La La How The Life Goes On

Carpe Diem

Posted on: August 12, 2014

Since the apparent suicide of Robin Williams yesterday, social media has lit up with tributes rooted in profound disbelief that a man so funny could have been in so much pain. In every outlet, people are sharing memories of adolescence informed by Dead Poets Society. Memories of childhood on the couch with grandparents enjoying Jonathan Winters and kids enjoying Mork. Memories of all of his varied and influential roles on the big screen. These tributes are often accompanied by lists of “favorite Robin Williams quotes.” Only, the quotes are not Robin’s. They are his characters’. A difference with a significant distinction.

The power, appeal and danger of celebrity is that it makes us feel like we know someone we have never met. It gives us a sense of ownership of that person based on what their work has meant to us in our lives. Robin Williams becomes special to us because Mr. Keating spoke to something in us. Because Mork evokes memories of our childhood. Because Adrian Cronauer spoke to the hopes and heartbreaks of a generation. We felt like we knew Robin Williams. We obviously, sadly did not.

How often do we bring this same false sense of knowing to our personal lives? How often do we assume we know someone based solely on what they have effected in our lives, rather than on what is actually happening in theirs? That’s my brother, the doofus. That’s my sister, the earth mother. That’s my cousin, the yuppie little miss perfect. That’s my niece, the child who always achieves and makes me proud. Families have a way of setting up narratives, story lines. With characters who are expected to play their defined roles. We see it played out at Christmas dinners across the land. You arrive at your childhood home a grown man and within the hour you are the Kid Brother from 1986. You arrive a fully-realized professional woman and leave an insecure 14 year-old. We see the peace rupture when a “cast member” no longer plays their assigned role. When they no longer recite the words we expect them to say, that we need them to say in order for our continued role-playing to make sense. We think we know people. We really, truly don’t.

Just for today, resist thinking that you know someone. Ask yourself “What DON’T I know about this person? What could I learn about this other, precious human that might have absolutely nothing to do with me, my needs or my expectations of them?” See beyond the public laughter and witness what remains privately when the laughing stops.

While you are doing that, consider dropping even one element of your OWN character’s facade. Back in the day, in the midst of personal and professional turmoil, I called a friend to lament my situation, my inability to get out of the hole I had so spectacularly dug for myself because doing so would reveal my current abject failure. Abject failure was not part of my character’s back story, not in the approved script. My role in my family and in my life was to be the Golden Girl. To achieve. To be smart. To be successful. Failure was for other folks. My role specifically called for near-perfection. My friend, the amazing JMW, changed my whole life simply by giving me permission to go off-script: “What’s the worst that will happen if the world finds out you are a sometime fuckup just like the rest of us? You don’t owe anyone a cleaned up version of yourself. You owe us the real you. People who can’t deal with the real you can just move along.” Boom. That script? It’s not worth the imaginary paper it’s written on. It’s not gospel. It’s not canon. It’s something I can rip up and rewrite at will. Yes, that will throw the rest of the cast into chaos, maybe. But they are responsible for their roles. Not me and not mine. From that moment I began to rewrite my script. Began to blog about my fuckups. Began to laugh about them. Began to unload the weight of carrying the hopes and dreams of previous generations on my back. I will achieve what I achieve. The ghosts of my poor, striving ancestors will be proud either way.

So today I’m giving you the gift my friend gave me: permission to flip the script. To rewrite it, delete entire sections, rip it up, burn that mother and all its expectations down. You don’t owe the world a funny, happy, shiny version of yourself. You don’t owe the world a Facebook-ready photo shoot of contentment and joy and fulfillment. You don’t owe the world a damn untrue, inauthentic thing. You owe yourself the opportunity to be the real you. The unscripted you.

The amazing, talented, loveable, fucked up you.



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