ucla

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 Something deep and primal superseded my lifelong distaste for graduations, parades and vomit.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 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.

 

January 10, 1970

January 10, 1970

Apparently, it escaped me that these were the golden years of UCLA basketball. I saw, maybe, two games during my four years there. I wouldn’t become a basketball fan for another 17 years, when I fell in love with the Lakers. ( They had a GREAT game last night!)  I still don’t follow college basketball but the more I learn about John Wooden, the more I admire him.  Three of his quotes – “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” – “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” – “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

70's UCLA Basketball
70’s UCLA Basketball

Luke and I were in the midst of one of our many break-ups so I was dating. It was awkward and uncomfortable to talk to a new guy, especially compared to the rapport I enjoyed with Luke – even when we were fighting.  I don’t remember anything about Bill at all; for me, he exists only in this diary entry.

Don't forget me.
Don’t forget me.

That strikes me as sad, but he’s far from the only person I crossed paths with that I no longer recollect.  I’m sure that’s true for everyone (I hope so or my memory is worse than I thought). We all meet so many people in the course of our lifetimes. Only a handful make a lasting impact.  I like to fancy myself unforgettable, but no doubt Bill has forgotten me too.

 

November 7, 1972

November 7, 1972

1972 Campaign Buttons

I’m writing this on November 4, so I don’t know how yesterday’s midterms will end despite dawn-to-dusk polls on cable news.  Forty-six years ago, I was oblivious to any polls regarding the outcome of the ’72 election.  It was widely assumed Nixon would prevail, in part due to the perfectly timed Paris Peace Treaty and the fact many Democrats deemed McGovern too far left.

TIME OCTOBER 2, 1972
TIME OCTOBER 2, 1972

Although our country was polarized (two words – Viet Nam), it was still possible to disagree politically without rupturing relationships irreparably.  I pinballed from Republican to Democrat and back and none of my friendships died over those divides in the 70s, 80s or 90s. In fairness, I wasn’t all that passionate about politics. I liked to argue, play the devil’s advocate. Violence was never threatened. To my knowledge, no one considered me an enemy, let alone an enemy of the people. We could agree to disagree.

1972 election

I don’t consider myself vitriolic, but I can be, when provoked. All my life, I’ve taken things too personally. Now I take politics too personally. In the interest of treating others like I want them to treat me, I try to dial down the judgments I lay on people because of their beliefs. It’s harder than it should be.

All my life I have taken things too personally
All my life I have taken things too personally

My three-year relationship with Luke had crashed months earlier but we weren’t through missing each other so we were trying to figure out how to be “friends.” That election night, we were the only two people in Dickson Hall, the Art building at UCLA (since remodeled).

Trying to put the pieces back together to be friends
Trying to put the pieces back together to be friends

He was a grad student. I was a self-centered 21-year-old who didn’t want to love anyone. I believed the person who loved the most, lost. As if love was a battle and what mattered was winning or losing.

Today, I know things like love and honor are far more important than victory or defeat. To win without honor is to lose everything that matters. To live without love isn’t living at all.  But I’m an aging baby boomer hippie. What do I know?

What do I know?
What do I know?

 

 

April 26, 1973

April 26, 1973

Emotionally defenseless

I don’t know what I expected when I walked into Student Counseling – I’d seen psychologists and psychiatrists before but never felt helped by any of them. Maybe because I was so  emotionally defenseless,  this woman got to me.

I knew I was falling apart and I felt terrible about it because I shouldn’t be. I’d just graduated from UCLA and – on the outside – it looked like good things were about to transpire for my writing career. Unfortunately, instead of giving me confidence, this made me feel under pressure which was compounded by my efforts to escape an extremely toxic relationship with L, a much older man who manipulated me with threats of self-harm and other histrionics. (On the plus side, I’m grateful to L for illustrating – by example – how unattractive and unpleasant drama queens can be.)

L took this photo of me - to me, I don't look like myself - there's a lot of strain in my smile.
L took this photo of me – to me, I don’t look like myself – there’s a lot of strain in my smile.

The counselor said  I was lucky to have a supportive family and I shouldn’t feel guilty about moving home. San Diego wasn’t that far from LA – I could make the drive in under three hours if I needed  to take a meeting.

Happy at home, reunited with my sisters around the family dining table. What could be finer?
Happy at home, reunited with my sisters around the family dining table. What could be finer?

