When you’re growing up and negotiating hormonal changes, troubles of the heart, subconsciously establishing the worries that will plague you for years, the hell that was SCHOOL (uniforms, come on) and fluid friendship groups, we couldn’t be told that it wasn’t just us struggling, that we weren’t alone, and that, amazingly, other people had problems. We’re a bit older now, and sometimes, looking back into the past is tough. We’ve repressed a lot of the memories, good or bad. I’ve repressed the time that, when in detention, I wrote a rap about a boy I fancied/hated (equal parts) to the tune of ‘Maria, Maria‘ by Santana. I was kind enough to dredge that up, just for you. More than enough about me, Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham, two of our favourite and funniest women, in a series of retrospective and contemporary essays that have thankfully been bound and turned into brilliant books, share their memories with us. In Yes Please, Amy Poehler presents to us an unmarked childhood; a happy one, filled with laughter and encouragement. Conversely, Lena Dunham, in Not That Kind of Girl, shows us a childhood filled with fear. Here’s to being a funny woman, strong enough to delve into the past. As ridiculous as it might have been, you can’t say that it wasn’t formative.
‘My parents still live in the house we moved into when I was five. In my old bedroom are the dried flowers from my prom and a street sign I stole when I hung out with some bad kids for a few months. I loved school. I loved new shoes and lunch boxes and sharp pencils. I would hold dance contests in tiny finished basements with my friends. I roller-skated in my driveway and walked home from the bus stop on my own. We never locked our door. I had a younger brother whom I loved and also liked. I thought my mother was the most beautiful mother in the world and my father was a superhero who would always protect me. I wish this feeling for every child on earth.
Because of this safe foundation, I had to create my own drama. I’m aware many children were not afforded that luxury. Some had houses filled with chaos and abuse, and they learned to keep their mouths shut and stay out of trouble. I was dealt two loving parents, and they encouraged me to be curious. This safety net combined with the small drumbeat inside of me meant I did a lot of silly things to try to make life seem exciting. Our little town of Burlington, Massachusetts, was quiet and homogenous, an endless series of small ranch houses on tree-lines streets littered with pine needles. The only thing we feared was the dreaded gypsy moth. Burlington was sleepy, and to a restless young girl like me it often felt like a ghost town. I yearned for adventure and I spent a lot of my youth in my own head, creating elaborate fantasies that felt grown-up and life threatening. ‘
‘I am eight, and I am afraid of everything. The list of things that keep me up at night includes but is not limited to: appendicitis, typhoid, leprosy, unclean meat, foods I haven’t seen emerge from their packaging, foods my mother hasn’t tasted first so that if we die we die together, homeless people, headaches, rape, kidnapping, milk, the subway, sleep. An assistant teacher comes to school with a cold sore. I am convinced he’s infected with MRSA, a skin-eating staph infection. I wait for my own flesh to erode. I stop touching my shoelaces (too filthy) or hugging adults outside my family. In school, we are learning about Hiroshima, so I read “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,” and I know instantly that I have leukemia. A symptom of leukemia is dizziness, and I have that, when I sit up too fast or spin around in circles. So I quietly prepare to die in the next year or so, depending on how fast the disease progresses. My parents are getting worried. It’s hard enough to have a child, much less a child who demands to inspect our groceries and medicines for evidence that their protective seals have been tampered with. I have only the vaguest memory of a life before fear. Every morning when I wake up, there is one blissful second before I look around the room and remember my many terrors. I wonder if this is what it will always be like, forever, and I try to remember moments I felt safe: In bed next to my mother one Sunday morning. Playing with my friend Isabel’s puppy. Getting picked up from a sleepover just before bedtime.’
A memoir in essays – and a philosophy to live by – Yes Please offers a big, juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex, love, friendship and parenthood, and real life advice. You can buy it here. Published by Picador
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