At one of my colleges (long story), a professor told me that I didn’t say much but that when I did speak, people listened. I once forgot to do the reading and faked my way through a roundtable discussion on medieval Japanese court poetry, so I hope he was talking about another time. But I’ve always hoped he was right, in spite of assuming 99% of what I say is nonsense and no one is paying attention.
Most people already know that aside from having a fabulous VanCon, I went Supernatural set stalking on Monday. Because apparently we couldn’t think of anything better to do in the pouring rain than take a taxi to the far suburbs and walk for half an hour on residential roads with no clue where we were going. To our credit, we laughed the entire way. We stayed for several hours after everyone else left and there was little to see – but just before wrap, Jared waved us across the street onto the set and showed us around the Impala. He had us sit in the actual Impala. And Jensen heard him rev the engine and came out to check on his “Baby”, and I briefly thought Dean Winchester had manifested into reality to kick my ass. Look, I left “speechless” weeks ago. You all know, details or not, that we were incredibly fortunate and fans could not dare to dream of anything better. Last VanCon was my first Supernatural convention; I knew no one. To have come to that place in a year was, and continues to be, simply staggering.
But I’m not sure that was the most unbelievable thing that happened while I was in Vancouver.
At con registration, I lost track of my assorted groups of friends and was wandering when one of three very shy girls came over to me. (I believe they were Japanese fans, but I didn’t want to try any out on them in case I was wrong.) Very quietly, she said, “are you Anne?” She just wanted to tell me that they’d seen the video of the #AlwaysKeepFighting Hall H candles at Comic-con, and how much it moved them. She said thank you. I didn’t know what to say. Only a few minutes later, another girl came up quite excitedly and asked for me by my Twitter handle – her friend saying, “she saw you on the street earlier and freaked out!” She was too shy then to say anything. On the internet, it’s perfectly easy – for better or worse – to forget that all those words scrolling by aren’t just voices in your head. You can’t do that in person.
I’ve enjoyed a modicum of random, bizarre “fame”. I was somewhat known in the cosplay and ball-joint doll communities way back in the day. I’ve had people come by my booth at cons who’ve talked to me online, read my Comic-con guide, or recognized Puppalecki (really!). Once I was on a TV show in Norway and got Twitter compliments from people there who’d seen it. But this was something else. Then on Sunday, everyone had their new AKF shirts on (including me), and it was strange again, knowing Jared put the candle on the design, and sold *thousands* of shirts to people all over the world. And he wanted to make sure I noticed, too; he poked at the one on my shirt. Both times I saw Jared he wanted to introduce me to folks – first to Misha, then to his Creation handlers, as if they should already know me. At HIS autograph session he wanted to introduce me.
I do have a point about something and it’s definitely NOT that I’m cooler than Jared Padalecki. I wrote once about fame as a gift of a flaming brand (a torch); and that those who received it had to choose whether to use it to burn or to illuminate. But I neglected to notice that Prometheus stole that fire from our gods, and gave it to us – calling it “the internet”. Now (nearly) everyone has the chance to be heard and seen. But no one told us. We still assume that everyone ELSE, the cool people, the heroes and the celebrities, have an Olympic torch by default and we’re trying to get a spark from an old plastic Bic. I don’t think this is true. How else can you explain the “Vine star”? I’m not saying we’ll all be famous – even for only 6 seconds. I’m not saying I’M famous, for Pete’s sake, so don’t fixate on that. This was more like accidentally stepping on the tail of fame. It’s just: we’re ALL given this flame, and the responsibility to tend it with love and use it wisely. It’s not the privilege of the famous.
I know we all have so much we want to say to the people we admire. A folded letter we carry with us, hoping for the perfect day we can deliver it. We rehearse it, over and over, in the dark of night when we need to believe that the things we keep in silence can be released into the world if we can only reach the right person. But you’re already holding a flaming brand, standing on a soapbox with a megaphone in your hand – not just online, but in the world. Whatever battles you have to fight to find your words and set them free, fight them. You have something worthwhile to contribute to the world, and I will battle you tooth and nail when you tell me you don’t. And when you speak, make it count. Important people are all around you. You don’t know who’s listening. You may never know, and the value of what you have to say isn’t determined by the listener. Speak anyway. But illuminate with your words; don’t light them on fire to watch them burn, or to burn others. That satisfaction is brief and hollow.
I have a specific memory of sitting on the bed alone in my hotel room at Comic-con, trying to put stickers on candles straight. A song stuck in my head, but the only line I could remember was “and if you can’t stop shaking, lean back and let it move right through you”. And I was, but I couldn’t lean back; so I tried to let it move through me. Quite a lot of doubt and fear and fatigue. I thought of that, sitting in the back seat of the Impala, leaning back against the (extremely comfortable) leather with Jared Padalecki – who was dressed as Sam Winchester, no less – leaning down to the window. Every time I talk about any of this it feels like bragging. Those of you who know the story know that it was intended to be anonymous, that I was totally shocked by the response and the media coverage, and that I continue to be in such a state of disbelief about all that followed that it’s difficult for me to talk about it. But what I want to say is, what I want you to hear: I pushed through that doubt, because I had something to say. Not just to Jared or Jensen, or a fandom that is capable of so much at their best; but to the people who listened, and the people who illuminated, and especially for those I carry with me but are now beyond hearing. Fighting is a choice. And that choice brought me to extraordinary, profound experiences.
So this is why I’m telling this story: you have no idea how far your voice can carry, and by “voice” I mean all that you do. And you won’t know until you try. I SWEAR to you that the things you want are behind the door you think you can’t open. Fear is the lock on that door, and your passion is the key. You don’t cease to be afraid, you just learn to keep going anyway because it matters. Don’t wait for that door to open for you*. Get out there in the world carrying your words like a torch, start and finish all things with love, and make it happen for yourself.
(*Unless you can’t figure out where the door handle is in the Impala; then it’s probably okay to have help.)
Note: I decided to add a footnote to this. Even though it’s discouraging you from using celebrity worship as ammunition in your belief you can’t succeed, it’s not meant to diminish how incredible some of these people are. Only to point out that being an amazing person and being a celebrity are not directly related. If you ever ask me how I feel about Jared Padalecki, or Jensen Ackles, or basically everyone who’s ever been on Supernatural, or the writers, or the guy who lays the damn floors – you better be ready for a MUCH longer post than this.