“The most important thing to remember is that you can wear all the greatest clothes and all the greatest shoes, but you’ve got to have a good spirit on the inside. That’s what’s really going to make you look like you’re ready to rock the world.” — Alicia Keys
For those of you who watched me on the Today (NBC) in January and noted my declared love for fashion, it is now time for me to confess something. While there is no question I love a great designer and admittedly ran to my phone last Sunday night to text my best friend Lia about Penelope Cruz’s stunning custom Armani gown, there is a bit more to the story. In truth, I think my love for fashion stems from a place of serious insecurity. Wearing something gorgeous means I have a chance to focus attention on my attire and not my two fingers and small feet. Growing up I truly only remember one special period, one lucky break, where I was intentionally judged solely from the inside out.
1985 Interlochen, Michigan
Carrots with peanut butter. Sounds pretty gross, but with nothing else really appealing, I ate them together often at Interlochen National Music Camp. We weren’t at Interlochen, however, for the dining. Rather, anyone who attended the camp did so for its superior performing arts program. Nestled between two beautiful freshwater lakes in Northwest lower Michigan, my brothers and I attended several wonderful summers in a row. The camp was located in the Midwest, but many kids came from all around the country and from varied backgrounds. Some, like Rain Pryor, had a celebrity parent. Some would later hit it big on Broadway like Anthony Rapp (star of Rent). Kids like Norah Jones and Jewel also passed through Interlochen. But of course, not all of us were the children of celebrities. There were those that were from middle-class families and some that could only come on scholarship, otherwise unable to afford the steep summer tuition.
Although my older brother, Peter, and I had both played trombone in junior high and high school, he had the talent for it and I often sounded like a sick cow. My real talent was voice, honed for years with the assistance of my father who accompanied me on the piano. Although I was admitted to Interlochen on the basis of an audition tape of my singing, I knew I’d have to audition again live upon arrival. I sang for Interlochen’s senior choir director, Melvin Larimer. After hearing me, Larimer smiled, “Why Meg, you have perfect pitch!” I beamed with pride, and was elated when accepted into Interlochen’s “Mixed Choir.”
Each summer at the camp we were treated regularly to visiting performances by famous musicians. My favorite was always Itzhak Perlman, the world’s reining violin virtuoso. The sound from Perlman’s violin on Kresge’s open-air amphitheater was as pure and perfect as anything I had ever heard. In fact, his playing was so inspiring that he motivated me to become a better performer and get the most out of my camp experience.
Recognizing that every camper’s background varied and that fancy clothes and exceptionally groomed appearances might give unfair advantage, Interlochen had a mandatory uniform requirement. Every camper had to wear light blue or white button-down shirts and corduroy bottoms (in the summer). To make it worse, every girl had to wear corduroy knickers instead of pants like the boys. If the uniform sounded hideous, it was!
One day after choir practice, before heading back to my cabin, I asked Director Larimer why the camp forced all of us to wear the same uniform. Looking at me with his warm smile and gentle demeanor, Larimer put his hand on mine and replied, “Meg, we want to judge your performance—what talents you have on the inside, rather than being influenced by anything external.” I was taken aback. Until this moment, I had always experienced life with people invariably focusing on my appearance, at least initially. In response, it had been my mission to have people get past my physical appearance and get to know me. Although I had not yet thought to articulate it, I wanted so desperately to be that “someone,” and not a “something” to strangers. And so, through its mandatory uniform requirement and critique of my vocal ability, Interlochen represented to me a fleeting departure from the world of external judgment.
Clearly the camp and its magic had worked for Itzhak Perlman too. Although he was stricken with polio as a child leaving him partially crippled, when Perlman entered the Kresge stage often using a crutch, the only thing the audience focused on was his music. Not surprisingly, virtually all of my memories of summer at Interlochen are warm and heartfelt. It is also no wonder that one of my favorite snacks is baby carrots dipped in peanut butter!
Years later, I had the privilege of submitting some of my prose to Mr. Perlman. I am pleased to announce that in support of my “Don’t Hide It, Flaunt It” message, he has agreed to write the foreword to the book I am writing.
This post is dedicated in memory of Director Larimer, who passed away in 2008.