Oprah once told me that in order to get the things you want out of life, you need to explain to the universe exactly what it is that you are seeking. And so I did. Only in my case, I decided that the best time to share my request with the universe would be during a conversation that I had with a man who held the direct power to make my wish come true – like a genie. Or Simon Cowell. It’s not that I doubted Oprah, it’s just that I’ve always believed in covering my bases. Naturally, as Oprah had promised, the universe (by way of this man) came through, and suddenly there I was. There I was, face to face with Naomi and Wynonna Judd.

But of course, every story has a beginning, and my journey with The Judds goes back much further than our meeting. So, like any decent narrator, I’ll now take you back in time. Cue the wavy screen and fluttering music.

It was a beautiful spring in Los Angeles (this statement of course being a joke given the singular seasonal nature of Southern California), and everyone around me seemed happy. They might not have been happy in each particular moment of answering the phones or getting coffee or being told that they were a “complete idiot” or “the dumbest person alive,” but they were happy to be gliding down the paths to which they were affixed. To them, this choice of lifestyle was the only one that could possibly make any sense, and they wanted to be there. And they told me that I wanted to be there. And I told myself that I wanted to be there. And for a long time, I thought we were all telling the truth.

I knew how they felt. I remembered being in high school and hearing about a classmate’s plan to become a nurse and truly not comprehending any future career goal that didn’t involve working in television. “Sure, be a nurse,” I thought, “just be a nurse on TV.” I had told nearly every person I’d met from the time I was ten-years-old that I was going to move to Los Angeles and work in TV and stay there for the rest of my life and never ever, ever, look back. So you can imagine then, that when, after seven years of our relationship together, I began to feel like Los Angeles was wearing a ski mask and perpetually holding a plastic bag over my face, I became concerned. I’ve been cautioned never to stick around in an abusive situation, but deep down, I felt that LA really loved me, and I was scared to leave. For the first time, I couldn’t picture my future. The phrase “anywhere but here” entered my mind often, but I had a hard time wrapping my head around what “anywhere” would look like. I no longer had any sense of where I was going or what I would do when I got there. After all, I figured that LA would maintain ownership of the television industry in the divorce. I was finally grown up, but for the first time, I had no idea what I wanted to be.

Enter the duo Judd. Just as I was pounding my fists onto the ground and screaming, “GET ME OUT OF HERE” at the top of my lungs (this could be figurative), I slowly picked myself up when I heard Naomi Judd say something that no one around me “in real-life” ever seemed to agree with. “I sure could never live here, but it’s nice to visit for about three days.” Listen, that might not be the exact quote. I didn’t write it down. But I remember the gist loud and clear: there are people in this world who don’t want to live in LA, and at that moment, I felt ok being one of them. Later, I heard another quote credited to Naomi (actually spoked by Kathleen York in a TV movie… don’t ask too many questions here), “There’s got to be some place on this planet that feels like home.” Naomi seemed to have already voiced the chief thoughts that had been running through my mind, and something inside of me told me that I could also go to her for the answers.

Around this time, Judds music became my life’s soundtrack. I listened to “Old Pictures” and could see a house situated in a wooded area where my future family and I would sit around a camp fire on Friday nights, catching lightning bugs, firing BB guns, and sipping on boxed wine. (You too?). I started each morning with “Love is Alive,” and ended each night with “Flies on the Butter” and “River of Time.” I walked around the Warner Brothers lot wearing headphones, blasting “Grandpa” and “Mama He’s Crazy” into my ears. I completed a half-marathon with the constant echo of “Love Can Build A Bridge” and “Dream Chaser” guiding me along. They said “chase your dreams” and I found myself driving around the country, through twenty-nine states, listening to every song of theirs I could possibly find. They didn’t want to live in LA either. They understood me, and images of a different future started piecing themselves together like a puzzle in my mind. Sure, it was one of those puzzles that doesn’t really have any edges and has 547 pieces of blue sky, and you have NO IDEA where any of them go, but I could see the formation starting to take shape. I had the confidence to say, “I know where I’m going” and to leave the pieces that no longer belonged in my puzzle behind.

