I came to NYC for the Broadway Teachers’ Workshop this weekend. I feel very honored to have the opportunity to do this – to do anything, really, that’s about learning something new and being better than I was yesterday. Last night, I was in Café Lalo, which is on 83rd street between Broadway and Amsterdam. I had ordered a martini with a trendy name and a caprese salad, and sat with my journal. My mind was tumbling over a number of things, my ears tuned in to a small drama at the table next to be involving goat cheese and an allergy to honey. The song “Thriller” came on the radio, and I was remembering this girl from my middle school who was completely obsessed with Michael Jackson. Obsessed. Had posters everywhere, wrote “I Heart Michael Jackson” on her scripts and book covers, and memorized the dance steps in his videos. I always thought it was odd, because I just couldn’t see the appeal in him, and I was not much into current pop stars, anyhow. I also did not relate to that level of obsession with someone. Or so I thought.
I thought of her last week when Michael Jackson died, wondering how she had taken the news. It was partly because I was with Lisa who knew this girl as well, and partly because I have come to have empathy for this person. We all have our little pocket of obsession, as it turns out, and some of them are absolutely more embarrassing than others. But I have come to believe, particularly in recent years, that it is a person’s quirks and oddities and obsessions are the things that make them…them.
It’s my birthday today, and I have spent it alone, though surrounded by people in the busiest city in the world. My family called and sang to me first thing this morning. I got a million Facebook messages today that just made me get choked up every time I read one. But still, I was on my own all day. I was worried I’d be a little sad, and I must confess that I just…wasn’t. I needed the brain-space to consider what it means to be 38. I needed to let things happen to me, and things happened. It has been a spectacular day. I have many spectacular days, and I am grateful for them every time, but today has had its own kind of magic. I walked down Broadway this morning in sunglasses and high heels, drinking a latte. I ate lunch at an outdoor café. I had continual little reminders through the day that what I do in the world is relevant and worthwhile. (One presenter today said, “Kids with a complicated home life rely on teachers to be the authority figures that aren’t out to destroy you.”) I unexpectedly met a Boy I Really Liked in College on the street. I wore a pretty dress to see a show on Broadway, and I had a handsome man offer to buy me a martini in a hotel lounge. (I said “No, thank you.” But it was nice to have been asked.) And now, I’m looking out my hotel window onto the lights of Times Square, and Daniel Radcliffe is about to be on the David Letterman Show. Thank you, Universe, for a whole list of blessings in one single day, my birthday - any one of which would have been more than enough to make this a wonderful chapter of the Kelly Chronicles.
This brings me back to where I began this story. I am at the Broadway Teachers’ Workshop in NYC. I saw the musical Shrek tonight. It was much better than I expected, very funny and charming and very modern, and its big “Eleven o’clock number” and finale is called “Let Your Freak Flag Fly.” It was all I could do to keep from leaping out my seat and dancing to that tonight. It was all about being who you are –celebrating, rather than hiding that which makes you a Freak. I have accepted that I have a variety of Freak Flags, and though I tried as a teenager to keep them private, I’ve given that up. And I have discovered, too, that I might not be a great actress. And I might not be a great director. And I might not be a great teacher. I am, however, good at creating communities – the kinds of communities – whether it’s a sixth grade classroom or the cast of Fiddler on the Roof Jr. or a fancy private school drama club – that make people feel involved and connected to something. Where people find their tribe. Where people can figure out that whatever makes their Freak Flag Fly is okay. By doing that, I am useful and industrious in the world. As Kathleen says in You’ve Got Mail, “I lead a small life. Valuable, but small.” I felt that powerfully today. (I felt powerfully about a number of things. That fact alone belongs on the list of blessings.)
My Freak Flags have been pretty apparent to the people I encounter who know me well. But even the people who only know parts of me, like my middle school musical casts or the kids in my summer theatre or the people who did Christmas Carol with me like ten years ago – even those people see some of my Freak Flags. I love Harry Potter. I listen to showtunes. I love 1960’s Disney Live-Action Movies. (Moonspinners? Happiest Millionaire? That Darn Cat. Yeah. I went there.) I’ve kept a diary for 25 years. I took myself on a self-created You’ve Got Mail tour of the Upper West Side Last Night. (Hence the visit to Café Lalo, where Joe goes to meet Kathleen for the first time, when he figures out that she’s the Shopgirl.) I know every line and lyric to an embarrassingly large number of Broadway Musicals. I was graduated in the top ten of my class, and I am far more proud of that than I should be. I love Star Wars and Anne of Green Gables and Barry Manilow and Lawrence Welk. I have had sexual fantasies about a young Dick Van Dyke since the age of 13. I am a Freak. A dorky, card-carrying, geek of a Freak and I am having a Wonderful Life. And so can all of the other Freaks out there, just by letting their Freak Flag Fly.
It’s been a great day.