Saturday, October 20, 2007

Lust, Kindergarten, and Davy Jones

I was having lunch with Kate recently, and she was concerned that she might be a sexual freak.

"There's something wrong with me," she insisted. "I am just way too sexual. It's not normal." Then leaning forward, she added softly, "I can remember having sexual feelings as a kid! I'm talking, like, a little kid!"

I turned my head and gave her a squinting, sidelong glance.

"I'm pretty sure that's normal," I told her, nodding slowly. "Human beings do experience sexual sensations long before puberty."

She bit her lip. "Really?"

"Oh, hell yeah," I said, hoisting myself atop my soapbox. "Although there are plenty of people who'd deny it, because the idea of a sexual child disturbs them. But it's totally natural, and it has nothing to do with abuse or exploitation. Children are sexual beings and they're capable of having feelings of arousal all by themselves. I hate that society wants to make it so shameful. That's what leads to perversion and abuse. Like priests and stuff. All that denial. Demonizing the urge."

She gnawed through two french fries, one after another, then asked:

"So…how young is normal?"

I shrugged. "Well, I don't know. I'm not a child psychologist." Then I thought for a moment. "But I do have a story that might make you feel better. About me, when I was a kid."

Her face brightened, a signal to continue.

"O.K., well, I was just thinking about this recently. I was trying to decide if my sexual experiences have any place in my memoir because, you know, it's one of those major themes of human life – sex. So I brainstormed a list of major sexual moments and realizations and stuff, and I actually remembered my earliest experience of arousal. I was four years old."

Every day when I came home from kindergarten, I watched a line-up of after-school TV that went exactly like this:

The Flintstones

Gilligan's Island

The Brady Bunch
The Monkees

My favorite Monkee was Davy Jones. He was so impish and seemingly harmless, and he had the dreamiest deep brown eyes and a perpetually glossy lower lip made for kissin'. And I knew every Monkees song by heart, even if I didn't understand the romantic sentiments and light socio-political jabs I was parroting.

When the TV station started advertising a Monkees double album, I begged my mother to order it for me. (You get not one, but TWO volumes of the Monkees' greatest hits, all for just $4.99! Call now!)

Beginning the very next afternoon, and on a daily basis for weeks, I asked my mother if my Monkees records had come in the mail yet. And she'd tell me, "They say it takes 4-6 weeks, sweetie," or "But there's no mail today, it's Sunday."

Then one day the mailman left a slip of paper in our mailbox to tell us we had a package waiting at the post office.

"I think that's somebody's Monkees album!" my mother sang. "We'll have Daddy pick it up on the way home from work!"

I remember being irked that it took him three long and torturous days to get his butt to the post office. But 32 years later, I still have a perfect picture in my mind of my dad as a young man with a Burt Reynolds moustache pulling open the screen door and stepping into the tiny front foyer of our Northeast Philadelphia row house, holding a square, flat brown paper package under one arm. Obviously, a moment of significant emotional impact to have stuck with me like that in Technicolor. Davy Jones had come home to me, wearing nothing but a thin wrapping of tree pulp.

In my bedroom, I played "Cuddly Toy" on the plastic record player again and again, until the disk bore a pale, circular ribbon where the needle had worn down the vinyl of that one track by two shades of gray.

I kept the album cover propped up where I could see it. It was white with the red Monkees logo in one corner, and scattered pencil sketches of the Monkees' faces, each about the size of my little palm. The artist had captured Davy's angelic good looks to swoon-worthy perfection.

I was also a big fan of The Brady Bunch, so when Davy Jones made his guest appearance on that now-famous episode, I was positively riveted to the console TV in our living room. Transfixed, not by the television's own Pledge-polished gleam or the stylish faux-ironwork insets flanking its watery screen – no. It was all about Davy.

As he crooned somewhat cross-eyed into the recording studio microphone dangling above him, I thought he looked even cuter than he did on The Monkees. There was something different about him. Longer hair, perhaps. That, coupled with a quiet, roguish sophistication that could only come from having shed the dead weight of the (in my little girl's opinion) three inferior Monkees. Gone was the bowl haircut, gone the goofy faces made at the camera to zany, rubbery sound effects. This new Davy was subtle, and spoke straight to the loins.

The episode was nearly over and Marsha had tried everything to reach Davy Jones and convince him to sing at the school dance. She sat, dejected, as a nattily-dressed Davy appeared at the door behind her and was escorted quietly into the living room to Mrs. Brady's obvious delight.

