By: Daphne Palmeter
Lessley Anderson started teaching at d.tech in 2016 and currently teaches both junior and senior English. She is also the advisor for d.tech’s school newspaper, The Dragon, which is produced mainly out of her senior English class, Writer’s Workshop. She currently lives in San Francisco and has a seven-year old son.
Q: I believe you’ve said you grew up in San Jose. What was it like growing up there? How do you think your childhood experiences have shaped who you are now?
San Jose was, and frankly still is, really boring. Super suburban, very sterile, and just vanilla. It shaped who I am because I think I was looking for more of a gritty and, I don’t know, exotic experience or something. I was an only child. I had older parents and they were… It’s interesting.
So, they managed to live through the 60s and never go through, like, a hippie phase at all. My dad was really older, he was more like the swing era. And then my mom had just been super straitlaced in the 60s, like very straitlaced. And she was also very, sorta 1950s, really concerned with appearance and you know, dressing a certain way and acting a certain way. So that shaped me a lot because I rebelled completely against that. I think it was me reacting to her being so controlling.
When you grow up you always just assume your parents are kind of lame—but I realize now that they had this really kind of amazing relationship. After my dad died and I got divorced and remarried, and my mom and I had these heart to heart talks about relationships, and their relationship, and love and stuff. I didn’t even realize how passionately in love they had been. So that’s how I grew up.
Q: Who were your biggest role models growing up?
Okay, so I have this uncle . . . I feel like everybody has a crazy uncle. When I was a kid, I would go over his house, and the whole house was filled with all these treasures that he’d found all over the place. He’s a real head-tripper, and he’ll get down on his hands and knees and prowl around a beach for 10 hours straight. And then as I got older I realized that he had been part of this San Francisco hippie, kind of, ‘elite’, for want of a better word. He hobnobbed with all these people that I later became really interested in, like Ken Kesey and the Grateful Dead. He’d been part of this scene of these people. And then of course, I was like, hero worship, “Oh, I want to know every last detail about these people.” And he’s also just an interesting person, so he was a huge role model growing up.
And then, I guess my English teacher in high school, actually, my junior English teacher. She was super cool. She was really high strung, but she was super cool. She really encouraged my writing. She was a feminist and very outspoken about it. She was also a runner, and so she was a mentor to me.
Q: When did you become interested in journalism?
So, when I was in college, I wanted to become a fiction writer, and so I was planning on trying to go get my MFA in fiction writing. That was always my intent. And then when I got out of undergrad, I didn’t want to go right away for some reason. So I started working, and I got a job at Wired magazine in the publicity department. But then I quickly realized that I needed to be on the other side, on the editorial side. That’s where all the good stuff was happening, and I was by no means cut out for PR, like, it was terrible.
So I tried to make the jump but they were all, “No, no, no, you can’t come over here because you’re in PR and PR and editorial are like [not friends]. Then I got a job at this other magazine, but I still didn’t have any experience so I had to come on as an assistant to the Editor-in-Chief. So, I was his assistant, but he told me right away that he would help me become a writer at the magazine, and true to his word, he did. To this day he’s like my biggest mentor. He’s so awesome . . . and has always been super supportive of me. That’s where I got my first start.
Q: Why did you quit being a journalist? Why did you become an English teacher?
I had done journalism for something like 13 years or something. My favorite style of story to do was, I guess what you would call ‘long form’, which are long stories, really long stories. And as you can imagine with the advent of the Internet, the places where you could sell those stories began to dwindle away, so that in of itself is difficult. And secondly I had had a kid and didn’t want to travel anywhere . . . because I want to be around for my kid, like every day. So, I’m in this competitive field and I’m not willing to travel. And by the way, I don’t want to write about Silicon Valley even though that’s where I’m based. So that leaves what? Very few options.
Another thing is that I got really, really frightened. About, um. About Climate Change.
I was working from home at that point, and I started having like “crying jags” where I would like, cry about it. And then one day I’m like, “I can’t—I have to do something! Like, I gotta do something.” So I started researching all these climate change organizations like, “how can I go to work for one of these,” and then I’m like, “Okay, this is ridiculous. You’re not… You’re not going to do this. You don’t have anything, any expertise in this area. Your career is not working right now and you want to give back. You know what you can do to give back; you can become a teacher.
Let’s put it this way: if I can help some students become critical thinkers, and become curious, and learn how to interact with people to the point where they know they can go out and get the information that they need and then be able to write something that might do something, make change in the world, maybe that’s helping? It’s definitely helping more than me sitting in my kitchen writing an article about people that have crocodiles as pets.
Q: How important is music to you? Do you have a favorite song, band, or genre?
I’ve always been really into music. I was really into musical theater when I was a kid, and then I was really into the Grateful Dead when I was in high school. And then, when I was in my early 20s I was living with this guy who got really into bluegrass and started playing mandolin. He had a friend who sold me his banjo. So I started playing banjo, but I didn’t really do anything with it for like 10 years and then I took it up again.
I ended up meeting my husband in this bluegrass jam class. He was playing mandolin, and we got together. He’s the love of my life, [we have] this like crazy, intense, relationship. Since then we’ve had all these different bands together and I started writing songs. I’ve written almost all the songs that we perform in our band. We have an R&B/soul band that we perform with, called Baby & the Luvies that we’ve had for seven years. When my husband and I first got together we wanted to go to these jams together, in people’s backyards or bars or wherever. But when you’re first starting out, it can be really nerve-wracking to go to these jams. We’d go together to pump up each other’s confidence but we weren’t dating, we were just friends at the time. That’s how we fell in love.
Music is one of those things that I don’t actually feel confident in at all. I don’t know how to play very well and I am a terrible music reader. My music theory sucks and my voice is like only so-so. But that doesn’t keep me from constantly trying to pursue it. [It’s really enjoyable,] especially if you can play with other people. It’s just a great way to interact socially. I love that, I love that more than just about anything. When you can play to the point where you can jam with people it’s just so fun.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.