identity

April 29, 1982

April 29, 1982

Our group is the tiny figure in the far right distance.
Our group is the tiny figure in the far right distance.

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 am a rock, I am an island"
“I am a rock, I am an island”

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.

John, Gail and Bennett Traub enjoy a picnic

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.

Hawaii 1982

 

 

April18, 1992

April 18, 1992

Happy Birthday John
 
A lot changed between J’s surprise 30th birthday party and this one. When he turned thirty, we both smoked and drank (he quit smoking forever the following day; I didn’t wise up for a few years). By his 40th, neither of us smoked and we hadn’t had a drink for almost seven years.

J with future law partner Jack Denove
J with future law partner Jack Denove

I’m slightly older than J, so I had to face the formidable fortieth birthday first. Birthdays that usher in new decades feel so much more significant than regular birthdays. Gail Sheehy’s Passages, originally written in the 70s but since updated, offers a road map for the stages of adult life broken down by decades. My summary is an extreme simplification of her work.

Me with J's law school pal Anne Kurrasch.
Me with J’s law school pal Anne Kurrasch.

The twenties are about finding your path in life – do you please your parents or please yourself? Typically, people feel the pressure of a deadline in their thirties. They redefine their priorities as well as their expectations.  The early forties frequently bring a sense of stagnation – is that all there is?  It sounds depressing, but opens the door to self-discovery – what Carl Jung would call “individuation.” We are who we are, and that’s okay.

Bennett Traub, another law school pal, in bg.
Bennett Traub, another law school pal, in bg.

Sheehy includes a quote from Willa Cather: “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”

Over the Hill

 

April 10, 1970

April 10, 1970_edited-1

Luke and Mary at the beach.
Luke and Mary at the beach.

As the photos suggest, Mary and Luke were fast friends. Both of them graduated from neighboring Catholic high schools and attended Catholic colleges in northern California before transferring to UCLA. In those days, I didn’t like to drink, but they did, so periodically they partied without me, which worked for all of us.

Luke and Mary at the beach 2

On more than one occasion, Mary told Luke that even if he and I broke up, she wanted to stay friends with him forever. He felt the same way but like so many well-intentioned promises, that didn’t happen.
Friends on the beach

Some friendships, love affairs and rock bands – like the Beatles – seem so solid, it’s easy to believe they’re destined to stay together. Mary and Luke never had a falling out. There was no acrimony, no broken promises. They simply drifted apart, like I’ve done in friendships that deserved better. Always, the dissolution was due to lack of nourishment, never lack of affection. By the time I notice how long it’s been since I talked to someone, they’ve moved or changed their number and I don’t know how to get back in contact.

Vania Brown, where are you?At least, that’s how it used to be. Facebook has solved much of that problem, although a few people remain MIA. Vania Brown, where are you?

 

 

 

April 4, 1995

April 4, 1995 Diary

My Cub Scout, A
My Cub Scout, A

In retrospect, it’s ironic my youngest son “vanished” the day after Vanished aired on NBC. (I wrote the teleplay, based on the Danielle Steele novel.) It’s about “a man and woman faced with an almost unthinkable tragedy – the mysterious abduction of their son.”


Vanished 1

My fascination with kidnapped children began with a Reader’s Digest condensed book, Kidnap: The Story of the Lindbergh Case by George Waller.  Half a century later, I’ve read almost every book on the subject (and there are a lot).  IMHO, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was innocent, but we’ll never know for sure. That enduring mystery is one of the reasons the case still captivates. Kidnappers Leopold and Loeb also inspired their share of films and books but in their case, the mystery wasn’t who did it, but why.  More recently, the 2007 disappearance of Madeleine McCann is a hot case and the subject of a new Netflix documentary.

I didn't know this until today, but this version of the DVD lists me as the director and the director as the writer.
I didn’t know this until today, but this version of the DVD lists me as the director and the director as the writer.

