Weather, without a doubt, affects my mood. This weekend was full of sunshine, and so was my soul. I wasn’t feeling great on Saturday, but even sickness couldn’t stop me from feeling the joy of falling asleep in my roommate’s hammock while reading Lena Dunham’s book (cue controversy) and staring at a squirrel eating a nut for 15 minutes straight. The sun must have healed my sickness—it is a burning ball of happiness and vitamin D, after all—because the next morning I woke up feeling like Princess Anna on Coronation Day. I went straight to the gym after springing out of bed, followed by a long afternoon of horseback riding and meeting a handsome but evil prince named Hans. It was glorious.
With my newfound sense of optimism and the windows rolled down, Sam Hunt blasting on my drive to the barn where I ride [horses not cowboys], I began thinking about when I was Miss New York. Usually, when I think about being Miss New York, I view it as a very neat experience, but feel a slight twinge of embarrassment. I didn’t do anything outstanding to become Miss New York. I was not chosen based on my stage presence or killer interview or looks. I was not chosen at all. I was the default, handed the opportunity of a lifetime on a platter because I happened to be in the right place at the right time during the year that Miss America judges [finally] chose an edgy, game-changing New Yorker to become Miss America 2013. I often feel like I’m presenting myself to be something I’m not when I talk about my time as Miss New York, as though I accomplished some great feat by landing that title. People assume that a panel of distinguished judges picked me out of an incredibly good-looking, smart, and talented pool of contestants. But that’s not what happened. The closest I came to winning a state pageant was finishing in 4th place at Miss Virginia. In New York, I was 7th. I won talent almost every time I competed, which was great, but that was about it. (CLICK HERE for more on how I became Miss New York.)
In Pageant World, I was never the impressive or pretty one. (This will not come as a shock to anyone who has ever seen what I look like first thing in the morning or after a bottle and a half of red wine.) I’ve read comments on super awesome anonymous message boards saying I look like a horse or that people “just don’t get my appeal.” Honestly, that’s fair. People inevitably look like their pets, and I owned a horse growing up. I happen to think horses are really beautiful/adorable, though, so that comment didn’t really have the negative effect its author was going for. Beeeeeeeep. Please try again. All of this is just to say that I tend to dumb down the fact that I was Miss New York, along with other experiences or accomplishments in my life, because I think of myself as that person with a lot of potential who has never actually amounted to anything more than 4th, 7th, or 1,000th best.
Now do you see why I needed sunshine in my life so badly? The wambulance was too busy taking care of people who didn’t land any of the Lilly Pulitzer collection at Target to come pick me up.
For some reason (sun), I was able to see Miss New York, this blog, my singing, heck—even my dating appeal—in a different light when driving to the barn yesterday, all the while trying to forget that I am a target for cops since my license plate tags have been expired since October. (Dad, I’m sorry for failing as an adult. It only took me being pulled over twice to order new ones. But I got out of the second ticket by showing the cop my first ticket! Little victories.) When I became Miss New York, I felt proud because A.) I had placed high enough among a group of women that included two future Miss Americas, a future Miss Connecticut, a future Miss International, a former Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, and–still possibly–additional Miss New Yorks, to even have the opportunity to take over the crown; and B.) I knew that my mom had gone to Heaven four months earlier and pulled strings to make it happen. She believed in me. And she wasn’t alone. So many people came out of the woodwork to say that they had always believed I would become a state titleholder someday. Random pageant moms. Facebook stalkers who said flattering words about “following my journey,” but who I still refused to friend (thank you and sorry). My cousins. The star of my high school football team who I kissed once during Thanksgiving break from college. A group of socially underdeveloped men who I once spoke to as a panelist for a dating seminar (the things I get roped into…). Sorority sisters a few years older than me. My puppy-eyed ex-boyfriend. It was a motley crew, but by golly, they had always believed in me!
Once I became Miss New York, many others boarded the Shannon train, as well. The little girls at school assemblies who said they wanted to be me when they grow up (may they never read this blog). My Business Manager who booked outrageously high profile and high-paying appearances by making people believe I was the second coming of Idina Menzel (Deana, you’re an angel on earth and a marketing genius). The fine people of Manhattan who baked delicious, assorted cheesecakes that I judged to raise money for AIDS research (I did this appearance for free, obviously, because why wouldn’t I). None of these people cared how I became Miss New York. All they cared about was that I had the sparkly goods to prove it, plus that I made them feel special, inspired, or—in my Business Manager’s case—like a licensed therapist making a real difference in the life of a somewhat emotional, at times scatterbrained, princess.
Memories of all of the love I felt, and still feel, from the people who saw me as the #1 Miss New York came flooding back to me on that breezy drive to ride horses in a class full of 11-year-olds. I became consumed by excitement to see what other curveballs and successes life will throw at my face or lay at my feet. I felt inspired to write for Generation grannY despite only being the 400,000th most popular blogger in the U.S., because to my dad and about six other people, I am the #1 most popular blogger in the U.S. I felt motivated to go to the gym because even though my body will never look like Peta Murgatroyd’s, my future husband (identification still pending) and possibly my sleazy neighbor think I am Aphrodite cloaked in modern apparel. I felt focused on my future, where I might become Mindy Kaling’s best friend and write a book that becomes a movie of my life and then get famous enough to turn into a popstar who eventually morphs into the new Oprah, or perhaps where I write an e-book that a few hundred people read and their lives, hearts, and abs are better for it. And where maybe I’ll get some bar gigs to sing songs that put strangers in a great mood after a long day at work.
The moral of the story is to make sure that I am exposed to warm weather every 4-6 weeks. Also, that finding pride in your life is all about the lens through which you choose to view it. Especially for twenty or thirty-somethings, it’s easy to choose the self-deprecating “what will/have I actually ever accomplish(ed)” lens, but get your butt outside, feel the warmth on your face, and think: You are alive. You are like no one else. If you have shown love to even one other human being, then you have already done something to be proud of. Your inherent uniqueness combined with your experiences and accomplishments makes you extraordinary. Pair that with some hard work and positive lenses, and your future will hold even more to smile about on sunny afternoon drives. Maybe even on sleety, dark, winter afternoon drives, too. (That might be overshooting.)