I like to pretend that Hollywood award shows are actually about thankfulness. I know they’re mostly self-congratulatory, ego-stroking, over-indulgent pompous parades. They’re based on spectacle, beauty, elitism, the cream of the crop. We tune into see million-dollar smiles walk down expensive red carpet while we sit on the couch, wearing wool socks and eating pizza pockets (just me? Okay).
Even so, you know I love the lavish festivities: mostly because of any musical numbers, but also because of the acceptance speeches.
I’m assuming any winner will probably tell you (I don’t know any Oscar winners personally [yet]) that after walking up the stairs to the podium, the speech is the hardest part. I mean, are you supposed to prepare? Does that jinx your chances? Does it seem too presumptuous? Do you go up there and try to wing it? What if you forget someone? What if you say something stupid and it lives with you forever? What if the terrifying Jaws music starts playing you off and you get flustered?
Most winners either over-think it and recite boring lists of strangers, or they don’t think enough and spend their time gushing or crying. The latter can be endearing, or it can be pathetic–as always, there’s a fine line between endearing and pathetic.
All we, the commonfolk, want is heartfelt, moving, memorable. Be humble. Be funny. Be honest and true. Is that so much to ask?
Apparently so. Some winners need tutoring, and I’ve got the guy to do it. Daniel Day-Lewis.
Day-Lewis, Sunday’s much-deserving winner of the Best Actor statuette, needs to teach a master class in writing an acceptance speech. I’ve listened to him accept four different fancy awards this year, and each speech has been different and well-fitted to the occasion. His speeches start out light and humorous, poking light fun at himself. He jokes about the people and events of the evening, and does so with a wry smile, a gleam in his eye, an overly handsome jawline.
Then Day-Lewis thanks people, but here’s the key: he tells us why he’s thanking them, giving us lovely poetic clues as to why these strangers to us mean something to him. He is respectful of the roles he’s been given and those who gave them to him. And he always recognizes those who have supported him.
His speeches do what every excellent acceptance speech does: takes the spotlight off the winner and puts it onto his community.
For example, like a good husband, Day-Lewis thanks his wife. He would be a different person without his wife; I assume he’d say a lesser person. If he were a different person, he may not have been able to become Lincoln in the way that he did. He’s similarly impacted by others in his life: directors, hair and makeup folks, agents, co-stars, costumers, lighting designers, parents, friends, former teachers, baristas, assistants…it’s never a singular venture.
Life is not a singular venture. There is not one winner.
The lives of non-Hollywood stars don’t provide many opportunities to give acceptance speeches. We don’t have many chances to win awards, really, after we graduate out of T-ball and participation medals. If we do win, the awards are given in secret, or given with resentment, or not given at all. We don’t have million-dollar events that celebrate ourselves, where we laugh too loudly and talk about “who we’re wearing.”
But if we are lucky, we are surrounded by people who deserve to be thanked for our successes. It’s much easier to blame them for our failures, but these people, in big and small ways, have made us who we are. They have given us the gifts, either knowingly or unknowingly, that have brought us to where we are, hopefully the best possible version of ourselves.
Life is not a singular venture. There is not one winner. And the secret is: we are nothing without those who have gotten us here.
Maybe you don’t feel like you’re winning. Maybe you don’t feel like the best possible version of yourself. But you know what? It’s cliché, but true: every day is a gift. It’s a bright shiny (cloudy in Oregon) award. It’s a gift from God, who’s saying, “Okay, have another go. It’s on me.”
Wake up. Accept it. And feel proud of yourself and grateful for your community.
I’ve written about acceptance speeches before, the need to thank those around us. But it keeps coming up in my mind and my heart, how we don’t say thank you anymore. How we live deceivingly isolated lives. How we’re missing out on telling others that they mean something, and we are grateful for their presence in and impact on our existences.
So, the next time you win something…
Or the next time you realize all of the big and small ways in which you are winning daily just by existing, doing good work, and becoming a loving human being….
Or maybe right now, as you are…
Send out an acceptance speech via email, or Facebook, even Twitter or (gasp) snail mail. Leave out the part about thanking the Academy or how heavy the statuette is. Instead, jump straight to the thank-yous. Be self-deprecating, be humble, be a little funny if that’s you.
But mostly, be heartfelt as you thank your crew, those who have made you into the version of yourself that you are now. The one who is able to work, to think, to communicate, to love. The one who is grateful.
However you do it, do it. Tell others that you’re thankful for them and their work in your masterpiece. Because this life is ours; it’s not lived alone. Let’s not pretend it is.
Daniel Day-Lewis’s 2013 Golden Globes Acceptance Speech