Written down in black and white, the details of these days seem like the textbook definition of dorky, but all these years later I remember the experience – and the feelings, the rush of euphoria that came with finding a friend I connected with – as beautiful and perfect, just like the diary says.
If I try to insert the names of other friends – even close friends – instead of Sandy, it simply doesn’t work. I never could have shared these goofy adventures – let alone laughed as hard as we did – with anybody but Sandy. Her wild, quirky imagination met mine. She could be as deep as she could be silly. As complicated as “where the woodbine twineth” or as simple as “Nature Night”. I have no idea what made it so much fun to spy on little kids in her neighborhood – it never would’ve occurred to me with any of my other friends but she could find intrigue anywhere, make an adventure out of anything.
In my diary entries, I worry obsessively about being boring but in retrospect there was some projection going on. While I very well might be boring as hell, the truth is I am – and always have been – easily bored (which, according to some, means deep down I’m as boring as I always feared, but isn’t it all subjective?). Boredom was never an issue with Sandy. She had a knack for making anything interesting.
Almost thirty years later, I can answer that question with some authority. Yes, I was definitely losing interest in movies, a trend that would continue. Today, IMHO, the most innovative, exciting and inspirational writing can be seen on cable television or a streaming service. In 1989, I couldn’t imagine the myriad entertainment options we take for granted now. To illustrate just how different things were, check out our eighties pride and joy – the gigantic rear-projection television that consumed half the family room. The yellow velveteen sofa is another eighties winner.
A couple people who were there that night – Ed Cutter and Jake Jacobson to name two – have died. I lost touch with JoAnn Hill and even with the full resources of the internet, I haven’t been able to find her due to the sheer volume of JoAnn Hills.
My adorable little blond boy in the white faux tuxedo jacket is in his thirties now, living in his own condo and too busy with his job and girlfriend to see us more than every other weekend. The other day he laughingly told me I couldn’t guilt him anymore. We’ll just have to see about that, won’t we?
Enjoy these pictures and take lots of photos of your life as you know it now. Before you know it, everything will change and you’ll want to remember how it used to be. In the immortal words of the great Paul Simon in “Bookends”:
The person I claim to be is a complete fabrication. Three words of the entry explain how and why this could happen. “I drink more.” A lot more. After a few drinks, my self-consciousness disappears and a wittier, friendlier me emerges. I don’t care what people say or think – at least not until the next morning when I wake with a headache and a list of apologies I need to make for things I shouldn’t have said.
When I stopped drinking this extroverted version of me ran dry. I reverted to an introvert. Introverts get a bad rap. People with a rich interior life and no apparent exterior life make boring movie heroes and heroines. They’re not easy to get close to but they do have a few things in common with extroverts.
Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone feels under-appreciated. Nobody’s life runs exactly as planned and few, if any, see all of their dreams come true. That does not doom humans to unhappiness. That depends entirely on what you believe you need to be happy.
I’ve got enough. I don’t need a Malibu beach house or a private jet. If I die with exactly what I’ve got right now, it’s more than enough. I believe that leaves me happier than some who never have enough.
This entry captures my skewed priorities during my senior year (aka known as my Great Depression). Getting accepted at UCLA was momentous (and kind of crucial, since I neglected to apply to any other institution of higher learning). It was truly life changing.
That said, my obsessive focus was on pinpointing where I stood in my relationship with X – talk about an absurd waste of time! A mollusk could’ve deduced I was nowhere – the same place I’d been for almost two years.
It’s a peculiar kind of hell, pretending to be satisfied being “just friends” with somebody you’re madly in love with. To level the “just friends” playing field, I invented a boyfriend to compete with his living girlfriend. When he tortured me by rhapsodizing about how much he loved her, I could retaliate with my make-believe relationship with the non-existent Pericles. (I gave him a more normal name which is not to imply he was one iota more believable.)
To render an already pitiful situation more pathetic, I repeatedly pulled my fictional punches. Instead of touting my relationship with Pericles as a love affair for the ages, at the slightest hint X might be interested in me again, I kicked poor Pericles to the curb. My brilliant reasoning went, “X secretly wants to come back to me but he’s afraid he’ll be rejected for Pericles! Play it smart. Tell him you dumped Pericles so you’re fully available to him.”
Yeah, that’ll work every time – somewhere other than the planet earth. Suffice to say, my Herculean efforts to recapture X’s heart failed miserably. When I left Santa Clara (as it turned out, for good – and in June, not September) I never expected to see or hear from X again – but at least I had UCLA in my future. And that’s what actually mattered.
