My whole face lit up, I could feel it.
“Hi!” I said.
The stranger smiled, laughing a little at my enthusiasm. “Hello.”
Even though he was a stranger, I knew his voice well. It had been in my house, on my TV, I had sat in movie theaters and plays where I had watched him and listened, laughed, thought about what he said, let it wash over me, affect me. He wasn’t actually the stranger. I knew him well, or at least, I thought I did, I felt like I did. I was the stranger. He didn’t know me at all.
“I LOVE your work!” I said. Sometimes I don’t say it. I leave celebrities in peace. He was just trying to take care of his business at the post office. But this was Wallace Shawn, and he looked just as engaged and interesting and interested and accessible in person as he did in the movies and plays in which he had played parts, parts that likely portrayed parts of his own personality. He was a writer too, so he had to have believed in those words he uttered, the roles he developed for himself.
Of course, he had been great in Princess Bride. But The Designated Mourner, Vanya on 42nd St., these were what I remembered most, what I related to, plays, both made into movies to garner a wider audience, works that attempted to pry out emotions in subtle ways. As a writer, I know how hard that is, subtlety. He is a master of it, which is what makes him so funny. He has perfect comic timing.
Luckily, as I stared at him like a psycho, I realized I could take action. I could give something to him to repay him, even just slightly, for all he had given me.
As I neared him, I apologized for my intrusion in his space. “I’m not a stalker,” I said, “but I have something for you.” I broke out a big gold star and handed it to him. In somewhat of an explanation of myself, of the offering, I said, “This is what I do.”
He took the star gratefully, then looked up at me, perplexed. “What do you mean, ‘this is what you do?’”
I laughed. “Well, I write about this, about giving out gold stars to people just for trying. And,” I said, “you don’t just try, you do!”
I fumbled in my purse for my cards, then found them in my pocket. “Here, this is my blog.” I said.
“Ah, thank you,”he said.
I waved and walked out with my friends. I was so excited. I love having some way of thanking and repaying these artists whose art has touched my life, inspired me. As someone trying to create my own art that, hopefully, on occasion, touches people, I have a new appreciation for how important it is tohry feedback that what you’re doing is worthwhile, that it resonates. Mr. Shawn seemed to appreciate my appreciation. At least, if he didn’t, he acted like he did. He was gracious.
I googled him when I got home, wanted to see what he’s done lately that I’ve missed. I came upon a book of essays I will most certainly buy, and an interview with him from The Guardian a while back. In it, he spoke about his own writing efforts. He said:
I've decided to take a bet on my subconscious. Isn't all writing to some extent about trying to get through the layers of propaganda and false interpretations and received ideas and clichés that prevent us from seeing what's going on? I think that's the enterprise.
I couldn’t agree more. The sentiment made me wish I could give him another gold star. Thank you again Mr. Shawn! Good luck getting through the layers. You are an inspiration for me to do the same.