Confession: I have committed one of the worst writing crimes ever: I came up with a working title for my novel long before I started writing it. Everything I Learned About Being a Girl, I Learned from Princess Leia. It made me laugh. It made me happy. It made me wonder what Princess Leia would have to say about being a girl. I eventually started writing to find out.
I have long been a fan of Carrie Fisher’s. I was nine or ten when Star Wars came out. I loved Princess Leia from the start. She was a badass. She was feisty, sarcastic and smart. Leia lead the Rebellion against The Empire! She also had the best romance of my entire adolescence – what I would have given to be held in the arms of Han Solo!
When my mom confided to me that Carrie’s mother, Debbie Renyolds also happened to be her favourite actress when she was a kid, I loved Carrie Fisher even more. My admiration was a family affair! But to be clear, I don’t only admire Carrie Fisher because she portrayed Princess Leia in Star Wars. In addition to being an actor, Carrie Fisher is a writer: an intelligent, talented, caustically funny writer.
I remember many years ago coming to a scene in one of her novels where the protagonist is driving and listening to Van Morrison’s song Moondance. In my memory, the novel was Postcards from the Edge, the character was driving a convertible down Hollywood Boulevard and she was blissful. In actuality, the scene was in Surrender the Pink, the protagonist was in the Hamptons and not so blissful as it turned out. She had come from LA to the east coast to spy on her newly married ex.
In any case, the important pieces for our purposes here are: Carrie/writer/ Moondance.
I remember reading that scene and thinking if Carrie Fisher can write a novel, I can too! I arrived at this flash of brilliance because she had placed Moondance by Van Morrison in her novel. I loved that song and I wanted to be a writer. Because you know, writing a novel is just that easy: create a character, make her do stuff, throw in current music references and, voila!! You’re a novelist!
July 14, 2011 (the day after Harrison Ford’s birthday!). I was in Toronto for work. Two days before I left Halifax, I learned that Carrie Fisher’s one-woman play Wishful Drinking had come to the Royal Alexandra Hall. I ended up with one of the best seats in the house: the middle of the second row. I was practically vibrating knowing I was going to be that close to my childhood idol! She entered stage right, singing Happy Days Are Here Again. I may have even shed a tear as she sprinkled glitter on the audience while I tried to process the fact that I was sharing air with one of my biggest heroes.
By the time I got to see Wishful Drinking live, I had read the book and watched the HBO special on one of my sleepless red-eye flights back from Vancouver, which is to say, I knew the script fairly well. There’s a part of Wishful Drinking called Hollywood Inbreeding 101, where Carrie elicits help from a chart to illustrate relationships. She also calls on the audience to help determine whether her daughter, Billie and one of Elisabeth Taylor’s grandsons are related in some way, or if they are free to date.
We started our lesson with Eddie Fisher leaving Debbie Renyolds for Elisabeth Taylor when her husband, Mike Todd dies in a plane crash. Elisabeth leaves Eddie when she meets Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra. Liz and Ricky have a torrid affair and just as quickly, it seems, things get ‘stormy’ for them. This is where Carrie Fisher asked the guy sitting next to me, “What happened next?” “It started to rain,” he offered. “It sometimes feels like that, yes,” she said and then gave him several more attempts at the question, but he came up empty every time.
And that’s when I heard myself say, “They got divorced.” I was trying to help Carrie out. Trying to move the evening and the show along.
“That’s right,” Carrie exclaimed. “What’s your name?” She was pointing at me.
Carrie-Fricken’-Fisher was pointing and me and asking my name! “Marni,” I replied. “Marni,” she repeated and I watched her disappear behind the giant chalkboard that illustrated all of the Fisher/Renyolds/Taylor/Todd etc. relationships.
The next thing I know, Carrie Fisher is leaning over the seat in front of me, placing a gold plastic medallion with a red, white and blue ribbon over my head. Sound familiar? If not, let me spell it out for you: at the end of Star Wars, Princess Leia gives Luke Skywalker and Han Solo medals for blowing up the Death Star.
For the record, I didn’t blow up any Death Star, but I am quite shy, so blurting out a response in public, to one of my biggest lifetime heroes is getting close to a herculean feat!
I wish I had been able to look her in the eye, but it was too much. Like an out of body experience, I said in my journal. I was way too busy processing that Princess Leia, whose lines I know by heart because I’ve seen the first Star Wars trilogy a million times, was talking to me. Not just talking to me – putting a freakin’ medal over my head!
I had honestly forgotten that the person who answered the Hollywood Inbreeding 101 question correctly was given the medal for being the prized student. I also forgot that, from that point on in the performance whenever anyone was married, divorced, hooked up, died or cheated, Carrie would call on her ‘prize student’. On July 14, 2011, in Toronto, that prize student was me!