At eight-years-old, I lied to my third grade teacher, Miss Ludloff, that I owned a dog. I was a kid who desperately wanted my teacher to like me and I thought dropping that little tid-bit on the dog enthusiast would do the trick. My “dog” was called Trigger and he was a small terrier of some sort. Oh, the shenanigans Trigger and I would get into. One time Trigger got into the garbage can and made a mess that I had to clean up before my parents came home. And there was the time when I walked Trigger and he ran down the street after a cat and almost caused a five car pile-up. That sort of thing. As my lies got more complicated, I felt that I had really impressed Miss Ludloff with my wild storytelling. I thought we were forging a new relationship, she and I. She would ask about Trigger and I would supply her with hilarious anecdotes about the imaginary pup.
And then I got found out.
My parents attended my Field Day, where they sat around with other parents and my teacher, under the hot sun and watched us kids around performing feats of strength and endurance: kickball and relay races. While I was killing it in the long jump, Miss Ludloff asked my mother how Trigger was doing.
“Your new dog?”
Needless to say, I got an earful when the races and games were over and I headed home. My parents lectured me about “telling stories” until they were blue in the face and I was crying out of shame. They asked me why I would tell such a ridiculous lie and I said what many people say when they’ve been found out to be frauds: “I was trying to be cool!” What was more embarrassing was showing to school the next day and dealing with my teacher. This part, I’ve partially blocked from my mind as I imagine it was pretty painful for an eight-year-old. My relationship with Miss Ludloff felt strained after that. She and I stuck to pleasantries and kept it moving, but I felt like such an asshole.
These are the kind of stories you can expect to read from Aisha Tyler’s memoir, “Self-inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation. You might remember Aisha Tyler as the very tall, very beautiful comedian, who was featured in a few episodes of Friends (the lone black woman in New York City!) Since then, she’s been an absolute renaissance woman, acting in a number of television shows, movies, writing columns and a book, was a voice character the popular animated series Archer, a video-gamer, and conducts her own podcast, Girl on Guy. What’s more, is that Tyler’s constant hustle does not detract from her ability to write brilliantly. She spins an extremely good yarn in each of her essays that span youth to adulthood.
When it comes to memoirs, embarrassing tales of one’s childhood are where it’s at. After all, childhood is ridiculously harrowing and we’re all lucky if we can escape it. They’re also a treasure trove of hilarious memories/ Luckily, Tyler’s endearing humiliation doesn’t stop at childhood. No, it can get worst actually. Awkwardness follows her well into adolescence (as it should) and into adulthood. She also recounts her experiences as freshman standup comedic, which is something every budding female comic should read.
Tyler maintains that humiliation can valuable fodder for a comedian’s acts. And it makes sense to me. It’s hard to believe that she was a incredibly tall and gawky vegetarian growing up in Oakland, when you see her as an amazing swan today. But every hero should have interesting “creation story”. When we hear a story about a protagonist and the conflict they get themselves into, the reader or audience wants to sympathize with said protagonist. A hero is not a true hero without some character flaws. Superman, Luke Skywalker, Jesus, these “characters” would not be so entertaining or valuable to our American mythology if they didn’t have qualities that were fallibly human.
That said, we’ve never heard a story heard a story about Jesus peeing his pants (or robes). Aisha Tyler is a bit of a superhero, considering the awkward short-comings of her past coupled with her impressive present. Each chapter or story starts with a dramatic title like: The Time I Peed on Myself and My Surroundings, The Bunny Fiasco, The Time I Was in an A Cappella Group. Expect some realness from The Time I Almost Seared My Flesh to My Dad’s Motorcycle, when she describes being obsessed with dressing like a ballerina and her wrap-around is caught on fire while riding on the back of her father’s motorcycle. It reminded me of the time I thought it was a good idea to wear a cute new sarong while riding a bicycle. The combination of pedaling and wind made that trip very much R-rated.
Her stories aren’t just masturbatory confessional writing. After each embarrassing tale, there’s a lesson to be learned. Sure she’s been knocked down, but she shows, time and time again, how she’s learned something and picked herself up just to get involved in the next risk. Tyler’s navigation though the world follows an fresh feminist map. There are points in the book, where her writing should follow the traditional self-deprecating approach to humor that women are unfairly known for, but it doesn’t. She shares brash reckless experiences that, I feel, most men could identify with. Her writing and language is brilliantly executed to create a thoughtful and intelligent prose. Her detachment from painful experiences is enviable.
I have many more tales of awkwardness from my own past and hope to one day write about them without cringing or crying. With a little effort and a lot of detachment, maybe I too can write about the time I peed my pant during summer school at age 7. Bladders and childhoods are hard to manage, but Aisha reminds us of the old adage: “You live and you learn.”