This past weekend I had a dream where I traveled in time back to some tropical island volcano in 1989 with Prince Charles and some random royal young person. In my half sleep, half awake ether at the end of the dream, I started to think about what I would tell my nine year old self since that's who I was in 1989.
This has been an… interesting year so far for you, hasn’t it? Got a bike for your birthday, fell off it a couple of days later, your appendix burst a week later, you spent 2 weeks in the hospital and another 2 weeks at home recovering and you got a sweet new daybed rom Jerome's out of the moms-guilt. You are going to start 5th grade at a new school with new people. That’s going to be an interesting one too, but you’re going to love Mr. Hutchinson. Needless to say, this is a pretty important time for you developmentally in every way. And because I couldn’t give a flying funt about the butterfly effect or space time disturbances or whatever, I’m going to tell you what’s what and give a little guidance on what to do about it to help, maybe, make your life rad because it’s not too rad now in 33-land.
1. Don’t stop riding your bike. I know the moms took it away after the appendectomy but that bike was not the cause of your hospital stay. Sometimes stuff just happens (to you, it happens a LOT) and this was just something that happened. Get your bike back or get another one, even if it’s a shrimpy BMX so you’re sitting back and your feet can hit the ground, and pedal your heart out because this is your freedom until you turn 16. Just make sure it has a basket of some kind on it. Talk to Muggy about it – she’ll totally back you up and she’ll probably even get one herself and ride around with you.
2. Speaking of Muggy: your Muggy and your Grandpa are the only two people around you now who know what’s what. The parents have no clue and, I’m sad to say, they never will so just nod and smile when they say something then go back to your room and do what you were going to do anyway. We both know that this episode with the appendix wasn’t the first time they let you down and it definitely won’t be the last. But your Muggy is your strongest, staunchest supporter. Give her lots of hugs – she needs them way more than you know. One day you’re going to be her strength in a way you won’t even realize when you’re doing it.
3. Meat and vegetables and fruit. You really like these, eat them as much as you can for meals. I know the parents don’t believe in vegetables or cooking or dining together (you have a pool table but not a kitchen or dining table, really?) but you need to start insisting on these. Apples: the green ones, not the red ones. Vegetables come in frozen bags, make them get them for you and learn how to make them. You know how to make mac ‘n’ cheese, cereal, peanut butter and jelly mixed together and sandwiches, learning how to get the frozen vegetables unfrozen won’t be that hard for you. Oh, and you love cabbage. Raw. With a little lemon. For real.
4. I know you read a lot already but read more. MORE. Anything you can get your hands on. Those Collier Encyclopedias? Read ‘em. Get on your bike and go to the library. It’s not more than a 20 minute bike ride away. There’s no such thing as a kid’s book and an adult book – they’re all for you to read. There’s going to be a time soon when the parents stuff you into a car every weekend for a “speed run” to Vegas or state line – bring 2 big books with you every time and bring a dictionary. Pocket your arcade money for #5 and read at the pool. The library is your friend.
5. Save your money. Christmas, birthdays (because we both already know that they have given up on trying to figure out what you would like and give you $20 instead) and the guilt/arcade money you get from the parents when they schlepp you to Vegas/State Line. The money you get for working for them: save it. More specifically, save 80% of it in a box or envelope or piggy bank or something else. When you have $500 saved, talk to Grandpa and ask him to buy you shares of stock in Apple Computers. You know, the IIe+ that you play your Oregon Trail and Number Munchers on? That company. Then save $1000 and take it to Grandpa and tell him $500 is for more shares and the other $500 is for a CD. And keep on doing that. Stop buying shares in the first quarter of 2003 and sell it all in September of 2012.
The other 20%, spend on music. Fuck what the parents say, you are allowed to love the crap out of Bruce Springsteen. When you and Muggy go to Sam Goody to get Heart and Queen tapes, get yourself ALL of the Bruce Springsteen tapes you can lay your hands on. Also, the Replacements. They are going to change your life. So will lots of other people who make music who are still brewing right now but will amaze you very soon.
