Last week I sat reading the classic children’s story The Velveteen Rabbit to Little O and I turned each page in anticipation, having forgotten the story of a toy rabbit who wished to understand what it meant to be real. I’ll admit that I have wondered too, over the years, what it means, to get real, to be considered real when it’s said that someone is a real person, as opposed to, I guess, a fake one. I have wondered, particularly, what it means to be real at something.
A few years ago, there was an opportunity at my day job to write a small story that would be turned into a book packaged along with a toy and when I assumed I would write it, me being the content lead on the project, the execs, the people that mattered, had their say. Oh no, they laughed, we’re going to hire a real writer. At the time, that hurt my heart in ways neither of us could not understand.
I had been working, have been working, all this time, to be real, to suit my own definitions of the word, whatever those definitions might be. I wondered what credentials I could present, to prove my realness. The figurative ink on my fingers. The reams of paper. The hundred of thousands of millions, perhaps, words I’d written since I was an eight year old girl.
So, as I read, I listened to the Velveteen Rabbit’s questions about being real. And I listened carefully to the Skin Horse’s reply:
Does it hurt? asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.” “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
I sat back and I secretly thanked the Skin Horse (and I thank him now again) for helping me learn what it means to be real, in my own eyes and in the eyes of others. The bruises. The bumps. The beautiful mystery of it. I thank him for helping me remember what it means to become anything at all.