“I think I do overshare,” Fisher says. “It’s my way of trying to understand myself. … It creates community when you talk about private things.”
I wasn’t going to write another post this year. I thought I was done writing about 2016, and that I would start fresh in 2017, writing about going (once again) to the MLA conference. But then George Michael died. And then Carrie Fisher died.
And I read this.
I didn’t think the thoughts and feeling I had about the death of these two celebrities would amount to more than a couple of tweets. But the more I read and the more I thought about it and the more I allowed myself to feel, not just sad, but overwhelmed by the variety of feelings I was experiencing, especially as I read and relived the pieces of
pop culture art they had produced, and how it shaped and continues to shape me, especially this year.
My love of Star Wars is well-known. But I think the loss of Princess Leia hit my daughter much harder. She, who was embarrassed when she was showed up at ballet when she was five or six, dressed at Princess Leia, while all the other girls were Disney Princesses, but who stood up anyway, and declared herself a self-rescuing princess. Who recognized right away that she was the one who saved the day when we first watched the movies.
No, what I am most mourning is Carrie Fisher, the witty, wonderful, articulate, doesn’t-give-any-fucks, writer. Her press tour last year for The Force Awakens was a re-discovery for me. I saw this interview and noted as I shared it on social media that I wanted to be Carrie Fisher when I grow up. She was open and honest and slapped down any criticism about aging or her weight. She also was a visible and honest advocate for mental health issues.
I needed someone this year who could show me that I could be myself – flawed, older, fatter, louder, over-sharer, struggling with mental health issues – and still thrive, and it was Carrie Fisher. I want to be Carrie Fisher when I grow up. So while Princess-cum-General Leia is the hero we need in 2016, Carrie Fisher is the hero I needed.
[George Michael] never, for one second, had street credibility, but he had something better: The outrageous confidence to always pretend like he did, in victory and defeat alike. They don’t make ’em like him anymore. They never did. He made — and remade, and undid, and reinvented, and for longer than anyone could’ve guessed survived — himself. – George Michael’s Outrageous Confidence
One of my first cassettes that I listened to until it wore out on my brand-new yellow Sony Walkman, the kind every swimmer had to have because it was waterproof, was Faith, by George Michael. I was 11 when I got that Walkman for Christmas, and the album had probably been out for about a year. I had seen all the videos. I already knew all the singles. And I loved the entire album once I was able to buy it.
The discovery of the album coincided with a phase of my own…self-discovery. Madonna had arrived in my life a bit too early, but Faith was a revelation to me as an 11-12 year old. It was the biggest album of the year, and I could quietly and privately, through my wonderful new piece of technology, listen to it as many times as I wanted to, just about whenever I wanted to.
When Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 came out in 1990, I pounced on it. It was a complete departure from Faith, but it was, again, the perfect album for my 13yo self. Freedom was a perfect song for me, at that time, as an emancipatory anthem for a girl trying to figure out who she was, but understanding it wasn’t what people thought she should be. This album was about as rebellious as I was willing to go, but it was just rebellious enough that I thought, maybe I’ll get through this.
The rest of the album is starkly sad, nakedly emotional, and fantastically poignant. Once again, I found myself alone with my Walkman, listening to the beautiful songs, allowing myself to feel profound sadness and longing, at that time, indeterminate and unfocused, but no less real and powerful. Now, now that I’m older, listening to the album completely wrecks me.
There is more to say. I could break down each song on that album, line by line, in terms of what it meant, and now what it means to me. At the end of the day, that’s why Listen Without Prejudice is a more lasting album for me than Faith, but both had an important and lasting impact on me when I was growing up.
We’re born, we learn to be afraid, learn to be looked at, learn to be quiet, we bleed, we give birth, we age, we’re forgotten, and then we die. So much of what we encounter—marriage, raising children—is meant to hold us painfully still. Those who don’t offer gratitude for this stillness or choose to take control of their own movement…are punished, sometimes quietly and other times deafeningly…They’re marked as Bad, as Nasty, and maybe even Wrong or Unnatural. – Becoming Ugly
I read this post, Becoming Ugly, and suddenly the impact of these two death snapped into sharp focus for me. These were people who I admired at one point or another who were transgressive against the norms and didn’t give a fuck. At all. There were no fucks to give from either of them. At least not publicly. They stayed true to themselves, however imperfectly, and they inspired me, however incompletely.
I wrote, a long time ago, it seems now, a series of posts called Bad Female Academic. While it might now have meant it at the time, I wanted it to be a tentative, imperfect, incomplete attempt to be one of those Bad, Nasty, Wrong women I had long admired and admittedly feared.
I wrote one, specifically, called I Want To Be Bad, which prompted this response in the comments: “If you have to think and write about it this much, then you’ll never truly be “bad.”” Admittedly, painfully, that person was right. Too much of who I am is in direct conflict with being “bad” or “nasty.” But too much of what has happened to me has closed off “good” to me as a possibility.
Or at least, not “unbroken” or “unbound” or maybe even “pure.”
Both Carrie Fisher and George Michael, for me, represent the potential and possibility of being all of these things, at once, and at peace with those conflicting and conflated identities. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to give zero fucks, or be in a state of chill (or as that same commentator noted on how I’ll never truly be bad, “Bad boys and bad girls operate on an instinctual zen level of badness.”).
No, scratch that. I know for a fact that I’ll never achieve this “instinctual level of badness” (holy shit do I ever not miss my trolls over at IHE). But, what Carrie Fisher and George Michael achieved was a level of acceptance that I am still working on. They wore their, if not “badness” then at least their transgressions, the ones that they couldn’t help, the ones they couldn’t be bothered to hide anymore, on their sleeves, more proudly than I have yet to master.
That George Michael died, who had much to do with my sexual awakening, while at the same time dealing with a sexual assault that had happened a few short years earlier, and Carrie Fisher, who talks so openly about mental health issues in a year that I wrestled relatively openly with mine…So much that I haven’t even started to write about, so much that I have felt ashamed about for too long about myself.
Both of them embraced who they were, unapologetically. Maybe this year, 2017, is the year I finally figure out a way to embrace who I am, unapologetically. I might never be bad, but it’s a rebellious act to be able to be who I am without apologizing.