When I started at UCLA literally days after graduating from high school (see 6/22/69 blog), I felt so overwhelmed – so displaced – I couldn’t conceive of feeling comfortable there. The smaller summer student body was a plus I didn’t fully appreciate until fall when the sheer size of the institution sunk in.
I got lucky and met two people that mattered in my life – Luke and my second roommate, Mary. I felt like I “knew” Luke and Mary even before we met – like it was destined. For those of you who believe in past lives, we’d met before. Even a fellow Sproul summer resident that I didn’t meet until later had an impact (Suzanne Finney, I’m looking at you)
It was a sweltering summer and the dorms weren’t air-conditioned. “Hot Fun in the Summertime” played constantly on the dorm’s PA as did the first Quicksilver Messenger album. In those days, there was a boy’s wing and a girl’s wing and – aside from visiting hours, roughly from 7 – 9 PM – girls were forbidden in the boy’s wing and vice versa.
There was one television in the lounge area, not a problem since no one watched much television. Beta, VCR, DVDs and CDs had yet to be invented – and forget DVR or streaming. If you wanted to watch a certain show, you planted your butt in front of the tube at the designated time or prayed for a rerun. If a Bergman movie screened in Bakersfield (I know, unlikely), it just might be worth the drive because otherwise you might not see it for years. Dorm rooms featured two single beds, at most four feet apart, each with a gold bolster in which to store one’s belongings. A desk completed the ambiance. We shared a huge communal bathroom. It says something about the times that none of us considered this barbaric deprivation.
Scary things happened late in August (the Manson murders – see blog about the aftermath, 9/27/70) that turned sunny LA’s mood dark. Even so, looking back, the summer is a beautiful blur – one of my happiest quarters at UCLA.
The highlight of every summer in the early seventies was my trip to Santa Clara to see my old friends again. Since my parents moved to San Diego in early September of 69, I never had the opportunity to go “home” for a summer after college. I visited a week or two by myself, sleeping on my high school friend’s couches. It was never enough time to catch up – which, I guess, explains why – although we remained friends – we gradually drifted further apart.
If I’d stayed in Santa Clara, the changes might not have been as apparent as they were when I visited annually. When my family and I moved to California in the fifties, the Lawrence Expressway was Lawrence Station Road – two lanes bordered by a row of walnut trees, then a path, then the backyard fences of our housing tract. Simply by crossing Lawrence Station Road, I went from Santa Clara to Sunnyvale.
At some point, a fence went up, separating our house from what was becoming Lawrence Expressway. Before long, I was lost in the city I once knew like the back of my hand. Major landmarks like Jefferson Junior High disappeared, replaced (I think) by some business facility. I grew up believing institutions like public schools would be around forever.
We used to walk to Lawrence Square. Macdonald’s Department Store sold high-end clothing. There was a Safeway and a laundromat. Compare Lawrence Square now to what it looked like then. Does it tell the story of our city?
The extreme competition for a toehold in the entertainment industry makes it a major challenge. That, plus the fact a lot of people assume there’s nothing to it. Most people would never attempt to perform brain surgery or extract wisdom teeth because they’re not trained professionals – but when it comes to acting, writing, directing, everybody’s an expert. Some people are right, they’ve got what it takes. Most are wrong; they fail to realize the craft and hard work involved in making it look easy.
For years, industry experts have claimed that if you write a great script, it will be discovered but I disagree. I can’t prove it but I suspect a lot of great scripts die in the drawers of discouraged writers unable to get a read from somebody with enough power to help.
I got my big breaks from professors in college – notably Bill Froug and Shelly Lowenkopf – who liked my work and recommended me to agents. That’s my first advice to anyone who wants to break in. Take a class, impress the professor, make friends with him, her or anyone else with connections. The seminar’s bottom line advice was correct for its time – networking (“hanging around”) and exuding confidence are your best bet.
To a certain extent, YouTube and other on-line venues level the playing field. If your short film goes viral, it doesn’t matter if you live in Kansas and don’t know a soul in Hollywood. They’ll find you.
I hate the word platform but it can’t be ignored in today’s market. An ability to market and brand yourself is invaluable. These subjects weren’t taught when I was in film school and I’m not sure they’re taught today – but they should be.
Even as a child, I tried to get out of housework – so much so my mother warned me I’d better be rich enough to hire a maid or I’d live in squalor. John’s chivalry with regard to the mop notwithstanding, he wasn’t exactly Mr. Clean around the house either. My mother almost fainted when his mother expressed relief, “that John finally has someone to keep him neat and organized.” If I was supposed to play Felix to his Oscar, we were in big trouble.
