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 Something deep and primal superseded my lifelong distaste for graduations, parades and vomit.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 29, 1986

January 29, 1986

J and I had CD when we were (relatively) young. None of our friends had children (yet) so we had no frame of reference. In retrospect, we assumed CD would be like us – that he’d want the same things, behave the same way. He was and is a lot like us – sometimes I read him so clearly, it’s as if we have mental telepathy. More often, though, he baffled us, especially when it came to education.

CD & me at The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco
CD & me at The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco

I walked into my very first parent-teacher conference fully expecting to hear he was the smartest kid in the class.  His kindergarten teacher said, “I don’t know any other way to put this. He’s a space cadet.” Her exact words. J and I never doubted CD’s intellect but he refused to show it at school.

CD & me on the Golden Gate Bridge
CD & me on the Golden Gate Bridge

The Hillside Learning Center was one of many attempts to figure out what was going on. They confirmed he was gifted, particularly in verbal ability. This was a relief because I feared I might be over-estimating his brilliance due to maternal bias. And yes, I probably did, because what parent doesn’t? Still, he did “blow the top” off one of their tests.

Hillside 1

But he wasn’t the eager-to-please student I was at nine and never would be. He gripped his pencil in an unwieldy way and reversed d’s and b’s. We found solutions for those problems, but not the deeper issues that stopped him from fulfilling his “potential.”  I vividly recall him angrily telling me, “I hate the word potential!”

CD & me overlooking San Francisco Bay - perhaps from Alcatraz Island
CD & me overlooking San Francisco Bay – perhaps from Alcatraz Island

This story has a happy ending. Despite dropping out of high school as a sophomore, eventually he graduated valedictorian of his class as a film student at UCLA. Bottom line, he performed when he wanted to perform – J and I couldn’t force him. Our efforts had the opposite effect.

Another shot of us on the bridge during our 1986 San Francisco trip
Another shot of us on the bridge during our 1986 San Francisco trip

These were difficult times but we learned a lot. CD wasn’t – and never will be – a mini-me or mini-J and that’s great. Learning to lighten up and let go of expectations was excellent practice for parenting our other two children.

 

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.

 

December 1, 1964

December 1, 1964

A very young Kathy learning how to release my inner powers to achieve confidence and contentment
A very young Kathy learning how to “release my inner powers to achieve confidence and contentment.”

I’m guessing that Julie, Debbie and I were doing a report together. Whatever the reason, I was already fascinated by psychology and still am. At one point, before I made a dime as a writer, I seriously contemplated returning to UCLA for a degree in psychology. Unfortunately, statistics was a requirement.

Julie Farnham & Debbie Callan
Julie Farnham & Debbie Callan

Books on psychology – anything, from pop psychology to doctorate tomes – are invaluable research resources. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with the enneagram. Making certain all my characters are different enneagram types differentiates them. For the record, I’m a solid #4. David Schnarch is brilliant when it comes to relationships. Carl Jung provided a road map for mythic story structure and archetypes.

Enneagram Types - I'm a solid #4
Enneagram Types – I’m a solid #4

Psych experiments are also fascinating; as an undergrad, I volunteered for dozens to make pocket money. The Zimbardo Stanford Prison Experiment (1971) is particularly intriguing. Basically, students were randomly assigned roles as guards or prisoners in a mock prison for two weeks. Supposedly, some of them got too far into their rules –a few prisoners broke down and the experiment was terminated after six days.

Posters for the 2015 film about the Stanford Prison Experiment
Posters for the 2015 film about the Stanford Prison Experiment

Controversy surrounds this experiment because no one has been able to replicate its results. It’s been accused of unscientific methodology and possible fraud – were the guards coached to behave sadistically or did those tendencies emerge naturally from the roles the students played? Flawed or not, the fact the Stanford Prison Experiment is discussed half a century later confirms it was important – and probably warrants further study.

 

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?

 

 

May 21, 1970

 

May 21, 1970

I’m not a big believer in the value of psychoanalysis especially when it comes to interpreting dreams; I don’t think dreams are deep messages from my subconscious. Mine tend to be a brew of whatever I watched on TV that evening, glimpsed on the cover of a book or magazine, or worried about. A couple times, when I’ve awakened, I’ve thought to myself, “That would make a great plot for a book or movie!”

Luke in art studio (Dickson Hall)
Luke in art studio (Dickson Hall)

Uh, no. On closer examination, what appeared to be intricate clever plots are as lucid as other gibberish dreams. For sure, I’ve never dreamt anything that came close to foretelling the future. I’m not saying other people aren’t blessed with profound, deep, life-changing dreams. I’m just saying, I’m not.

The 2nd of a three movie day
The 2nd of a three movie day

My dream about Luke was an exception. Over time, I’d appreciate the wisdom of what Luke’s professor (I didn’t know any of his professors in real life) told me in the dream even though I was not consciously aware of it. He might disagree with me about this. If so, any attempt to convince him otherwise would be futile.  Useful information in any relationship, so thank you, subconscious.

Over time, I’d appreciate the wisdom of what Luke’s professor told me in the dream.
Over time, I’d appreciate the wisdom of what Luke’s professor told me in the dream.

Three serious, heavy movies in a day was a lot, especially when two of them were in Swedish (the language I studied at UCLA). As strongly as I doubt psychological insights revealed in my dreams, I love Ingmar Bergman’s brilliant use of dream imagery. As a film-maker, he was in a class of his own.

3rd of three movies
3rd of three movies

In a surfeit of riches, this was the first time I saw Citizen Kane, which completely blew me away (as we used to say in the sixties). I’m curious about how it impacts today’s more sophisticated young film students.  Does it wield the same power? Discuss among yourselves.

It blew me away

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 12, 1976

 

April 12, 1976

I didn’t know it at the time but this was my last day of employment as a secretary and the start of a major transition.  Although it wasn’t officially confirmed I was pregnant, I strongly suspected I was and I was right. Since quitting my job meant relinquishing our health insurance, my timing was terrible.

Impending parenthood.
Impending parenthood.

In addition to impending parenthood, I faced an extremely uncertain future as a film and television writer – as illustrated by my conversation with my UCLA writing professor and mentor Bill Froug. Not only did I learn the unhappy story of another writing professor’s life, I realized it might take Froug – my champion – an unspecified “while” to read my outline. If the man who most believed in me wasn’t eager to read my latest, how could I hope to interest the powers-that-be in Hollywood?

The very busy Bill Froug.
The very busy Bill Froug.

At the time of this entry, I hadn’t earned a dime writing, John was in his second year of law school and our first baby was on the way. I should’ve been petrified but for some reason I wasn’t. To be sure, there were some hard times ahead – it would be four years before I’d see any success as a writer – but I believed we’d be all right – and we were.

One era ends and another begins.
One era ends and another begins.

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.

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