"Marsha, there's someone here to see you."

Oh my god! Davy Jones – he'd come to see Marsha!

Left alone together on the couch, Davy coyly suggested to Marsha that he needed a date for the dance – and did she know anyone who wanted to go with him?

"Do I!" Marsha cried, and she leaned her body forward and kissed Davy Jones on the cheek.

Do you hear me? She threw all caution and decorum to the wind! She lifted her body closer to his, brought her face to Davy's own sweet hairless face, and placed her moist and eager lips upon his cheek. On his flesh. She put her mouth on his face. Not that far away from his mouth.

The four-year-old me found this incredibly hot.

But it wasn't over.

Davy received this bold kiss without complaint. Accepted it, see, as though he wanted it. And his eyes locked onto her face and followed it as she drew her head away from his, post-kiss, and sat down again. Yes, he watched her withdraw, eyes twinkling with a touch of the devil. Wow. And then, parting those plump, moist lips, he spoke.

"Well! How 'bout the flip side?"

….did you catch that? Davy Jones asked for MORE!!!

Davy Jones wanted her to do it….AGAIN!!!

And he just plain ASKED FOR IT!!!

Ohhhhhhhh. Oh, holyMarymotherofGod.

That moment of his asking – that seemingly innocuous, lightly-delivered "How 'bout the flip side" was the single most erotic moment of my half-day kindergarten pencil box-toting life.

To the extent that a four-year-old kid can be hot n' horny, my friends – I was.

A deep longing, like a length of rope tugged between the depths of my belly and my someday-womb -- there it was. Arousal. Because Marsha Brady took the initiative -- whoa! Baby! No holding back! And because Davy Jones wanted more, and wasn't afraid to say so.

Whhhhhhhhhhhhhhhew. Damn.

So don't tell me little kids don't feel the urge.

Or maybe, like Kate, I'm just way too sexual. Like, abnormally so.

Nah, I don't think so.

Hey, thanks for hanging on through the end of the story. But did you really think you were in for the sordid details of Kate's inflamed libido?

Hah! Cheeky monkey, you.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Clueless in Philadelphia

When you're thinking backwards in time to write a memoir, it's amazing some of the stuff you remember. And some of the insights you get from that proverbial 20/20 hindsight can be downright shocking.

Here's one I'll file under the forehead-slapping, "My God, I was such an idiot!" category.

When I was in my early 20s, I was living with my parents in a neighborhood in Philadelphia where Tudor-style mansions, early 19th century farmhouses and a long-abandoned, foreboding red stone insane asylum stood like awkward stepchildren among cardboard condo developments and strip malls.

I didn't know too many of my neighbors, aside from the cop across the street whose kids I'd occasionally babysit, but begrudgingly, because they liked to sit on my lap and twist my nose.

But my mother knew people. She even knew the people with that house on Worthington Road with the farm animals in the yard. We used to slow down when we drove past and admire the horse standing by the fence, tail swinging. It was the only house on the block with some decent land around it. Everyone else lived in identical white suburban boxes on tiny spits of grass. But the house with the animals – that was neat. A true neighborhood novelty.

I guess maybe my mother knew the married couple who lived there, and somehow she got us both invited to meet with one of their sons, Paul, and his friend, Jack, who were planning to write a children's TV pilot. They were looking to form some sort of think tank, and I guess my mom and I got enrolled through word-of-mouth and our reps for being "those creative Brittinghams".

We walked into the living room of Jack's cardboard condo and there stood one of the most handsome men I've ever met in person in all my 36 years: Paul Cartin. Wow. Tall, lanky, with capable-looking hands, the jaw line and cheekbones of an Adonis, the kind of beautiful deep auburn hair that women around the world spend thousands of dollars in salon fees to achieve, and intense brown eyes I would've pledged myself to like a religion, given the chance. And the weird thing is, right from the start, I sensed he had no idea how handsome he was. (Ladies, how rare is that, I ask you?)

As for me, I felt and looked frumpy. My sister had recently developed some pictures and showed me an unflattering shot of myself, remarking, "You know, I don't know what happened to you, Kim. You used to wear the coolest clothes and you always looked good. You wore make-up and always styled your hair really cute. You look all grungy now, like you just don't care anymore. I miss the way you used to be."

