I have been fortuitous to meet major influencers in my life, while they were still alive. Granted, most of those meetings were fleeting, much like how you meet a celebrity at a comic book convention (which I've actually never done, despite all the conventions I've been to). I did stand in line to meet my favorite TV Show host when I was seven: it was the clown J.P. Patches, and I had stood in line for over an hour, which is about an eternity for a small kid. By the time it was my turn to sit on his knee and get my picture taken with him, I was so tired, over stimulated and generally cranky that I couldn't say much more than "hi", and I think I may have burst into tears soon afterwards, as my auntie chose not to purchase the photo I had taken with him.
Fortunately I have not cried during my meetings since then, although I did have an Addisonian attack while sitting with the artist Brian Froud, and had to spend the remainder of the day drinking water and stress dosing steroids to get my nerves under control. Brian is one of two celebrities that have struck me totally dumb (and that's not easy to do); the other was the director John Waters.
While I think it's important to tell a celebrity or influencer that you admire them or their work, I've also discovered that sometimes this isn't when the real meaty connections happen. I actually find these moments kind of a massive letdown, I think because its sealed with the typical autograph or photo op, and I just feel like its phony: I'm getting this pretend souvenir of us being all buddy-buddy, a superficial connection, knowing I'm just another face, another blip on the radar. This might be why I actually avoid meeting people I admire at places like a show, convention, or whatnot. I just feel dumb. Plus, being me, I've made some horrid faux pas in front of celebrities - and while yes, that will get you remembered, its not exactly how you want to be imbedded in their memory.
Honestly, I don't waste my time chasing these people, and here's why: Life is full of twists, and sometimes things flip on you in a really wonderful way.
Not long ago I sat and chatted for nearly an hour with a very quirky art collector; we talked about collecting art, how to properly frame art, and he excitedly told me about how much he loved painting and wanted to work as big as possible. He spoke with big sweeping gestures, which I found delightful, he was absolutely animated and charged up. He was maybe in his early 50s, had a nose ring (which isn't too weird in Seattle), and very chiseled features, and I guessed maybe 20 years ago he would have been kind of a scenester, if he was local. Finally, I asked him his name (I talk to anybody, for hours; I also have face blindness so half the time I don't even recognize my own friends). He got a little fidgety and embarrassed, then spit it out. Holy crap, I thought to myself, I've been talking with a member of one of my favorite bands ever, about my favorite subject, and totally didn't realize it was him. I actually chose not to flip out; instead, I introduced myself and continued the conversation, which he happily obliged. It wasn't quite how I ever thought I'd meet this guy, but it was even better.
A few years ago, at a convention after-party, I found myself sitting at a table with an illustrator celebrity, sort of by accident. As we didn't really know each other, we were polite, and he was a bit reserved because, well, he's famous. His entourage (yeah, even illustrators have entourages) was scattered around him, and everyone had been doing shots so there was a lot of, uh, liquored up energy about us.
An old illustrator buddy of mine sat down with us, of whom this famous guy knew, and he immediately perked up at the sight of a familiar face. My buddy said to this famous guy, "You know, Jules and I go back over 20 years! Back in the old Magic Alpha days! I can't believe its been that long."
The guy's jaw dropped and he looked at me, incredulous. First, he couldn't believe I was that old, but he then said, "Wait, you're Julie from Magic? Wow, I didn't make that connection, I loved your cards, I used to play in high school and hoped I could be a card artist someday, I was such a fan."
I did not expect that at all! We wound up hanging out talking about art until five in the morning, eventually ditching his entourage and even our mutual friend, thanks to that ice breaker. It never dawned on me that an internationally revered artist could like my work and have it inspire him. He's way, way more talented than me, I almost felt like an idiot when he gushed over my work, but again, a lovely twist.
That actually lines up with something I feel pretty strongly about: making honest, inspired connections with people. Most famous people start out like we all start out; those we admire are just as people-y as we are. Despite having prosopagnosia, I have a razor-sharp memory for stories and odd little details. I may not remember a face, but I actually do remember many of my encounters with people, and the stories they tell me. I think our stories are really what life is all about. I know I may never have a deep, connective conversation with my idols (I'm holding out for my White Whale, the great Alan Lee), but I've had the most wonderful moments with people, ordinary people -- and we all know that the Universe is a funny thing: that little girl crying on the lap of a clown grows up to paint trading cards that a high school kid collects -- trading cards influenced by the music she listened to, of a band that had a guy with a nose ring as a member. That kid grows up and paints iconic book covers that win awards and inspires thousands more kids to pursue their dreams. We're all connected, you see, and often just the smallest word, smile, conversation, or act can trigger a lifetime of events, even far out into the future. We're all made of the same stardust, and I'm ironically reminded on a regular basis that whether a person is of a celebrity status or just quietly living life on the outer fringes, we're constantly influencing each other in weird roundabout ways.
I like to use my dad as a classic example of someone who had no idea the impact he made on many people. He wasn't famous, and often lamented on his musical failures. However, he didn't know that his music influenced many many people, even on the other side of the world, including famous people, like Julian Cope. He would have been shocked to see that his memorial service was so packed, people flowed outside and they had to set up speakers so those on the outside of the building could hear the service. He didn't realize that the skinny little kids that frequented his music store, the ones he'd chat up as they "tested" instruments and talked about the local music scene, would grow up to form the band that his daughter painted cards listening to, including that one guy with the nose ring.
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Julie Baroh is a US artist, entrepreneur, and chronic chatterbox.