I never actually heard the words made famous by a certain man on a certain TV show. Instead I got a lot of harrumphing and vague "I-got-some-bad-news" mumbling. Over the phone. The night before my 44th birthday.
When I was fired from "America's Next Top Model" this past spring, two things hit me simultaneously: the heavy thud of realization that I am not wanted, not liked, not worth my salt, not loved--yes, I know this sounds a little over-the-top, but I have the tendency to run with the negatives--and the lightening of a burden lifted; I would no longer have to worry about missing my children's recitals, date nights with my husband, and all that family life has to offer. It was a curious mixture, one I imagine akin to standing in a falling elevator, but knowing you can jump up at the last moment to prevent gravity from crushing you. And you can walk off. Not unscathed maybe, with a permanent distrust of elevators perhaps, but alive.
My announcement about getting fired was a decision I made when I, a day after a rather depressing birthday, realized that all the famous people I've ever read about have rarely, if ever, "gotten fired." It's not that it hasn't happened. In our biz, the showbiz, you get hired and fired at the speed of sound. But it seems only comedians have the guts to admit it.
Performers are, by nature, self-employed. Sort of. We are used to being out of work; we are used to the thought that this job may be our last. The threat of unemployment doesn't so much hang over your head as it surrounds you like water in a pool. But being fired is different. It's not only that you now have no foreseeable income, but--for a celebrity--you have also been publicly punched in the face. It is the one last kindness that is performed by whomever is actually firing you, usually the producer, to do a lot of harrumphing and vague mumbling about bad news, and allow you to put it out to the public in a way that won't forever mark you as failed.
Generally, admitting to a weakness in a cutthroat setting is far braver than keeping a stiff upper lip, but unless you are Jimmy Stewart in a Hollywood movie, the consequences are the same as announcing you've twisted your ankle to a bunch of muggers.
Hence, all the celebrities that "quit" because they were exhausted, had personal conflicts, and the ol' scheduling problems.
So why did I do it? I'd like to imagine it was in part because I'm always so appreciative of when someone tells the truth--clean water escaping muck, and all that sort of imagery I like to amuse myself with--and in part because I have come to the conclusion that saving face takes more effort than it's worth. For me, anyway. (It is also more than possible that I thought it would get me sympathetic attention and another job.) In any case, a day after I outed myself as a fired (failed) celebrity on Craig Ferguson, my phone rang off the hook. I'm still not sure whether it was because people were appreciative of the truth, or merely looking for me to dish further dirt, but the beauty of being 44 is that one spends a lot less time bullshitting oneself. And none of those calls were to offer me another job.
One of the people I spoke to was a lovely female journalist who, after a few minutes, confided she had also just gotten fired and that I was her last interview. How is that for irony? She had worked for the paper for fifteen years and got a fairly unceremonious boot. She had a little money saved up. She had some plans to make the best of it. She wasn't 20 either.
When you get fired at 20, it may be a kick in the butt, but one that propels you forward to the next adventure. When you get fired at 44, it's a slap in the face that takes you backward to sink into your well-worn couch and to reexamine your life, to re-evaluate your place in the world.
In all honesty, getting fired from "Top Model" was nowhere near as tragic as I'd like to make out. It's mostly a slight public humiliation, and one that I decided to perpetuate myself. It in no way compares to the thousands of people who have been laid off and are struggling to survive.
Still, I wouldn't have minded to walk away with an extended middle finger and a victorious "I quit!"
Oh, and by the way, I'm available for hire.
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