Once upon a time, I was obsessed with Madonna.
Okay, bear with me. At first glance, this post will seem to have nothing to do with plastic or the environment or anything I normally write about on this blog. But read on. Connections will be made. Oh yes, they will be made.
So anyway, I was obsessed with Madonna. My close friends will tell you that that is an utter understatement. Back in the 90’s, I discovered eBay and ended up spending an embarrassing amount of money on every Madonna magazine I could get my hands on. The picture on the left represents only a small fraction of my stash — what was left after I finally sold most of it back on eBay years later. (Today, the only thing that remains is an unopened Sex book and this photo.)
I also went through a phase of making insane Madonna art. It’s all online, but I doubt you’ll find it. And believe me, you really, really wouldn’t want to anyway.
Here’s the thing: I wasn’t obsessed with Madonna’s music. I mean, I liked it okay. It was fun and danceable in the beginning, if overly earnest and didactic a bit later. But I wasn’t one of those Madonna freaks that had to have every version of every single remix. In fact, I cringed during her live television performances, even as I religiously watched each one, holding my breath and crossing my fingers that she’d be able to stay on key until the end of the song. And her acting? Let’s just not go there.
No, my obsession had nothing to do with her talent but everything to do with Madonna the person and persona: driven yet scared; self-confident yet self-conscious; willing to take risks and then suffer the inevitable consequences of her more outrageous actions. She made the absolute most of the limited musical talent she had. I loved all her colorful transformations… even the one with a sporadic English accent.
On the surface, Madonna was everything that I was not. Her provocative outfits were the antithesis of my comfortable, sensible, blend-into-the-woodwork attire. Her frank F-You attitude towards the world was like a challenge to me. I wasn’t that way, but I aspired to be. I got tattoos, but only in places no one could see.
Yet as crazy as it may sound, Madonna has inspired me and my work more than any other public figure — more than any major environmentalist or feminist or activist or other “ist.” She may wear PVC clothing, but she does it with total commitment in the moment, fully willing to reject that commitment in the next moment as she learns and grows. She’s restless. She wants to know more. She wants to understand. She’s greedy and maddeningly hard-headed. She’s unapologetic when asked about her earlier missteps, insisting that the lessons she learned in the past have shaped who she is now. These are my projections of her, of course. We haven’t chatted in so long, I’m not sure we’re even still friends.
Back in the day, I wanted to be Madonna, but not in the sense of dressing like her or copying her behavior or style. Madonna is the most Madonna a person can be. No one can compete with that. What I wanted was to be as utterly me as I could be. To be scared and yet do what I felt was right in the moment. To put myself out into the world in as authentic a way as I could muster. To be real even in my hiding. To know who I was and my purpose in this world. If that meant trying on different personas myself (and believe me, I tried on quite a few) then so be it.
Sometimes, when I have to give a presentation about plastic, or an interview, or approach a store employee, or write something that I think might be controversial or provocative, I think of Madonna. I think of the Madonna who confronts life no matter how insecure she may feel inside. People ask “What Would Jesus Do?” Readers of this blog have joked that they ask themselves in the store, “What Would Fake Plastic Fish Do?” Me? I ask, “What Would Madonna Do?” I mean, if she were me, of course,
Years ago, I read an interview with Madonna that totally stuck with me, and I was excited tonight to find the exact quote that I remember on Salon.com. (Thank you, Google.)
The last lines of her Rolling Stone interview, where she’s asked about coming across pictures of a boyfriend’s ex, are utterly inspiring. “Well, there’s a whole thing that happens,” she told the interviewer. “First I go, ‘Oh, she’s skinny and pretty.’ Then I think, ‘Oh, but I’m me.'”
I’ve been writing this blog for over three years, ever since I saw a photo of a dead albatross full of plastic pieces — a photo that changed my life — and I don’t see myself stopping this work any time soon. So when I feel overwhelmed or frustrated ( as I did Wednesday when the plastic bag ban was rejected) or scared, I think of the people who inspire me. I think of Madonna. And I remember that all of these things, these feelings and challenges, are just part of who I am. I’m me.
Who or what inspires you? Who are your role models? Whose life has captured your imagination and helped you realize what is possible? Who motivates you to do the best you can each day — to be the most you that you can be?