the miraculous journey for good heroes.
Sometimes I stumble upon someone who makes me think: huh, here is a fascinating, seemingly admirable human being. So I get out The Hero List. Because before I decide to officially make someone my hero, I have a really picky list of Criteria (capital C, because criteria matters). (You realize I'm about to list some of these Criteria now?) (FYI: none of the Kardashians have ever made my list) (ditto all Fox "News" analysts plus Rush Limbaugh and the creator of Girls Gone Wild) (I know someone who finds all of these people heroic, and if you're reading this That Someone, I'm not scared to let you know you need a better hero list):
*Does this person seem like a kind person? Do they seem approachable and real?
Side story: Once, I met an author--I won't name her, but she was a Somebody in the world of Writing Somebodies--who I gathered enough courage to speak to at a book reading/signing...a BIG thing for me, an incredibly INFP person, to do. I went up to her, her book in my shaking hands, and asked her to sign it. The book was about a diary she'd kept as a young writer, and I thought she'd written a lot of interesting, important things in it. I gulped down all my starstruck and said as she autographed the title page, "I really loved what you wrote about journaling; it's something I've always done, since I was little." Her response? "God. I hate that word 'journaling'. I prefer 'keeping a diary' or 'writing down thoughts.' My mother always called it journaling, and my mother was just so...SO. You shouldn't call it that. That's not really what it is."(Please re-read that in a really judge-y kind of tone of voice.)
I threw her book (and her stupid snotty autograph) in the trash when I got home because I just felt so ucky about her then. In my brain, I knew I'd just met a person with (clearly) deep psychiatric mother issues, but my heart was broken. My heart was just a jumbled up mess of confused and broken disappointment. A simple, humble "Thank you" is nice and (I think) the best route to go when someone tells you they admire you or your work...because we all have our issues, believe me--no one gets out of childhood alive without them. So unless you're paying me the big bucks, I'm not a psychotherapist to help you through your mental woes; just a girl who thought you rocked as a (insert creative outlet job here) and wanted to let you know it. Because if someone did that to me, it would have made my day, so I'm hoping it'll make yours and that you won't be a complete a-hole. Please don't be an a-hole, we have far too many of those already.
(To be fair: I do think experiences like I had with Arrogant Author are also quite good for us, because those tend to stick with us for awhile in our scarred over and bruised hearts, so they teach us how to treat others and make important decisions on who and how we want to be.)
*Are they genuinely talented and freakishly smart? I mean: Will they make me aspire to be like them? Will they inspire me to be better? Isn't it always awesome to run across people who not only make you want to be you and make you feel good about the You you already are, but also inspire you to want to be a better version of you? I love these kinds of humans; my sweet friend Carol is one of these, and I think this crazy rock we're flying around on is better because she's here.
*Are they people I'd invite to my house for dinner, or even just meet for coffee? Do I have conversations with them, read things they've written, or listen to speeches they give, or enjoy creations they've gifted to the world and do these things make me think: Man, I wish we were next door neighbors all the time! I'd pick up your mail and keep vigil over your house while you're on vacation. AND invite you over for barbecues every summer.Certainly I'd loan you all my lawn tools.
*Do I sense we could talk about sensitive subjects (politics, sex, religion, the bizarreness that is 21st century American public education) and this person will not create in me a deep and driving need to punch them in the neck? These kinds of humans are so hard to find these days. (When did we, as a species, become so divided over things that will matter so little 200 years from now? And why are people so ANGRY about everything? What are you so angry about, fellow Earthlings?) (Here, let's pause to allow Frozen's "Let It Go" play in our brains until it gets stuck there for the next 3 hours.) (You're welcome!)
*Do they have a good sense of humor? Oh, this is so important! Having a good appreciation of irony along with an irreverent, self-deprecating wit is such a delicious quality in a person. I think people with a good sense of humor flavored heavily with irreverence, self-deprecating irony, and maybe even a good dash of gentle, sardonic wit are the kind of people who ought to be running the planet, because they're smart. Smart people like irony; that's why not too many right wingers get irony (HA! I kid! I kid the right wingers...in a very ironically sardonic way).
But, for obvious reasons--reasons like being too smart to wind up in some Corporate Sleazy Guy's pocket--those who are irreverently ironic will not ever run anything global. But they should at least be in charge of a very large Homeowner's Association somewhere, in my opinion.
Have you ever met one of your heroes? Elizabeth Gilbert (a tremendously important hero of mine) has met some of hers, and she wrote once about it. About the relief when your hero turns out to be a true hero, someone worthy of your admiration. And I have a long list of heroes from various different artistic fields I'd sell a lot of my worldly possessions to just to be able to shake hands with, or even just stand in the same room 5 feet away from and breathe the same general oxygen. And every time I envision myself meeting one of these people, I do it with a deeply held breath of hope with some tightly crossed fingers that the person will get to remain a hero in my heart after we shake hands or make brief but meaningful eye contact across a crowded room. Because I don't want to throw any more autographs in the trash.
Here's my point: I wrote to Kate Dicamillo recently, a new hero I've discovered, who wrote The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (please read this book if you haven't and/or share it with your child/ren if you haven't yet; it won't just change your life...it will change your HEART. Your whole heart will be softened in magnificent, magical ways you don't even know about right now. I mean, seriously: you don't even KNOW).
I'm writing about this because it's terribly big for me: I rarely contact people who are heroes I don't personally know, but I love and admire from afar. Doing this intimidates me, because I worry I'm bothering them and/or they won't respond, or that they will respond but they'll respond in a weird, you-are-in-deep-need-of-a-good-therapist tone of voice, which means I'll get the sads and won't know how to feel about them anymore. I want my heroes to stay my heroes--don't you? This planet is full of Crazy with a capital C; I sense it has a lot of hearts crying out for a good hero or three to safely harbor forever.
I hope you have some of your own heroes. If you've met some of your heroes, I hope you haven't had to throw any of their work in any trash bins. I hope you get a chance to have at least one of your heroes' full attention over coffee and a long chat one day. I hope you come away knowing your heart made a right choice and your hero gets a permanent home in it. (And I hope you have a very detailed list of criteria for who gets to be a hero in your heart, because I don't think sipping coffee with Donald Trump's self-promoting egotistically weird hair would be quite as awesome as sipping coffee with the Dalai Lama beaming across the table at you with his laughing, kind eyes. Just sayin'.)
And go read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane! Right now! It could save your life.