Waiting to see “someone like me”

 
Photo by  Philip Dean

Photo by Philip Dean

Who are you looking for?

When you look at an ad, or you watch a tv show or a movie, or flip through a magazine or read a comic book or watch the news or scroll through Facebook… who are you looking for?

Without even realizing it, are you perhaps hoping to see, somewhere in the mix, someone like you?

Someone you can relate to?

Someone to whom you can say, “me, too"? 

The media tells us stories about who are, or more accurately, who we “should” be. And these stories are, at best, boring and staid. At worst, dangerous and hurtful.

But this isn’t a rant about “the media.”

This is about what happens when we become somebody else’s “me too.”

 

Allow me to show you what I mean through a few examples.

Example #1: the blockbuster movie

Blogger Laura Vaughn wrote a post about the blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road and what it meant to watch a kick-ass female protagonist who just so happens to have a prosthetic arm.

Laura Vaughn is also an amputee, missing her left hand up to just below the elbow.

Here's an excerpt from Laura's post:

"Because you guys. I am turning 30 years old next week. I’ve been a fan of action film my entire life. And I have NEVER seen a physically disabled, kickass, female lead character in a Hollywood movie EVER – not once, until yesterday...

Watching Fury Road, I felt like I was watching my own struggle brought to life (albeit in a very fantastical setting), and I don’t think I ever realized how truly profound that could be for me."

Laura’s blog post went viral. Like Laura, tens of thousands of people felt something similar.

They also knew – or yearn to know – the feeling of “me too.”


Example #2: The comic book

I read comic books, especially those with strong female characters. And I am a Buffy fan through and through.  So I faithfully read the Buffy comics and its off-shoots, even right down to the fan mail printed at the back of the book... which is usually ridiculous, rambling, and often unintentionally funny.

But this letter brought tears to my eyes.

The author reflects on her relationship with the Buffy series – and one character in particular. He’s a small character, a quirky guy who shows up now and then, mainly as a comic foil.

He’s also very weird looking.

Clem, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Clem, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Not someone you’d expect readers to relate to.

But Chelsey did.

Here’s an excerpt from her letter:

“But as much as I wanted to be Buffy, I never would be. Not because I was a “normal” girl, but because I was a girl with a disability: a skin disability, to be specific, one that causes bruising and tearing, and, most importantly to this story, a lack of elasticity. My skin sags. Everywhere, it sags.

Needless to say, that doesn’t get shown on TV. Until Clem. Clem, the demon with a skin condition, who is also a genuinely nice guy who fights his demonic urges. Clem? He means more to me than I think anyone could ever imagine.” – Chelsey   (Letter printed in “Slay the Critics,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 10, issue 14)

 

Example #3: My own experience

When I was twenty years old the doctors recommended I get a pacemaker without delay.

I was not cool with it.

The idea of having a device in my body was mixed up with a lot of emotion for me. I was afraid it would make me defective or strange; I was afraid that people would think of me differently if they knew; I was afraid I wouldn’t be ‘me’ anymore. (And so on.)

I was a big fan of Star Trek, The Next Generation.

And there was an episode called Tapestry where we learn that Captain Picard has an artificial heart.

Picard has an opportunity to travel back in time, avoid the mistake that cost him his heart. But he learns that by pulling on the “loose threads” in his life, he loses who he is: the risk taker, the courageous leader, the man with wisdom on his side.

I looked back at what I wrote about this in my journal (at age 20) and here’s what I said:

“It is amazing that Picard, who I look up to, whose words give me shivers, also has an unusual, or ‘flawed,’ heart. It’s amazing, really, like Gene Rodenberry was thinking of me.

It’s incredible that Picard discovers that his artificial heart makes him who he is. I can learn a lot from that in itself.”

Captain Picard, from Star Trek the Next Generation, has an artificial heart.

Captain Picard, from Star Trek the Next Generation, has an artificial heart.

 

I still remember watching that episode. It didn’t change everything, of course. But it made me feel a little better about my own perceived imperfection. It made me feel a little braver to do what had to be done.  

And okay, I recognize I don’t have some psychic link with Gene Rodenberry. But that’s kind of my point:

By sharing your story – real or imagined -- you never know who you’re inspiring.

 

Fact or fiction?

It’s not a coincidence that all these examples reference science fiction / fantasy. These genres give us a place to play, explore, push boundaries. Because there are fewer confines we can easily and imaginatively try on new identities and invite others to do the same. But we don’t need a sci fi context to tell our stories.

Fiction and non-fiction can hang together in the playground of human connection.

By representing ourselves – in all our imperfect goodness, real or imagined – we can start to move away from feeling misrepresented, and perhaps more importantly, create a new possible point of connection with other people.

Simply by sharing our own, lived experience we invite others to connect to the weirdness that is us.

 

The moral of the story

Here is your mission, should you choose to accept it:

Add your story to the mix.

Share the stuff that makes you you. Write about who you are, your imperfections, flaws, and fears.

Make up the characters you want to see on screen or in stories; imbue them with the qualities that live inside you -- especially the ones that make you feel lonely, or weird, or a bit different from everybody else. 

Write what isn’t being said. Write what is rarely shared.

Write what will allow someone else to say “me too.”

You never know who is waiting on the other side to hear from you.