There are a handful of people who I regularly quote and who's strength, endurance, vibrance, and stake in one or more of my big identity markers cause me to completely geek out and idolize them with an ecstatic frenzy usually reserved for coffee and my cats. Carrie Fisher was one such woman, those identity markers being "feminist" and "geek," and I can honestly say that this is the first celebrity death of the year to bring me to my knees. Maybe it's because of my level of idolatry. Maybe it's because in a year when Trump won, losing such a fierce woman who was also such an advocate for mental illness, and who is most often seen as a feminist character who fights a rebellion against a fascist regime seems extra harsh. Maybe I have just had my fill of this year and this latest blow has finally broken me.
In any case, I am devastated. Though in the Star Wars universe I have always seen myself more as a Han than a Leia, I have admired and idolized and wished I was as strong as Leia literally my entire life. She was one of my first clear ideas of what being a fierce, fighting femme in a man's world was like, and so much of my radical politic is shaped by the movement Leia is the heart and soul of. When I was eight years old Princess Leia made me realize that when things are wrong, you fight against them no matter what you lose in the process. I am not tough or brave enough to identify as a Princess Leia, and I certainly don't think I could ever do what General Organa goes on to do. That's okay--we all are who we are, and even if I don't feel up to her caliber of power, the end result is the same for me as it was for so many others: Fisher's portrayal of Leia Organa gave me a strength and a toughness and a bravery to strive for before I was old enough to understand the necessity of those traits, and before anyone could have predicted their relevance in our political climate.
But of course, Carrie Fisher is not just Princess Leia. Carrie Fisher is also the woman who wrote a couple of memoirs that featured her alcoholism and bipolar disorder--two struggles of my mom's that, at the time of my reading them, had driven quite a wedge between my mother and I. My mother is a spectacular person. She is the definition of living unconditional love and acceptance. She is kind to everyone and cares deeply about anyone who's ever entered her world. (She regularly asks how my childhood friends or their parents are doing, even though she hasn't heard from any of them in years and years). She has also been incredibly ill in ways that have wounded me deeply on and off throughout my whole life. When I read Fisher's memoirs, I saw my mom's humanity and struggle in a way that I could not have before, and I saw my mom not only as "very nice but very sick", but as strong and as a survivor of a terrible situation. I wouldn't call our relationship perfect or even repaired, but it's repairing, and I get it now. And I largely get it because of Fisher's openness about her own mental illness in a time when no one was being open about that, at all.
Then there's the parts of Carrie Fisher I do see myself in. My life hasn't been easy, and I don't see my survival as brave. It's just what happened. But I do give myself credit for developing this dark, lovely, weirdly whimsical sense of fun and humor somewhere along the way, and Carrie Fisher's interviews and memoirs that also made jokes about her disorder and struggles were a breath of fresh air when I was getting diagnosed and starting my early treatments for PTSD. She was also a good, fun person by all accounts, (like these for example), and didn't let anything she was going through slow her down. I hope everyone remembers that as much as they remember Leia's influence or even Fisher's feminism or writing and advocacy for mental illness. Because laughter is important, and she brought it everywhere she went, and even if we can never be the fighter Leia is or the advocate Fisher is, we can be the person who works to make people feel safe and happy no matter where we are. That's just as valid a a legacy, and one I hope doesn't get lost.
If you're having a lot of trouble coping with this and don't know what to do beyond "watch Star Wars and cry", I strongly suggest the aforementioned books, as well as this amazing, stupidly good comics series.
Blessed be, rebels.