6. Insist on swim camp. Insist so much that they don’t send you to Alabama that they have no choice but to cave in to your demand – tantrums yo, they’ll work. Make them send you to swim camp. Because, just like bicycling, you need to keep swimming. And you need community. Badly.
7. You need to make your own structure – your own life structure on a daily basis, a loose routine. You need to guide yourself because the parents aren’t going to do it for you. Don’t wait for them to support something, anything (even college), you want to do because they won’t. They won’t deter you but they definitely aren’t going to help you. They are ambivalent (dictionary) and unaware. They don’t have plans or ideas for you or what you can do in this world, you have to come up with them on your own. And then get on your bike and do them. You don’t need stuff, you need experiences which the parents don’t understand so they don’t know what to do with you. So go out on your bike and experience on your own. They won’t notice. Trust me.
8. Things come easily to you and you let this make you lazy (mainly because you need structure) – only superficially curious. Find something, anything, to dive deeper into. Know that you are going to majorly suck at it at first but you’ll get better. A lot better. Computer programming (because you’re good with number patterns), history, science, extra-curricular writing, machine/car repair (because you like working with your hands and you’d be amazing at it), karate/martial arts (because a ninja you would be MIND BLOWINGLY AWESOME), dancing, knitting, anything. But you have to find it and make the decision because no one is going to guide you to it. And you have to persist through the beginner “I’m horrible at this” phase. No matter what it is, this will be one of the best things you could ever do for yourself. **Note: I place my vote for ninja now because that would be uber-rad.**
9. Make this boy your penpal: B.T.C. Cumberbatch. He’s just now starting at Harrow School in England. The address there is 5 High St, Harrow on the Hill, Middlesex HA1 3HP, United Kingdom. Write to him. Anything and everything. Stories, happenings, feelings, just keep writing. This achieves two things: 1. you’re consistently writing. Don’t ever let anyone – teachers or otherwise – tell you that the way you write is wrong because it’s not, it’s YOUR way of writing. 2. That boy is amazing now and will be even more so later, it’ll be totally worth it. Let yourself expand with it. Maybe you don’t always send letters, maybe make it drawings or paintings or collages or something.
10. There are quite a few people in your life who are around your age who are unnecessarily cruel. Jessica, Jennifer, Kellie Scott, etc. Fuck them all. Don’t listen or take to heart one word that they say to you because everything that comes out of their mouths is spiteful drivel and it has absolutely nothing to do with you. All three of them end up pregnant and on drugs by 18. For real. And, let’s be honest here, in a year or two, you’ll be coming up on a time in your life where 99% of the people your age who are around you are just bitches. Boys, girls, teachers, idiots all of them. There are a select few individuals who aren’t assholes but the rest are and it’s because there’s stuff going on inside and outside of their bodies that they just don’t understand so a lot of them get angry or hateful or controlling over something or someone outside of them to help them rationalize what’s going on inside of them. The biggest chunk of this period will be about 6-8 years, but there are some people who hold onto it for their whole lives. Remember this: anything that anyone ever says about you that’s negative is not about you at all, it’s about themselves. Because you are amazing and smart and beautiful and you grow up to have really awesome boobies. But this is the reason for a majority of my suggestions: bicycling to other places, swimming, reading, penpal, karate (hopefully?) will all be things that you can find solace in when these people get you down. They’ll be distractions for you, they’ll be outlets, they’ll be what gets you through.
Finally, not that your saying anything will be able to help this, but if you can, find a way to make it so the pops doesn’t quit the Navy. The reason he quits is noble but dumb in the long run because he loses his whole sense of self and ends up going back in 11 years anyway. He starts to resent everything surrounding the decision because he doesn’t really know how to fully exist without the structure that the Navy gave him.
Final instructions: read this letter every day for the first year. Read it every month for the following 6 years. Read it yearly and otherwise as desired or required after that. Remember that no one is going to do it (whatever it may be) for you, so go and get it or do it yourself. Also, don’t get that perm when you’re 13 – that’s bad juju yo.
