The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. This week we reflect on figures who died in 2016 that had some influence on us and our way of understanding the world.
I wanted to be Princess Leia. Maybe I still kind of do.
And it wasn’t just the hair (but c’mon those buns!) or the Han Solo factor (I love him….surely he knows). It most certainly wasn’t the metal bikini. No, something in seven-year-old me saw in this character, specifically in what Carrie Fisher made of her, what all the visions of Disney princesses never showed me.
Somewhere in a galaxy far, far away, being a princess was not about frolicking (complete with musical numbers), dancing with forest animals, wearing fancy dresses, or being wooed by a variety of banal, cookie-cutter princes. Being a princess meant being a leader with the primary focus of your life to obtain justice and peace for your people. Facing enormous risk to personal security and safety, imprisonment, torture- even death- a princess must stand in the presence of evil and injustice and refuse to fall in line. A princess maintains fierce loyalty, makes bold decisions without men (sometimes to their aggravation), can be the rescuer rather than the rescued, wear a dress OR pants with impunity, and do all this while still being open to the reality of love. Of course she can also strangle her lecherous, obese, slug-villain oppressor with the cords of her own bondage in a twist of enormously satisfying ironic justice!
Writing or directing could not have evinced all of this for me; I feel a great deal is owed to Carrie Fisher herself in creating this vision of female strength. She was seemingly unafraid to play a character with backbone that could sound, look, and behave harshly when necessary. In a world (and a career) that consistently tells women to soften their approach and demeanor in order to be accepted as a leader (or a dramatic heroine), Fisher dared to make Leia strong, even unpleasant to those she disagreed with.
I work with actors and experience directly that they certainly are not the characters they portray. But now, having learned more of her life, hearing Carrie Fisher, not Leia, speak in interviews, I feel she clearly possessed a great deal of Leia’s courage and resilience within her. She became known for candor in speaking of personal struggles and joys, addressing mental illness, addiction, family, fame, career, love, and all with humor that invited people in. She explained her oversharing tendency derived in part from a desire to make other people feel comfortable.
Not only did she give us a fictional character that honestly and actively lived her convictions, she lived a public life that actually made people feel a little less alone in the midst of their own absurdity of living. I admit to intermixing all these qualities of Leia and Carrie Fisher that I admire, but ultimately I suppose they can only ever be an idea for me. I didn’t know her personally, so I grasp her only peripherally. But in a way that I hope she wouldn’t mind-a way of great gratitude for her personhood and life on the same planet, in the same galaxy, as me.
I would like to conclude by pointing out that she also once played the title role in a Fairy Tale Theatre version of Thumbelina, which I found to be extremely gratifying as a child, since I already knew her as my favorite heroine. If you thought obtaining intergalactic justice as a woman was a feat of overcoming odds, just imagine being the size of a thumb.
Talk about good things come in small packages.
“There’s only one person who could be behind this. Stephano. He’s an evil mastermind – he keeps dying but he’s never really dead. He always comes back.”
That’s how my mom introduced me to the infamous Stephano DiMera. I was probably eight or nine years old, and the summer days were long and empty but punctuated every one p.m. by the same words: As sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.
It was the only soap opera we watched. Mom knew all the characters and all the complicated back stories because she had watched it with my grandmother when she was in school herself. Basically it was a family tradition. And I loved every salacious minute of it.
Indeed I saw Stephano return from the dead several times over the years, in between kidnappings and brainwashing spells and dispatching henchmen and building force fields. He was by far our favorite villain and would pop up in our conversations over and over again, long after I grew up, left home and we both stopped watching the show.
When I heard the news that Joseph Mascolo had passed away, after bringing Stephano to life – and back to life – for over 30 years, I texted my mom immediately. I said, “I don’t buy it.”
Perhaps that sounds like mockery, but I truly meant it as an expression of my love for this crazy, wonderful, absurd, generation-spanning tv show that was, for me, only the first seed of what would become a lifelong adoration of good stories. Of course I grew up and moved on to more powerful stories, from King Lear to Things Fall Apart to the Orphan Master’s Son. But before you cultivate a reverence for the power of stories, first you just have to love them.
Thank you, Joe Mascolo. You were truly the worst, in the best possible way.
2016 was brutal. Harper Lee, Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, Debbie Reynolds, Pat Summit, Arnold Palmer, that guy from Firefly.
In 2016, my community was grazed by Hurricane Matthew. The weather forecasters had predicted a direct hit on Central Florida, but in my little town, we ultimately didn’t experience the worst of the wind and rain. Still, when we went for a hike at the nature preserve a few miles from my home, we found that some of the tallest and most beautiful trees had fallen during the storm. The trees used to shade and cool us from the Florida sun, but for now, the sunlight shines through to the forest floor. Dozens of little trees are already growing up to fill the vacant space. Even the fallen trees are giving back to the forest, providing fertilizer for new growth, a home for mushrooms and little bugs.
Perhaps this is a bit grim, but when a cultural icon leaves us, I am hopeful. I’m bummed that the next Star Wars film will not have the full presence of General Organa, that Harper Lee won’t decide to write a third book, that Alan Rickman is gone. And I’m comforted by the fact that we get to keep their legacy of words and film. I hope that their passing creates space and inspiration for the writers, thinkers, singers and actors of a new generation.
In 2016, in my community, a few acres of forest were clear cut to pave the way for a housing development, a new auto parts store, a shopping center. There’s something terrible about clear cutting. It leaves the earth naked and unprotected. I live about an hour’s drive from the Pulse nightclub. It’s been more than six months, but to me there’s still no sense, no redemption, no new growth, no meaning to that horrible tragedy. To me, these deaths are like clear cutting. Sure, you can build something new from this, but it is not a part of the natural cycle of life and death.
I find myself coming back to these words from The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder – a book which explores the meaning of a terrible, senseless tragedy and the lives affected by it:
“But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”
Perhaps the up side of clear cutting, of tragedy, of laying the world bare is that we can choose what we build next. The Pulse Nightclub shooting was unfortunately not the tragedy to end all tragedies. That horror is not enough to shock us out of all of our fear, hate and prejudice. But perhaps, we can choose more grace, more understanding, more trust. Perhaps, like Wilder says, love is the bridge that will survive and give meaning from this loss.