We live in an age in which it’s easy to be famous.
That’s unfortunate, because being famous is hard.
With no more than a webcam or a wealth of ill-begotten opinions, you can shoot or sing or tweet your way into some level of stardom this week. Click and pin and ‘gram your way into a curated identity that’s sure to snag tens of followers. Some people make videos of themselves putting on mascara; some people make videos of themselves putting mascara on their cats. Everyone and everything is a tool in the climb for fame. The next thing you know, Curated You is looking Real You in the mirror, and you’re not sure who is who.
The tools may have made it faster and easier, but the urge to make a mark is not new. When I was in third grade or so, one of my classmates — let’s call him Peter Pendergast — so badly wanted to be third-grade-famous that he convinced us all that he had written The Diarrhea Song. Being trusting little urchins, we believed him. In third grade, this is big stuff, so his celebrity surged accordingly.
You can only imagine my sorrow and disillusionment when, some twenty years later, I heard a Tabby’s Place coworker singing, “When you’re sliding into first and you feel something burst…”
“How do you know Peter Pendergast?” I gasped.
“Who’s Peter Pendergast?” asked the staff member who may or may not have been Denise.
Disillusionment. But Peter Pendergast had his fame, his moment.
Still, even if it has its darker side, there’s something very honest in this hunger for fame. We all want to be seen, known, noticed.
This extends even to higher species than our own. Cats may not be posting How To Master Strobing videos, but they do want to be seen.
The difference that makes all the difference is this: they want to be seen for who they actually are.
Exhibit A: little LuEllen, nee Little-Foot, so named because one of her feet is little. If I don’t have to go about with a name like Feet-Like-Skis, LuEllen does not need her name to shout her strangeness.
She can do plenty of shouting on her own.
LuEllen was who she was when she arrived. Who she was was a very nervous tween kitten who had already endured some sort of calamity (ergo the partially-missing foot and hoppy gait). Who she was was a creature not sure we were creatures she could trust. Who she was…was LuEllen.
As we often do with concerned kittens, we moved Lu to the Community Room, where all manner of humans would coo and chatter and concern her further. Lu trembled up at us with planetary eyes of fear. LuEllen was 100% herself. LuEllen was 100% confident she did not want to be touched.
But funny things happened — things like our not swallowing LuEllen whole, or feeding her to sea lions, or doing dreadful deeds to her remaining feet.
And then her confidence in our dreadfulness wavered.
Luellen v.1.0, the hiding, hunkered-down, “humans begone” LuEllen, had lassoed our hearts. Luellen v.1.5, the hopping, hopeful, “let me check-a-you out” LuEllen began to reel them in.
She couldn’t have calculated her moves more gracefully, but there was nothing calculated about LuEllen’s learning curve. One day she stared; the next she bobbled hoppily towards us rather than away; and then, one day, she was chirping, squeaking, shrieeeeeeking her decision.
We were worth her confidence, after all.
Now LuEllen won’t let you alone unless (a) you’re petting her (mission accomplished) or (b) she’s mooning over June, her sudden bestie. The only thing better than a human is a June, and the 75% footed feline and the paraplegic like each other’s moves just fine.
But what’s struck me is how, at no stage in Lu’s ever-evolving evolution, did our tiny girl second-guess herself. She second- and third- and eighty-six-thousand guessed us, sure. But even in her wobbly confidence in the world’s ability to hold her safe, she retained a perfect sense of herself. No curation here.
And, even in those earliest, wondering days, LuEllen’s anxious eyes clearly wanted what we all want: to be seen.
In the immortal words of the Dixie Chicks, it can get pretty lonely when you show yourself. Reveal who you really are — under the mascara, behind the braggadocious tweets, after the hyper-confident Facebook rants — and the room might just echo with emptiness. With the wrong group of creatures, your real opinions or your real age spots or your real fear just might leave you all alone.
That’s the real fear we saw in LuEllen’s eyes. Would we take her for who she was? Unlike even the most artless human being, sincerity is all a cat has to offer. Would we see her and still choose her?
Choose and celebrate, in fact.
You may have enough followers to have a verified Twitter ID. You may have fewer friends than Peter Pendergast. But whoever you’re famous for — and everyone has someone listening, even if it’s only Someone, which is more than enough — take a tip from a near-tripod cat and be as you are. Life’s too short to curate your celebrity.
The right planetary eyes will see and choose you every time.