thanks for no memory
Who am I? How did I get to be me? If I wasn't me, who would I be? How can you mend a broken heart? These are all good questions. Well, almost all good questions–I'm pretty sure the last one is just a Bee Gees song.
Anyway, what I'm trying to say is who I am now is what I was then, plus all the stuff in between, minus a few years during the seventies. Actually, that might not be what I'm trying to say. Here's what I really mean: When you start to write a book, you began at the beginning; when you start to examine your life, you begin with childhood.
I try to work on my memory. A few things come back to me when I concentrate. Like, I'm now pretty sure I had parents. I have these two old people who are my parents now, and they say they were also my parents then. I'm thirty-six. I was a little girl. I know because my parents say I was.
I was born in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, at Ochsner Hospital, January 26, 1958. I lived in a house on Haring Road in Metairie until I was . . . oh, let's say eight or nine–maybe ten . . . could've been seven or six, I don't know.
I don't think I remember my first memory. Actually, I suppose I would have to remember my first memory. If I didn't remember my first memory, then it couldn't in all honesty be my first memory. It could, however, be the first thing that I forgot. Do I recall the first thing that I forgot? I don't remember. Maybe.
I am amazed when people tell me that they remember things like lying in their cribs or getting their diapers changed (these are things they remember doing as infants not as adults–that would be an entirely different story and probably not a very pleasant one). Some people even remember learning how to walk, which I find especially surprising since I just barely remember learning how to drive.
Sometimes my lack of memory (or, to put a positive spin on it, my surplus of forgetfulness) worries me, especially since it's not limited to my early childhood. I don't remember huge portions of my life. Maybe something big (i.e., an anvil or France) fell on my head and gave me a slight form of amnesia. Maybe a lot of things have fallen on my head. I just don't know.
My parents have tried to help me out, but they remember even less about me than I do. They hardly took any pictures of me. But my brother–who was four years older than me (and still is, as a matter of fact)–they took so many pictures of him that you can flip through his photos and it's like one of those animation books; it looks like a movie where he's walking and riding a tricycle and running around. They must have taken a picture of him every ten seconds.
After four years of that, my parents must have gotten tired. I came along and they said, "We don't have to take any pictures. We'll remember." But they don't. It was ridiculous. There were statues of my brother around the house, but nothing of me. They tried to fool me and show me pictures they said were of me. But I'd say, "That's not me. Those are pictures you cut out of a magazine. I know, because I'm neither Elizabeth Taylor nor a member of England's royal family."
So I decided to do something to fill in these great gaps in my memory. I set out to interview people who knew me through various stages of my life. Most of those I interviewed didn't look familiar, but I'm sure they were telling me the truth. Otherwise they wouldn't have answered the ads or accepted the money I gave them. What follows are the transcripts of some of those interviews.
My Investigation Notes:
I was born, bred, and lightly sautéed in and around New Orleans, a city steeped in tradition and marinated in history. During those formative years, a trusted family friend and neighbor was Miss Selma Clanque (pronounced Klan-kay), a woman who earned her living making decorative jewelry out of crawdads.
I interviewed Miss Selma, now a feisty spitfire in her early seventies, on the fire escape of her apartment (which she insisted we call a lanai). Throughout, she chain-smoked clove cigarettes and drank a mixture of Ovaltine and vodka, a cocktail she calls chocolate thunder.
What do you remember most about me as a baby?
You were fat. Oh lordy, were you fat! You didn't walk for the longest time, 'cause you were so fat. They just rolled you wherever they wanted you to go.Anything besides that?
I think your parents just kept feeding you. They were happy you weren't walking. They already had your brother, a very handsome boy–no fat on him–so they figured, might as well let you take your time.Do you remember anything not having to do with my being fat?
Well . . . you had a big old head, too, and not a lick of hair on it. Bless my corns, you were one ugly baby. Now you know that Miss Selma Clanque's mother didn't raise her to say nothing mean about no one. But your mama dressed you in the most hideous clothes–flowery frocks and bonnets and the like. Now when you've got a bone ugly child, you don't want to bring more attention to it. Am I right?Let's move on. Do you have any memories of me from when I was in grade school?
