Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Dedicated Fan

Nancy Ling is an Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read the published version of Nancy Ling's column in the October 1, 2015 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Recently I discovered a book that had been withdrawn from our library’s collection. Brady, Brady, Brady was written by Sherwood and Lloyd J. Schwartz, the co-producers of the hit television series The Brady Bunch. I grabbed it from the recycle bin—a found treasure. This was a piece of my childhood.

Along with many other kids growing up in the seventies, I was a dedicated fan of the show. After all who doesn’t remember the episode when Jan Brady cried out “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” having had enough of her sister being the center of attention? And I couldn’t have been the only girl who oo’ed and ahh’d over Greg Brady when he auditioned to be the singer Johnny Bravo, could I? {!--more-->
When my own kids were old enough, I checked out the Brady Bunch series from the library… and then (confession), I purchased a set of our own to have on hand. Turns out my girls loved the show. Granted they couldn’t relate to the “groovy” hairstyles and outfits, but the overarching themes resonated with a new generation.

All of this got me thinking about what it means to be a fan. Most of us have someone whom we admire, whether a sports figure or a singer, a politician (could happen) or a Hollywood star. Often we’re intrigued by those who are famous, or slightly “out of reach.” According to the dictionary however, a fan is “a person who is very enthusiastic about someone or something.” You could be a fan of your grandmother or your local librarian (hint, hint). It doesn’t have to be someone famous.

Sometimes it’s better to be a fan of someone who isn’t as well-known. My teenagers certainly discovered this to be true, but they learned this the hard way. They wrote a letter to their hero, British actor Tom Hiddleston. Far be it from me to judge, but I can’t understand why they are mesmerized by this guy. He plays Thor’s sinister brother, Loki, in the Avengers movie. I guess he has a more interesting personality. While Loki plays the underdog, I would have been inclined to write a fan letter to Chris Hemsworth who plays Thor. That aside, my daughters found Hiddleston’s address on the website, and promptly mailed a note filled with great admiration. Weeks went by, and no reply. I asked them how many stamps they put on the envelope. Well, that was the first problem. They used one stamp, so most likely the letter never arrived in England. They also failed to enclose a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope for his reply. Problem Number 2. Needless to say, their first experience as fans was lukewarm at best.

But they learned! The correct postage is key! It also helps to find a non-Hollywood hero to admire, and so they did. Most afternoons while studying they tune into WCRB (99.5), the classical music station. This past spring they were greeted with the voice of a new host, Chris Voss. Soon they began to feel like they were becoming friends with this soothing voice on the radio. Chris Voss had new fans.

Once again my daughters sat down to write a fan letter, but this one was more practical in nature. Not only did they send a note of admiration, but they included a donation to the station from their hard-earned money, plus an extra $5 for a cup of coffee. Teenagers! Next thing we knew, we received word that Chris wanted to mention their letter on the air. Not only that, the station invited the girls to tour WGBH to see firsthand how Chris Voss and Kathy Fuller worked their magic  In this case being a fan of a local celebrity led to mutual admiration.

Certainly, as we mature our tastes do too. I’m fully confident that I wouldn’t faint if I ran into Greg Brady today. And while I might get a bit tongue-tied if I found myself in conversation with Tom Brady, I realize that he hugs his kids and ties his shoes like the rest of us. That said, the biography section in the library is a great resource for any fan. You might even find a new person to admire while browsing the rows of biographies. I did!

I found my hero under B KAMKWAMBA. Who’s that, you might ask? Well, William Kamkwamba’s amazing story is called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope. This young man was born in Malawi, a country “where magic ruled and modern science was mystery.” While many of the villagers made fun of his idea to use a windmill for energy in their village, William was determined to show them otherwise. He was forced to drop out of school in 2002 during a severe famine, but he fashioned a crude windmill on his own to provide power to four lights. His next windmill turned a water pump that helped stave off the drought that came every season. Clearly this young man seems worthy of admiration in a world where it’s not easy to find a hero.

I’ve yet to send William Kamkwamba a fan letter or “friend” him on Facebook. Instead I admire him from afar. In my mind however, he provides the best lesson of all. If given the choice, it’s far better to take a risk and to be somebody’s hero rather than to be someone else’s fan. If we keep our eyes open for opportunities to make a difference (big or small), I bet we will find them. We might even begin at the library.