My heroes do not wear capes. They learned their lesson from Edna Mode (“No Capes!”). They do not star in major motion pictures or score the winning touchdown at football games. They are not famous. My heroes are the people who are so comfortable in their own skin that it does not matter one iota what others think, which is something that I have always admired and tried to learn from their example. My heroes are all insanely talented. My heroes like to give back in ways big and small. My heroes have all faced challenging situations and come through it with their dignity and humor intact, and with a strength of character and spirit that is inspiring. I want to tell you about 4 of my many heroes. These women inspire me on a daily basis, and I hope you can find inspiration in their stories, as well as in the stories of the people around you.
The first person I want to talk about is no longer with us. Her name was Brittanie Hanson, but almost everyone knew her as Siobhan. We were not close, but we talked at work. Maybe it was because we competed over similar roles. Maybe it was because she so fully accepted herself and all of the things that made her unique while I was still trying to figure out who I was and how to love myself. She wore her Star Wars fandom on her arm, would quote Eddie Izzard when the mood struck (my first introduction to him), read science fiction books that I had not heard of but sounded fascinating, and lived every day to its fullest. I was not living in Orlando at the time that she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer, an almost always terminal diagnosis. Yet she REFUSED to give up. Her family of co-workers had purple dog tags printed that said, “Don’t tell me the odds,” which was her motto when she got her diagnosis. She fought every day, was positive every day, and continued to educate me through her Facebook postings. She lost her battle within 6 months of her diagnosis, but she fought until the very end. She showed me that there are people out there who will accept you and love you for who you are and not ask you to change, that you can love the things you love and be loud and proud about it and not care if people thought it was weird/dorky/different. Because of how she lived and died there are hundreds of people out there who cannot see a dragonfly and not think of Siobhan.
Mary Ann Douglas has the perfect initials because she is, in the absolute best way, completely MAD!!! Quirky, hilarious, unique, she is someone that I have admired for years because she is so comfortable in her own skin and does not care what anyone else thinks about her. I have always had a rough time doing, in fact I wanted to fit in so much I denied parts of myself, and watching her do it on a daily basis just made me realize what I was missing out on by not being fully me. As an added bonus, her absurd sense of humor and unique way of looking at life just made every time I got to work with her an adventure in the many ways my sides could hurt from laughing so hard! She is quick to point out that so much of her positive outlook on life stems from her family who told her; “You can be as beautiful as Venus, but looks fade and you are left with your personality. Just look at Great-Grandma. She’s a wonderful person, but looks like a prune!” What a fantastic way of looking at things! As with all of my heroes, there is another reason she is on here, one that ties in with her comfort in her skin. At 13 she faced a serious illness and spent the better part of 4 years in hospital. To keep her siblings from being scared or to keep herself from crying, she dealt with this adversity with humor. As she said, when you are fighting for your life, what other people think of you does not matter and that she developed a different sort of confidence. And when those moments that everyone has, when they worry about the superficial or what other people think, she reverts to the thinking that if someone likes her, it is scars and all — but if they don’t, in the end it does not matter. Since I did not even know all of this until recently, she has definitely succeeded in not letting any of this define her. But she has succeeded in showing a positive way to live your life, love you, and not care what anyone else thinks. It is a joy to know her, and giggle at her antics from afar.
Next up is Angelyn Rhode. I knew her a little bit because we worked together, but I did not really get to know her until we did a show together. At first I thought she was going to be the biggest bish on the face of the earth. Yes, I am ashamed to admit I pre-judged based on my limited interactions. But in doing the show, I learned that she is a fantastic dancer with a beautiful soprano voice and a spirit that was as bright as her name. And we became friends. A couple of years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through all of her treatments with a positive attitude. When she knew she was going to start losing her hair, she staged “The Great Shave,” where a friend who wore his head bald shaved hers for her. She was just as beautiful without hair as with. When she knew the type of cancer and how it could come back, she had a double mastectomy. She inspires me to find the best of a situation and how to use everything we are given to live our best life. Now, she spends her time raising awareness and raising money to help others who are fighting Breast Cancer. In two years, her organization Music for Melons has raised over $4,500 for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer by, among other things, staging productions. She also runs Hats by Angelyn, which makes and sells beautiful crocheted hats and donates 20% of each sale to Music for Melons. Beautiful, positive, caring, passionate, talented. Is there any doubt why she is one of my heroes?
