I am writing the first acknowledgements page of my writing life, and I am paralyzed. I don’t want to send it to my editor. I won’t send it. What if I’ve forgotten someone? I know I’ve forgotten someone. I mean, let’s just assume. Because where do you draw the line?
For example, I didn’t include the first person who told me I could write: Mrs. LaCross, my second and third grade teacher. She loved my sometimes droll but mostly inane little poems, directly inspired by her frequent dramatic readings from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses.
I didn’t include Rose Moss, my Wellesley College creative writing professor, who taught me how to show versus tell in a piece of “fiction” that really was my first attempt at memoir. Mrs. Moss made me see a dark night in my young life so clearly I can see it still: the train station in Geneva, the last train pulling away with me not on it, the blond man in a trench coat who seemed so trustworthy, so sincere. She made me see myself: a college student in a peach-colored parka, Frye boots, bell-bottom jeans, carrying a forest-green, metal-framed backpack. Wearing old tortoise-shell glasses with a bad prescription, because I’d flushed my contact lens down the drain of a pension in Rome.
I didn’t include Paul Zimbrakos, my boss at City News Bureau of Chicago, who taught me that I could and would interview anybody, from AFL-CIO chief Lane Kirkland to the cops who addressed me as “Hey City Nooz” to young Sandinistas wearing bandanas over their faces, in hiding at a Chicago convent. Or Edward Bliss, who I never met but whose classic Writing News for Broadcast taught me that I could and would boil Washington state’s epic nuclear power default scandal known as WPPSS down to fifteen seconds of copy for the nightly news. Or Jan Chorlton, who died this year of younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, but who, 30 years ago, showed me that it was possible to commit acts of daily creativity in a TV newsroom.
I didn’t include Jacci Thompson-Dodd, my boss at the Seattle Art Museum, who encouraged me to pull out the stops and make the most obscure art come alive. Or Kristin Hyde and Liz Banse, who did the same when I turned my writer’s eye to environmental issues for Resource Media.
I didn’t include Rebecca Brown, who taught fiction in the University of Washington evening extension program in the mid-1990s and urged me to take my own writing seriously, at last.
I didn’t include these wonderful, memorable, powerful people because they weren’t directly influential in the writing of my memoir, Her Beautiful Brain, which will be published in Fall 2014 by She Writes Press. And yet the question remains: where do you draw the line?
There’s a folder in a box in my closet that contains poems, nursery rhymes, riddles, limericks, all laboriously copied in my 8-year-old’s cursive writing. Mrs. Lacross thought a good way to practice our handwriting was to copy things we liked out of books. To build our own storyteller’s treasure chest, our own “fairy’s gold,” she called it. It was the corniest idea ever. I loved it. Loved it: never knowing how permanently it would influence me, this notion of stories as treasure. As magical, intangible currency; a savings account that would never run out.
I wish I could share the news with Mrs. Lacross that I’m going to be a published author at last. I know she would not be troubled at all by how long it took me. According to her daughter, she went back to college and became a teacher when she was sixty and taught until she was 78.
Lucky me, that she did.
Lucky me, that so many people invested in me when I most needed them to. Thank you all. Thank you all.