In The American Scholar’s “How to Write a Memoir,” William Zinsser tells us, “Writers are the custodians of memory, and that’s what you must become if you want to leave some kind of record of your life and of the family you were born into.” While that may have been true at one point in time, I don’t believe that a writer is what you must become if you want to leave a record of your life and family anymore. I’m not on Facebook, but from what I hear about that snazzy social media platform, it’ll leave a pretty thorough record without requiring you to write an actual memoir. I’m also pretty sure that video and image are options when it comes to leaving a record behind. However, writing is actually what speaks to me most, and memoirs are always a treat, so I’m happy to memoir it up.
I wish I had a more exciting legacy of media making to reminisce on, but the truth is, my childhood was much more filled with media consumption than media creation. And when I say media, I mean books. I will have no problem taking you back to a vivid experience I had with books– namely, the point at which I became enamored of them.
When I was in the first grade, I had a wonderful teacher, Miss Lessa. (Please note: Even though I grew up in RI, I’m quite sure that this teacher’s name really was Miss Lessa, and not Miss Lesser, but pronounced with the customary dropping of the ending R sound.) I thought Miss Lessa was the bees knees, and there was one time when I was at a town tee-ball game and I saw her across the field. It should be noted that although I “played” tee-ball, I mostly picked dandelions in the outfield. When I saw Miss Lessa, I ran to her, and then I asked my parents to take a picture of me with her, out there on the side of the tee-ball field. Miss Lessa knelt down on one knee next to me so that her head could be level with mine for the picture. I took this action to mean that we were taking a picture with a cool, one-knee pose, so I copied her and got down on one knee as well. It resulted in a great picture of the two of us on one knee, her smiling in a normal, human way, with her long hair looking customarily awesome, and me smiling in an insane, euphoric way, with my town tee-ball uniform and a baseball hat on. If I knew where that picture was, I would hang it on my wall, and if anyone ever asked me why I became a teacher, I could point to it and say, “Well, that’s one reason.”
Miss Lessa, whom I obviously adored, gave me a copy of the first book in the Sweet Valley Kids series one day at school. She handed it to me and told me that I was such a good reader that she had bought this book for me, even though it was really supposed to be for second graders. She pointed out that she had spilled coffee on the cover and apologized for it. What a crazy lady! What did I care about a little coffee stain?! My totally awesome teacher had just called me a good reader and given me a special present. I consumed that book ravenously, and then about 450 other Sweet Valley books after that. Actually, although that number may be a slight exaggeration, I could tally up the real sum for you if you really wanted, because I have always kept a notebook with a list of all the books I’ve read. When I was a child, I was so intensely engrossed in reading that my parents used to beg me to get my nose out of my book and go outside.
We had a big, cushy, comfy, seafoam green reading chair in our living room and I remember one day I sat in it and read The BFG from cover to cover in one sitting, and then I spent the next couple of weeks bragging that I’d read a 200-page book in one sitting, in addition to two other books I’d read that day. I guess I don’t have to tell you that I was maybe a nerd. The point is, I consumed a lot of media, but I wasn’t that keen on creating it. I didn’t watch a lot of TV, although I do think I may have watched The Little Mermaid almost every day after school in the second grade. (You want thingamabobs? I’ve got plenty.) BUT I did make a TV show once with my friend Georgia in the eighth grade. We wanted to do a cooking show, so we made smoothies in the blender. We took ourselves very seriously, set up my dad’s giant videocamera in the kitchen, and made a big show of talking through the process. My dad suggested later that in real life, it might be a good idea not to lick one’s fingers quite so often during the creation of a cooking show, because of sanitation or whatever.
At any rate, Zinsser, in the previously mentioned “How to Write a Memoir,” advised us to remember that we are the tour guide in our own memoirs, so I hope I have made “an honest transaction with [my] own humanity and with the humanity of the people who crossed [my] life” so that you could “connect with [my] journey,” even if my journey isn’t full of a lot of dazzling media making stops, as I’m sure those of media magicians like Mark Davis will be!