Much like every other Baby Boomer girl, I grew up playing with Barbie. My first – and still my favorite – was the classic titian ponytail. Much like my own wardrobe, we rarely splurged on store-bought Barbie clothes – my mother sewed them. And, unlike little girls today, I had one Barbie and probably a Ken, Midge and Skipper too. We spent hours playing the Barbie board game, trying not to get stuck going to the prom with Poindexter. Feminism was far in the future, as a casual perusal of the rules and goals of the Barbie board game make abundantly clear.
When I left for college and my parents prepared to move to San Diego, they asked me what to do with my dolls. “Give them away,” I said cavalierly, confident that I was far too sophisticated to ever miss them.
I was wrong. As an adult collector, you could argue – as my long-suffering husband does – that I spent a fortune trying to reconnect with those dolls I so casually gave away. After years of being oblivious to 11 inch fashion dolls, in the mid-nineties I browsed a Barbie Bazaar magazine while shopping for toys for my children at FAO Schwartz – and I was hooked.
Naturally, I didn’t collect in moderation – I don’t do anything less than obsessively. Meeting Chris Varaste was a lucky fluke. He was writing a book about Barbie (Face of the American Dream) and many of my dolls were immortalized in photographs for the book.
With affection, I call Chris my “idiot savante” of the Barbie world. He knows which shade of eye color appeared which year and which ones are rare (example – say what color and year). Thanks to his eagle eye and willingness to curate, my collection was elevated in class almost instantly.
Neither of us are as mad about Barbie as we were then although she’ll always have a place in our hearts – how could she not, being an American icon? More important, Chris has a place in my heart. We’ve talked about far more than Barbie over the years and he’s proven himself to be as trustworthy as I intuited on the day we met – nineteen years ago today.
This wasn’t my first – or last – fantasy about taking drastic measures to escape my life. I didn’t follow through on this brilliant plan or any of the others which didn’t stop me from devising new schemes to start over someplace else whenever I’m overwhelmed where I am.
Before my wedding, I thought about hopping a plane and disappearing in Sweden (because I took Swedish at UCLA, as if that would do me any good.) Thank God I lost my nerve – or regained my senses – and showed up at the church on time. Sticking around and seeing things through was always the right choice.
The fantasy of running away – starting a new life with a new name – is probably impossible in our high-tech surveillance-happy world. Even if I could, there’s no reason to believe my new life would improve on the one I’m living. As the saying goes, wherever you run to, you take yourself with you.
And of course, “myself” is the problem. The only way to change my circumstances is change myself. It’s an inside adjustment, not an outside one. I didn’t know that in ’69, as I sank into a bottomless clinical depression. I find solace in the fact that no matter how much I wanted to leave this life, I stayed – and you know what? It got better.
What a classic example of freaking out about something that isn’t close to happening. From the sound of this entry, I wasn’t even babysitting when I started down this terrifying path of “What ifs?” That said, on more than one actual babysitting job, my parents had to deliver Janet to calm me down – and I hadn’t even seen movies like Halloween. (They hadn’t been made yet and even if they’d been available, my parents forbade us to see horror movies. Their attitude was, “If you still want to see this gore when you’re 18, fine. Until then, you don’t need it.” Given my propensity for hysteria, I can’t argue with their wisdom.
This tendency to extrapolate the most dreadful outcome of any given situation was a curse in romantic relationships. If a guy didn’t call me on time, I convinced myself he was losing interest, intended to drop me, hated me, was madly in love with my worst enemy. Once these ideas took hold, it was hard to release them and I turned into a needy clingy nutcase.
Lucky for me, one area where catastrophizing is an asset not a liability is film and television writing. When writing a movie of the week, you look for the worst possible alternative. If a husband checks out the hot divorcee down the street, odds are his wife will be dead by the first commercial break. The more trouble a writer can hurl at his hero, the more dramatic and emotionally involving the story. The principle works in fiction – not so much in real life.
It’s difficult to reconstruct my thinking that fall because it was – to put it kindly – demented. I was assigned to the dorm I requested – Hedrick. The first night, I went to a barbeque with my new roommate. From the bleachers, we watched people below line up for food. My roommate and her friends playfully paired strangers – the ugly guy with an ugly girl, fat guy with a fat girl, etc.
Granted, it wasn’t nice but given a sliver of self-awareness I might’ve remembered I wasn’t always nice myself. Instead I unleashed my judgmental, self-righteous inner judge and jury. How could a sensitive soul like myself co-exist with such dreadful people? I needed to move out of Hedrick – now! This was brilliant reasoning compared to my next brainstorm.
My problem was finding someplace to live. My inspired solution was – go through Greek “Rush Week” and pledge a sorority!
Whaaaat? At UCLA in ’69, frats and sororities were as cool as Nixon and Goldwater. Inexplicably, it slipped my mind I wore jeans to school every day. I pictured myself 30 pounds lighter, in cashmere twin sets and designer suits with shiny straight hair and perfect make-up.