I took her advice and moved home. I left L behind, leaving it up to him whether he committed suicide.  (Spoiler alert – he did not kill himself.) It was the right course and I might not have found my way if that counselor hadn’t extended her compassion. I’m not sure I ever knew her name – I know I never thanked her personally because I never saw her again – something I regret because, looking back, I feel like she saved my life

April 2, 1970


April 2, 1970

I felt cornered - I felt trapped
I felt cornered – I felt trapped

When I was young and dumb, I did more than my share of dangerous things but this experience was the only time I feared for my life. In retrospect, maybe John was just a lonely guy who posed no threat but I’d never found myself powerless in the passenger seat with a stranger before.  Luckily, my threat about a “hand in my knife” did the trick. I still don’t know if I would’ve used it.

One of the scarier pictures of myself - I look ;like I might actually carry a knife (only when I got in cars with strange men)
One of the scarier pictures of myself – I look ;like I might actually carry a knife (only when I got in cars with strange men)

At nineteen, I thought I’d live forever. Sure, the newspapers were full of dreadful things happening to people my age but I didn’t know them personally and the possibility of death – or tragedy – touching me or my friends seemed remote.

Thanking my lucky stars

I no longer believe in my own immortality – quite the contrary. Having lost my parents as well as some close friends, I am well aware of the fragility of life and the brevity of our time on this planet.  While Doomsday doesn’t lurk around every corner, I no longer take it for granted that I and the people I love have all the time in the world.

Someday, inevitably, I will die - hopefully not at the hands of a monk on the Janss Steps at UCLA.
Someday, inevitably, I will die – hopefully not at the hands of a monk on the Janss Steps at UCLA.

This knowledge ought to motivate me not to waste another minute – to stop procrastinating and focus on what’s truly important but I’m a slow learner. While I no longer take foolish chances like I once did, I still waste time like I’ve got an unlimited supply – and that needs to change.

March 19, 1973

March 19, 1973

Luke was an art major
Luke was an art major

When Luke and I met in 1969, I was the depressive and he was calm and smiling. At some point during our three years together, he absorbed my darkness and I took his light. I didn’t consciously steal it – it just happened.

Luke and I in the beginning
Luke and I in the beginning

We’d broken up for the final time a year before this entry but we remained friends like many couples promise but few actually do. (Spoiler alert – it’s not easy.)  He never called me, I always called him, which under ordinary circumstances I would’ve read as cease and desist. I didn’t because I was profoundly worried about him. Slim to start with, he now looked skeletal (due to macrobiotic diet, not drugs). He’d withdrawn from everyone and everything, including painting which he once loved. I was afraid he’d die. He was only 22 years old.

Luke and I in the middle
Luke and I in the middle

I knew we could never get back together. We were travelling in diverging directions. Soon we’d move on without each other, not even as friends, but that didn’t mean I’d stop caring.  I’d always wonder about his life – did he find what he was looking for? Was he happy?  In the unlikely event our paths crossed again in this lifetime, I’d be happy to see him and eager to hear his voice. I’d always want to know what would happen next – and then, after that.  They say love never dies. In my case, neither does the power of curiosity.

Near the end. Check the body language. I'm trying to hang on. He's trying to get away.
Near the end. Check the body language. I’m trying to hang on. He’s trying to get away.

Luke isn’t the only one who arouses my intense (obsessive is such a harsh word) interest– I feel that way about anyone I cared about and I suspect I always will. Maybe that’s why the Bible story about Lot’s wife struck me as tragic. As she and her family fled Sodom, she turned to look back – in my view, because she couldn’t bear not to know what happened to the people she left behind. For that, God turned her into a pillar of salt.  I know, the sin was disobedience, not curiosity but the punishment seems a tad Draconian. I’d look back too – so there’d be at least two pillars of salt outside where Sodom and Gomorrah once stood.

Looking back one last time (outside Melnitz)
Looking back one last time (outside Melnitz)

 

February 27, 1969

February 27, 1969

 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.

Reading acceptance letter from UCLA
Reading acceptance letter from UCLA

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.

Even a Mollusk would know
Even a Mollusk would know

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.)

The letter that forged my destiny
The letter that forged my destiny

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.”

Saying goodbye to Santa Clara
Saying goodbye to Santa Clara

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.

