Investing in an idea or an organization or a person with complete and unwavering faith can be a powerful thing, but it’s often also a brittle thing. Especially when being on the pedestal represents perfection. It makes it hard to believe that imperfection is possible, especially when the things you believe about yourself are built on your beliefs in something external.
Sometimes we prefer the ideal to the reality. And sometimes letting a little flexibility into that image lets us be more adaptable in our own lives. We shall see how Pakku’s adjustment fares.
Hero worship is another example of inflexible ideas. I’ve done my own fair share of getting myself into trouble with my heroes. I have what I call “A Super Fan Tendency,” wherein I can get REALLY excited about something REALLY suddenly and then get REALLY sour on it if it disappoints me. I’ve learned that this is okay to do with stories…but…not with people. With people, I have to remind myself that everybody is human, and fallible, and has off-days. Nobody is perfect. The truth is, we all have ugly sides and struggles, and we’re not going to be in top form every day.
I was reading an introduction, written by Charles de Lint, to a collection of short stories by Patricia McKillip. I thought this section captured the need to test that ideal image, and the truth behind the image of perfection, beautifully:
“…We’re always curious, aren’t we? When something moves us we want — almost need — to know more about the individual who was able to wake such a reaction in us.
It can be a double-edged sword, of course. Sometimes the person is everything we hoped they would be, with a heart beating in their chest as big and generous as we imagined. Their eyes are so clear and wise that it seems utterly appropriate that they give us a more profound experience of the world’s mysteries.
Other times, the person is so wrong in terms of how we imagined them that we can no longer engage in their art in the same way that once we did.
It’s a curious thing, but even when we know that it might turn out badly, we still walk into the riddle that is the artist whose work we admire so much, hoping for the best.
The truth is, more often than not, despite their spark of genius, these artists are not unlike you or me — a mix of good and bad, patient and intolerant, welcoming and private — all in varying degrees. And of course we’re all different, depending on the day and situation in which we find ourselves.”
I’ve been somewhat terrified of having someone becoming a Super Fan of my work. Because I know, first-hand, how intense and ugly the disappointment can be when the person discovers the IDEA of the creator is far more perfect than the person. It’s a guaranteed eventuality, given a long enough time-frame and an inflexible enough idea. As much as I’d like to be perfect, it is part of my life-long struggle to admit to myself that I am far from it, and furthermore that a lack of perfection is not only okay and normal, but in many ways necessary and important.
So when I first met someone that described themselves as a Fan, I was petrified of when they’d discover I wasn’t at all who they’d imagined me to be.
I first met Jeo over a year ago at a show called Comic Fest. She was very, very, very nervous. It was difficult, at first, to have a conversation. I shared with her the story of the first time I’d met someone I’d idolized at a show — complete with how I’d hyperventilated, forgotten how to speak, failed to make eye contact, and then awkwardly shoved a home-printed business card into this poor creator’s hand — and that, compared to that, Jeo was absolutely doing just fine. Afterwards we managed a simple conversation and she went on her way. I felt glad that the interaction had gone positively, but was scared underneath it. How long? How long until the image cracked?
The next time I met Jeo was at Denver Comic Con. A show with 100,000 attendees last year. She’d asked me on Twitter what my favorite candy was. I had said chocolates. At the show, she surprised me with a box of them as a gift. At the time, I was very overwhelmed by the show, and I’m not sure my name/face software was still working at all by that time. I don’t think I recognized her on sight. It took me a while to piece together the person I’d interacted with at Comic Fest, with the person on Twitter, with the person in front of me. Denver Comic Con is a very hectic show, and I don’t think I was able to dedicate enough time to her. I don’t know if that’s true or not. She left abruptly and I was convinced It Had Happened. She was surely angry at me, and now the illusion had been shattered. Now she hated me. I was absolutely sure of it.
I worried over this like a dry bone for the next year.
The most recent time I met Jeo was at a new show called DINK, a few weeks ago. I was able to put the recognition pieces together much faster this time. She had a long conversation with Cory when I was chatting with other folks as well. It seemed that perhaps she didn’t hate me forever after all, which was both assuring, but a re-set when it came to the fear of wondering how long it would be until the dissolution REALLY happened. Eventually, she invited Cory & I out to dinner after the show, and we accepted. After helping us pack up, we all went out to the parking lot. She’d parked down the street, and I offered to drive her over to her lot.
On the way to her car, she turned to me and said:
“You know, Robin, when I first met you, you were like some sort of…mythical creature. But as I’ve gotten to know you, you’ve just become…a person.”
“Good,” I replied, my heart filled with relief and tension draining from my shoulders. “I make a terrible unicorn.”
I cannot tell you how much better I’ve felt since then. Being a perfect unicorn sounds like a pretty sweet gig, but I gotta say that the pressure makes being just a human a much preferable state.
(Dinner with Jeo was wonderful, by the way. Even if Cory and I were both two very tired humans.)
Have you ever felt you were expected to be a unicorn? Or have you ever met a unicorn that turned out to be a person after all? What was your experience like, and how did you survive the transition?