Missing children – in fiction as well as true crime – capture public imagination because the stories speak to a primal parental fear. I suspect most parents survive at least one heart-stopping moment where their child appears to vanish and the previously unimaginable is agonizingly imminent. In a moment of clarity, you understand that one mistake – an instant of distraction – can shatter everything. Since all of us are human, all of us make mistakes. I made several. All my children terrified me with at least one disappearing act. Luckily, none of them were gone very long.

A, again.
A, again.

 

 

April 1, 1966

April 1, 1966

Believe it or not - there is a Snow Cone Emoji - so I guess people are still craving them.
Believe it or not – there is a Snow Cone Emoji – so I guess people are still craving them.

Funny, how the only test I identified – mechanical reasoning – was the one I tanked. It’s a safe bet my high scores were in English or another humanities/social science subject where vocabulary and reading skills can conceal a vast lack of knowledge. On the other hand, since mechanical reasoning didn’t appear in Santa Clara Unified’s 6th grade curriculum, perhaps they were testing something other than what we learned in school. Who knows what areas they were testing and why?  And – half a century later – does it really matter?

My family circa 1966
My family circa 1966

The phrasing in this entry – “I remember back in the fifth grade” – makes it sound as if this happened eons ago, not a year and a half.  Eighteen months was a lifetime, then. A moment, now. I haven’t been to Santa Clara – or driven down the El Camino Real – in at least a decade. Is it still a street or is it an expressway? Is the Moonlite Center still there?

The Moonlight Center as I remember it with the big iconic "M" sign.
The Moonlight Center as I remember it with the big iconic “M” sign.

Is April Fool’s Day still a big deal?

All dressed up - but not going to the Jr. Prom
All dressed up – but not going to the Jr. Prom

 

March 30, 1986

March 30, 1986

With my always above and beyond the call of duty parents
With my always above and beyond the call of duty parents

“I feel a little guilty – like I manipulated her” – seriously? Is there a manipulative tactic I didn’t employ? Easter was my father’s favorite holiday and one of the busiest days of his year.  Monday was his day off and I stole this one without a second thought.

Two arms full of love
Two arms full of love

That said, part of me doesn’t feel guilty – because every minute my children spent with their grandparents was blessed – and I’m pretty sure my parents treasured those times too. They were young grandparents, age. I’m not sure I was ready to be a grandparent when I was their age.

Special moments with their grandchildren
Special moments with their grandchildren

However, more than a decade later, I am so ready I have baby fever. Facebook friends post adorable pictures of their grandchildren and I ache and think, “I want that!” I see cute babies in restaurants and think, “I want that!” I have quite the opposite reaction on airplanes, when an infant breaks the sound barrier for the entire flight. When that happens, I shudder and think, “Thank God that’s not my problem.”

At the end of the day
At the end of the day

But I kind of secretly wish it was.

So nice having a baby
How nice it would be!

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 19, 2016

March 19, 2016 

A and his cousin Conner wait to speak
A and his cousin Conner wait to speak

As a Lutheran pastor, my father officiated at hundreds of weddings and funerals. Based on his experiences, in the aftermath of a loved one’s death, intense guilt – usually about things the bereaved intended to do, but didn’t – is a universal reaction.

A speaks
A speaks

My father said, don’t go there.  What you did or didn’t do doesn’t matter. The love you give – like the love I feel for you – is enough, it always has been and always will be.

CD speaks
CD speaks

Still, regrets linger.  I failed to grasp the void their absence would leave until they were gone. I grossly undervalued hours and minutes we might’ve shared, if I hadn’t been busy with meaningless things.

Janet and I at the gravesite
Janet and I at the gravesite

Don’t postpone a visit because work’s been crazy but should calm down. Life never settles down. Choices must be made. Some choices won’t be available tomorrow. Forget the fantasy there’s a perfect moment to express how much someone means to you. There is only one perfect moment – now. Nobody’s guaranteed the next one. If you love someone, say it. What’ve you got to lose?

Grave Markers

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

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