valuesystem

April 23, 1979

April 23, 1979

 I remember this well – my excitement was so intense it’s still indescribable. All of those times I came so close to my goal and missed taught me to lower my expectations. I didn’t let myself hope for more than another meeting. To learn my spec script had been optioned by a real producer for real money (not a lot, but more than I’d ever made writing before) seemed surreal.

Writing - the dreamPart of me always believed I’d make it as a writer, otherwise I wouldn’t have pursued it – but another part saw a screenwriting career as a dream, out of reach.  One of my high school teachers told me I wouldn’t be a real writer until someone paid me to write and I believed her – so, Steve Friedman optioning the script was validation.

Writing - looks like a vacuum cleaner sitting unattended in the messy background.In my dizzy euphoria, I assumed everything would be different now – my career would come easily. That proved overly optimistic. Steve didn’t make the movie and the option lapsed. The same script would be optioned twice more, by two different producers, and it attracted some top-tier female directors and talent, but as of today it remains unproduced.

Page 1 - 17_edited-1Doesn’t matter. It’s still one of the top ten days of my life.

 

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 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!

 

February 26, 1971

February 26, 1971

Project One Films

The first time I saw a commercial for a phone that shot photos, it looked absurd. Cameras were for taking pictures, phones were for talking. The combination could only weaken them both.

As close as I can come to a photo of a vintage Vivitar Super-8.
As close as I can come to a photo of a vintage Vivitar Super-8.

Obviously, I was wrong – so very wrong. Today, even though I have a good digital camera, I shoot photos with my phone.  However, this brave new world was far in the future when I unwrapped my second-hand Vivitar. To me, it was state of the art; I couldn’t imagine asking more of any device.

In San Diego with the family around '71.
In San Diego with the family around ’71.

As it turns out, there’s no end to things I couldn’t imagine then but take for granted today. Remote controls. Microwaves. Cheap calculators. Smart phones. Cars that come with screens and GPS. Watches that keep track of my steps, my heartbeat, my minutes of REM sleep.

And, of course, the unsettling reality that unknown corporations, foreign and domestic, know more about me than the people in my life. The amount of data that potentially could be harvested from this blog is scary. Why keep doing it?

A selfie taken with my phone today - unimaginable in 1971,
A selfie taken with my phone today – unimaginable in 1971,

Realistically, I can’t stuff the genie back in the battle. What hits the net, lives there forever. And I kind of love it that after I’m gone, bits of my life will live in cyberspace.

 

February 18, 1967

February 18, 1967

This entry’s self-conscious attempt at being “lyrical” suggests I wrote it for others to read, not to bare my soul. One of my failings as a writer (or strengths, depending on your point of view) is my conspicuous lack of place description. It bores me in other people’s fiction, so why torture my readers?

Sandy on this snow trip.
Sandy on this snow trip.

Elmore Leonard’s ninth and tenth rules of writing are:

  1. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  2. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

The parts I tend to skip are description – of place in particular, but pretty much everything else too. Some people love elaborate descriptions of food. I hate them. Unless it affects the plot – for example, if there’s arsenic in the quiche – it just doesn’t matter if the hero selects steak or salmon as his entrée.

Me in the snow
Me in the snow

One can argue what people eat defines aspects of their character. The guy who loves Popeye’s is rarely mistaken for the dude who dines at Nobu. That said, there’s no excuse for describing more than one meal per person per book.  The reader doesn’t need to know and I don’t want to.