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.
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.
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.
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?
Thirty-eight years flew by and we never went sailing with Art – or anyone else – again. How do our good intentions – our genuine desires – get so easily buried under our daily routine?
Most people – myself included – have at least a vague idea about what might make us happy but most things I think I want – my fantasy about shopping for a medieval chateau in France, for example – rarely top my To Do list.
Okay, that example is over-the-top, particularly since I don’t speak a word of French, so I’ll scale it down to “we should go sailing more often.” Current reality suggests that goal is as impossible to realize as a castle in France.
In part, that’s due to the Protestant work ethic – in the words of John Lennon, “a man must work to earn his day of leisure.” Until I make significant progress toward my grandiose goals, I don’t deserve to reward myself.
My second handicap is the fact I’m spectacularly disorganized. Every weekend, I promise myself I’ll stay home and order my life so that next weekend I’ll have nothing but free time to do whatever I please. Unfortunately, like Gatsby’s green light, my dream of a perfectly organized life “year by year recedes before me. It eluded me then but that’s no matter. Tomorrow, I will run faster, stretch my arms farther, and one fine morning – so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (Thank you, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’m pretty sure I’d die happy if I wrote something that beautiful.)
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.
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.
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.
My absolute all-time favorite game growing up was dress-up (today, it’s called role-play but it’s the same thing.) I was up for a part in any fantasy – princess, boarding school, teen-ager, Rapunzel and Bonanza were perennial favorites. The only role I couldn’t relate to was horsy. Then as now, the appeal of prancing around pretending to be a palomino eluded me. For starters, playing horsy pretty much precludes costumes unless you count tucking a fake tail in the rear of your pedal-pushers (I don’t).
I have only two requirements for a good game of dress-up.
I play a human (no horsys!)
I wear a costume – and hopefully a wig.
Beyond that, anything goes.
It’s a shame that dress-up tends to be cast aside before adolescence. It’s all but forgotten by the time we’re adults. IMHO, this is a real shame. Luckily, like riding a bike, the requisite skills reside inside you, ready to resume active duty if called. If you can get past your self-consciousness for a trip into fun and silliness, dress up is even more fun to play as a grown-up.
Technically, each of us gets only one life to live. Dress up role play lets you dabble in as many lives as you can make up. If – like me – sometimes you get sick of being yourself, take a break. Cut loose and be somebody else – someone without a mortgage, congested kids, or pets pooping on the rug. All you’ve got to lose is your dignity. Isn’t it about time?
If you’re over 18 or past the age of consent: Dress-up role-play is unlikely to be hazardous to your sex life, if you get my drift. Enough said.
Sandy wasn’t a friend who’d waste a day bronzing in the sun or swimming. We were always playing some kind of fantasy game or plotting an adventure whether it was leaving different footprints in the sand or talking to the ouija board at midnight on my front lawn. If a spectral car didn’t hurtle out of the night, we’d find another way to terrify ourselves.
Our ouija board told us his name was Rehsi and he was from the planet Asteron. He wasn’t exactly a gifted, fast-tracked ouija board. He was probably held back a few years. I don’t think he ever answered a single question correctly but being clueless didn’t keep him from making dire predictions.
I know some people think ouija boards are scary and demonic but for Sandy and me it was a fun spooky game. Not for an instant did I believe that we were summoning dark forces to serve the devil. Maybe I would’ve been more scared if I’d seen The Exorcist.