We were in crisis at home, and I wore my palpitating heart literally on my grungy sleeves. We didn't have heat or hot water in our house, even food was scarce, and rats overran the lopsided and sinking 1800s former general store that we called home. I hated my job and felt anxious all the time. I guess my exterior reflected my interior.

But what my sister said really resonated with me and made me uneasy – enough to go to Lane Bryant and put some wages into a long, beatniky black sweater and matching sweater pants. Still frumpy, but crossing a toe over the line into darkly hip – and it was the nicest thing I then owned. I wore it to our first meeting with Paul and Jack.

I liked Paul Cartin. I liked his creativity and his unassuming manner. I liked the effortless rapport we had when we brainstormed ideas for the TV pilot. And he looked all the more perfect in constant contrast to Jack, whom I didn't like from the start. Loud, obnoxious. Reminded me of a future sleazeball movie exec, or someone who'd produce porn. And he worked as a bill collector. *Shiver.* I always wanted to ask Paul, "What's a nice guy like you doing with a guy like…that?"

I remember wanting to sit someplace with Paul, alone, without Jack, and get to know everything about him. I wanted to know what it was like to be kissed by his mouth, to have those handy-looking hands pressing into my waist. I wanted to swap stories with him; I wanted swap spit with him. I wanted to talk about ideas with him, contemplate the universe. I wanted to touch his hair and run my hand along that heartbreakingly perfect jaw. I wanted to know what it was like to pick up the phone and hear his voice say, "Kim? It's me."

I remember showing up one night to one of our creative meetings and being introduced to Jack's girlfriend. She wasn't the type of woman I'd naturally befriend, because a) she chose to be with Jack, and in my mind that lowered her respectability, and b) she just seemed kind of dopey. Nevertheless, when she asked me to ride to the store with her to buy snacks and beverages, I went along to be polite.

I remember feeling a little edgy because I'd had to listen to Jack being jerky for a half hour already and struggled to hold my tongue for peace-keeping's sake. So as his girlfriend and I walked out the door and Jack called, "Now that they're leaving, we can talk about them!" I didn't turn around and make some sort of cute face as he might have expected. I purposely didn't give him what he wanted. I didn't react. Well, except for closing the door behind me perhaps a little more firmly than usual.

In the car, Jack's girlfriend launched into a speech about how lonely Paul was. Out of the blue, unprovoked. I hadn't asked.

"He doesn't have a girlfriend right now, so I think he's a little lonely. He really needs someone to take care of him. I try to be extra-nice to him when he's over because I know he doesn't have anyone. But he really needs a girl of his own to take care of him."

While I was secretly happy to hear that Paul was unattached, I was a little freaked out by his need to be "taken care of". The clueless 22-year-old me automatically assumed there must be something terribly wrong with him if he needed a woman as babysitter and/or mother. It never once occurred to me that this whole "caretaker" spin was the creation of Jack's submissive, "whatever you say, honey" girlfriend and potentially had nothing to do with Paul.

I didn't say much to her – just some "uh-huh"s and "oh"s, listening courteously. And I certainly didn't bounce up and down in the car seat, twist around to face her and declare, "Oh! Oh! I'll take care of him!", because I also assumed this information about Paul's singlehood was most likely being offered up as mere small talk, because, naturally, he would never, ever be interested in me -- a dowdy, chubby, frizzy-haired dork with her fashionable glory days behind her, apparently, or so said my sister.

On a different night, Paul gave me a ride home. When we got to my house, he let out an exasperated sigh.

"I don't know what to do with myself," he said, looking at the road ahead.

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know, I feel like I…like I don't want to go home right away, you know?"

He shifted a little impatiently in his seat and repeated, he just didn't know what to do with himself.

And Dumb-Ass – that is, yours truly, with palm already curled around the passenger door handle -- shrugged and said:

"Well, I'm sure you'll find something to do." I pushed open the door. "Thanks again for the ride. Goodnight!"

Then I disappeared into the house and wearily climbed the stairs to my bedroom, where I popped a VHS tape of a Molly Ringwald movie into the player and thought, "Damn. I wish Paul Cartin wanted to date me."

Don't you just want to go back in time and smack me???? I know I do.

My confidence in Paul's apathy towards me was confirmed in four ways. Note the jackass logic forthcoming.

Way Number One. I once decided to plant a little seed that might, just might, bring Paul and I closer to a potential dating scenario, by putting us in a situation together sans Jack. I asked him:

"Hey! Can I come over to your house sometime and visit your animals?"

I received a disappointing reply.

"Uh…I guess so."

