Of Red Dresses, Quirks, and Way Too Many Jennys.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter already know I’m a shameless fan of Jenny Lawson, @TheBloggess. What you don’t know is that it’s not just her absurd humor, Texas-sized heart, or habit of adopting stray taxidermied animals that makes me feel so connected to her.
It’s things like this tweet:
And my twin brother:
You’ll need a bit of backstory to see the connection, so bear with me, k?
In 2010, Jenny decided she’d had enough with denying herself things on the grounds that they weren’t “practical”. So she procured a completely inappropriate, unjustifiable, fabulous red ball gown that she had no shoes to go with it, and no reason to wear.
And Then She Wore It.
Why? Because it made her feel beautiful, treasured, special and most of all, “worth it”.
And since she was worth it, Jenny set up a photoshoot (in a graveyard, of course, and still barefoot, because she’s just that kind of inappropriate), and then let the dress go, sending it on a trek across the country in care of UPS*. The goal? To share the dress with other women, so they too could experience that sense of indulgent, beautiful worthiness.
Before long, The Traveling Red Dress became a Big THING (and a Twitter #hashtag). Recently, it gathered momentum all over again, (getting featured on Forbes and Washington Post) and oodles of women around the world started sending scandalous fancy red dresses to other women, and pro photographers started offering glamorous red-dress photo-shoots, all with the goal of reminding women that they are beautiful, and they are worth it.
So that tweet I showed you a few paragraphs ago?
It’s about the tenth (the tenth!) red dress that Jenny is personally sending out on the road. It’s going to a little girl named Alice** – a little girl with pediatric bi-polar disorder.
Here’s the video from the tweet above:
I know. I’ll give you a minute to collect yourself.
Now, I know a little about
Pediatric Bi-polar Disorder.
My twin brother recognizably suffered with bi-polar disorder from about age 7, although he wouldn’t be diagnosed until he was in his twenties. My mother tells stories of taking him to the doctor, trying to find reasons for his childhood mood swings, impatience and temper fits, but in the 70’s? Mental illness in children was largely unrecognized, and then only in the most severe of cases.
Recognized or not, our shared childhood was ruled by his mental roller coasters, Candyland boards being thrown across the room mid-game, and other temper fits that people said he’d “grow out of”.
But he didn’t grow out of it.
The older we got, the more severe his illness became, with long cycles of depression that lasted for a year, and manic episodes that led to him howling from the roof of his college dormitory, while wearing crime scene tape as a headband and scarf. (It’s ok to laugh, it was pretty damn funny to see my mom’s face when the dorm mother called her) The medical community, his school counselors, the public health people he had to rely on? Yeah. Not so helpful at the time - his clear intelligence masked his symptoms, and oddly, kept people from having much sympathy. Many in our family didn’t understand, either, and they still insisted he should just “grow out of it”, which left him to mostly have to cope on his own. And he never got much of a chance to cope; his adult life was shortened by an accident that could have happened to anyone, with or without mental illness, so that isn’t part of this story.
But what is part of this story?
Because when I look at Alice’s pictures, I see my twin brother in her eyes.
I see the same depth, and brilliance, the same hope and frustration, the charm, the intelligence, and the promise.
And in the pictures of what I assume are her sisters, I see myself at that age: caring, loving, adoring, not understanding, often confused, sometimes hurt, and sometimes forgotten in the drama – the drama that I now know wasn’t a brother who refused to behave, but mental illness that couldn’t behave, couldn’t let him behave.
And I see something else bright in Alice’s future, something that my brother never had, because of the times we grew up in… Alice has the support not just of a mother & a family doing their best, but of a larger community willing to help her, a community willing to fight to give her a chance at a stable, functional life — a life that allows her to howl at the moon if she wants to, but doesn’t force her to howl because of a quirk of mental chemistry.
And then… I look at Jenny.
Her pictures, her writing, her projects.
Jenny, of the Traveling Red Dress. Jenny, keeper of Beyoncé (the Giant Metal Chicken) James Garfield (the Sainted Warthog) and Copernicus (the Homicidal Hugging Monkey). Jenny, who raised $2000 on Zazzle to help a devastated neighbor’s family. Jenny, who astoundingly inspired total strangers to arrange among themselves to provide over $40,000 in Christmas gifts to needy families.
Jenny, who makes us laugh until we can’t breathe. Jenny, who suffers from debilitating bouts of depression. Jenny, who accepts invitations to conventions and then live tweets from a bathroom because her anxiety won’t let her come out. Jenny, who struggles with Rheumatoid Arthritis and painkillers and sometimes self-harms to try and cope with it all. Jenny, who quietly, humbly lets her readers know about her battles, while penning a soon-to-be-bestselling book, raising a daughter, loving a husband, building a huge, rabid fan base, and inspiring us to be utterly, inappropriately, furiously happy. ***
Jenny, who isn’t defined by her illness or her struggles, but by her brilliant, incredible je-ne-sais-Jenny. Jenny, who (at least sometimes) knows she is worth it. Jenny, who reminds the Alices, the Toris, and the-twin-brothers-with-bi-polar-disorder that we, too, are worth it.
Jenny, who makes me cry, because I am so freakin’ proud of her.
It’s presumptuous of me to say so, because I don’t know her, and because she’s a gazillion times more successful than I am, but I don’t care. I’m going to say it again.
I am PROUD of you, Jenny.
So feather-pluckin’ proud.****
And you are so very, very worth it.
*I don’t actually know if she sent the dress out via UPS. It could have been mailed. Or she might have used carrier pigeons. Taxidermied ones, with mechanical wings. It could happen. This IS Jenny we’re talking about here.
**When I first published this post, I somehow got Alice’s name wrong. Somehow, I was just sure her name was Amy, when of course, it’s not, it’s Alice – which is a much cooler name, by far. So my apologies, Alice!
***Jenny, whose name I’ve now typed so many times it just looks and sounds wrong in a really annoying way, which accounts for the curious title above.
**** No actual feathers were plucked in this post. Back off, PETA.
****Also, here is a link to her book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, so you can pre-order it, because it is totally going to rock.
For anyone wondering how this is on topic for Circus Serene? My core message here (and everywhere) is “Don’t just embrace your quirks –exploit them.” I can’t think of a better example of exploiting your quirks than Jenny Lawson, @TheBloggess.
She’s worth taking a closer look at.
And so are you.
(and now you know why I’m a fan)
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