The Price of Celebrity
Natasha Shastan Bertrand
Being a misfit does not always imply that you live on the outskirts of the crowd. Sometimes, what makes you a misfit can also make you a celebrity. At a price.
I figured out early on that I am a misfit. I don't follow orders, I enjoy spending lots of time alone. I am an individual-thinker, and an artist and writer. I have some strong opinions and often voice them. I am of mixed heritage, pagan, and have received Medicine Dreams - intense, powerful, clairvoyant to prophetic dreams often involving direct communication from or with spirits - since I can remember. Desperately wanting to fit in and never managing to do so, I fantasized about being popular and I hated school.
As a young adult, I sought others like me. I found a pagan community, and began to blunder my naive way through it. I discovered that I was a misfit, even amongst the misfits.
Most of the pagan community was emphatically vegetarian. I started out on this path, and underwent a series of terrifying and transformative Medicine Dreams convincing me to return to a fully omnivorous diet, and to become an ethical conservation hunter. My vegetarian friends quickly became ex friends.
I did eventually encounter a handful of other pagan hunters in the community, and I was inducted into what was publicly known as "The Hunt Coven." Voicing our opinions and employing finely honed debating skills earned us converts, followers and wannabes, and horrified the "herbivores." My new partner and I shared a column focusing on our attempts at back-to-nature living in a local magazine. These combined to make me a minor celebrity within the community.
At first, I was thrilled. For the first time in my life, I was popular. Never mind the odd twist that very few people knew what I looked like, everyone seemed to have heard about me and seemed to be saying positive things about me. I was invited to parties and events, and lots of people wanted to be my friends. My dream had come true!
I was completely unprepared for the power of rumors. The more titillating, unrealistic, rediculous and self-contradictory a rumor, the more people seemed to believe it to be true and passed it on. It is common to be known by two or more different names within pagan communities, and I usually introduced myself using a different name than the one I wrote under. Using a different name allowed me some anonymity, plus I got to hear the latest rumors about myself. I heard of many orgies and affairs, blood rituals and public acts of bestiality I had supposedly taken part in. I saw the thrilled and hungry looks for more on the faces of other listeners.
Two of these situations stick in my mind. The first was a particular rumor claiming that I was a complete know-nothing fraud, yet also that I was sending my ancestors to haunt and torment specifically named adversaries of mine in the community. For some reason, no one other than me questioned how both ridiculous extremes could be possible at the same time.
The second was one time I was introduced under my lesser known name, and for the next half hour was treated to hearing all the juicy supposed details of my life by a supposedly close intimate friend. I had never met the woman before, yet she was claiming that she and writing- name-me were very close, and that writing-name-me told her "everything," so she was in the know. Clearly, it was my duty to be impressed with her importance. It did make quite an impression on me. I told her to tell writing-name-me that I said "hi," and that I would be back in touch, soon. She finally changed the subject.
I heard rumors about my friends, and about my partner. My partner insisted that I shouldn't care about what people say, then he would get upset about the rumors about him and about me supposedly trysting with someone else. This did not strengthen our relationship. I lost some real friends over rumors they heard about me, and over ones I heard about them. Several of my new "friends" turned out to have become key community rumor-mongers, gaining in their own popularity by inventing wild and hurtful rumors about me. I found I had no idea who I could trust as a real friend, and who was feeding off of me.
Going to events and parties became complicated, as there often seemed to be someone there for the sole purpose of publicly cutting me or my partner down. They would loudly pick an argument, usually based on one or two sentences from the column, taken out of context and twisted. Ridiculous and annoying, it took me too long before I figured out to loudly laugh back at the challenger to write it all down and send it to the magazine, so everyone could read his brilliance. None of them ever did, but it made them go away.
Some women tried to get between my partner and I, and gloated to everyone if they so much as managed to catch his eye. Rumor had it that he had numerous affairs. I don't know how many he really had, but he did admit to one when it was impossible for him to deny it. I had quite a number of invitations to private one-on-one parties. We renegotiated our relationship to be open, hoping to relieve some of the stress. This succeeded only in driving us further apart.
There were bigger celebrities in the community, and interacting with them could get confusing. At one event a particular one publicly came up and fawned all over me. I was surprised and flattered, and tried to make good and mutually interesting conversation without trapping her in it. That alone felt complicated.
Two days later, after a public ritual I did not attend, the same big celebrity spent two hours frothing at the mouth as she shredded my character in front of a large audience. A few weeks later she was back to being chummy. She was the most dramatic in this pattern. Maybe it is part of my being a misfit, but whenever I witness someone behaving like this, I think they are at least unstable if not insane, and I try my best to avoid them. I certainly wouldn't trust them to lead me anywhere. Obviously I still don't "get" community politics, at any level.