**warning: the word "posh" will be used unendingly in this letter/post/diatribe**
Dear Benedict Cumberbatch:
With you being the new "it" dude of the summer of 2013 (rather deservedly I say), there are countless articles out now where you're featured and most all of them have some sort of claim about you not being as posh as people think you are or might be and that you want to stretch your acting muscles out beyond the posh roles you've played in the past, get out from under the posh stigma* (most always with some posh photo set featuring beautiful clothes, beautiful people, worn leather, tea and cigars). I applaud your eagerness to grow and expand in your craft however, I don't think posh is as bad as you, or the people writing the articles, make it out to be. To start, you must know that the definition of "posh" has expanded in direct proportion to the income gap experienced in the past decades. Posh forty years ago was drastically different than posh is today. Perhaps you should look at the posh stereotyping from a different angle: you are tremendously adept and gifted at playing posh upper and upper-middle class people, both modern and classic. I think there are several factors that contribute to this, namely, 1. your unflinching acuity, eloquence and alertness; 2. your posture and bearing; 3. your mouth.
One of your most prominent and fawned about features are your amazing eyes. Not only are they a gorgeous, ever-changing, speckled and brilliant blue, there is an unerring, hawk-like sharpness about them. You can't hide that they are taking everything in - making mental notes of the goings on in the corner of your eye. You have a perpetual look of mental calculation on your face because of this and, as such, you come off as highly intelligent and alert. Highly intelligent and alert translates to well-educated (incorrectly so most times, but few choose to understand that distinction) which translates into posh. Additionally, your well-measured honey baritone does little to dissuade a posh demeanor. You're articulate and eloquent in your speech and you pause to breathe or quickly, but not anxiously, collect your thoughts often, both of which show a calmness and command that, combined with the molten rumble coming from your diaphragm, demands one listen to you, demands attention, demands respect (posh respect).
Another seemingly natural feature that screams posh is your posture and bearing. Your hold yourself very straight and very stiff but still demonstrate an elegance and efficiency of movement. At this writing I've seen everything you've acted in per IMDB's list except all but one of the episodes of "fortysomething" because that just hasn't made it over to the States yet, and the NINE things you are currently in production with. However, I don't expect it to be too long before "fortysomething" is here, I mean it's House, the original Duckface and you all in one show - it'll be on PBS or BBC America tout suite. Anyway, in all of that amazing stuff I've watched, I haven't seen you slouch once unless your character was sick. There are very few non-posh people in real life who aren't physically bowed by the trials life has thrown at them, hence regal posture and bearing equaling posh: well-bred, etiquette school, servants, different varieties of worry - survival versus maintenance of comfort - they all affect how people perceive you. I'm not saying that having amazing posture is bad, it just doesn't lend itself to your desired non-poshness.
Finally, one thing you can't change that really puts posh all over your face is your mouth. There's a way you tug the corners of it down when you're concentrating, trying to fight back an emotion - sadness, pride, hurt - or are otherwise touched by an act or situation, that brings great length to your face while enhancing the length of the rest of your features and it makes for a distinctly posh, "stiff upper lip" bottling of emotions. One can see the stopper being tamped into place when those corners go down.
