When I first started the Hero of the Month series, I wanted to avoid writing about celebrities. It’s not that famous figures can’t be heroic (many of them are), it’s just that they are already well recognized for the achievements in their chosen fields.
But for March I found myself wanting to write about a celebrity, and after grappling with this for a bit I thought to myself: why forcibly stop myself from writing about one if that’s who is inspiring me at that moment?
Famous, a little famous, or not famous at all, I write about these people in the hopes that others may be inspired by them too—for those who are already fans, perhaps even in ways you might not have consciously thought about or realized. And throughout the life of this column I’d like to cover a diverse range of what I feel are different kinds of heroism in different situations, thus underscoring one of my most fundamental beliefs: there are many ways to be a hero.
My March Hero of the Month is author Anne Rice.
It is not for her books per se, though I do love them, the ones I’ve read, and though I know that they entertain and inspire many.
It is rather for the way she quietly and gracefully wields the power that is celebrity through the tool that is social media. For the longer I follow her on these channels, the more I see about her, and the more I see the more she astounds me.
Of course, there are numerous celebrities from different fields who use their influence to do good works, sometimes in loud and spectacular ways that draw a lot of attention. But not all good done is the kind that attracts publicity. These are the small, everyday acts of kindness and decency. They are easily taken for granted, nearly invisible even. But they are no less important—in the long run, perhaps even more so. Millions of people do this kind of good every day but they often go unnoticed, uncelebrated.
And so even as I honor Anne Rice here what I am also doing is honoring those small, daily acts of everyday kindness that are often invisible but made visible in this case by an extraordinary artist who truly understands the power she holds in her hands and how to use it in ways that resonate goodness and warmth into the lives of thousands.
I would particularly like to bring attention to four specific things that I see Anne Rice do every day:
- Provide a sense of community on her Facebook page for thousands of netizens that is at once big and diverse yet safe and reassuringly constant.
- Inspire and make her fans happy by personally interacting with them on a regular basis.
- Consistently champion and defend people, especially other artists and underdogs, who are attacked by segments of the media or public in some way.
- Mentor other writers and artists by offering advice and answering their questions with care and patience.
The People of the Page
Let’s talk about #1 and #2 first.
Every morning Anne logs into her Facebook page and posts the following:
“Good morning, People of the Page.”
(The “Page,” I believe, refers to two kinds of pages at once: the book page, of course, but also her Facebook page. Hence the people, the community, who gather here are the People of her Page.)
This ritualistic greeting is then usually followed by an interesting or thought-provoking article and an invitation for discussion. Sometimes she’ll post an announcement regarding her work, public engagements and the like. Sometimes she just shares what’s going on with herself. The range of topics she opens up for discussion are eclectic, spanning current events, politics, history, religion, spirituality and, of course, books and art.
Unlike many artists or celebrities, she doesn’t just post things and then let her followers talk amongst themselves. She is an active participant in these discussions, personally moderating and often responding to many of the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of comments. On any given day, at least dozens of people post stuff in her guest feed with comments or content shared from across the web. No single human being could thoroughly go through all of these, even if she remained glued to her computer all day, yet I consistently see Anne responding to and often sharing things that others post on her wall.
I have been following Anne’s postings regularly, sometimes sharing them on our Pop Mythology Facebook page. And I believe it is due to her thoughtful moderation that her page has become an extremely large yet, for the most part, friendly and accessible community. It’s not a perfect utopia, obviously, but it’s a refreshingly civil place compared to a lot of what I encounter on the Internet (given how much time I spend on it as a full-time blogger).
But she gives the credit to her fans, frequently and regularly expressing her appreciation of them in messages like this one:
“Good Morning, People of the Page. We now have 979,464 people following. When do you think we will hit a million? I predict in a month’s time. You, with your posts, your links, your comments, your generous participation, make this page what it is — a place where I learn things every single day. Thank you.”
Why do I find all this so impressive and even moving?
Well, take a moment to imagine what an average day for a best-selling author must be like. Meetings and/or phone calls with editors and agents. Book signings and readings (in the months following the release of a new book a best-selling author’s itinerant schedule can be as busy as a rock star’s). Ongoing reading and research for new ideas or books currently being written. I still haven’t mentioned the biggest consumer of time and energy: the writing itself. Of course, at the end of the day, it’s also nice to be able to have some sort of personal life if possible.
How, amidst all this, Anne is able to be so active and engaged on social media is an absolute mystery to me. No, it is not an assistant doing it; it is most definitely her. On rare occasions, like when she is sick, her assistant Becket (also an author) will post things but he always begins these posts by announcing himself first.
Now, if you’ve ever received a personal response to your fan mail or comments from a celebrity that you truly admire, you know how thrilling it can be, and how much it can make your day. Anne makes dozens of people’s days like this every single day.
The Guardian Goddess
Online bullying is among my most hated of bête noires. It is a social illness of our time with sometimes tragic repercussions that we have yet to fully grasp and understand. My Jan. Hero of the Month, Lizzie Velasquez, almost became a victim of it, but through her own courage and strength she used it as the pyre from which her magnificent phoenix-spirit rose to greatness.
If Lizzie is a phoenix, my March Hero of the Month is a Guardian Goddess—like the Chinese Ma-Tsu or the Slavic goddess twins Zora—who vigilantly watches over her community, peers and mentees and shields them from the negativity that so poisons the Internet. The original, etymological meaning of a “hero” was a “defender,” a “protector.” And just as the Internet can feel like a modern-day battlefield, Anne Rice is a modern-day defender.