I recall you coming home all upset because there was a cloakroom in your class and you didn't own a cloak. In fact, none of the little boys or girls had a cloak. I don't think any of them even knew what a cloak was. For some reason this scared you.Do you remember my being good at anything?
You would nap better than anybody else, and your parents would brag on you being good at recess. You were quite a good tetherball player, probably because you were so aggressive.I remember tetherball. A ball would be attached to a pole by a rope and you'd try to whack the ball hard enough to wrap the rope around the pole. It was violent. You'd either hurt your hand on the metal thingee holding the rope and ball together or you'd be on defense, standing in front of the ball, and get hit in the face. Somebody would always end up crying.
Well, crying's good. It prepares you for life. The more often I see children crying, the more often I think, "That's gonna be a healthy adult." That's what life is all about. There's a lot of crying involved. So you'd better cry now and get used to it.
Well, it's nice to know that I was good at something.
Oh my, yes! You were so good at tetherball that I bet someone $100 cash that you would become a professional tetherball player.I guess you had to pay up?
Why? You ain't dead yet. There's still time. Everybody's always trying to get Miss Selma Clanque to give them $100, just like it grew on trees. Look at me, I ain't Rockefeller, am I?No, you're not. Thanks for the time. I've got to go.
I moved to Atlanta, Texas, in my second year of high school. When Columbus came to the New World, he thought he was in India so he referred to the people he met as Indians. When the first settlers came to Texas, they thought they were in Georgia, so they called the place Atlanta. It was a culture shock moving from New Orleans (The French Quarter, jazz, great restaurants) to such a small town as Atlanta (Dairy Queen). So, I learned a different way of life.
My high school guidance counselor in Atlanta was Mr. Bowden Lamar, a man rumored to have a wonderfully infectious laugh; rumored, because no one living had actually ever heard him laugh. We spoke in his office at Atlanta High where, though he appeared to be somewhere in his early hundreds, he still doles out advice as a guidance counselor.Mr. Lamar, was I a good student here?
Well, the teachers here remember you very fondly. They all say you were very bright.Why, thank you. I guess that's . . .
But they're just saying that because you're famous now. I know because I've seen your records.What do those records say?
That the only reason you passed any class was because your teachers gave you very broad clues. For instance, if the answer to a question was Thomas Jefferson, your teacher would say, “The answer to that rhymes with Bhomas Hefferson.” If you still couldn't guess, she'd start singing, "'Movin' on up, to the East Side. We finally got a piece of the pie.'"
The theme from "The Jeffersons"?
Exactly. Sooner or later–usually later–you'd end up getting the answer.Was I good at anything?
Athletics, I suppose. You were on the tennis team. And you started the girls golf team. You were the only one on the team, playing every day by yourself. You would whack the ball very aggressively then acknowledge the applause of a crowd that only existed in your mind. Very strange and more than slightly disturbing.
Do you remember what I looked like?
Well, you were a little hefty. Yup, you were a little hefty girl who'd drive to school each day in a canary yellow Vega. But then again, everybody here is a little hefty. That's because the only kind of food you can get around here is chicken-fried. Chicken-fried steak, chicken-fried broccoli, chicken-fried sushi, chicken-fried whatever.What sort of career do your records say I was best suited for?
Let me see. Oh here it is. "Ellen DeGeneres might be good at making caramel candies of some kind, either chewy or hard. Not the wrapping, just the candy."Just one last question. How come this school didn't have a drama department?
Oh, we had a drama department. We all just thought it was best for everybody involved that you never knew about it. Whenever we wanted to put on a play, we'd just send you golfing somewhere. Ha, ha, it's kind of funny, isn't it?Yeah, hilarious.
As soon as I graduated from high school, I moved back to New Orleans. I had no plans to go to college and no idea what I was going to do, but I don't remember caring either. After all, it was the 1970s, and the country was tapping its platform shoes to the sounds of K.C. and the Sunshine Band.
