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The Big Shoes Carrie Fisher Left Us to Fill

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Christmas 1977 followed a summer of multiple viewings of “Star Wars,” the greatest film ever made (according to me in 1977). That is when I “got” Christmas and all the hubbub. I finally understood the fuss. That was the year Santa left me the best gifts ever. The first was a “Star Wars” alarm clock.

The alarm clock was hilarious. What 4-year-old needs an alarm clock? Where did I have to be? Truth be told, I was a horrible preschooler, a holy terror in the morning. I hated getting up, and getting me dressed and out the door was an ordeal. Being people of science, I believe my parents formulated a hypothesis that if they got me a fun alarm clock with C3PO calling me a little Rebel and telling me it was time to get up, it would defuse my morning tantrum and invigorate me to start my day off on a positive note.

Me, being a child of the arts, rolled back over and tried to get back to my lucid dreams. Shortly after, the alarm clock was placed in a box and stored in the basement. Imagine the end of “Raiders” when they locked up the Ark of the Covenant but no fork lift. That is one of the few items that has made every move with me because C3PO was right. I am a little Rebel. The other thing that has attached itself to me is my anxiety.

The second gift that year, a Princess Leia doll (not an action figure, but a doll). Santa gave me a badass, intergalactic princess to be friends with. Like her, we thought we were only children. She was so beautiful. She was an excellent listener, and she protected me from Darth Vader. He haunted my lucid dreams you see.

Princess Leia was not afraid of anything. I was afraid of everything, but I pretended like I was not. She was a diplomat and warrior. I was a socially awkward kid who wore my shoes on the wrong feet at least four days a week. We were a mismatched pair, but she gave me goals and hope that I would not always be small and grouchy and that I would master getting my shoes on the right feet.

Princess Leia is a larger-than-life character who resonates with the world just as strongly as she did 40 years ago. My heart leapt and filled with joy I had not felt since I was 4 years old when she appeared in “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One.” I know I clapped and cried because I was so happy to see my old friend.

As it turns out, the real bad ass was Carrie Fisher. Actor, author, advocate and most important, authentic person. She blazed a trail for strong women characters who could strike the balance of tough and tender in all of her roles, from “Star Wars” to “Drop Dead Fred.” She was a sharp and witty author, playwright, storyteller and a script doctor bringing humor and humanness to horrific and soul crushing situations, the majority of which were true stories she experienced.

In an interview with the CBC in September of this year, she said, “Because I grew up in a public family, I never really had a private life. And so if those issues are going to be public, I would rather them to be public the way I’ve experienced them rather than someone else assuming things about me. It’s freeing to do it. Shame is not something I aspire to.”

She was a mental health advocate who unashamedly discussed her life with mental illness and addiction, and like a Rebel, she embraced it, celebrated it, owned it and profited in so many ways from her truth and authenticity. She shares the moment to moment existence with bipolar disorder in her book and one woman show, “Wishful Drinking.”

“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls… At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage. So if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”

I have changed a great deal since that Christmas morning. My shoes reside on the correct foot 99.9 percent of the time. I am now a morning person for the most part. I still get grouchy, but I am not near the holy terror I once was. I have also learned to manage the anxiety and panic attacks that made my world small for a long time. The good days outnumber the bad days, and my world is getting bigger. I can still feel the fabric of my doll’s dress, the silk of her hair and smell her rubbery arms and feet. I can feel that little Rebel awakening and stepping into the role of advocate and taking giant steps toward being the authentic being she was at age 4.

Carrie Fisher continues to give us a role model for transparency, activism and authenticity in her body of work. She still inspires, and she is gone way too soon. The world needs all its rebels, in all shapes, sizes and levels of “bad-assery.” An icon fell silent, and it will take an army of warriors to fill those magnificent shoes. We have to step up, all of us, and continue her message.

Carrie is a name that derives from Charles, meaning army and warrior. She amassed an army. I encourage all of us to embrace our struggles, advocate for causes and people in need of justice and use our voices and carry on, or maybe Carrie on.


This post originally appeared on Climbing Out of My Head.

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Image via Carrie Fisher’s Official Facebook page.

Originally published: January 3, 2017
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