He shrugged and sort of said it like, Well, I'd tolerate your presence, but as soon as you get your petting zoo fix, I expect you to get lost. And I also thought I detected a hint of, What kind of totally uncool nerd are you that you want to visit my animals? No, I decided. He definitely did not like me. Of course. And why would he?

Way Number Two. One night Paul and I were working on a model of a potential claymation segment for the TV pilot in Jack's basement. Some friend of Jack's – another loudmouth – came down to the basement and started making insincere hits on me, you know, like when a guy just wants to look like Casanova in front of his friends. "Well hel-lo there! Tell me, what are you doing Saturday night?" Secretly I wanted Paul to stand up to him and say, "Cut it out, Bill," or better still, "She's going out with me Saturday night. So back off."

Yes, I was hoping for some expression of jealousy on Paul's part. I don't know why I bothered to hope, but I did.

He said nothing. : (

The one happy thing I took away from the situation was the thought that, Hey, maybe if it looks like other men could be interested in me, Paul will begin to see me in a different light, i.e., attractive!

Way Number Three. One afternoon while sitting in cozy proximity to Paul in Jack's kitchen, sketching out ideas or maybe experimenting in clay, I began to feel that deliciously natural rapport blossoming between us. It had room to grow because Jack and his mouth were on the other side of the room, on the phone. Paul and I spoke in semi-hushed tones, engaging one another in such lovely, happy harmony – but the second Jack got off the phone, he came over to the table and like a foghorn blurted:

"All right, break it up break it up! This is supposed to be a work session here."

I assumed Jack knew something I didn't. Like maybe Paul had suddenly gained a girlfriend and this friendly chat between us was taboo. Or, perhaps Jack was doing Paul another kind of favor – saving him from the ugly girl who was getting too friendly. Bailing him out, as it were. Of course he'd want to be bailed out, I thought. Why do I bother fantasizing about what isn't really there?

And, finally, Way Number Four. At some point Paul and I were having a conversation about our creative interests, and he mentioned he was attempting to write some songs with a friend.

"She has a keyboard, so she's writing the music and I'm working on the lyrics."

Well, I thought, that takes care of that. He's writing love ballads with another chick. He's madly, swooningly in love with a musician. Of course. No point wishing on any stars with this guy. We're done here.

And so, that's how my imaginary love affair with Paul Cartin ended. The TV pilot project was dropped and we never saw each other again. I just assumed he trotted off into the sunset with his pianist. (Bitch.)

And here I sit fourteen years later, slack-jawed, realizing, Oh my God! The guy was interested in me all along! Or at least until I frustrated the hell out of him and had him convinced I didn't care one wit about him. Poor guy. Poor me! No – make that stupid, stoooo-pid me.

How many clues did I need? Jack's girlfriend took me out on a snack run just to get me alone and deliver the You Should Be Paul's Girlfriend Sales Pitch. Of course, her pitch needed a little work, but nevertheless, her heart was in the right place. I was just too dumb to figure it out. Dumb, and completely lacking in any self-confidence.

And how about sitting side-by-side in the front seat of his car at 9:00 at night, beneath the shadow of my family's house: "I just don't know what to do with myself…I don't want to go home right away." Geeeeeee. Ya think he might've been hoping I'd say, "Well why don't we go grab a bite to eat, or get some coffee?" You know, I needed to be hit over the head and just dragged off. IDIOT!!!! And there I was in my room daydreaming about him night and day. God! How STUPID!!!

And I'm sure he was thrilled when I asked to come visit…his animals! I can almost hear him thinking, And what am I? Pond scum?

The happy ending to this story is that I'm not nearly as insecure as I was at 22. Not by a long shot. I know I have good things to offer my fellow beings. I believe I am likeable. I know I can't be likeable to everyone, and that's A-OK with me. But my default position is no longer, "Of course I'm not wanted!"

The less-than-perfect part of this happy ending is that I still retain some of my self-doubt. Even as I write this, a little voice in my head is whispering, What if Paul Cartin googles himself and finds this blog and writes to you and says, Yo. Brittingham. I was NOT interested in you, I was NOT hinting that we should go out when we were in my car. Keep dreaming, you egomaniacal witch! How totally embarrassing that would be. Maybe you should keep this story to yourself.

But a second voice is saying, Don't listen to her! See where your insecurities have gotten you before? This is a charming story that a lot of people can relate to. I'm sure even Paul Cartin himself would be nothing but flattered if he read it. You have nothing to fear. And stop calling yourself an idiot.

