CHANCES, ART, COMIC CON, AND OTHER THINGS
By Dawn Tefft
They say you're supposed to take chances in life. That this is a good thing. They make entire movies where this is the theme towards which all of the moving parts are bending.
But I think that taking chances is really meant for other people.
Like the time I wrote a personally revealing essay about an episode of a hit TV show. The TV show with the highest viewer rating of all time. A TV show so dark, you're continuously surprised that it's even on TV. And yet somehow everyone finds something to love about this show.
I wrote this piece that analyzed an episode, explaining the minutiae of class antagonisms and how they played out in the backstory as well as in the interpersonal dynamics between two characters. Talked about the drinking game scene and what it revealed about both the wounds and talents that the angry, withdrawn guy permanently carries with him. And I made it sort of clear that my insights into his character came from my own experiences of poverty. Hello, readers, I too understand what it means to grow up in a world that says you're worthless and then translate that into both shame and pride.
And then I went to a Comic Con, which isn't a thing I would do. And I gave a copy of this article, which had been published in a reputable magazine, to the actor whose character I'd written about. Another thing I wouldn't normally do. And I was nervous because I don't care about actors or fame and things, but I actually really admired this actor in the way I could only admire an actor who came to fame late and still wore punk rock Tshirts from his youth and said weird things he shouldn't say and was really nice to his fans and especially children.
I asked him to share it with his millions of fans on Twitter. I wanted them to read and actually care about poverty. That was something I wanted to happen. To shape millions of shitty minds—which liked the same same show I liked—by finding something redeeming within them and asking them to help that something come into being.
That's really taking a chance, right? Really putting yourself out there.
And I was worried, because I kept thinking the actor wouldn't care because people are constantly asking him to do things: “take a selfie for my dying grandma.” Or he'd be freaked out and think I was trying really hard to manipulate him. Either way, I was risking him reacting badly to me or my article, which I definitely didn't want because I actually really like him and his acting and his interpretation of his character, even though I don't like actors or fame and things.
And I definitely don't like wasting my money and time to fly all the way to Chicago to go to a Comic Con. Especially one with “Wizard World” in the name. Only I actually wound up having a good time, once I got past the agony.
At first it was great. When I finally reached the front of the photograph line, I showed him a printed copy of my online article and asked him if he could hold it up in our picture. He put his arm around me for the photo and asked me if he could keep the article, and I felt like I was burning. I'm pretty sure I was burning.
But when I reached the front of the autograph line an hour later, he reached out for my hand, and it took everything I had to go through with my plan. Still, I did it. Would you Tweet this article, and would you do it so more people will think critically about poverty, and as someone who grew up poor that episode meant so much to me, and etc. He seemed annoyed, though he did ask how he could find it online to share it. I wrote down the name of the site as he kept trying to power through the ridiculously long line of fans.
For several minutes afterwards, I agonized about whether or not he maybe resented me. I'd been one more person asking for something during his exhausting, overwhelming work day. But I finally decided to just relax and enjoy the Con, and it turned out there were a lot of really nice folks there who I'm pretty sure dress up as their favorite characters because it outwardly reflects their inner strength, which, like all of us, they're frequently struggling to find again after dealing with oppression and bad jobs and general stupidity.
A couple hours later I was photographing people, thinking I could use the photos in an article I might write about coming to the Con on a strategic mission but actually enjoying it, when I got a private Facebook message from the screenwriter of the episode I'd written about. She was responding to a message I'd sent her a couple months ago, where I'd told her about the article and how important it was to me that she'd written an episode in which I could see a version of myself that I never see portrayed on TV. So I wondered if the actor had sent her the article, thinking it was really as much about her work as his. If that's the case, I guess that was really nice of him. He cared about it or me in some way, which is exactly the kind of thing I liked about him.
But he never Tweeted the article. So I still felt kind of bad. But then a friendly vendor claimed that the network tightly controlled what the actors could share in relation to the show.
That made sense. To an unrelenting critic of capitalism, that made so much sense.
I felt better again. I kept walking around and photographing all the walking Tardises and talking to random people, like the group of five girls from Tennessee who'd dressed up as The Spice Girls and sat at my lunch table. They gave me suckers from Baby Spice's purse, which I thought was sweet.
Then I came back and wrote the article about my journey, which, while not about class in particular, was still about power dynamics and oppression and the strength to keep living everyday life, which I thought I'd witnessed in the cos players. And I pitched this essay to a big commercial online publication, and they accepted it just one day later.
But after reading their stuff, I decided I liked some of it and some of it was just silly lists of things women really think. So I used Facebook to ask my writer friends what they thought of the site.
Someone must have written the editors to say I was questioning the merits of their publication. Although they'd offered to send me a contract for the piece (for which I would receive $50), they never did, even after I'd written back several times. Just radio silence. Which meant it wouldn't be published.
Or maybe they'd talked to the other magazine that had published the article I'd asked the actor to Tweet. Maybe someone was mad about that article or my approaching the actor or my talking so much about poverty. Maybe I was angering people in the industry. Or maybe just the gods of taking chances.
I still look at the photo I took with the actor at Comic Con, because it's my screen saver.I still feel good about that. About that meeting. Especially the moment when he reached out and held my hand, even though he does that with a lot of people. I know, or I think I know, that he tries to offer people an actual, if brief, human connection, and that he wants to feel it, too. “Only connect”: like in that English novel that became a movie.
But when I look at the photo, I'm also reminded that the whole thing was probably silly. That maybe I project too much, hope too much. And that most of the things that were supposed to come of my trip didn't materialize or even backfired. It makes me wonder about the inner workings of things. Of publishing, social media, my friendship network, taking chances. All these ways of, as they say, putting myself out there.
And then I find myself wondering about those people. The people who take chances and other people love them for it. No one thinks they're weird or selfish or manipulative or saying things the public shouldn't hear.
The ones whose words or images or whatever find their way into eyes and ears and live there in some kind of universal harmony.
Dawn Tefft has poems forthcoming or published in Fence, Denver Quarterly, and Sentence, among other journals. Her chapbook Fist is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press, and her chapbook Field Trip to My Mother and Other Exotic Locations was published online by Mudlark. Her nonfiction has been published in PopMatters, Truthout, and Woodland Pattern's blog. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and works as a higher ed union organizer.