writing portfolio of Stephanie Lenz

Into the garbage chute, fly boy

“Oh! This’ll impress you – I’m actually in the Abnormal Psychology textbook. Obviously my family is so proud. Keep in mind though, I’m a PEZ dispenser and I’m in the abnormal psychology textbook.

Who says you can’t have it all?”

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With being sick since mid November, the holidays, and all things political and pop culture making the news, I’d forgotten about the essay I wrote for the December issue of TCLJ: Strive Toward the Light.

I knew what I wanted to write and once I got the structure set up, the essay worked. I sent it to Theryn around the 29th and hoped that her suggested changes would be few, both because of the time involved and because I hoped that it would be good enough. Her only comment was that she was glad I’d written it.

I assumed that it was the topic: one where we fall on the same side of the political divide. Then when I saw it posted, I remembered: I had written an ode to Princess Leia.

What I put in the article was true: she was my first heroine. I saw a woman on the screen, not much older than I was, who was leading a rebellion. Who looked at evil and didn’t blink. Who showed the slightest fear only when alone in a prison cell with a group of males wielding a torture device. That was the kind of girl I wanted to be.

Of course I had other heroines, some fictional (Wonder Woman) and some real (Gloria Steinem; I gave inspiring women’s lib speeches to the empty living room while pounding the coffee table) but none ever quite lived up to Leia. I was Leia for Halloween; I never went as Steinem, although that would’ve been awesome.

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“And when you’re young you want to fit in. Hell, I still want to fit in with certain humans, but as you get older you get a little more discriminating.”

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When I was older, I found out that Carrie Fisher was a writer. A writer! Just like I wanted to be! Not only did she set that example but she showed that it’s okay to mine your own life for fiction.

I was raised in a home with doors and windows firmly shut. What happened inside them was not to be told outside in any way, shape, or form… even as fiction. Anything I wrote, from a cartoon to a short story, was scrutinized and questioned. Not from a place or critique or encouragement but from a place of fear and paranoia. I found some solace much later as an adult, blogging under a pseudonym and using pseudonyms, but it didn’t last. Family members berated me for writing. Not that what I was writing was false. In fact, they admitted it was absolutely true to the letter. But I’d opened a window and that was inexcusable. My life was not available to me as a source of material for fact or fiction. Well fuck that, says the little Carrie who has lived in my head for 40 years.

The Carrie who lives in my head looks most like Marie from When Harry Met Sally...; she tells me when there’s someone staring at me in Personal Growth. She’s cosmopolitan, approachable, ready to meet up for a drink, eager to recommend the book she just finished reading (but not loan it out), suffers no fools, and uses words like scalpels. She also reminds me that Anne Lamott said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” Then she wants me to tell her about how I had a children’s book about Baal and Jezebel, complete with illustrations of Jezebel being flung from a tower and eaten by wolves, because such content was “wholesome.” After half a lifetime of being told, “That never happened,” I’m only now coming around to believing my own memories and being able to use them in my writing. I’m leaning toward a Fisher-esque dark humor but I haven’t gotten that far.

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“You know the bad thing about being a survivor… You keep having to get into difficult situations in order to show off your gift.”

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After her writing — and how often and enthusiastically she talked about writing, editing, and script doctoring — I most admire Carrie’s advocacy for those with mental illness. There is no shame in having a disease, no matter what part of the body it affects. I learned that from advocates like Carrie (and from writers who created characters with mental illness in TV shows and movies). I learned the opposite at home: bolt the doors and windows, then keep “our family secret” at all costs.

I take my kids to individual therapy twice every two weeks and to group therapy weekly. I’ve pounded into their heads that this is a normal part of life, something you’ll keep up when you fledge. It is medical treatment, no different from infusions, pills, or physical therapy. Even Princess Leia had a therapist to help her with her conditions.

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“If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”

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My daughter was especially taken with Carrie’s dog, Gary. I can’t think of any other person so open about use of a service dog. I’m a huge advocate of service animals. If I’d been allowed a service animal — or simply to keep a pet rather than come home on an otherwise average day to find my pet inexplicably gone — my life would’ve been very different. That said, maybe the struggle gives me the perspective I have today and I’d rather have that.

So there was a lot more I would’ve said about Carrie if I’d written the essay after her passing. On the evening that the news said she’d taken ill, I couldn’t stop checking my phone, even though my wonderful nephew and his equally wonderful fiance were visiting for the holidays. During the conversation, he said that he considered my husband and me “role models.” That’s a pretty huge honor. Carrie was one of mine and many other people, especially women, say the same. The day after her passing, we saw Rogue One at our theater. When it was over, I was one of the handful of female patrons who stayed in her seat sobbing (my daughter was another). It wasn’t the subject matter; it was the last shot. Afterward, we went to a chain restaurant and the young hostess wore two buns on the sides of her head. When my son called her “Princess Leia,” she blushed and adjusted one side.

I got The Princess Diarist for Christmas, the first Fisher book I’ve gotten in several years. I intend to read it with the TV off on January 20.

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“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

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