So I'm sticking with the latter voice. It feels truer. But that bit about not calling myself an idiot? Nah. Can't let myself off the hook there.

Idiot. Idiot! IDIOT!!!!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Love Letter to Duran Duran

It was perfect timing.

Duran Duran came to play at the Hammerstein Ballroom on June 17, 2007. Perfect because I wanted to plunge into a chapter about my adolescent obsession with them, but I was having trouble.

I just couldn't cross over into that state where the writing flows and the reality of the room around me simply vanishes. I knew I had a lot to say, but each time I tried to begin, words landed on the page with a splat. There was a complete lack of depth. It read like a recipe for orphanage gruel.

I even tried changing things up – instead of typing, I wrote by hand in a notebook. It was agonizing. This was a subject of considerable passion – at least for my teenage self. Why
did I feel so stalled?

When I was in junior high, my best friend Charlene and I built our worlds around Duran Duran. They weren't just our favorite band; they were an entire (future) lifestyle, about
which we dreamt constantly. During the final months of 8th grade, we co-wrote an entire novel in which we created characters based on Duran Duran (in our book, "Tibetan Red"), and idealized grown-up versions of ourselves. "Charli Austin" and "Madeley Fairchild" were private detectives who shared a four-story brownstone in Manhattan. Our book begins when they're hired to go on tour with Tibetan Red to protect its lead singer from the insanely jealous and murderous jilted ex of his supermodel girlfriend.

When I went to see Duran Duran two weeks ago, (alone, because it's getting increasingly difficult to dig up a Duran Duran fan who doesn't have to stay home with the kids), I was
transported back in time to 1983.

Those familiar faces. Better known to me than my own, I think. Shadows falling slender beneath their cheekbones, the touchable slopes of their jaws. Impish grins branded onto my brain from hours of staring at pin-ups from Bop and Star Hits. Like a cozy sort of déjà vu, I revisited a parade of postures, scowls, plump lower lips, knock-knees, sharp elbows, boyish cheeks and funny walks that once represented burning hope. Five imperfect but undeniably cute Englishmen, a collective channel for my desire to grow up, be free, feel deeply, see the world, and have a fabulous wardrobe.

I'm a great big dork and I know it, so I have no problem telling you this: during the concert, I decided to play a little game with myself. In the middle of "Wild Boys", I thought, "For the next two songs, I'm going to pretend the band on stage is not Duran Duran, but Tibetan Red, and that I'm actually Madeley Fairchild, and I'll really psyche myself into believing I'm living inside the book."

And as I stood there, I morphed into Madeley Fairchild 2007, attending a Tibetan Red reunion concert. And an entire sequel to my junior high book spilled forth in my mind, like a hundred Technicolor daisies erupting from the ground in some psychedelic animation you'd see on Sesame Street.

Madeley and Chaz divorce in 1986. They had been madly, deeply, lip-bitingly, gut-achingly in love, but she refuses to stand by and watch him coke himself to death. After the divorce, Chaz nearly has a nervous breakdown, but his best friend and band mate Tyler comes to his rescue and forces him into rehab in the nick of time. (Duranies, find the wink in that last line.) Tibetan Red disbands, and the London tabloids break the news in big block letters across their front pages. Women and girls from Texas to Tokyo weep.

Years pass and one day, Madeley runs into Tyler. He has aged, but so has she. There is a joyous embrace and their cheeks ache from uncontrollable smiling. Intimate meetings in bistros ensue, with much reminiscing and rediscovering one another. Madeley ends up marrying Tyler, her true soul mate after all, who was once such a dear
friend to her, and inarguably the best friend her ex-husband ever had.

VH-1 proposes a Tibetan Red reunion. Madeley and Tyler now have to face Chaz as husband and wife. How will he react? How will Madeley feel about Chaz after all these
years, even though she's in love with her new husband Tyler? Will those old passions be rekindled? Will they be rekindled in Chaz, too?

I looked up at "my" dear husband Tyler on stage and smiled. I caught the eye of "my" ex-husband Chaz and saw him smile, and knew everything would be OK between us all.

It was scrumptious. I must've had a ridiculous grin on my face. It was just like the old days. I was digging Duran Duran on dual levels.