In mid-February, when Ellen Page came out, Anne shared one of the articles covering this event and commended the actress for her bravery. When some left comments echoing her sentiments, it unleashed a deluge of angry, negative and even outright hateful comments from others. Here is how Anne handled the situation:
What this did was draw the line of fire away from her fans and towards herself as a number of people left additional harsh remarks about how Anne wasn’t respecting their different opinions and such. But this was simply not the case. If you read through the thread, you can see that there are still differing opinions in there. It was only the vicious, hateful ones that she deleted and the owners of said comments whom she banned from the page. There were even some comments from people accusing her of violating their right to free speech, which struck me as confusing a constitutional right with a Facebook page owner’s right to moderate her own virtual space however she wants (and for the record she moderates it quite judiciously).
Anne’s vigilance extends to other writers and artists, whom she frequently comes to the rescue of whether they are already successful or up-and-coming.
Just a few days ago, on Feb. 24, she posted this on her page in response to a post by Lynn Shepherd in The Huffington Post in which Shepherd writes in her headline that “if J.K. Rowling cares about writing, she should stop doing it”:
“It’s appalling. Never have I seen anything this malicious ever directed towards an actor, a painter, a ballet dancer, an opera singer, a film director. No, this is the kind of petty, spiteful condescending criticism that is for some reason reserved for writers in our world. And that it was written by someone who is a writer herself makes it doubly nasty and shocking.”
Earlier in February, when Michelle Dean ran her piece in The New York Times criticizing the recent trend of YA fiction, using author Veronica Roth and her Divergent series as the springboard, Anne rushed to Roth’s defense and reminded everyone that when Interview With the Vampire was first published it was met with the same kind of harsh reception. Regardless to what extent I may or may not agree with some of the points Dean makes in her piece, I find Anne’s consistent championing of other authors to be extremely endearing and admirable.
These are just a few recent examples of her guardian-like proclivity for defending others, writers or otherwise. Her page is replete with instances like it.
Now we come to #4, the way she mentors less experienced writers about everything she knows when it comes to writing and publishing.
If you want to see something remarkable, check out a discussion thread that she started on Amazon.com last December in which she opened up the floor for questions from anyone both in the thread itself or by e-mail (my God, can you imagine how many e-mails she must have gotten?).
The thread stands at about 400 pages. Click and scroll through the pages and just look at the sheer volume of material Anne has written in this forum . There’s virtually as much substantive material in there as in an entire book on the subject. In fact, and I say this only half-jokingly, she probably could have written another novel in all the time that she spent there. Even at one point when she asks to be excused from the thread, she eventually comes back to answer additional questions. (For some examples of her excellent comments and advice covering a range of topics about writing, check out this post at stopthegrbullies.com).
Both for the way she frequently defends people and the way she calls out those who resort to viciousness, personal attacks and name-calling, she is herself aggressively attacked by trolls, haters or just people who can’t seem to control their emotions and disagree calmly. Yet I have never ever seen her lose her cool and composure. She always responds with great eloquence and grace under fire and unless you have personally been in this kind of situation (I have), you cannot know how exhausting it can be over the long term. For me, it is wonderful to watch Anne engage the haters with equanimity for it is precisely the same ideal I have set, and so far successfully maintained, for Pop Mythology despite the negative and even vicious comments and e-mails we sometimes receive.
Finally, there’s also a very personal reason why Anne Rice is my hero and why I will always be grateful to her.
Pop Mythology is a small, struggling and completely self-funded website. And because we believe in certain ideals we’ve thus far refrained from some of the more sensationalist tactics that many websites use, understandably, to survive in the hyper-competitive world of online publishing. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Internet, idealism often equates with less traffic. Therefore, we’ve relied on other things for publicity and the single greatest thing that has helped us is the occasional sharing of our content by a number of celebrities whom we’ve written about. And no one has matched Anne’s track record when it comes to giving us a hand: she has publicly shared both of the two articles that I have sent her on different occasions. When the second one didn’t immediately generate comments, she quickly left her own comment asking why people weren’t engaging with it and if there was some kind of technical problem with Facebook. My heart melted when I saw that and I was forever hers.
Knowing how busy she is and how much stuff she must get sent constantly, I haven’t sent anything more since then. I’ll probably send this one, though, because unless she sees this post she cannot possibly know what those two previous occasions meant to me, especially given my illness and how hard it has been to create something that is meaningful, true and popular at the same time while being sick.
What it comes down to is that Anne Rice is my hero for the tremendous time and energy that she so willingly gives to people. And while many famous artists strike me as being nice, there are only a small handful whom I’ve personally witnessed being as gracious and generous as her when it comes to giving back.
So, Anne, if you are seeing this: I thank you, cherish you and love you. Nothing inspires me more than good artists who are good people because that is after all what I seek to be. And you are both. Never doubt that your commitment towards goodness is doing its part to heal this troubled world for you have my pledge that I will also spend my life trying to live up to the example that I see you setting—day after day after blessed day.
A little bonus: for those who have never seen it, this is a link to one of my favorite video interviews with Anne Rice. As most of her fans know, she has since left the Catholic Church for its official stance on homosexuality and birth control, among other things, though not her love of God and the one whom we know as Jesus of Nazareth. And despite some of the negative things people have said about this, I don’t find her ongoing spiritual journey and evolution to be self-contradictory at all. In fact, in all the ways I’ve discussed above and more, I still see her as the same kind of “Christian” that I am—not officially, not dogmatically, but a lover of the human being who was Jesus and a follower of his philosophical legacy.