My youngest girl has a very obsessive personality. When she loves something, she immerses herself in it completely, head over heels in love, to the exclusion of all else. No matter what anyone else thinks about it, no matter if anyone else knows what on earth she is talking about...she breathes it in completely. (I know...sound familiar?) When she was very young, there were phases of these obsessions. One notable one was these Littlest Pet Shop toys. There were guide books with the names of these little plastic animals, and she had these little houses that she would set up on the kitchen table, moving the pets from one place to another, having conversations between them, clear about everyone's personalities and preferences and best friends and favorite corners. She would sit there for hours as a 3 and 4 year old - and four year olds do NOTHING for hours, so that's saying something - enacting her little plays. These little sheep and dogs and reindeer and frogs came everywhere with her in bags or buckets, and she always had one or two clutched in her little fists.
Later, there would be a very long Greek Mythology phase, where she read all the Percy Jackson books and her dad told her the entire story of the Odyssey and the Iliad, and she created huge posters with all of the Olympians and their symbols and personalities and back-stories and connections to other tales. Just for fun. She painted her room an Aphrodite pink and had a little altar of shells devoted to this favorite goddess. Then came the Hunger Games, briefly, and then she finally read the Harry Potter series after years of protests and refusals. And of course, she fell in love with that, too. She was particularly enthralled with the Epilogue, and the characters of the next generation - Harry and Ron's and Hermione's children and their relationships to one another. She began, at this time, to write very detailed "fan fiction" in which she created all new stories featuring these characters, typed fervently with two thumbs on her iPod. Notoriously shy, she wouldn't let anyone read them. She drew the characters endlessly, in different outfits, in different combinations and families, pages and pages and pages in colored pencil. These, she shared. And these I will hold onto forever in her keepsake boxes.
Around this time, she discovered the concept of a "Fandom." I am sure you are familiar with this - they are little internet groups devoted to a certain fad or actor of tv series. They gather in corners of Pinterest or Facebook, and some eventually lead to things like Comicon. I know they have existed in some form or other forever, but with the internet, they are very easy to find. Abby is like me as a middle schooler in that she has friends in school, but after school, is pretty much content to just hang out on her own, doing her thing, with the stuff she loves. For me, of course, it was reading Anne of Green Gables and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Flowers in the Attic and ridiculous Gothic novels by Victoria Holt, mostly so I could be like Kristin Fahey, whom I idolized. And, of course, there were the Broadway cast albums. Left at my house by my grandmother, and collected from an ex-boyfriend of my mother's, I had every obscure cast album you could think of. Fiorello and She Loves Me and Damn Yankees and many versions of Gypsy and several Fiddlers on the Roof and the black versions of Guys and Dolls and Hello, Dolly. (Pearl Bailey is my favorite ever Dolly Levi.) I listened to them, song by song, and read the liner notes, and they are the reason I win the Broadway Teachers' Workshop trivia contest every summer. Who needed friends when I could spend my afternoon with Laurie and Curley and Maria Von Trapp? But the thing is...I was alone. I knew not another soul on the planet with this same obscure hobby. There was no internet, there was no community theater in my life. I was a solitary, weird little girl who thought I would basically always be solitary and weird. I dreamed of the people who would later become my Tribe, the Bens and the Craigs and the Jamies who came along in the flesh and recognized and shared all of my little Freak Flags. But it took a decade of solitude before that came.
Abby, however, who is the most fervent Freak Flag waver I have ever met, is most certainly not alone. In her little Pinterest world, she sees many other people who love Dr. Who, and the Harry Potter next generation with their fan art and fan fiction that brings to life the stories that she carries inside her as well. Though she doesn't know these people in life, she knows that they exist out there in the world, and that she is not alone. And she will never be alone. I love that she has that sense of community, giving validation to her quirks and inspirations and the worlds that delight and ignite her.
Her latest is Les Miserables, and the fandom for this is wide-spread, vocal, and creative. It has been going on for quite some time, and because my life has always been kind of magical, we have been given a number of very magical gifts to support her joy in this. If there were a stronger word for "obsessed," I would use it. She knows every word to every song. She can list every cast from every version in the US and London, and trace the various actors who have appeared in multiple versions and their relationships to each other. She had drawn all of the characters and writes fan fiction about them. She has read the actual novel, dog-eared and underlined - Victor Hugo at 12 years old, prompting one member of her math class to ask, "Why do you carry a dictionary around with you all the time?" She has written every single word of the musical out in longhand on 12 x 18 art paper - all from memory, and they are rolled up in a scroll in the parlor. She knows all of the actors currently playing the Barricade Boys, also knows as Les Amies, including all of the swings, and follows them all on Twitter. She literally knows EVERYTHING there is to know about Les Miserables and her Freak Flag is very firmly red, white and blue Frenchie-French. Earlier this year, I rediscovered an old friend from my past named Jennifer. (This in itself is a phenonamenally blog-worthy story for a day very soon. You'll like this one. I promise.) Anyway, she lives in London and came to visit recently, and it turns out...she was the pianist for the film version of Les Miserables. She worked with every singer on every song, coaching and teaching, and playing into their ear pieces while they sang live for filming. And she brought her score, and played the entire thing in my front parlor while we all sang along. So, Abby had the experience of singing "On My Own" with the same pianist who played it for Samantha Barks in the film. In my freaking living room. And for Christmas, I got the girls tickets to see the revival on Broadway. We went at the beginning of April (after the months-long countdown Abby had installed on her phone), and not only was I able to use connections to get a backstage tour, it was by her exact number one most favorite actor in the whole entire show, named Jason Forbach. (Who deserves a shout-out because he literally could not have been nicer.) He wrote a personalized note in her copy of the novel, and his friendliness and attention gave her the single best moment of her life so far. I am taking her back to see it again, along with my goddaughter, for their 13th birthdays this July. They have seats in the second row. I maxed out a credit card to do it and I swear, it is already worth every single penny. Because it is her thing. It is her passion. She doesn't play on a soccer league, or skate for a travelling hockey team, or need dancing school costumes or piano lessons. She wants this. She loves this. And it is more than worth it to support whatever gives her a sense of passion and community and reminds her that she is not alone. She hears the people sing. She hears the distant drums. And while I will not have control over many of her tomorrows, I have her todays in my hands and I will do what I can to fill them with as much wonder as I possibly can. Just one among my many, many blessings that are more and more evident to me every day.
Glad to be back to the blog. Thanks for reading.