When I was fourteen I thought I loved the men of Duran Duran, personally and specifically, based on all their favorite things as listed in Superteen. ("Simon's FAVES!!!") But by high school I recognized them for what they are -- an entertainment product. Not my best friends. Not my boyfriends. Not necessarily even people I'd befriend under different circumstances. And my imagination and I have enjoyed them lustily – received double our money's worth. If I sound cold, make no mistake: I love Duran Duran. I love them for the music they've made, and the images they've created around themselves, because as a package, they've been a beloved template for my dreams.

The morning after the concert I woke up and started typing like a madwoman – about Duran Duran, about Tibetan Red, about being young and discontented because I felt trapped in a bleak suburban existence and wanted to grow up so badly so I could move to New York City and be the Madeley Fairchild I knew I was meant to be.

My brain was working faster than my fingers could type. The clouds parted; I was on a roll.

There won't always be a concert to take me back, but I've got two boxes of diaries, scrapbooks and magazines in storage – highly efficient fuel for my time machine. When I need
to get into the right mindset to write about, say, my pre-Duran preoccupation with S.E. Hinton and "The Outsiders", or my days performing in children's theatre, or my 5th grade fascination with the Holocaust, I'll have plenty of resource material.

I can't wait to remember what I forgot.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

My Dad, My Memoir, and Alec Baldwin

Ever since the Alec Baldwin story broke – that is, the voicemail recording of him verbally bullying his 11-year-old daughter, Ireland – there seem to have emerged two dominant points of view.

There are those who think it was unacceptable and abusive for Baldwin to call his child an "ungrateful pig", to tell her "you don't have the brains or the decency as a human being" and threaten to "straighten your ass out when I see you…I'm going to really make sure you get it…I'm going to let you know just how I feel about what a rude little pig you really are".

Then there are those who think everyone else is making far too big a deal out of the whole thing. Some folks debating the issue on Yahoo made the following comments:

"Boo hoo! Parents talk shit to their kids. It's their right as parents," said someone self-identified as "But Seriously Folks". "My mom used to threaten to run away from home and leave 'you ungrateful little fucks'. I found it funny then and now. I'm well adjusted…for the most part…Man up, Ireland!!!"

"DixieNormous" posted, "It's not like he beat or molest(ed) her. They are just overreacting."

Alec Baldwin's biting hissy-fit reminded me of my own dad, and how he talked to me when I was growing up. And the debate around Baldwin's voicemail reminds me of arguments I once had with myself about whether or not to write a memoir.

There was a time when I didn't think the obstacles I've had to overcome in my past were "tragic enough" to warrant a memoir. There were things about my upbringing I was upset about, but I suspected I might be overreacting. Family members told me so, sounding a lot like those people who think we bleeding hearts are overreacting to Alec Baldwin's verbal beating on his daughter.

I certainly didn't think an insecure, needling father was a very big deal. Sure, I spent most of my childhood and adolescence avoiding the man, leaving every room he entered whenever possible. I was convinced he was inherently a little "off" and had serious anger issues, and I hated his guts for all of it, and in particular, for picking on me mercilessly. I saw him as a belligerent, edgy sort of crackpot ex-jock who emanated the specific and constant intensity of straining to hold back a punch.

But in a world where people fight and overcome horrific diseases and live to write memoirs about them, who would care about my insignificant stories?

Like when I was 19 years old, pulling on my jacket in the front hall of our seven-bedroom, three-story stone house (the one my friends jokingly dubbed "Graceland"), about to run out the front door to meet my date who was parked at the curb. My dad appeared from out of nowhere and decided to send me out into the world with some words of fatherly tenderness and wisdom.

"You know, you really are a shrewd piece of work," he said bitterly. "You're out three and four nights a week. You don't really care about any of these assholes who come for you. You and I both know the only reason you go on all these dates is to get your hands on the free food."

The situation was transparent to me even then. My parents were losing everything at that point. My dad lost his job and couldn't get hired elsewhere. Our car was repossessed from our driveway in the night. We were all losing our home and living with a discomforting cluelessness about where we'd land next. Little by little my parents were selling off everything they had of any value – some of it sentimental, some things my mother had waited a lifetime to own: the cream-colored baby grand piano, her blue fox jacket; his gun collection, a Murano glass chandelier. For Christmas that year, friends of the family brought us a carload of industrial-sized groceries from a warehouse club so we'd have something to eat.

Clearly, my dad was terrified and humiliated at not being able to provide for his family. His machismo was taking a hit, and his way of coping was to make me into some kind of TGIFriday's whore.