I worked at a series of places including a restaurant (where I shucked oysters) and a law firm (where I shucked lawyers). A friend of mine during that time was Rita Bangs, an aspiring coffee importer. I interviewed Rita at a Renaissance Faire called "Ye Olden Dress Up in Funny Clothes Thymes" where she was employed as a wench.When you think of me in New Orleans during the 1970s, what comes most to mind?
Your older sister was prettier than you and a lot more popular. But you were smarter.I don't have an older sister. I have an older brother.
Whatever. Anyway, your father took your family on a trip to a resort. You were his favorite. He always called you Baby.Really?
Oh yes. The waiters at the resort were all these good-looking college guys. But you fell in love with the dance instructor, even though your father hated him because he thought he got some girl pregnant. But your father ended up liking him when he saw the two of you dance at the big show at the resort.
That's not my life. That's the movie Dirty Dancing.
No, I'm pretty sure it's your life.Really?
No. But it was a good movie.Do you even know me?
Not in so many words. But I'm a big fan. Do you know how I can meet Patrick Swayze?No. Thanks for meeting with me. You were no help at all.
The last person I spoke to was Dr. Max Fenetre. He wouldn't say how I knew him but assured me he could supply a missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is my life. We spoke at his Beverly Hills office once he was assured that I had health insurance.
So, what would you like to tell me about myself?
I'll tell you, but only if I can be the person in italics.
No. The person who asks the questions is in italics. That's how it's done.
But I'm a doctor and therefore have much more authority than you. Ergo, I should be in italics.I did all the other interviews in italics. I'm not going to change now.
HOW ABOUT IF I'M IN BOLD AND ALL CAPITALS, LIKE THIS?
No, it would be too distracting.
That's it, interview's over. Get out of my office, you italics hog.YEAH, WELL GOOD-BYE TO YOU, TOO. HA, HA, HA.
Hey! I just remembered my first memory. I'm eating eggs and toast and feeling a bit grumpy. Then I take a sip of strong black coffee and read my horoscope in the newspaper. Wait a minute. That was just an hour ago at breakfast. I guess it's possible that that's my first memory. Perhaps my philosophy is "Don't hold on to things, it will only bring you pain." Or that might not be my philosophy. I just don't remember.Chapter Two
a letter to my friend or. . .a frog in a sombrero does not a party make
In digging through my old photos and letters for this book, I've discovered correspondence that brings back wonderful old memories. And, well, some not-so-wonderful memories.
I just wanted to drop you a quick note to thank you for inviting me to your party last week. I'm not very good at parties. But I guess you know that by now. I feel awkward at them and tend to overcompensate by acting in a way that others who don't know me well might consider a tad weird. However, you know me well and besides, you're a very perceptive and, I might add, very forgiving
I guess what I'm trying to say is I'm really really really sorry for what happened. Maybe it was good, though. Maybe this will be one of those things that a little while from now you'll look back on and laugh at. Okay, maybe it will be longer than a little while. Eventually, though, after at most a few decades, there's bound to be some laughter. Isn't there? Oh God, I'm so sorry.
I know that we're good enough friends that I could just call you on the phone, but I thought a letter would be preferable for two reasons. One, often it's easier to say things in a letter than it is to say them in person. And two, you don't seem to be answering my phone calls anymore.
Sometimes nobody answers the phone–even if I let it ring over five hundred times (I've counted). At other times, somebody who sounds like you (but I'm sure isn't) answers and asks who it is. When I say "Ellen," that person (who, as I said before, I'm sure isn't you, because you are much too compassionate) immediately develops an obviously fake Russian accent and says, "She not home. She move far away to place with no phone. I begging you, please leave alone."
All that being said, let me begin my apology.
I think a lot of what happened can be traced back to the rum cake I brought over. I just looked over the recipe, and I see now that it called for two tablespoons of rum. For some reason, maybe because I was nervous because I don't cook that much, I misread that as two bottles
of rum. It's an honest mistake, and your little nephews were eventually going to find out what a hangover is anyway.
