If my math is right, I was 9 or 10 when Star Wars was released to theatres. That means Carrie Fisher has been part of my life—albeit in a detached/ fan/ celebrity/ 21st Century/ Twitter kind of way—for the last thirty-eight years. Almost four fifths of my time here on Spaceship Earth. That’s a long time.
“Carrie Fisher is my favourite actress.” I announced this to Mom after seeing Star Wars, or Empire, or Return of the Jedi for the umpteenth time in the theatre—I honestly can’t remember which one.
“Her mother, Debbie Reynolds was my favourite actress when I was your age,” Mom said. And so, my love of the Reynolds/Fisher women became a family thing.
When everything adds up, it should come as no surprise that the title of my novel is Everything I’ve learned about being a girl, I’ve learned from Princess Leia.
See, when I was a kid, I remember looking at pictures of Carrie Fisher and thinking: she’s got brown hair and brown eyes, just like me (read: she’s not blond) … and she is so beautiful.
Remember, this was the late 70s, early 80s—the era of Farrah Fawcett bathing suit posters and Bo Derek’s ‘10’ … I was learning quickly from movies, TV and magazines that ‘blonds have more fun’. BUT—my pre-adolescent brain reasoned—if Carrie Fisher could be pretty, well … maybe (just maybe?) I could be pretty when I grew up too?
But Carrie—like Leia—was so much more than pretty. She was smart, feisty and yes she was tormented—but she was very brave about it—she became a truth teller.
Carrie was a brilliant writer. If you’ve read any of her books—fiction or non—and know anything about her personal life at all, you’ll know that she decided long ago, that she would beat the vicious Hollywood ‘press’ at their own game. She suffered an addiction that was brought on by an undiagnosed bi-polar disorder, so she wrote about it. Her first novel, Postcards From the Edge, was about her first stay in rehab. Postcards was published in 1987. Carrie was 31 and had already lived more of a life in her 31 years than most of us probably will by the time we join her.
There is a picture that I remember from an article in the 1970s. It was taken in her backyard. Carrie was sitting at a table that had been set up for a tea party. If memory serves, she was holding out a platter to an imaginary guest (or maybe it was her mother?) and on that platter was a doll’s head. She had that signature Carrie Fisher smile—sweet and demure, with a hint of something wicked and knowing hidden underneath. That image (I have looked and looked, but cannot find it) stuck with me all of these years. I wanted to be that quirky. I wanted to be that comfortable in my own skin when I grew up. I wanted to be able to tell stories like I imagined she would tell at her pretend tea party.
Carrie Fisher LOVED words—and she had a way (her way) with them. She was so wickedly funny. One of my many favourite quotes of hers is: ‘If my life wasn’t funny, it would be true and that is just unacceptable’. I think it sums her up—one side of her anyway—beautifully. Here are a few more, if you’re interested (http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/tao-of-carrie-fisher-great-quotes-from-actress-and-author-w457929)
In 2011, I got to see one of Carrie’s performances of Wishful Drinking in Toronto. I’ve written about it in a previous post, but it bears repeating here. I went by myself. I sat in the second row and because the gentleman she was trying to engage couldn’t give her the answer she was looking for, I became part of the show. She asked him what happened to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton after things got ‘stormy’ in their relationship.
“Clouds came,” the guy said.
“Yes,” Carrie said, “It sometimes feels like that, but what happened?”
Back and forth they went, until I couldn’t let Carrie—my hero—be caught onstage in a Groundhog-Day-like moment anymore.
“They got divorced.” I honestly almost heard myself say it from my seat. It was like I was having an out of body experience.
“Yes! You! What’s your name?” Carrie Fisher was pointing at me. And long story short, she came down from the stage to put a gold plastic dollar store medal around my neck. The only medal I will ever win. The only medal I will ever need.
Throughout the entire performance, whenever anyone was divorced, married, dated, hooked up, or eventually died, Carrie Fisher would say “And what happened next, Marni?” to a theatre full of people.
I came up with the title for my novel in 2011, before I started writing a word: Everything I’ve learned about being a girl, I’ve learned from Princess Leia. I always hoped that one day, Carrie Fisher would read it and write to me and tell me either what a piece of crap it was or how much she loved it. Hopefully, of course, the latter.
It was Carrie who inspired me to write after all. I would have been twenty-one or twenty-two when I read the scene in Surrender the Pink where Dinah is listening to Van Morrison’s Moondance in her convertible, driving down the highway.
It was when reading that scene that a little voice in my head said ‘If Carrie Fisher can write a novel and use music, I can too!’ It doesn’t make a lot of sense—this epiphany about connecting music and writing and Carrie Fisher … or maybe I’ve just made the most sense out of that epiphany that I’ve ever made? My novel is a cross-Canada road trip that gets hijacked by romance (with person and place). Music has become something of a character in my story. And Star Wars plays a huge role in my protagonist’s hero’s journey.
So, Carrie Fisher won’t be able to read my novel when it’s finally finished. Mom won’t get to read it either. BUT, I do like to imagine that I kind of summon them—Mom, Carrie and Debbie— when I sit down at my desk and light my candle to start writing in the morning. Maybe they sit around the table in Carrie’s backyard over a cup of tea—maybe something stronger?—the rules are probably different on the other side. I like to imagine that they come together as I try to re-envision scenes, and guide my fingers as they plunk out words on the keyboard.
“Did she really think writing it that way was a good idea?” Carrie will say. She was a script doctor, after all.
“That’s my girl,” Mom will say, and Carrie will wince while Debbie looks on.