Through the course of my time in the world I have met a famous person here or there, and each time that I do, I’m reminded that someone famous is still someone. As Zack Morris once put it, “they put on their pants, one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.” But the subject of Mark-Paul Gosselaar brings up the loophole to my ho-hum “you’re rich and I’m not, who cares” attitude towards celebrities in that there is a handful of people who I feel have gone above and beyond in my world to change my life for the better. These people are the ones with whom I most want to share the joy of our “deep personal connection.” (This is how presidents get shot, isn’t it?) This list is short, but it does have tiers, and there are four people etched into the upper echelon. Three of these names end in “Judd.”

Because of this internal build-up to our theoretical future interaction, I was nervous the second I found out that I’d actually be meeting The Judds. My mind kept fluttering back to 1991 when I marched up to Jodie Sweetin’s autograph table only to be rendered completely mute. I had “Full House” sneakers and spent years of my life pretending to be Stephanie Tanner, but I couldn’t even conjure the words to tell her I liked her show. I certainly didn’t want a repeat of that disastrous episode, but at the same time, I didn’t want to startle The Judds with my enthusiasm. I’ve learned over the years that there’s a very fine line between “fan” and “psycho,” and the perception that I fell into the latter category was a very real concern of mine.

I’m also acutely aware of BFS, “Biggest Fan Syndrome.” Many fans feel that the celebrity at hand has played a more integral role in his or her life than the celebrity could have possibly played in anyone else’s. This condition is something I attempt to skirt to the best of my ability as people riddled with this disease have, as far as I can tell, generally lost all touch with reality. I was privy to a firsthand look at the effects of BFS on the night of The Judds show when some other concert-goers realized that I had a backstage pass in my possession. For instance, one woman kindly informed that my ownership of the pass “really wasn’t fair” because she and her daughter had been singing Judds songs together since 1988. “Tough luck, lady,” I thought, “bring it up with the universe.” (I failed to mention to her that my father, who also had a backstage pass, had asked me on the drive over if any of the Judds have children…)

To me, BFS is one of the first signs that a person is starting to leave “fandom” and is teetering on the verge of entering “psycho’s” territory. Even with TV shows that I loved as a child (see: “Beverly Hills, 90210”), I’m careful to remember that I wasn’t the lone viewer and that I’m not getting a check in the mail each time an episode airs. These shows aren’t really mine. And so too, with The Judds, I avoid phrases such as, “you can’t understand how much they mean to me,” or “I can’t even put my love for them into words.” Because you can understand. Many people understand. And these are the words. Putting my love for them into words is exactly what I’m doing.

As excited as I was for the thirty second encounter that I’d have with the people who sang me home to my new life in Tennessee, I was equally nervous. Luckily, I’d spent the week prior to the show on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard which came as a welcomed distraction. For several days I hung out with my family, played with my nieces and nephew, and relaxed in the perfect tranquility that is a New England summer. Just as I was enjoying my last night and preparing to leave, a day ahead of the group, in order to make it to Oklahoma for The Judds show within plenty of time, my dad called. My flight the next morning had been canceled. As far as I was concerned, everything was completely unraveling, and I completely unraveled with it. I lost my mind.

Through the tears and panic, I rationally told my father that I would take a ferry back to the mainland and drive to Oklahoma because “THERE’S NO WAY I’M MISSING THIS!” He encouraged me to stay the course, and I ended up on a later flight, landing in New York just a couple hours later than I was originally supposed to. I took three planes back to Nashville and then drove 375 miles to Conway, Arkansas to spend the night before meeting my dad the next morning and completing my ten-hour drive together. Although, as far as travel was concerned, things ultimately went off without a hitch, my heart skipped a beat when my flight into Nashville was overbooked and a woman holding a cooler that contained a vital organ had been bumped from the flight. As she informed anyone within earshot that she was “literally holding someone’s life in her hands,” I thought to myself, “Right. But I’m going to meet The Judds. There will be a later flight for you.”

