valuesystem

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.

 

January 7, 1984

January 7, 1984

Dad, Mom, Dolly and Jani - I must have taken the picture
Dad, Mom, Dolly and Jani – I must have taken the picture
Mom, Dolly & Dad
Mom, Dolly & Dad

Looking back, our end-of-the-evening ennui seems inexplicable – it sounds like a pretty darn good day – but in 1984, J and I tended to focus on what we didn’t have– rather than what we did.  Now that we’re older and wiser, we’re more inclined to gratitude. The days we took for granted look golden in the rear-view mirror.

Irene Miracle
Irene Miracle

I’d give anything to see my parents off on another cruise. After retirement, my father served as chaplain for many voyages. J and I took a few ourselves – one of them with my parents and extended family to celebrate their 66thwedding anniversary.

On voyage with grandparents
On voyage with grandparents

In 1984, CD had just turned seven and S wasn’t even a year old. I’d just begun to make it as a film and TV writer and we didn’t have household help. Sometimes, the pressure felt overwhelming. Today, the difficulties of raising small children and juggling a career seem insignificant. I’d welcome the chance to savor those moments of their childhood again.

J and I with CD, S and my parents around this time.
J and I with CD, S and my parents around this time.

I can’t justify the angst, today. We had it good. I need to remember this when I’m tempted to dwell on my daily disappointments. We’re alive and well. We still have it good.

 

December 30, 1974

December 30, 1974

My sisters and I, Christmas '74
My sisters and I, Christmas ’74

What’s the right thing to do about desperate strangers stranded in phone booths?

The story of Lot in Genesis offers an extreme example of hospitality. Lot sees two strangers in cloaks and insists they dine and sleep in his home. Later that night, his house is surrounded by a drunken mob of Sodomites demanding that Lot produce the two cloaked strangers. Ever the perfect host, Lot refuses. Instead, he offers the mob his virginal daughters, to do with as they wish. (I’m not kidding.  I wish I were.)

Lot flees Sodom

Luckily for Lot’s daughters, the strangers turn out to be angels who protect Lot from the mob and warn him to get the heck out of Sodom. Lot dillydallies but obliges. Unfortunately, as everyone knows, his wife ignores the angel’s order not to look back and is turned into a pillar of salt.  Things get a little worse from here. Since Lot and his girls are the only three people alive on Earth, the daughters decide to get Lot – their father – drunk and seduce him, to propagate the species. Let’s move on, shall we?

Striking a lonely, alienated pose
Striking a lonely, alienated pose

It’s impossible for me to imagine anyone in the 21stcentury as welcoming to strangers  as Lot – the protagonist (I can’t use the word hero) in an Old Testament story. That said, the words of Jesus in the New Testament are clear.

Matthew 25-25-36

I don’t see too many 21stcentury people following that example either.

Me, for real, Christmas
Me, for real, Christmas

Footnote: This story and other controversial or “forbidden” Bible stories – the ones they didn’t teach in Sunday School – are discussed in The Harlot by the Side of the Road by Jonathan Kirsch.

The Harlot By The Side Of The Road

 

December 27, 1978

 

December 27, 1978

“Success” was a syndicated (very slightly syndicated) half-hour talk show (and tax shelter). I recruited J’s boss, Mark P. Robinson Sr., because recently he’d been voted Trial Attorney of the Year.  Mark had an amazing history. He was the youngest wing commander in World War II and was shot down over Yugoslavia. While his plane was going down, he promised he would go to Mass every day if he survived. He kept his promise. He was broken out of a POW camp by an OSS operative, Joe Sampson, who became his permanent private investigator.

Mark P. Robinson
Mark P. Robinson

MPR was an impressive, amazing person as are his sons – Mark Jr., who won the Ford Pinto case (exploding gas tank), one of a series of fantastic results that have continued to this day, Greg Robinson, defensive coach for the Denver Broncos when they won their two Super Bowls, and Geoffrey, who J considers the coolest guy he ever met.