But that wasn't anything serious, I thought. Who would want to read about that? It was so…well, normal. My parents hadn't died a violent death before my eyes when I was five. We weren't brewing club drugs in the basement as a family project. We weren't in the Witness Protection Program.

Not only would any memoir I'd write be painfully dull, but who could possibly care about me as a character when all I did was dwell on petty crap? Like the time when I was eight years old and my dad and I drove a friend home after she'd stayed overnight. When we got home he slammed the kitchen door behind us and spat at my mother:

"You won't believe what this cocky little bitch did!"

What? Wha--what had I done? I honestly didn't know.

"We dropped her friend off, and then all the way home, she sits in the back seat, like I'm her fuckin' chauffer!"

Who was I to feel anxious or broken-hearted about things that happened in upper-middle class suburbia? There were people with much worse fates in the world. I had a lot of nerve thinking my life was memoir material.

People have reacted strongly to Alec Baldwin's raging "ungrateful pig" voicemail. Enough of them have piped up to say, "It's wrong to talk to your child this way" to reaffirm that my stories are not just the attention-seeking sulkings of a spoiled brat.

There was a time when I needed to be angry – truly, blindingly, teeth-gnashingly angry – at my dad for being such a hotheaded, thoughtless prick. That's when I first became someone who'd want Alec Baldwin's balls on a skewer. However, I've cooled down a lot since then, enough to see the full spectrum of humanity in what happened in my earlier years.

These days, the temperature with which I regard my dad is closer to how the even-handed, middle-ground minority feels about Baldwin. More like Rosie O'Donnell, who had this to say on "The View":

"He's very much of a tortured father who feels alienated from his own child…(Basinger) defies a lot of court orders for him to visit the child, which I think is making him crazy. Not that that's an excuse."

I also agree with Rosie's usual polar opposite on "The View", Elizabeth Hasselbeck, who said, "Hearing something like that from your father could be potentially the worst thing you could ever hear."

In my case, I didn't do anything to deserve the crap my dad heaped on me (and we can't be sure Ireland deserved her dad's ire, either). But at least I can look at where my dad came from and acknowledge how he got to be so bullish and unmistakably unsure of himself. His parents were cold, critical and just plain weird. This helps me to keep a healthy perspective when I'm writing. It keeps me from falling into the "woe is me" trap that, once upon a time, I was so worried my work would fall into.

My therapist also contributed an important point in helping me realize my memoir is not mere sniveling. She was the first to suggest to me that all pain and suffering is relative.

"How do you know that the pain one little girl feels over her father calling her names doesn't hurt as much as the pain some woman on the other side of the planet is feeling because she's lost her son? What hurts one person deeply may be more or less affecting to another."

I'm not saying that the story of a kid being berated by her father is the most important thing in the world. But what I have to say about my experiences may someday matter to somebody else. Maybe my memoir will give a teen in a family similar to mine the tenacity to hang in there and become a well-rounded adult. Maybe my book will be read by a parent with a sensitive child, unaware of the ill effects of their harsh words and actions – and maybe they'll be moved to do things differently. And since my memoir isn't all about bleak dysfunction, maybe some readers will just be happily entertained – which in itself is a perfectly good reason for a book to exist, too.

Since the days before I gave myself full permission to write a memoir, I've read a lot of memoirs by others. I see how many books are published about realities of all kinds. In contrast to my earlier and erroneous beliefs, I now know it isn't necessary to have been raised on cat food or escaped from Turkish prison to have one's memoir published, read and even loved.

We should never stop ourselves from writing about our lives because we think we don't have enough misfortune or shock value to make it "worth it". There are many ways a reader may derive value from a story. And we should never delay an autobiographical endeavor because we're afraid the misfortunes we will write about might be whiny, shameful, or anything else we've been told we are. Let the readers read and decide.

Take it for granted now: you will be read by people who will be unsettled or miffed by your writing, who might even write venomous reviews about it. They might be the same people who think all children deserve a good braining with a two-by-four once in a while, just to keep them in line.

You will also be read by people who will identify with your story, perhaps even call it their favorite and write to tell you so. Maybe they're among the people who think Alec Baldwin was wrong for what he said. Some of them may even have the wisdom to feel sorry for him.

You will never win everyone's hearts. That's every memoirist's true story.

There's a place on the shelf for your memoir. And if you want to write it, don't delay for silly reasons like the ones I used to have. Just write. Claim your experience, claim your space.