Lastly is the person who became my first friend in Chicago, Mary Fran Wiley. When I made the move to Chicago from Orlando I only knew the person I was dating. Mifa and I worked for the same company and soon it became a ritual for us to run over to Starbucks as soon as I got in to mentally prepare ourselves for a day dealing with rejection over the phone. We both left that company about a month apart, and life happened. I was in the middle of the ending of the relationship that brought me to Chicago when she was in a horrible car accident. Sadly, I was too selfish to see her, but I tried to stay in touch. When told she might never walk again, she trained to run a 5k. She got a job in a different city and went back to school to improve her graphic design skills. Started blogging about GF baking and published an e-book. Got her dream job as a web designer and purchased her first pair of Louboutins. Lives her life with what she calls her “deep dark secret” and tried to keep her friends from knowing because she did not want them to treat her any differently. She is another friend of mine who is inspiring for who she is and how she is choosing to face adversity. She inspires me to fight when told something is not to be, to look for and make my own opportunities, to make those big purchases and splurge on myself every once in a while, and to find the positive, even when it is hard.
These are just a few of the people I know who have overcome. All of them are under 30 which just amazes me because I know they will continue to inspire. They have touched my life and helped inspire me to reach inside myself, love myself, accept who I am and how I look, and to take the challenges life hands me with a positive, don’t quit outlook. And be me, no matter what anyone else thinks.
I thank all of my friends for being awesome, inspiring, motivational, educational, and wicked fun.
I don’t know about you, but I am pretty hard on myself. For the longest time, I thought I could not sing because someone told me, “we don’t sing well.” I think believing that helped to form some of the mental blocks about myself and the roadblocks I put in my own path.
When I was a little girl (yes, I was little), I used to LOVE to sing. Did it all the time. My Opa would give me a penny every time I saw him if I sang “Jesus Loves Me.” I sang it a LOT! But eventually, the music in church that I couldn’t follow the melody if they gave me a 20 foot roadmap, and someone saying “we don’t sing” every Sunday, led me to believe I could NOT sing.
When I finally got a car, I sang in it ALL the time! I just belted along with the songs hoping I did not sound like a total tool. Worrying about what other people think is another issue of mine…even when there was no one in the car with me. One day, I was chillaxing in my parents basement with Teenie, singing along to Queen videos (she got to hear me sing, I gave her rides and I ALWAYS sang in my car. Still do), when she turned to me and told me “You can sing!” When I didn’t believe her she told me that I hit a really hard note. That was also a bass note. Hi, female, but still, kinda cool that my range went that low.
Talk about the confidence boost! I still did not believe I could really sing, but her encouragement got me to find a voice teacher one summer when I was between colleges and interning at a theatre. While I did not like how I was singing with her, looking back I see that what she was doing was trying to get me to place my voice properly. Best response was when I was singing at a Christmas service (in the pews), and my mom turned to me and stated, “you have a really nice voice.”
And then, I did nothing with it. Not a thing. Just kept singing along in my car. No voice lessons, no nothing. Until about a year after I moved to Chicago. I moved here wanting to act and do the things that I let fear stop me from doing. And I got a job hosting karaoke on the weekends at a local theme park. So I signed up for group voice lessons at Old Town School of Folk Music. Hated my teacher, but between her and the encouragement from the folks in the park, I signed up for private lessons. And I also started auditioning for musicals.
I was with my first teacher for almost 2 years, before she left for new adventures, and during that time I started to be cast fairly regularly in ensembles of various community theatres. It is amazing how much you can learn, when you are open to it and go in with an open mine. After that, I moved to an instructor who has really worked with me on standing correctly, speaking correctly (did you know you can talk wrong?), and placing my voice in the proper spot when singing. Currently, we are taking a small break while she rehearses for a show.
So, while I do not think my voice has grown into what it can be, it has grown. I still sing karaoke, but at bars, and I am back on the audition circuit. To continue growing my voice is a challenge, but I have learned that I CAN sing. And it is one fear that I have broken free from.