - managing the fame becomes a second job!


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