Moving back in with my parents at age 23 was not part of my master plan, but there I was – stuck in my old bedroom in San Diego. I’d blown my first shot at the dream – being a professional screenwriter. I didn’t have a plan B.
I needed a new launching pad. Academia had been kind to me. I applied to USC’s grad school. In those days, UCLA ran roughly $250 a quarter. I don’t have figures for USC, but it’s safe to surmise you can add a couple zeros to that even in ’74 dollars. The only way I could swing it was if I moved in with my parents and saved my pennies.
San Diego is a beautiful city. Everyone says so. Unfortunately, my parents relocated there during my first year at UCLA. My life-long friends lived in Santa Clara. What’s an introvert like me to do? Make new friends? I don’t think so.
I clung to an old friend, the one who never (willingly) left my side – Inga, the dog I brought home from the LA pound. Even when I didn’t deserve it, she gave me limitless love and devotion. If you need a friend who won’t let you down, someone steadfast and loyal who quivers with bliss at the gentle touch of your hand………..
Please do check out your local animal shelter, as I did and continue to do. I’ve never been sorry. Let me know your story.
It’s not easy to reach Miles Copeland’s castle in France, where the Rocaberti Writer’s Retreat is held. First, you have to fly to Paris. Upon landing, you race to the train station, and catch the one that stops at the Angouleme Station.
There, you board a private coach that winds up narrow mountain roads to an isolated 14th century castle. On a journey like this, fluent French is a plus. I speak English and pigeon-Swedish. Every mile of the way, I worried. What if the website pictures lied, and all that awaited me was s a cheesy tourist trap? The photos did not lie.
When we rounded the corner and the castle came into view, it took my breath away.
From there, it only got better. Every step I took, every inch of every alcove or hallway, was a feast for the eyes and soul. I could almost inhale history. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that I can’t wait to repeat.
The brilliant Claire Elizabeth Terry and Gillian Pollock combined their talents to bring this dream to life. In addition to managing logistics, Gillian gave a hilarious pitch for her own script. Claire previewed an early cut of her soon-to-be-award winning short film “Thirty Minutes.” Claire’s intuition paired me with Martin Olson (Phineas and Ferb) for a mentor. He was passionate, insightful, inspiring, and hilarious. (Make him tell you his Metallica story).
Rocaberti is an intimate, elegant dinner party as opposed to an extravagant banquet. Only 18 – 20 writers attend a retreat. Everybody who’ s there gets to know all the mentors. Diane Drake and Jen Grisanti wore great clothes (casual/classy) and exuded cool sophistication, They were both of those things, but authentic and warm as well. By the time dessert was served, I felt like we were lifelong friends. How often does that happen? Never – to me, anyway – not until Rocaberti.
It wasn’t perfect. The internet sucked, a relatively small price to pay to forge lifelong friendships and resurrect my love of writing. I returned for another retreat in October, this time with my sisters. It was every bit as wonderful.
I expected to be back at Roberti right now, this time to serve as a floating mentor. Sadly, Covid upended those plans. I look forward to rescheduling; I can’t wait to see it on my calendar again.
My sisters and I loved these bi-annual trips to Iowa to see our relatives – we loved everything about it, except the. heat, humidity and mosquitos. We spent most of our time in the coolest part of everyone’s house – always, the basement. Even there, you could break a sweat lying still and reading in bed. In the sixties, everybody had fans but nobody had air-conditioning.
My grandfather wasn’t a man to disagree with. My sister Joyce didn’t like candy corn. On one of our Iowa visits, I noticed her eating it. “I thought you didn’t like candy corn,” I said. “If Grandpa says you like candy corn, you like candy corn,” she replied.
Grandpa said we’d like fishing, so there we were – not liking it, which he didn’t like. He didn’t like our queasiness about worms or how we squealed at the sight of a hooked fish flopping around the bottom of the boat. We might have been born Midwesterners, but by 1966 all three of us were California city girls, through and through.
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.
That was a lie, of course, at least as far as I was concerned. I couldn’t possibly co-exist with four other people (three of whom I didn’t live with) and not have one of them get on my nerves – but it’s entirely possible the problem is mine (too prickly, petty, over-sensitive to personal slights, etc.)
I opted to spend several days alone in the condo while the other four explored the island – partly because I had a writing assignment due, partly because I craved solitude. Some people can’t stand to be alone; I can’t stand to be with people for extended periods. Unless I get a requisite amount of solitude, I turn testy and obnoxious – given that I get on my own nerves, it’s safe to assume I get on everyone else’s nerves too.
That said, this was one of our last “young, unencumbered” vacations. J had just turned thirty and we had one child, not three; the three of them were single but wouldn’t stay that way for long. If they did, indeed, get on my nerves, I don’t remember why; only that we had a great time.