Domestic situations aren’t the only ones where I feign ineptitude to avoid doing something I just don’t want to do. Almost anything technical or complicated involving computers or electronics qualifies. My children and husband accommodate me, more or less, although lately my daughter’s exasperated sighs are more pronounced. “Is it plugged in?” she always asks. It’s embarrassing how many times that turns out to be the problem.
I recognized my own “learned helplessness” in 2001, when I lived alone in New York. My laptop broke down and because I needed a laptop for my job there, I couldn’t afford to be without it. Basically, the hard drive needed to be replaced.
If I’d been at home, I never would’ve attempted such a feat but J and my children were in California and I was in New York. My back against the wall, I followed instructions, removed my old hard drive and replaced it with a new one. When push came to shove, I could perform and I was proud of it. I fully intended not to default to learned helplessness when I went home.
Joyce and I went to Taos to visit a former friend I’ll call V (for Voldemort – she who must not be named). Neither Joyce nor I had ever been there. Ostensibly we were going to get a lot of writing done but I’m not sure either of us believed that would happen (it didn’t). In truth, it was a chance to escape our routine days – which revolved around our husbands and children – and reclaim our “independence”.
We shopped in Taos, took silly pictures, and beaded necklaces. V talked us into taking an African Dance class. Later she wound us up and down twisting mountain roads to a secret hot spring that supposedly few people knew about. After we parked, we hiked down a narrow slippery path to the spring.
It was every bit as spectacular and secluded as advertised – a genuine hot spring with a breath-taking view of the Rio Grande rushing past hundreds of feet below. Joyce and I, Midwestern Lutherans at our core, are not the type of girls to skinny-dip, but V ridiculed our narrow-minded inhibitions so we shed our clothes and slipped into the steaming water.
I’m glad she did. It was magical, a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I would’ve regretted it if I’d declined. Remembering special times shared with V creates all manner of cognitive dissonance. It’s easier to demonize, to refuse the existence of any mitigating factors.
I suspect I am not alone here. Experiences contradicting my mind set are inconvenient and acceptance is hard work.
My diary drags me kicking and screaming back to reality.
It’s not terribly surprising I was adamant about Santa Clara being my home considering my family left Santa Clara for San Diego a mere six months before I wrote this entry. In contrast, it astonishes me that 47 years later, I still regard Santa Clara as my home – despite the fact I never lived there again. Realistically, hasn’t LA – where I’ve lived the last 47 years – earned the right to be called home?
Yeah, objectively, no doubt about it. Emotionally, not so fast. I grew up in Santa Clara, it will forever be where I spent my childhood, it’s the backdrop for all my highly formative memories and experiences.
Unfortunately, the Santa Clara I regard as home ceased to exist shortly after I left. I’ve covered this in other blogs (July 18, 1969, August 26, 1969) and I’m loathe to repeat myself. Still, Santa Clara’s metamorphoses into Silicon Valley fascinates me.
Someday I’d love to write a historical novel about Santa Clara. I’d approach it as a multi-generational saga about a family who own an apricot orchard, tracing family members and the city itself as it evolves to Silicon Valley. I’ve been warned family sagas are out of fashion but by the time I finish, they might be all the rage again.
There were plenty of reasons both John and I felt uncertain about the future. He was in his first year of law school, finding his place in a highly competitive environment. If anything, my future was even less assured. At least with law school, odds are you’ll find work as a lawyer assuming you pass the bar. My MFA was in Professional Writing and there’s no guarantee you’ll make a living writing, ever. If anything, odds are you won’t.
Speaking strictly for myself, I was sick of dating. I spent entirely too much time obsessing about the state of my relationships. There wasn’t a snippet of male-female behavior, subliminal messaging, or secret motivations I didn’t ponder for days. A relationship I could rely on – i.e., a husband – freed hundreds of hours previously devoted to relentless analysis about how he really felt about me, what would happen next, what he really meant when he said I’ll call you later.
What about love? Isn’t that the reason to get engaged and married? We were very much in love, at least insofar as either of us understood what love meant, which is to say – not much. Realistically, we were in the grip of mad infatuation. We thought we knew each other but we didn’t really, not as we’d come to know – and love – each other over the next 42 years.
IMHO, love is nothing but illusion in those starry-eyed early days when you can’t see past the glorious magic of the other. Love becomes real when you realize your partner isn’t perfect – that is to say, she or he isn’t exactly the way you want them to be all the time – and you stick around anyway. Real love requires patience, compromise, forgiveness, compassion, empathy. It hurts sometimes. It changes both of you. It’s not easy – but it’s worth it.
That said, if I knew then how not perfect – how difficult and sometimes painful – love and marriage would be – would my answer still be yes? Absolutely.
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.
Yolanda moved in with us in 1984. She loved Chris, Sam and Alex with everything she had – especially Sam, although she never admitted favoritism. The tip-off? She always referred to Sam as “the princess.” Alex was Ahni and Chris was Goose because that’s how the princess pronounced their names. Yolanda balked at calling us John and Kathleen; we were forever Mr. John and Mrs. Kathleen.
