When I was younger, throughout high school and college I collected autographs. I couldn’t say who was my first. I’d write letters and receive replies. The objects of my fannish obsession ranged between television and movie actors to sports figures, both professional and Olympic when they were amateurs. I received a Christmas card and a post card from Bart Conner (Olympic gymnast) and a thank you card from Randy Gardner (Olympic ice skater). I have postcards from Jon-Erik Hexum, Robert Blake, Pierce Brosnan, and Linda Kelsey, one of my fictional journalist heroes. I met Telly Savalas in a Long Island diner once and waited outside the Nassau Coliseum to meet Don Maloney, Ron Duguay, and Mike Allison of the New York Rangers. I finally met Bart Conner in a shopping mall autograph event with his wife, Nadya Comeneci. My and and I both received separate lovely letters from Mr. Rogers, each one in tune for our individuality, his at five, mine as a bit older mom of a five year old.
I don’t know when I stopped.
Somewhere along the way, autograph collecting made space for selfies and social media likes. I was thinking about this earlier in the week. Ed Asner liked my tweet about his new book. It made my day. Sam Smith of Supernatural liked my post about my Halloween cosplay as her character Mary Winchester. John Barrowman liked when I welcomed him to the 50 Club. Yvette Nicole Brown has actually comforted me when I was feeling lost.
These are all the ways we connect with the public people who help us through the day. They inspire us, they advise us, and they help us feel less invisible.
Our heroes have always been the ones who we can be, inspire us to do better, fill us with ideas of the things we could do with just a little positivity, a little encouragement, a little push in the right direction. I told Ed Asner that his Lou Grant was one of the reasons I began writing. Linda Kelsey was a female journalist on television at a time when there weren’t that many in real life. That show, and those actors were some of the reasons I took a journalism class in high school.
Yvette Nicole Brown, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Misha Collins, President Jimmy Carter.
And I will always get excited when celebrity likes my tweet or instagram photo. It is ther same thrill as receiving the California postmarked envelope with who knows what inside. The biggest difference is the immediacy; the instant gratification of a response, although I suppose the anticipation of the autograph had equal value as the ping on the smartphone.
Our heroes are in the palm of our hands – their photos, their quotes, their memes, their ways of communication. We are much more in tune with each other, and much more available for one another.