So, I've come to the conclusion that this "poshgate" (great name by the way) comes down to two possible scenarios: 1. it's a massive PR move to show you as being more accessible to the plebes because there's some really generalized nonsense out there that your flame will burn bright but short if your fans don't feel like they can relate to you, or 2. you really are really really keen on branching out into non-posh roles. Lets take these one at a time. PR move: let's be real here, you're not really going to be accessible** in the way that your fans want you to be accessible, which is constantly in our bedrooms lulling us to sleep with whispered dulcet tones of some completely soppy poetry after a wild romp of some kind. You don't have a Facebook account, you don't have a Twitter account, you don't have a Pinterest account, you don't blog - there isn't a way for people to know the real you and, to be honest, even if you did any of these, how would we know it really is you? It is your job to lie and/or go outside of yourself to tell the tale of another for a living - you're an ACTOR, you have two degrees in ACTING. However, there is a plethora of charming, down-to-earth, silly, fun, sweet interviews and tidbits all over the internet which paint you as this fellow that we would all get on with like a house on fire wearing sweaters over our shoulders with the sleeves tied, sipping tea and you schooling us on something like theoretical mathematical physics. You really don't need to be worried about accessibility, I think you're doing just fine with your Cumberbitches and your Sherlockian somethingorothers. They (ok, we) aren't going anywhere. We like you posh and fictionally petulant. Branching out: let me work up a visualization scenario for you - go back to "Stuart: A Life Backwards". Could you play Stuart? Could you access the unintelligible intelligence that Tom Hardy brought to it? Can you let madness roll in and cloud over your impossibly clear and calculating eyes? Do you have the confidence in your well-trained voice to let it slur and tumble over words out of order? Can you let yourself have an irrational reaction to something rational and benign? Can you be filthy on the outside as well as on the inside? (I saw you play that posh pedo rapist, so you've got access to filth of some kind on the inside).
Tom Hardy has made a name brilliantly playing extremely clever, extremely mad antiheroes. You can see the fog of crazy rolling over him. He has a way of bringing the haze of inebriation (from drugs, drink, hate, revenge, exhaustion, insanity) to the forefront of his role and puts it right in his eyes because that's the only place it's believable. Can you do that? Actually, I think you can, but the more important question is, do you WANT to do that? Do you have the personal experiences yourself or with others to genuinely find, access and give respect to those actions and feelings that may seem so foreign to you? Yes, I saw you in the Vincent Van Gogh BBC1 bit you did and you were great, but seemed to play it more anxious than mad.
Christian Bale has taken a whole other tack to get into roles: extreme physical transformation. Would you emaciate yourself to properly play a role? Would you make yourself overly giant? Would you transform yourself into something wholly unrecognizable for the sake of a role? That may be a way to get you out of your posh box. They say the ladies have to get fat or old or crazy or drugged out to win an Oscar, maybe you need to do the same to release yourself from the velvet trappings of poshness.
I'm all for expanding horizons and trying new things (much to my own detriment) but I also fervently believe in knowing where you excel and accepting, appreciating and embracing where your talents lie. You don't strike me as one who would do something if you didn't think you'd excel at it. So, I'm glad that, in your breadth of work, you haven't thrown yourself into a role that was decidedly not posh, but wasn't the right part for you, simply because it was not a posh role.
To sum up, coming from one person who will very likely never meet you (which is a shame because I'm awesome and our powers of awesomeness combined would make the Wonder Twins blush with furious shame), I'd like to encourage you to embrace your inherent poshness and run with it. The posh have so much freedom of expansion within poshness: they can make fun of it without coming off as bitter; they can be silly as all get out, but are almost always subtly so; they can be searing, romantic or brooding (Heathcliff); they can be stiff, boring, unemotional and naïve (the perfect straight man). Anything and everything the unposh can be, but it's so much more fun because it's clipped and unexpected. Perhaps embrace the Alec Guinness in you: did he play a mad drunk who wasn't kind of posh? Most everything he did, he did well, even if he was typecast sometimes. He got to be funny, criminal, smart, mean, desert-y and wise but always had a little something poised, something regal, about him. Maybe you can help change the definition of posh once again into something you would desire it to be. Who knows? I just think there are so many better ways to think of posh than solely POSH per se. And you can help us find them.
* - the google search "benedict cumberbatch posh" spawns pages and pages of anti-posh articles
** - Hun, one of your charities of choice is the Prince's Trust. This means that you associate and hang out with a real life PRINCE. That's a posh mark that can't be done away with even with the strongest heroine addictions, impromptu prostitute blowies or crazy-haired B&E convictions. Prince trumps crime in Poshland.