I had at least two slices of the rum cake, and I believe that's why I blurted out that your real name is Marge. I thought everybody already knew. I also thought that everybody would find your old nickname, "Large Marge," funny. I understand now that it isn't funny. Anyway, it shouldn't bother you because you're not heavy anymore. Oh yes, I'm also sorry that I told people about your liposuction. But at least I didn't tell anybody about your breast enlargement surgery. Oh, that's right, I did. Sorry.
As for what I call the "Charades incident," for some reason I get a little competitive (okay, way too competitive) playing party games–once again, to make up for my own insecurities. That's why when Reverend Green couldn't figure out I was doing Fried Green Tomatoes and kept on guessing Two Mules for Sister Sarah
(which, you have to admit, isn't even close–it doesn't even have the same number of words!) I got mad.
That in no way excuses my calling him a God damned rat @+%^#$%, *%$@–eating moron. Isn't it cute when you write curses out that way? It's too bad I didn't say it like that. Also, when I jokingly implied that he was a child molester, I had no idea about the recent trial (though I am happy to hear that all the charges have been dropped).
Now, the gift. I was under the mistaken impression (boy, hindsight is always twenty-twenty, isn't it?) that the party was for your wedding shower. That's why I got what I considered to be a gag gift. I didn't know it was a party for your grandmother's 90th birthday. Otherwise, I never would have gotten her the crotchless underwear and the coupon for a free nipple piercing.
I admit I laughed pretty hard when your grammy opened the present (sorry about the wine coming out of my nose onto your new rug–club soda should get out that stain, not cola like I tried), but I thought she was laughing, too. Now I know she was hyperventilating. I swear I've never seen anybody's face turn that red before. That is why I shouted out, "Look at her, heh heh. She looks like a big tomato!"
I am glad to hear that your grammy is out of the hospital. I'm the one who sent the big basket of muffins. Nobody told me she was diabetic. She only ate a few of them, and when I called the hospital they said that at most that added three days to her stay there–maybe four.
This part is the hardest to explain. I know that when you opened the door to your bedroom it looked like I was shaving your dog. Well, I was shaving your dog . . . but not for the reason you might think. I didn't say, "Hmmm, I think Marge's dog–I'm sorry, Morgana's
dog–would look better with less hair." Though, you have to admit, the cut does give Colonel Chompers an interesting look and makes him seem quite distinguished (I don't care what the judges at the dog show say).
What happened was, in trying to spit my gum across your kitchen and into the trash can (a trick I do remarkably well, usually) I missed, and the gum landed in Colonel Chompers' fur. I tried to pull it out, but it just made matters worse. So I snuck him into your bedroom with the hope of finding some scissors and cutting the gum out. I didn't locate scissors, but I did find your Lady Gillette and thought, hey, this might work–which eventually it did. The gum came out. I am sorry that some got on your drapes. I thought they were tissue paper.
But, you have every right to ask, why was I wearing your bathing suit while shaving your dog? Good question. In looking for the scissors, I found the bathing suit in the third drawer of your bureau (I didn't look in your second drawer, so you have no reason to be embarrassed). I had seen that suit in a store that day and thought it might look good on me. So, I figured this was a good opportunity to try it on.
I believe you see now that there was a logical explanation for everything that happened at your otherwise very successful party.
I hope that you find it in your heart to forgive me, and we can be as good friends as we were before last weekend.
P.S. Oh yes, I almost forgot. I'm also sorry that I bit your fiancé, I mean ex-fiancé, on the ass. Oops.Chapter Three
daily affirmations or. . .a cup of pudding a day is the way to stay o.k.
Death, disease, famine
I can't even watch
the 5 o'clock news
When did we lose control
and how do we rebel
Take a look around
we're on a rocket ship to hell
There could be an answer
it may not be too late
but it involves a transfer
try love instead of hate
All you can do
is be good to people
and hope that those people
will be good to you too
but good luck
I doubt it
When your life gets to be overwhelming, when you feel like too much of the world is depressing, there are two things you can do: One, sit in your house and feel the doom and gloom and continue to watch the news, shaking your head in resignation and saying to yourself, "Oh no, my life sucks. The world is ending, there's nothing I can do." This is one way to go. I, personally, wouldn't recommend it.
