I’ve always looked to others, frequently male, for validation, especially when it came to my looks. My personal bar for beauty was Jean Shrimpton. I was tall, but she was taller and thinner. The Shrimp didn’t suffer bad hair days. She never over-plucked one eyebrow, dyed her hair an unfortunate shade of orange or popped a pimple, as far as I could tell.
When I was 17, all I saw in the mirror was my chipped front tooth, the scar on my lower lip, my nose. Time changes everything. I’m sure I’m not the only boomer babe who stumbles across a photo of her teen-age self and thinks, “Wow. I used to be something” – even if I wasn’t the prettiest girl in the room.
I’m not the girl in those photos anymore and I’ll never be the prettiest girl in the room, unless it’s an AARP meeting. So what? Dave gave me a much more important compliment that night. There’s no shelf life on being interesting. It’s possible I’ll be more interesting at 100 than I was at 28 – even as my skin and joints go downhill.
Every year it’s easier to recognize what holds its value. My family. My faculties. I’m no longer young and beautiful, but plenty of people love my “aching soul.” For me, today, that’s enough.
In the summer of ’76 I was pregnant, so we had to move out of our first apartment, within walking distance of USC (no babies allowed). To call our second apartment “gorgeous” is a gross exaggeration. It looked like every other apartment in the 70s. Outdoor stairs led to five or six apartments, ours included, on the second floor. Even though it was long ago and we lived there for only two years, I remember it in vivid detail.
I pity Los Angeles millennials – well, anybody who wants to rent in LA. One hundred and seventy-five dollars seemed like a fortune to us (our previous rent was $125) but it was do-able, even though John earned about $200 a week as a part-time law clerk (he was a full-time law student at USC). Imagine a couple renting a 2-bedroom LA apartment today on one partner’s part-time salary.
What we didn’t know was that we were within walking distance of Angelo Bueno’s auto upholstery shop – you know, the one where the Hillside Stranglers tortured and killed all those women with long brunette hair. One of the victims was abducted from the small hospital at the end of our block. The murders hadn’t started when we moved in, but it wasn’t long – October 1977 to be specific – and they lasted until February 78 (we moved out in the summer of 78). As the bodies piled up in Glendale and La Crescenta hillsides, it made for some jumpy times.
As for Inga, she lived a long and happy life with my parents in San Diego. I think she liked having a house and a yard to play in (as opposed to our apartment) plus my sister Joyce’s dog, Kuala, as a companion. My parents never particularly wanted dogs, but they fell in love with our dogs once they got to know them, and we all cried when Inga (and later Kuala) crossed the Rainbow Bridge.
This is one of those entries in which nothing significant happens – but I’m so glad I wrote it down! Thirty-five years later, these are the entries I love to discover – and I do mean discover – because I have no conscious memory of any of it.
Far too many of my diary entries describe phone calls I made or received, the writing I did or didn’t accomplish, the bill from a run to the Price Club (Costco), my weight and what I ate that I wish I hadn’t – all of it meaningless now. Instead, I should have documented those precious, fleeting moments with my children.
It all went by so quickly. Sure, I’ve got pictures – lots of them. They illustrate exactly what 2-almost-3-year-old Tata and one-year-old Anni looked like, but they’re only glimpses, frozen in time. The funny things they said and did, the emergence of their unique personalities, the way the two of them interacted – unless I wrote it down, all of that is lost forever. Videos could have preserved some of it, but home movies in 1986 were beyond my area of expertise – and my budget.
Anni tried to copy Tata, even when he hadn’t a clue what she was doing. She’d place one hand on her back, one on her tummy, and bow deeply to each corner of the room. Where did that come from? Tata copied Anni too, notably by joining what would become his signature arm-in-the-air salute (two-arms, for extra emphasis).
Still, even in infancy, distinct differences between their two personalities emerged. Tata mobbed her crib with plush animals. Anni methodically tossed every one of them out. Tata fearlessly jammed her mouth with marbles, pennies, anything handy and lethal. Nothing entered Anni’s mouth without scrutiny and informed consent. Tears streamed down his cheeks when I made him taste chicken.
I thought these day-to-day moments weren’t important. I thought I’d remember them all. How could I be so wrong? Thank God for the times I wrote these things down.
I could not have a more generous, supportive friend than Roberta Gundersen. What kind of petty, insecure person could possibly begrudge the success of a friend who wants nothing but the best for me? This is where I raise my hand. I didn’t begrudge her success, exactly – I just envied it to an unseemly degree. I wish I could say I’ve matured in the 28 years since then, but I haven’t. Every time I read about another writer’s success, I can’t help thinking, “Why isn’t it me?”
In the last few days, I’ve devoured a novel – The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz – which deals with some of these issues, and more. I loved it – and, of course, I’m jealous, and I wish that I had written it. I’m familiar with most of her settings and situations (writing workshops, etc.) In fact, the experience I describe in today’s diary entry (circa 93) took place at an Iowa Summer Writer’s Workshop I attended with Roberta and my sister, Joyce. (Our teacher, GM, liked Joyce’s work, too.)
I can’t help wondering if the book spoke to me so strongly because it’s about familiar territory. If you’re NOT a writer, aspiring or otherwise, and you read this book, I’d be very interested in your thoughts.
Today I wonder if I read the situation and reacted appropriately. I was barely eighteen. I assumed Bob’s invitation to dinner and a movie was a date; perhaps it was. In any case on the following day, I told him I couldn’t go. He looked hurt which made me feel as awful as I expected. After that, he avoided the store when I was working.
Writing this, I’m older than Bob was when he asked me out. That hasn’t kept me from forming friendships with some of my former millennial students. Maybe all Bob wanted was somebody sympathetic to talk to. There’s no way to read someone’s intentions, especially fifty years after the fact.
So, if my eighteen-year-old self had another chance to respond to this invitation – given today’s accumulated wisdom and experience – would I react the same way? Probably. I wish I could claim I’d have the self-awareness and courage to explain myself instead of saying “yes” then backing out at the last minute. The sad truth is, I still say “yes” to far too many invitations knowing I won’t follow through – proof one can grow old without becoming wise.
What made these particular incidents so traumatic was feeling publicly humiliated. I didn’t realize nobody paid the slightest attention to me or my embarrassment. I took myself far too seriously. I still do, but not to this deranged degree.
The other thing that anchors this entry in 1964 is the reference to a “Jonah” day. Growing up PK, we play-acted Bible stories like the Good Samaritan or the Israelites discovering “manna” (cookie dough). Biblical names were part of our language. “Jonah day” isn’t a term I’d use today but it’s familiar – I know what I meant even though some details are hazy. It involved Jonah in the belly of a whale which – I learned much later – is one of many universal myths, variations on Carl Jung’s “dark night of the soul.” The symbolism in many Bible stories ran deeper than my adolescent imagination could comprehend. I was lucky to be exposed to them.
As so often happens when I review old diary entries, events I considered tragic in 1964 seem merely amusing today. This gives me hope that today’s disasters will – someday – be revealed as trivial, forgettable.
A spoiled 13-year-old wrote this. Reading it today, I realize how incredibly lucky I was to be my father’s daughter even though as a PK (Preacher’s Kid), I felt pressured to be an “example” to others. The pressure didn’t come from my father. If anything, he urged me to be exactly who I was. Don’t act religious to please him. Don’t go Satanic to rebel. Listen to your own voice.
I didn’t get any static when I chose UCLA instead of a Lutheran college. He made no effort to direct me toward a more practical major than film writing. He was even fine when I married a Catholic.
I think the idea that PK’s should be held to a higher standard is a commonly held, rarely challenged belief. That’s why a casual observer like Jane’s mother could say, “Somehow, we thought the pastor’s daughter would be different.” It’s why Dusty Springfield sang about being despoiled by “the son of a preacher man,” not “the son of a plumber.” It’s just the way it is.
Growing up PK was a challenge I didn’t choose but in retrospect it was a privilege. I wouldn’t trade a minute of being Pastor Vance’s daughter to be anyone else.
Funny, how the only test I identified – mechanical reasoning – was the one I tanked. It’s a safe bet my high scores were in English or another humanities/social science subject where vocabulary and reading skills can conceal a vast lack of knowledge. On the other hand, since mechanical reasoning didn’t appear in Santa Clara Unified’s 6th grade curriculum, perhaps they were testing something other than what we learned in school. Who knows what areas they were testing and why? And – half a century later – does it really matter?
The phrasing in this entry – “I remember back in the fifth grade” – makes it sound as if this happened eons ago, not a year and a half. Eighteen months was a lifetime, then. A moment, now. I haven’t been to Santa Clara – or driven down the El Camino Real – in at least a decade. Is it still a street or is it an expressway? Is the Moonlite Center still there?
I knew what I did not want to do – don a cap and gown and endure an excruciating graduation ceremony. My own Jr. High and high school extravaganzas were torture. What about those magical moments, watching my own children graduate? Don’t you just want to smile all over? Uh, no.
Slow-roasting in bleachers without shade, surrounded by delirious parents straining to spot their spawn in a sea of black-robes several zip codes to the south – made home schooling appear an attractive option. For the record, the only things I dread more than rituals like graduation are parades and colonoscopies.
Flash forward to my son CD, valedictorian for his UCLA film and television class. Two surprises awaited me, one pleasant and one not so much. The good news was, only film and TV students participated, making it more like a party than spectacle. Lulled into a false sense of security, I thought, “this is almost a perfect day.”
CD took the microphone. He singled out his wife and his father – 100% USC Trojan, undergrad and law school. He thanked them for their inspiration. No mention of his mother and fellow UCLA film and TV alum. You know, the one who introduced him to Melnitz hall and UCLA’s campus.
Amazingly, I recovered from this ego-shattering blow as well as a carrot that caused me to barf at the reception. Something deep and primal superseded my lifelong distaste for graduations, parades and vomit. So what if CD forgot to thank me? I could not have been any prouder of him. I still am.
What looked like my lucky break was actually a crash course in how quickly “All my dreams are coming true!” can dissolve into no one’s returning my phone calls. Sadly, this was far from my last experience with emotional whiplash, careers version.
Still, Froug was right when he advised me to celebrate. Why not bask in the potential something amazing just might happen? So what if it doesn’t, this time? The near-miss zone is nothing to be ashamed of. Most people never get that close. Nobody gets there by accident. Somebody noticed you and said, “the kid’s got talent.” If they didn’t believe it, they wouldn’t waste their time. The least you can do is believe in yourself.
Legend has it, the average overnight success endures twenty to fifty rejections before they’re rewarded with that first life-changing YES. What are you waiting for? The faster you rack up the no’s, the sooner your dreams come true.
The script that earned me this near-miss – “Intimate Changes,” not the greatest title – never got produced, but it won me introductions to agents, producers and network execs, all pivotal in my later career. What felt like loss was only life unfolding more slowly than I preferred.