On Being Somebody

You're gonna make it after all.

I made it after all.

Have you ever wanted to be famous? Or at least well known? Have you ever thought to yourself, perhaps when you were younger, starting out, “I want to be Somebody when I grow up”?

I did. Although back then, I wasn’t even sure what being Somebody meant. Or how I would do it. Or why. But I can remember imagining my future and having that thought—that desire—when I was as young as nine or ten.

The first time it occurred to me was when I was watching The Mary Tyler Moore show’s opening credits. Do you remember it? It’s a montage of her walking around Minneapolis on the cusp of her new adulthood, Sonny Curtis crooning encouragement in the background: “Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? Well it’s you girl, and you should know it. With each glance and every little movement you show it.” Then at the end, she stops in the middle of the street, smiling a jubilant smile, and the frame freezes as she tosses her Tam o’ Shanter into the air and Sonny promises: “You’re gonna make it after all.”

I thought, I want to be like her. I don’t want to be one of the nobodies walking around in the background; I want to be the kind of Somebody who’s going to stop in the middle of a street and throw my hat up in some celebratory moment of having arrived in Somebodyland, with Sonny Curtis cheering me on.

Then I grew up. (Sort of. I’m still a work in progress.) And although I’ve pursued any number of dreams along the way, at some point, I changed my mind about becoming famous. I’ve never stopped writing, never stopped wanting my words to land somewhere meaningful in a reader’s mind, but after a certain amount of rejection and in spite of a certain amount of success, I realize I’m not going to become the kind of Somebody I used to dream about when I was ten.

Today is a writing day. The house is empty and I have hours until I have to do carpool and take one kid to the orthodontist and the other to flag football practice. But my housekeeper, who is theoretically supposed to come once every other week is absent again, and so I’m cleaning the house first. Last night, I was talking to a writer friend who stays home with the kids while his wife works. We commiserated that the number of words that makes it onto the page on any given day is diametrically opposed to the amount of laundry that needs doing.

But sometime between the first and second loads this morning, I recalled something that my smart, funny writer friend Summer told me recently. She said, “I always thought I’d become Somebody someday and I have. I’m the Somebody my family needs to get things done.”

As in, “I don’t need to pick up these dirty clothes. Somebody will do it.”

Somebody will make sure the clothes are cleaned and put away.

Somebody will scrub the toilets.

Somebody will pack the lunches and have a hot dinner on the table in the evening.

One of the things I love about the stories of Alice Munro, for example, and why I loved writing about my characters in WHISPER HOLLOW is this quiet toil of women (and some men.) I know what it’s like to have desires and needs and secrets even as we’re changing the sheets or cleaning the bathrooms or cooking the meals. We might wish to be writing—or running for public office, or playing guitar, or creating art, or practicing law—but sometimes we can’t pursue our passions because there’s a whole mess of dirty clothes that Somebody needs to take care of. There are bills that Somebody has to earn the money with which to pay.

And that’s okay. I think I’d much rather freeze the frame at the end of a day when all my people are home and tended and fed and comfortable—knowing that I helped them get that way—than while tossing my hat in the middle of a street full of strangers. I think the Somebody I’ve turned out to be is far more important than the one I’d once imagined.