What’s wrong with this picture?
I hate groups, especially those that burst into song for no discernable reason.
I hate dress-codes and pantyhose (sorority girls had to endure both).
I hate setting tables, washing dishes and making my bed – chores pledges were required to do.
I hate sharing my space. Pledges shared a tiny room with six other girls as well as a communal bathroom.
I hate committee meetings, especially when they involve ritual.
Did I mention I hate groups?
Spotting a couple kinks in my plan, my parents urged me not to act hastily but – blinded by my vision of my secret sorority girl self – I plunged forward. Yes, I said, I’ll pledge your sorority! My new sisters sang a secret song of welcome.
I moved my earthly possessions into the sorority. As I unpacked, sanity returned. With mounting horror, I remembered who I was – and who I wasn’t.
I told my sorority sisters I’d made a terrible mistake. They didn’t sing; they were too furious. I didn’t blame them. They kept their part of the bargain. I was the crazy flake who forgot who she was and what she wanted.
They were clear about what they wanted – me out of there. I got my eviction notice the same day I moved in. Luckily, Mary Bennett – my roommate from the prior quarter – needed a roommate. We arranged for me to move back into Sproul Hall – the same funky dorm where I started my college education.
I’m not suggesting my experience merits lines as profound as those T.S. Eliot wrote in “Little Gidding” but I’m going to quote them anyway.
Judging by the amount of diary space allotted to the tragic break up with my first boyfriend compared to my conversation with Mrs. Seidenberg, it’s obvious where my priorities lay. By 1966, I had a burning desire to be a writer and encouragement from others fed that fire. Sometimes, though, I can’t help but wonder if praise from people ignited the fire in the first place. In other words, would I have wanted to be a writer if not for early positive feedback telling me I was good at it?
In all honesty, writing wasn’t my first ambition. Far from it. Long before I dreamed of seeing my name on the spine of a book, let alone a movie or TV screen, I wanted to be a trapeze artist. It didn’t occur to me acrophobia – fear of heights – might be a liability for a future trapeze artist. Likewise, being born clumsy posed a serious challenge as did early evidence I’d be a 5’9” bruiser by the time I reached maturity making me a risky catch for all but the beefiest male aerial artist.
Since flying through the air with the greatest of ease did not appear likely in my future, I aspired to a new dream – prima ballerina. Astute readers are probably ahead of me here. The same factors (with the possible exception of acrophobia) holding me back from swinging under the big-top demolished any chance I’d be dancing the lead in Swan Lake – not only did I move like a blind ox, relatively few guys – if any – could hoist me aloft and spin me for a romantic pas de duex. More likely he’d stagger under my weight and collapse, at which time I’d tumble after and crush us both.
On top of that, I’m positive both of the above professions require constant practice, consisting of strenuous workouts to stretch physical endurance to the max. Prodigious sweat is probably involved. Not exactly my thing, once I remember who I am. So what attracted me to situations I was so ill-suited for?
The skimpy sequined outfits and tights, obviously. Lucky for me, I can wear the costume without the career. Since I write alone at home, I can wear anything I please. That said, I rarely indulge this professional perk. I can’t remember the last time I hit my computer keys dressed like this.
You never know, though. Maybe it’s just the inspiration I need.
I met Walter Hill in 1973 at a dinner party hosted by my screenwriting professor, Bill Froug.
Walter and David Giler were the only two other guests I remember by name. I was in awe of their talent and success as writers. Finding myself a guest at the same dinner party made me feel like anything was possible. My life could be as big as my dreams.
Walter and I dated for a few months. I was living in San Diego and commuting to LA for meetings so a serious relationship never developed – well, certainly not from his point of view. I was wildly infatuated with Walter; I thought I was in love.
In retrospect, I didn’t know him well enough be in love although there wasn’t anything not to like. He was witty, confident, talented, brilliant and kind. He introduced me to Randy Newman’s music. The problem – aside from the fact that he wasn’t looking for a long-term relationship then – was I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t really want to marry Walter so much as I wanted to be Walter. I wanted to absorb his talent, his confidence, his success, his work ethic.
Maybe he sensed I was a predator, out to steal his soul. Maybe he just liked someone else better. I’m pretty sure I scared him away. I did write one ill-advised insane letter I deeply regret mailing but that’s another story. He made the right decision when he cut me loose.
When we ran into each other again a year later, he was the nice, confident, talented witty guy I remembered. I’m grateful he forgave and forgot how close I came to being his stalker.
It was exciting to see his star rise over the years. I felt proud – and lucky – that I’d met him. By then, I understood that dating a famous writer couldn’t transfer his talent or confidence to me. Even marriage couldn’t have accomplished that. I was forever stuck with being myself.