When I was four years old, my brother – who would have been about seven at the time – made me a present. It was his first piece of woodwork. A toy dog. It was silly and misshapen and wretchedly constructed, and no two pieces of wood were the same thickness so it didn’t even match itself, but I loved it. My big brother made it just for me. I carried it around a lot for the first year or so, but then it moved to the back of my toy shelf. I’d gotten brighter, shinier toys that actually looked like what they were meant to be.
Skip ahead sixteen years. I was twenty and got cast in an amatuer production of Bertholt Brecht’s Gallileo. The director was thrilled to be doing the play in part because he’d trained for a while with Brecht’s stage manager and had learned a lot of theater exercises he wanted to use on us. One evening he told the cast at the end of rehearsal that the next time we met, he wanted us to bring items that represented to us the characters we were playing. That meant some of us had to bring a lot of props. I, for instance, was playing five different characters.
I went home and started pawing through twenty years of accumulated odds, ends, and treasures. When my eye lighted on the wooden dog my brother had made for me all those years before, I knew exactly what I needed for one character. I was playing, among all those little parts, a monk at the Vatican who spent his entire scene denouncing Gallileo’s blasphemous concept of the universe. The dog was the monk’s universe. Nobody else in the cast got the connection, but the director saw where I was going with this. The monk’s universe didn’t represent nature any more than my pathetic wooden dog represented a proper flesh and blood dog. But we’d always had these things and were afraid to let go of them. We would deny truth to keep our safe assumptions.
I still have my wooden dog. It’s a reminder of several things. It reminds me that no matter how far we roam, my brother has always loved me. It brings back childhood memories that are still sweet. But since that production of Gallileo, it’s also been a reminder to sit down once in a while, shake out my assumptions, and see if they still make any sense at all. It reminds me that once upon a time I assumed I looked better in burgundy than cherry, that I once assumed that if I was fat I couldn’t have pretty clothes. It reminds me that there were a lot of years when I assumed I was a terrible singer because someone told me that when I was seven.
Assumptions are easy. They’re comfortable on a certain level even when they work against us. Changes are hard. They require a leap of faith. But even a tiny leap is worth the effort. Even if all you do is try on a color you’ve never worn before, or eat a couple bites of a vegetable you detested when you were six, it’s well worth it. You may discover something new about yourself and gain the confidence to seek out more truths.
And that, my friends, is the key to being superfantastic: having the confidence to be precisely who you are.