"Well," you say, "what's the other
Here it is: If you must watch the news, turn the sound off and imagine the news anchor people are telling you all about your day. Make up happy events, adding your name into the report every third or fourth sentence.
Sing loud with wild abandonment as you get dressed in the morning (any cheery song will do).
And most important, get yourself some daily affirmations.
I do daily affirmations every day–hence the word "daily." I guess, if you're lazy, you can do weekly affirmations or monthly affirmations or even yearly affirmations. Actually, I suppose New Year's resolutions are yearly affirmations. But if you're making the same New Year's resolution every year (e.g., "I will be more popular"), and it's still not happening (e.g., "Nobody ever calls me. I'm all alone. Boo hoo."), it may be time to change your strategy. Your next yearly affirmation should be to do daily affirmations.
Daily affirmations are an important way to pick yourself up. We all have bad days and you can't always count on other people to make things better. For instance, you might say to someone, "I'm a bad person," expecting them to say in return, "Oh, no, you're not, you're one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I know." But nine times out of ten, they'll say instead, "Really. Hmmm. Hey, could you pass the Chee-tos?" And sometimes you're not even eating Chee-tos, you're eating barbecue potato chips or some weird flavored popcorn!
So, because you can't rely on other people, for your own ego you need daily affirmations. Some obvious affirmations are: "I am a good person" or "I love myself" or "I matter." But I think it's a good idea to start small. You should say things that make you feel good because they are easy to accomplish. ("I will wake up." "I will brush my teeth.") Don't push yourself. Those can be very good morning affirmations. I guess, though, if you're really depressed, and it's 8 o'clock at night, "I will wake up" would technically be an evening affirmation.
The more depressed you are, the simpler the affirmation should be. Under the right circumstances, "Who cares if I'm drunk?" is a perfectly reasonable affirmation.
Sometimes the only way you can make yourself feel better is by putting other people down. And that's okay. There is nothing wrong with that–whatever gets you through. "I'm not as fat as she is." "I have more teeth than he has." "Thank God I'm not as bone ugly as they are." These are all fine affirmations. However, it's best that when you're in public you say this kind of affirmation to yourself. It can save you embarrassment and a black eye. These are silent affirmations.
You probably do affirmations without even knowing it. Every time you drive over the speed limit, you're saying, "No copper is gonna catch me speeding." And when you put that ski mask over your head, you're saying, "Nobody is going to recognize me while I rob this gas station." You're pumping yourself up and telling yourself you can succeed.
Here are some affirmations that have helped me. Use them if you'd like. They're yours free (except for what you paid for the book; if you borrowed this book from a friend or the library and you feel you should send me a few bucks, that's fine, too).
I am the world's tallest midget.
I'm a little teapot, short and stout. Here is my handle, here is my spout.
I bet nobody knows I'm crazy.
I look good in bell bottoms.
Archie would rather date me than either Betty or Veronica.
I can walk through walls. Ouch! No, I can't.
I mean for my hair to look like this.
The Great Spirit smiles on me. On me and only me. The Great Spirit hates everybody else. We’re best friends.
I don't need to exercise. I have the perfect shape.
I'm smarter than my dogs. Well, smarter than one of my dogs.
I look good with back hair.
Being grubby equals being cool.
I sing better than Bonnie Raitt. I have as many Grammys as Bonnie Raitt. I am Bonnie Raitt.
It's not important to know what everybody else seems to know. I don't care how much they laugh at me.
La la la la la la la la la la la–Talk all you want, I can't hear you–la la la la la la la la. La la la.
If I put my mind to it, I could do anything. I just don't feel like putting my mind to something. So there.
I have X-ray vision. Wait a minute. I don't. These glasses are a rip-off.
I meant to get ripped off.
I've fallen and I can get up.
I'm good at watching TV.
I can come up with better affirmations than these.
Excerpted from My Point...And I Do Have One by Ellen DeGeneres. Copyright © 2006 by Ellen DeGeneres. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.