My dad and I made it to the Choctaw Casino and Resort in Durant, Oklahoma and picked up our tickets and passes that read “artist guest” on them. “Wow,” I surmised to myself, “they let me into Heaven after all.” Along with our passes came the instructions to be on the left side of the stage by 8:20pm, giving us another two-and-a-half hours to kill. As nervous as I was in this situation (having to walk up to a person and say hello), I wondered how I’d even made it to this point. Surely, I’d been forced to say, “hello” to people before but for some reason in this moment, I had trouble coming up with the word.

Finally, the time came, and my terror only increased when we were queued up backstage and Naomi and Wynonna walked into the room. For a brief moment, I thought I might pass out which upset me because I figured that in a case like that, I’d miss the show. Throughout my life, I’ve suffered from anxiety attacks. Even when I want to read something in front of the class and feel comfortable with the group before me, my hands start shaking as soon as I get to the front of the room. It’s a problem that only healthy doses of whiskey has seemed to have had any effect on, yet I realized that sadly I’d left my whiskey at home.

I scurried to think of a lead-in joke or something to say. The idea of a “meet and greet” is one of life’s great oxymorons because on one side, you have a person who will tell the story of this meeting until death puts it out of its misery, and on the other side, you have professionals eager to get on stage and leave the roomful of bumbling fools behind. For me though, for the fool, this moment is the one that all of my discussions with the universe had led up to. I needed to think of something to say.

Instead though, somewhere in the middle of the line, I decided to wing it. This strategy was quite out of the ordinary for me as I’ve already prepared several versions of the speech that I’m planning to deliver at the Emmy’s. I elected to “just say whatever comes to mind,” which turned out to be, “I drove here from Nashville, pretty ironic, huh?” As soon as I’d said it, I wanted to take it back. Nashville was 700 miles east of where we currently stood, and they knew exactly how far it was given the “irony” that I’d referenced – that they had driven from Nashville too. I suddenly felt like Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female. I wanted to follow-up with, “you don’t understand, I drove eight hours to see the field from A League of their Own…. I’m generally crazy! I’m not stalking you!” But instead, I forged ahead through the valley that I’d created in somewhat of a foggy haze.

I couldn’t really tell you exactly how things progressed from that point, but I can tell you that The Judds turned out to be the heroes that I’d always known them as. Friendly, polite, and seemingly genuinely happy to be there. I was thrilled. The show was as great as I’d expected, and I got exactly what I wanted out of the night – a story to tell my future kids as they catch lightning bugs, run around the campfire, and dance in the living room with Judds concert tapes playing on the big screen (afterall, this is still my dream, right?).

In addition to the trick about the universe, Oprah says that there is no such thing as a coincidence, and I do believe that Glinda the Good Witch sent The Judds into my life as a reminder to aim high and think big. Oprah also instructs believers to “always look for the lesson,” and I definitely took one home from my trip to see the show. If I really want to get something out of life, it’s worth it to make it happen. I might not always be an “artist guest,” but I can always do my best to show up for the things that matter to me. Yes, I had to take three planes, and yes, I had to drive 1400 miles round trip, and yes, this sounds a little excessive, but I wanted to see The Judds perform and that was the part I cared about. The hassle that came along with achieving this goal was much less important to me.

I hope that throughout the years I maintain a glimmer of this adventurous spirit (universe, this is me talking to you), and I hope that one day Dunkaroos go back into production. Dunkaroos are really the perfect afternoon snack – cookies that come with a compartment of frosting, and I think that if we all pool our pull with the universe together, we can probably get them going again. And besides, I think Oprah would enjoy the occasional package of Dunkaroos too…

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