February 19, 2012

February 19, 2012

There’s a bittersweet quality to seeing my oldest son do what I once did – albeit, in an entirely new way. Naturally, I’m proud of him (see my October 14, 2006 blog for details of his torturous – for his parents, anyway – journey from sophomore high school drop out to valedictorian in his film school major at UCLA. It was for real – we heard him give the speech. He thanked his father, who majored in poli sci at USC, instead of me, a fellow UCLA film school alumni. Go figure.) As happy and proud as I am, part of me longs to stand where he now stands. It’s less about envy than nostalgia.

CD preparing to walk for graduation.
CD preparing to walk for graduation.
His mother, not mentioned, in the valedictorian speech
His mother, not mentioned, in the valedictorian speech
The Melnitz lobby facing the blank theater
The Melnitz lobby facing the James Bridges  theater

These feelings became acute the night John and I attended the screening of his Project 1 equivalent film. Melnitz Hall looks the same, at least from the outside – and the Jakes Bridges theater where I screened my Project 1 film is oh so familiar – but look closer and everything has changed.  I don’t recognize a single name on the faculty roster. Different people occupy all of my old professor’s offices.

The sculpture gardens outside Melnitz Hall.
The sculpture gardens outside Melnitz Hall.
The sculpture garden as I remember it.
The sculpture garden as I remember it.

During another student’s gory film, I took a breather and went into the lobby. Sitting there, by myself, sent me reeling through decades long gone. Memories of hours spent between classes in that very spot – albeit on funkier couches – flooded me. I half expected a classmate from my past to stroll up and say hello but that didn’t happen. As an old Madonna song might put it,  Melnitz Hall used to be my playground. Now, although it holds a place in my life and my heart, it’s not my world and it won’t be again.

Conferring with Dean (I think)
Conferring with Dean (I think)

On the bright side, writing – my area of specialization – remains essentially the same, at least in terms of skill set, despite technological advances such as computers instead of an IBM Selectric, printers instead of carbon paper, script delivery by email attachment instead of by messenger. (What happened to the messenger industry? Are they out of business?) I got on board with word processing early and it hasn’t been hard to stay on top of the curve.

CDR Valedictorian

I was faced with another transition shortly after CD graduated, when I was offered an opportunity to teach screen writing at Columbia College Hollywood. I’ve always identified as a student – in part because I enjoy and take frequent writing workshops to stay current – and now I’m on the other side of the desk. So far, I enjoy it.  Spending hours mentoring millennials is as close as I’ll get to re-experiencing my heady undergraduate days (albeit vicariously, from a different POV). There’s a palpable rush of creative energy that comes when I cross the threshold of a campus like UCLA or Columbia. It’s not a time machine or the Fountain of Youth, but it’s close enough.

February 9, 1971

February 9, 1971

San Fernando Earthquake

As frightening as that 6.5-6.7 earthquake was, I don’t think I really did take the possibility that I might die soon seriously. I was still a teenager, I thought I’d live forever. And – although I’d lived in California for fifteen years, fourteen of them in Santa Clara, this was my very first earthquake (at least the first that I can remember). Luke was on a high floor in the boy’s wing of Sproul. Hall; I was on the 6th floor of the girl’s wing. I’m not sure if this is technically true, but it seemed like the higher you were, the wilder the ride.

Sylmar Vetrans Hospital Prior to and the day of the 1971 earthquake.
Sylmar Vetrans Hospital Prior to and the day of the 1971 earthquake.
With my 1971 roommate, Miya Kamijo
With my 1971 roommate, Miya Kamijo

In a weird coincidence, that week my Swedish class was translating a fictional article about an earthquake in the US. Since the Sylmar, I’ve experienced two more reasonably big ones – the Whittier (1987, 5.9) and the Northridge (1994, 6.7). As I write this, I can’t help but notice it’s been a long time – almost 28 years!  – since the last big one hit LA – and, of course, we’ve been primed for “The Big One” as far back as I can remember. That said, personally I find earthquakes less threatening than other natural disasters California is spared – hurricane and tornados.

Trying to take the possibility that I might die soon seriously.
Trying to take in all the possibilities of what might happen next.

On a side note, that night there was a screening at Melnitz Hall – UCLA was great about inviting directors to talk about their latest movie before its release. That particular night, the guest director was Martin Ritt. In one of those 6-degrees-of-separation coincidences, I recently became FB friends with his daughter, Martina. LA can be a small, small world.

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