She confided her cancer to the princess, who stepped up. She drove Yolanda to all of her doctor’s appointments, sat by Yolanda through every chemo, visited every day when Yolanda was hospitalized. The rest of us pitched in but the princess earned Yolanda’s second nickname for her – my angel.
On Friday February 10, Yolanda’s doctor estimated she’d live thirty days. She had thirty hours. When she drew her last breath at 1:30 AM, we all understood it was for the best. Her pain was excruciating, cancer terminal, death inevitable. No surprises. We knew where this road led.
Except we didn’t, not really. We’re in shock. All day I shushed our dogs so they wouldn’t awaken Yolanda – as if anything could. Three fat cats looked increasingly concerned – where’s our Fancy Feast? ‘Where’s the human who opens cans?
The light is on in Yolanda’s room. For a second, I think she’s there. I haven’t been in her room alone in years. Everywhere, pictures of our children – framed on her bureau, taped to the wall, stacked in photo albums. She carried their photos in her wallet. She loved it when strangers thought they were hers. Was I jealous, did I worry she’d spirit them off to El Salvador? No. If anything, it endeared her to me. If I couldn’t be there, who better than someone who loved them like they were her own?
On a sheet of paper tacked above her bed she drew a cross and scrawled, “Please god please god no cancer. Please god no cancer.” A purple spiral notebook was scribbled with recipes. She saved expired coupons for things she didn’t buy. A few of her clothes trailed price tags, waiting to be worn. Whoever clears my room when I’m dead will find comparable artifacts.
The photos we leave behind show what we did. Fragments of incomplete projects remind us of all left undone, bits and pieces of Yolanda. I should have known her better, more deeply, sooner. I don’t know her sister’s name or phone number in El Salvador and I don’t speak Spanish even if I did.
So what did I know about Yolanda? She made the LA Times her own personal illustrated blog. She drew devil’s horns on basketball players she hated, basically everyone but LeBron and the Clippers. She trapped a rattler outside our door by slamming a concrete slab down on its head. (I would’ve been dead from heart attack.) She didn’t drink, smoke or party. Her modesty did not permit her to wear shorts, swimwear or sleeveless blouses – ever.
She loved our forays to Costco – “the big store” – but recently I was too busy to take her until she was too weak to go. There are so many things I meant to say – should have said – but didn’t. I hope she knew – I think she knew – how much her kindness meant, how her patience and loyalty changed our lives, how many others – my sisters, parents and friends – grew to love her like we did and always will. How much we’ll miss her smile, her red coat, her curly hair, her commentary on current events (you thought she’d stop at sports?) in the LA Times, all part and parcel of the boundless heart and infinite capacity for love we knew as Yolanda Hernandez.
We’ll meet again, Yolanda.
(I’m not trying to make a political point about immigration. However, since Yolanda was an illegal immigrant when I hired her, here are the facts. She always worked, either caring for the elderly or children. She neither asked for nor received welfare. She became a US citizen in the early 90s. For the next twenty years plus, she paid taxes like everyone else. In other words, she writes checks to our government without cashing checks from them. Our country gave her something more valuable than food stamps – a chance at a better life. The way I see it, she was lucky to get into our great nation – but not as lucky as we were to get her into our family.)
January 22, 1971, is practically a template for every return trip to Santa Clara after my parents moved to San Diego. Invariably, these visits were poorly planned and rushed, always too much to do in too little time. My neurosis compelled me to forage in vain for a piece of my past (in the case above, the Grapes of Wrath gig). My futile search for Luke was eerily similar to my recurring “missed connections” dream.
A classic recurring dream involves taking an exam you’re unprepared for. There are infinite variations. In my typical version, I forgot/neglected to drop a UCLA class and the deadline passed. I must take the final but I never attended the class and know nothing. In my father’s version, he stands before a congregation without his hymnal or Bible – lost. I suspect every occupation dreams its own variant on this theme. No matter how often I dream it, it shoots my stress level sky-high.
My “missed connections” recurring dream induces frustration rather than anxiety. These dreams always take place in Santa Clara. I’m home (I can’t believe I still call Santa Clara home when I haven’t lived there for almost 50 years but some places leave a deep imprint) and I want to get in touch with somebody but I left their phone number and/or address in LA. Sometimes, I can’t figure out how to dial the phone or intercom – or the person I’m searching for moved and left no forwarding address. I’m always thisclose but I can never get there. To this day, I dream alterations of this theme over and over.
No doubt it’s obvious to amateur shrinks what these dreams mean. All I know for certain is they’re not going away. Santa Clara, here I come…. over and over again. As Bono famously sings, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”