This last week, I made a presentation to students in a after-school writing program. In the question-and-answer session, a student asked me, “What was your first book?”
I held up Joy Returns!
“No,” she said, “what was the first book you wrote as a child?”
And just like that, a memory popped up in my brain that I hadn't thought of for a very long time.
“Well,” I said, “you will probably have never heard of this person. His name was Joe Garigiola. He was a professional baseball player, and I knew him as a game-show host on television. And he was bald.” I paused. “For some reason, when I was young, I thought that bald men were hilarious. So one afternoon, after watching Joe Garigiola on television, I wrote a joke book about bald men. I called it The Baldy Joke Book.”
I told them that I didn't really know why I had thought bald men were so funny. I said it wasn't a terribly enlightened thing to believe, much less use as an inspiration for a book. I said I had announced my intention to my family right after the show was over. They all basically rolled their eyes. I didn't care. I was on a mission. I went straight off to my room and I dashed off a book of jokes that made me laugh so hard, I wept. I drew illustrations for the book and created a cover that proudly carried my name.
I have no idea what happened to that book. I had forgotten about it for so many years. I would imagine that the jokes were super silly with probably never much of a shelf life to begin with. But what I will hold on to was that sense of pure, unadulterated delight at the idea of making this book and dreaming up these jokes, and feeling that it didn't matter if others didn't understand, that it was something that pleased me to the nth degree, and that I could do it, and in a very short while, hold my book in my hands. And I did.
This morning, while making coffee, I thought, “That couldn't possibly be the first book I wrote.”
And then I remembered two before then, class assignments, a table full of children's creations, stories with construction paper covers. We had punched holes in the pages, and the books were held together by yarn. I know my first book was inspired by The Exorcist. And when it came time for my second book, the teacher said I could not write a sequel. Was that a class policy or did she not want to hear further details about demonic possession? I will never know. I remember I was disappointed, but then I rallied. I wish I could remember what I dreamed up next.