The Legacy of Carrie Fisher: A Defense of Not Having It Together
I was talking the other day to an old friend of mine and she told me that she’d just recently seen Rogue One and that she was sort of embarrassed because when Carrie Fisher came on screen she started to cry. Then she made the comment – the only thing that made it sort of okay was that she wasn’t the only one. She said all over the theater you could hear people letting out giant ugly cry style sobs. She said it was so bad – and obviously so common—that when they left the theater there were the attendants that normally stand there and tell you to have a nice day and they were holding tissue boxes so people could take them as they passed by. And her next comment has sort of stuck with me. “I don’t know why I was so upset, I mean I like Star Wars but it’s not like it’s this major force in my life. It just seems that the world is so much less now that she’s gone.”
That question has stuck with me because– like her– I like Star Wars but I’m not a Star Wars fanatic. But the loss of Carrie Fisher still upsets, and I’ve been mulling it over for a while and I think I’ve finally made sense of it and even how the romance genre can help. And here’s what I’ve come up with:
Being a woman is tough—way tougher than we were told it was going to be. I don’t know how old you are—and I don’t need to know—but I came of age in a time when we girls were being told we could be anything. We could have it all. Studies were showing that girls were doing just as well as boys in school, and we were going to college at parity rates and soon there would be more women in college than men, and we were going to break through glass ceilings and cure cancer, and we were going to rule the world because girls could do anything. We could love women, we could love men, we could love both, and no one would care. We could have kids, we could not have kids, no judgment. We could work and have babies and run companies and run countries and everyone would be happy to see women in the boardroom and no one was going to care that the Big Boss didn’t have a penis.
Then my generation graduated college in the middle of a war, with an economy that vaguely resembled a giant trash fire, and we found out all those things we’d been told? That was some wishful thinking that the generation had been doing—possibly while very high on some wholly organic, free trade, special mushrooms.
In reality, the women that did go into tech fields? They were reporting sexual harassment and discrimination at rates that made working for politicians look like a more attractive option. We were all being paid less than our male counterparts and not getting promotions and being asked when we were going to get married and start having kids. Unless we were gay, of course, and then we were all told to set our sights a little lower – something different from marriage, but still valid, that wouldn’t upset the straight people. And Dear Lord, we were not to discuss adopting children because we just might give our straight neighbors the vapors as they clutched their pearls in a near swoon. Or a cake. Dear God, don’t you dare ask to have a cake.
Underneath all of it was this sort of resentful sentiment of “Well, we’re letting you little girls into our big manly man space so you have to be grateful and don’t you dare suggest that maybe we could give you a little help. You wanted it all—now juggle it. And don’t forget to look pretty while you’re doing it.”
Then there was Carrie Fisher. Delightfully wacky and weird and flawed and honest. There was Postcards from the Edge and there’s Meryl Streep giving Shirley McClain the side eye. There was Wishful Drinking with Princess Leia passed out on the cover clutching a drink. There was Shockaholic and The Princess Diarist and her announcing loud and proud that heck yeah, she slept with Harrison Ford and she wasn’t ashamed to admit it (I don’t blame you Carrie, he was smoking hot then and still is smoking hot now). There was her comfort chicken. There was Carrie Fisher talking about her addictions and her mental illness. Through all of it she kept telling us that she didn’t have it all worked out. That she didn’t have it together—and we didn’t have to either.
If Princess Leia-Carrie Fisher didn’t have it together then it was okay that I collapsed like a flan in the cupboard instead of standing up for myself when my male colleagues stole my ideas and then got promoted because of them. If she didn’t have it together then it was okay that every time I went into my manager’s office to demand a raise, I instead seemed to walk out with more work, more responsibilities and my pay never got discussed. If she didn’t have it together, it was okay that my first week of being a stay-at-home mom, my toddler yelled “I liked you more when you went to work!” and I wanted to yell back “Well, I liked you more when I went to work, too.”
It became the tagline that we used with each. Part of the shorthand of the common language I share with my girlfriends from college as we’ve spread out around the world.
Hey, your marriage is falling apart, and you’re sick of counseling and trying to communicate and thinking about everything you say so that it comes out as an “I feel” sentence, and you’re contemplating burning the house down with your spouse in it? Okay. Don’t burn the house down because that’ll get you jail time but other than that okay. Okay, you can get mad and throw plates and scream at the top of your lungs. You don’t have to have it together. Not even Carrie Fisher is awesome all the time.
We’ve reached the age where we’ve dealt with each other’s marriages and divorces and pregnancies and infertility and cancer. Some of us have lost parents and some of us have gained troublesome (or sometimes delightfully wacky) in-laws. We’ve had public meltdowns at the PTO and someone once got drunk and danced on the table at their spouse’s company party. One of us once jokingly offered to blow the guy at the moving company if he could just get her damn bed delivered already—as her neighbor the local minister—was coming up the driveway with his wife and a bundt cake to welcome her to the neighborhood.
Hey, even Carrie Fisher isn’t awesome all the time.
Because of Carrie Fisher, we realized that maybe we didn’t have to have it together even 10% of the time and that was okay. She taught us to be loud and shrill and sometimes (often) inappropriately funny about what was really going on in our lives.
Now that’s gone and at least for my generation, we’re not sure what to do. We’re not sure where to look for a role model, and God knows none of us feel prepared to be role models. But without Carrie Fisher, it seems like a much darker place for a woman.
And maybe that’s where we should come in as romance authors. We can’t bring Carrie Fisher back, but we can keep moving forward with her legacy. We can be openly complicated women. Instead of telling writing students “You must write every single day” we can say “you know what? I have those days where all I want to do is lay on my couch and watch Netflix and eat cake icing with a spoon. Give yourself an hour and one tub of icing and then back to work. That novel isn’t going to write itself.”
We can write complicated women. Women with real flaws. Unlikeable women. We can write women who might have been the victims of other people but they’re also the victim of themselves and their own actions. We can write women that don’t always do the right thing not because they’re bad people but because they’re really flawed. And maybe when we write someone flawed, that can be how we reach out to each other and say “It’s okay if you don’t have it together today—not even Carrie Fisher was awesome all the time.”
Maybe that’s the legacy of Carrie Fisher, why we all hurt a little each time we remember that she’s gone. Carrie Fisher taught us that it was okay to accept being really really flawed. That when we accept our own flaws we can reach out to each other and be kind. We can listen and laugh and occasionally offer to share our comfort chickens and we can remind each other that not even Princess Leia had it together all the time.
So that’s what I’m going to do. Ironically, that’s what I did in this series. In both Out of This World (Book 1) and His Fake Alien Fiancee (Book 2), I wrote women who very much didn’t have it together. The whole point of the story, in fact, is how much they don’t have it together because everything they know about Earth came from Jennifer Anniston movies. I got the joy of writing true heroes. Not just big strong soldiers (although both of my heroes were military men once upon a time); I got to write men who were strong enough to love someone who doesn’t have it together – not even 1% of time. I got to write the men like the one I’m lucky enough to be married to. In this series I got to write the women we should all give ourselves permission to be—and the men we all deserve.
About His Fake Alien Fiancée:
But Perri’s father has no intention of playing nice—and he’s not above cruel and unusual alien torture to make things go his way. But Brandt is willing to complete the mission…however far he has to go.
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About Patricia Eimer: