early ambitions

April 23, 1979

April 23, 1979

 I remember this well – my excitement was so intense it’s still indescribable. All of those times I came so close to my goal and missed taught me to lower my expectations. I didn’t let myself hope for more than another meeting. To learn my spec script had been optioned by a real producer for real money (not a lot, but more than I’d ever made writing before) seemed surreal.

Writing - the dreamPart of me always believed I’d make it as a writer, otherwise I wouldn’t have pursued it – but another part saw a screenwriting career as a dream, out of reach.  One of my high school teachers told me I wouldn’t be a real writer until someone paid me to write and I believed her – so, Steve Friedman optioning the script was validation.

Writing - looks like a vacuum cleaner sitting unattended in the messy background.In my dizzy euphoria, I assumed everything would be different now – my career would come easily. That proved overly optimistic. Steve didn’t make the movie and the option lapsed. The same script would be optioned twice more, by two different producers, and it attracted some top-tier female directors and talent, but as of today it remains unproduced.

Page 1 - 17_edited-1Doesn’t matter. It’s still one of the top ten days of my life.

 

April 8, 1967

April 8, 1967

Villa Montalvo is a historical landmark built in 1912 by James Duval Phelan. Phelan, was a three-term mayor of San Francisco, and went on to become California's first popularly-elected U.S. Senator. The estate was his beloved country home until his death in 1930.
Villa Montalvo is a historical landmark built in 1912 by James Duval Phelan. Phelan, was a three-term mayor of San Francisco, and went on to become California’s first popularly-elected U.S. Senator. The estate was his beloved country home until his death in 1930.

When I was sixteen, I rarely conversed with “old” people, aside from my grandparents. I didn’t have anything against them, we just didn’t move in the same circles. I suspect most millennials don’t spend a lot of time with people in their seventies, either. That’s why this encounter rated space in my diary. Seventy-five probably sounded prehistoric. Clearly, I assumed she was moments away from death.

Me at Villa Montalvo, around this time.
Me at Villa Montalvo, around this time.

When I was sixteen, “don’t trust anyone over thirty” was a popular sentiment. I couldn’t imagine myself so ancient. Like Simon and Garfunkel famously sang, “How terribly strange to be seventy” – forget seventy-five.

The grounds of the villa now encompass 175 acres, more than the original 160 acres purchased by Phelan. The estate boasts several large structures as well as gardens and untouched natural areas. Montalvo includes two theaters, an art gallery, the historic Villa Montalvo, an artist residency complex, hiking trails and gardens in Saratoga, CA.
The grounds of the villa now encompass 175 acres, more than the original 160 acres purchased by Phelan. The estate boasts several large structures as well as gardens and untouched natural areas. Montalvo includes two theaters, an art gallery, the historic Villa Montalvo, an artist residency complex, hiking trails and gardens in Saratoga, CA.

Yet, here I am – closer to seventy-five than seventeen but I don’t feel elderly. Aside from the creak in my joints after too many hours hunched over my laptop, I picture myself as a fit early forties. Okay, fifties. For sure, it’ll feel terribly strange to be seventy.

Old Friends

 

March 23, 1973

March 23, 1973 Plan B

Leaving Melnitz Hall
Leaving Melnitz Hall

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.

S's High School Graduation
S’s High School Graduation

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.

A at his graduation
A at his college graduation

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's graduation UCLA
CD’s graduation UCLA

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.

CD and classmates at UCLA graduation

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.

March 8, 1973

March 8, 1973

All my dreams...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.

My teacher and mentor, Bill Froug
My teacher and mentor, Bill Froug

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.

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.

What are you waiting for?

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.

 

March 3, 1965

March 3, 1965

Should anyone doubt my Nerd credentials, read no further than the above diary entry. In fact, I’d argue knotting grass to make insect beds raises the bar on Dorkiness. Surely, I had a few worthier – at the very least, cooler – hobbies.

The essence of Dorkiness, seen with sisters and neighbor kid
The essence of Dorkiness, seen with Joyce and neighbor kids

What did pre-digital loners like myself do for entertainment in 1965? I pasted green stamps into books for my mother. Played “Kick the Can” and “Monopoly” with the neighborhood kids. I tottered around on the pair of stilts my father built for me. I pored over the Sears catalog – its arrival was a major event in our house. We always placed an order, forgetting that the merchandise never looked as classy in our living room as it did in the catalog.

Spring-Summer Sears Catalog 1965
Spring-Summer Sears Catalog 1965

When the new catalog arrived, I claimed the old one. I named the prettiest models, carefully mulling the perfect moniker for each. I bought my first “A Name for Baby” book around then – the start of a lifelong obsession. And then, I wrote stories about the people I named.

So many boss outfits!
So many boss outfits!

Of course, I became a writer. What other profession gives you god-like powers in your fictional universe plus carte blanche to name a cast of thousands?

Get to work and name these girls, already!
Get to work and name these girls, already!

 

February 26, 1971

February 26, 1971

Project One Films

The first time I saw a commercial for a phone that shot photos, it looked absurd. Cameras were for taking pictures, phones were for talking. The combination could only weaken them both.

As close as I can come to a photo of a vintage Vivitar Super-8.
As close as I can come to a photo of a vintage Vivitar Super-8.

Obviously, I was wrong – so very wrong. Today, even though I have a good digital camera, I shoot photos with my phone.  However, this brave new world was far in the future when I unwrapped my second-hand Vivitar. To me, it was state of the art; I couldn’t imagine asking more of any device.

In San Diego with the family around '71.
In San Diego with the family around ’71.

As it turns out, there’s no end to things I couldn’t imagine then but take for granted today. Remote controls. Microwaves. Cheap calculators. Smart phones. Cars that come with screens and GPS. Watches that keep track of my steps, my heartbeat, my minutes of REM sleep.

And, of course, the unsettling reality that unknown corporations, foreign and domestic, know more about me than the people in my life. The amount of data that potentially could be harvested from this blog is scary. Why keep doing it?

A selfie taken with my phone today - unimaginable in 1971,
A selfie taken with my phone today – unimaginable in 1971,

Realistically, I can’t stuff the genie back in the battle. What hits the net, lives there forever. And I kind of love it that after I’m gone, bits of my life will live in cyberspace.

 

February 23, 1999

February 23, 1999

Citizen Kane

Growing up, there was one centrally located television set (without a remote) in our house and we watched TV as a family. “Leave it to Beaver” and “the Flintstones” were early favorites. My sisters and I weren’t allowed to watch the Three Stooges (my father disapproved of the cruelty in their humor) or cheap horror movies. (“If you want to see that kind of thing when you’re older, that’s your choice, but you will not be watching it here.”)

S'n'A around this time.
S’n’A around this time.

In my home today, there’s at least one TV (and remote!) for everybody, including the pets. Zelda barks her head off at any dog or four-legged creature who dares to make an appearance. J can watch football, S can watch anime and I can binge on a Netflix series simultaneously without crossing paths.

Zelda goes berserk at the sight of a dog on TV.
Zelda goes berserk at the sight of a dog on TV.And she watches carefully all the time.

For me, watching a program together is a far superior option but sometimes no one else is interested. That’s why I was so thrilled when S and A expressed interest in AFI’s list of the 100 greatest American films. (AFI’s 100 top films)

At fourteen, I knew nothing about classic films. If they screened in Santa Clara, no one told me. After UCLA opened my eyes to that world, I wanted to share it but some people just weren’t interested. (Their cultural loss, IMHO). I love sharing great entertainment with S and A even though some TV shows that looked hip and brilliant in the 80s (hello, Miami Vice) didn’t age gracefully.

The whole family, circa 1999.
The whole family, circa 1999.

Occasionally, J gives me a hard time about calling TV viewing “quality time” but I can’t think of a more pleasurable way to imbibe history, culture, art and the principles of storytelling than watching and discussing the boob tube.