One of my friends invited me to a party. When I arrived, I discovered that it was an invitation-only "get to meet me" event she had organized, even scheduling other people's appointments with me. This is when I met minions.
I learned that minions are high-maintenance. Please learn from my experience: You need to fawn over each individual minion, paying them lots of attention and letting each know that he or she is cherished. You have to prove that you trust each one by giving each minion enough Important Tasks to do for The Good Of All (meaning you and your vision of utopia that that they will somehow glean from your every breath) or they will feel uncherished.
Uncherished minions tend to become ex-minions. You have to pay attention to The Minion Pecking Order, or you will have to deal with Minion Political Battles, and likely have more ex minions, possibly even a Minion Exodus. Ex minions frequently seek solace by taking up the sport of rumor mongering (wild guess as to who the target will be?), and by joining the minion ranks of bigger or up-and-coming celebrities who just happen to publicly hate you. There ends the lesson, and so ended my spectacularly brief encounter with minions.
My partner and I broke up, messily and badly. Neither of us behaved well. I fled back to my hometown, where I had one friend and few family members. Only one person from the community kept in touch.
On my birthday, my new ex informed me through email that I had been retroactively thrown out of the Hunt Coven, which he now led. Something in me either broke, or woke up. I laughed myself silly. I laughed so hard my sides, stomach and face hurt. "Good Gods, they're all insane! I got out alive!" Tears streaming down my face, I felt dizzy and euphoric.
However therapeutic that laughing fit was, I was still bitter about my ex and ex coven for a long time. I was also bitter with myself for being so naive. I had thought that being popular would solve most of what I thought were my problems. My experience was that celebrityhood made all of the problems, perceived and real, far worse. Being even just a minor celebrity isolated me. I was far lonelier in the crowd than before or after. I couldn't tell friend from foe. When I wasn't being attacked I was being fed off of. And it all hurt.
I found celebrityhood to be high maintenance. While I had thought it would feed me, boost me, and be easy, the opposite was what the reality of it was. In my experience, most of the people who are drawn to a celebrity do so to feed off of that celebrity. The logic seems to be: A celebrity is an important person, and if an important person pays a lot of attention to me, then I am an important person, too. Any of these people who don't get enough of what they want from that celebrity may decide to find solace by proving to as many others as they can that said celebrity is not worth his or her celebrityhood. I always felt drained. I always felt lonely. I always felt lost.
However painful the ending was to go through, I was grateful when it was over. I could focus on myself, and what I wanted, without having to compromise, soothe and cajole a lot of people around me. When I met someone and we seemed to get along, I knew it was real, not the person faking agreement in order to try to get close to a celebrity. When someone disagreed with me, it was because of an honest disagreement, not because of a need to prove his or her importance by cutting down a celebrity. I was no longer fighting what ever anyone projected upon me-the-celebrity, I was just me. It was a relief. I felt free.
I am still in touch with that one person from the community, and he is now a bigger celebrity than I ever was. The old community has grown a lot, and now most people in it have never heard of me, the Hunt Coven, nor the now defunct magazine I once wrote for. I am still reluctant to rejoin it. I still don't like crowds.
In the future I face the possibility of becoming a celebrity, again. I am s l o w l y writing a book about my journey from being a vegetarian and budding animal rights activist to becoming an ethical conservation hunter. Slowly, because I am reluctant to re-enter the limelight.
I am writing the book because I see a lot of problems in how many people, and society in general, treat animals. Yes, I see large problems with how many hunters treat animals, and I see equally large problems in how many anti-hunt people and groups treat animals, too. These problems are hurting animals, ecosystems, and us. I want to try to help find solutions to some of these problems, and I think I have a few ideas worth trying. I found them on my journey.
I think it is very important to try to solve these problems. I realize that one of the prices I will pay for writing and publishing about my ideas is the possibility of becoming a celebrity again. This time it will not be limited to just one large community, and not limited to just pagans. This time, though, I have a much better idea as to what to expect.
I know celebrityhood is not an answer, nor is it a solution. It can be a tool, if carefully managed in order to focus on ideas rather than a person, to help create solutions. I have no visions of utopia. I do have ideas which may be part of a path toward a sustainable and healthy future. If I aim carefully and manage well, maybe I can make the potential celebrityhood about the ideas and not about me. Maybe I can develop a public persona in order to cushion me from some of the hurt, too.
I am certain I can avoid most of my previous mistakes. I am equally certain I will make a lot of new mistakes. This scares me. I don't know if this will be worth it. The price of celebrityhood is very high.