When I was a little girl, I wanted to be Matilda.
In many ways, I felt I was already like her. I loved reading. I loved having the house to myself. Eventually I mastered the art of pancake making — though my pancakes were never as beautiful as hers — and if I pretended hard enough, I thought I could move objects with my mind.
I also wanted to be a storyteller. And Matilda was an excellent storyteller.
Flash forward 20 years and neither Matilda nor I are little girls anymore. I was lucky enough to pursue my passion for storytelling by going to school for journalism. But what happened to Matilda? And more importantly, what happened to that little girl that played Matilda?
Released last month, Mara Wilson’s memoir “Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame” successfully attempts to answer this question.
In a case of heartfelt and often humorous writing, Mara Wilson, the young child actress who is famously known for her roles not only in “Matilda,” but also “Mrs. Doubtfire” and the remake of “Miracle on 34th Street,” opens up to her readers and lets them peer into her past life and distinctive mind, showing them that she is not just that cute girl on the television screen, but so much more.
Despite everyone knowing her for her performances in those iconic films, acting has only ever been a small part of her life.
On her website, Wilson writes, “Here is something no real celebrity will ever tell you: film acting is not very fun. Doing the same thing over and over again until, in the director’s eyes, you ‘get it right,’ does not allow for very much creative freedom.”
And as she professes in the beginning of her memoir, creative freedom is something Wilson has only ever wanted from a very young age. When she realized that acting wasn’t right for her, she sought other creative outlets to express her thoughts and ideas in. She has become a published playwright and authored several magazine articles and personal essays. Her Twitter feed is always phenomenal; it’s a place that can be both entertaining and highly informative. She also has taken to voice acting and has a recurring role as “the Faceless Old Woman who secretly lives in your home” on the podcast “Welcome to Night Vale.”
But storytelling has always been the main draw for her, and so that’s what she does now. In a way that is similar to a comedian’s performance, Mara Wilson will mount a stage and tell audiences stories. She has performed at a variety of venues and even has her own storytelling show called “What Are You Afraid Of?” that explores fears, anxieties and how to both laugh at and deal with them.
But Wilson’s memoir doesn’t just seek to answer the question “What am I doing now?” Rather she delves into topics and explores themes that are not just relevant to a former child star, but are shared by practically anyone who picks up the book. She writes about anxiety, depression, panic attacks and “elementary existentialism.” She writes about the complexities of sex education, the inevitable but unjustified embarrassment that accompanies puberty and the degrading Hollywood beauty standards that overwhelm our world.
She writes about attempting to figure out love and managing to understand loss, as she had to do with the death of her mother and close friend Robin Williams.
But most importantly, she writes about growing up — growing up female.
As I flipped through the book’s pages, I found myself agreeing and worrying alongside her. It was all so relatable. Despite a good part of her childhood taking place on movie sets or surrounded by other childhood stars, so much of what Wilson wrote left me with a sense of familiarity.
At one point she explains how she had panic attacks at the age of six when she learned that one day the sun would burn out and take Earth with it. And as I read that I thought and laughed, “Oh my god, that was totally me.”
In another section, she writes about the first time she had casual sex and the liberating feeling it left her with totally engulfs the reader.
But there were also a lot of chilling moments in her memoir. She writes about how she used to Google herself and would come across horrifying and degrading results. “If you want Mara Wilson nude and sex pictures, click here,” was one thing that popped up. It left her in tears. She also came across a list of the “ugliest former child actors.” As she explains in her memoir, she reached out to the author of this piece to ask why she was punishing women for the way they look, and the author replied by saying she was sorry.
“I write stupid things on the internet to pay the bills,” she said. “I can’t afford integrity.”
It makes perfect sense that Wilson is a storyteller. The cliché “she has a way with words” totally holds up in this scenario. Her voice is both strong and clear, and there is care in the way she uses words to get her thoughts and ideas compellingly onto the page. And her words don’t just leave the reader feeling as if they are long-time friends of Mara. They leave the reader feeling full. They leave the reader wanting to hug the book.
In an interview with NPR, Wilson answers the question posed by the title of her book. She says, “I feel good about myself, and I feel like I’m sort of in control of my own story and my own narrative. Which is a really good feeling to have, because I don’t think I had that when I was a child. I felt like somebody else was always telling my story or making up stories about me. Making up stories and telling stories, and telling true stories, has always been what I wanted to do, and it is what I am still doing.”