 

January 12, 1972

January 12, 1972_edited-1

I knew that I bragged too much – “I had to tell people…I got into Kessler’s poetry class.” For sure, I boasted to the pages of my diary. I doubt anyone ever paid me a compliment I didn’t promptly record, verbatim. I’m probably bragging right now, by reprinting this particular diary entry. (“Look how great I used to be!”) That said, if I’m ever going to correct my character flaw of vanity – or is it pride? – I need to own it, so here goes – I’m conceited.

Yay me!

It’s not very Norwegian.  My parents raised me not to “sing my own praises.” (On the other hand, there is that parable about not hiding your light under a bushel but I’m not sure that exonerates me.) I always dislike myself after I “toot my own horn” – just not enough to stop doing it.

Good Norwegians avoid the limelight.
Good Norwegians avoid the limelight.

Obviously, my braggadocio stems from a pervasive sense of inadequacy. Einstein didn’t announce he was a genius. Garbo didn’t brag that she was a famous movie star. Brilliant, talented people don’t need to tell the world how smart and exceptional they are. It’s obvious. It’s equally obvious when they are not. And no amount of self-promotion can turn mediocrity into greatness.

Not always, though.
Not always, though.

January 7, 1984

January 7, 1984

Dad, Mom, Dolly and Jani - I must have taken the picture
Dad, Mom, Dolly and Jani – I must have taken the picture
Mom, Dolly & Dad
Mom, Dolly & Dad

Looking back, our end-of-the-evening ennui seems inexplicable – it sounds like a pretty darn good day – but in 1984, J and I tended to focus on what we didn’t have– rather than what we did.  Now that we’re older and wiser, we’re more inclined to gratitude. The days we took for granted look golden in the rear-view mirror.

Irene Miracle
Irene Miracle

I’d give anything to see my parents off on another cruise. After retirement, my father served as chaplain for many voyages. J and I took a few ourselves – one of them with my parents and extended family to celebrate their 66thwedding anniversary.

On voyage with grandparents
On voyage with grandparents

In 1984, CD had just turned seven and S wasn’t even a year old. I’d just begun to make it as a film and TV writer and we didn’t have household help. Sometimes, the pressure felt overwhelming. Today, the difficulties of raising small children and juggling a career seem insignificant. I’d welcome the chance to savor those moments of their childhood again.

J and I with CD, S and my parents around this time.
J and I with CD, S and my parents around this time.

I can’t justify the angst, today. We had it good. I need to remember this when I’m tempted to dwell on my daily disappointments. We’re alive and well. We still have it good.

 

January 3, 1966

January 3, 1966

Hullabaloo Show 34

One of many things I’m grateful for is the great blessing of being young when the Beatles burst upon the scene. Sure, there were concurrent superstars that lasted longer – take the Rolling Stones. And there were subsequent superstars who graced the cover of Time and sold gazillions of albums – Bruce Springsteen comes to mind.  I stopped listening to top 40 or current FM sometime in the late 70s or early 80s – so I’m not certain which individuals or groups qualify as super-stars. Feel free to educate me in the comments section.  (That said, I do love Garbage and Coldplay. I hope that doesn’t doom them to fuddy-duddy status.)

Paul McCartney circa 1966
Paul McCartney circa 1966
Me circa 1966
Me circa 1966

There was something special about the Beatles, though. IMHO, they were bigger – and their impact more substantial – than earlier stars like Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. Admittedly, Elvis broke new ground but I don’t think his cultural significance approaches that of the Beatles. They wrote their own songs and their style and personas evolved to an unprecedented degree which, in turn, influenced a generation.

Rubber Soul - Revolver - Sgt. Pepper
Rubber Soul – Revolver – Sgt. Pepper

1966 was a great year for a Beatles fan. They still projected an intoxicating innocence. Rubber Soul had been released a month earlier. Revolver would be released that summer and they’d begin recording Sgt. Pepper. More than half a century later, their music still sounds fresh and exciting. How many so-called super-stars can make that claim?

 

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