Mark Robinson, Jr. - Greg Robinson - Geoffrey Robinson
Mark Robinson, Jr. – Greg Robinson – Geoffrey Robinson

MPR was vice-president of the California State Bar and co-founded the American Board of Trial Advocates. In addition to being a brilliant lawyer and a devoted Catholic husband and father, MPR had a huge personality and a legendary temper. He formed and shattered at least half a dozen partnerships during J’s tenure with him. Let’s put it this way. No one ever forgot that MPR was in the room. Most of the time, that was a good thing.

Mark P. Robinson
Mark P. Robinson

Not surprisingly, J’s relationship with MPR was volatile. I was horrified the first time I heard them yell at each other on the phone and amazed when it was all smiles the next day. J learned a lot at USC Law School. He learned much more from MPR.

 

 

 

December 13,1994

December 13, 1994

Boxes & boxes & boxes
Boxes & boxes & boxes

 Technically, I’m not a hoarder – but I totally get what they’re doing and why. For years, it was impossible for me to recycle newspapers and magazines until I actually read them, regardless of how obsolete they might be.  I’m more ruthless about recycling periodicals now, not so much because I can let things go as because I can google any article or story I need. Technically it’s progress, but is it really?

Shopping for more junk to clutter my closets with
Shopping for more junk to clutter my closets with

It’s harder to toss early drafts of my creative work because who knows? Someday I may need that bit of dialog in scene 3 of a movie that was DOA. Today, of course, I can save these gems on my computer, but I’m talking about the golden age of paper. Guess what? In my thirty-year career as a writer, I have never – not even once! – retrieved a piece of rejected dialog.

You can never have too much stuff!
You can never have too much stuff!

J is a different animal. He can trash yellow legal pads without scrutinizing every scribble. It’s true, he’s quicker to toss my rough drafts than his, but that’s because lawyers are legally bound to hang onto files for a specified number of years after a case concludes.

I wish I had an excuse half that good.

No Excuses!

 

December 8,1973

December 8, 1973 

This debacle – I truly tanked the GREs – was due to my own hubris. I hadn’t spent a minute in a math class since high school. For that matter, I avoided hard core English classes too, choosing to specialize in courses like Ibsen and Tolstoy in lieu of grammatical structure. I never did like diagramming sentences.

In front of Knudsen Hall, UCLA (our name was spelled with a T not a D)
In front of Knudsen Hall, UCLA (our name was spelled with a T not a D)

So, sure, my hard-core academics were rusty, but all my life, I tested high on standardized tests. Why should today be any exception? I sailed into the GRE exam without so much as a cursory glance at a GRE preparation guide. Why bother? How much can a person forget in four years?

Striking a pose

News flash. In four years, you can forget more math than you ever knew.  Granted, I could still nail basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division but guess what? They don’t ask that kind of question. Algebra and geometry were center stage. I suspect calculus and trig played starring roles, too, but I can’t verify because I didn’t take either one in high school.

Walking across campus at UCLA

So, how badly did I choke on the GREs? Suffice to stay, none of the Ivy’s competed to recruit me.

 

November 22, 1970

November 22, 1970

Sharon A

The one-bedroom Sharon and I shared near the VA cemetery was my first apartment but I had years of practice co-existing in small spaces with others. Growing up in a Santa Clara parsonage, then sharing UCLA dorm rooms, taught me a little about compromise but apparently not enough.  Things had been testy between Sharon and me from the start, but it was still devastating when she wanted me gone.


After that, I avoided her on campus. We lost touch after graduation. Decades passed and I still felt badly about how our friendship imploded. I wondered what she did with her life. When the internet arrived, I googled her but “Sharon Richards” produced so many hits it was hopeless– until UCLA published a student directory.

Sharon B

Imagine my surprise to discover Sharon lived less than five miles away – we actually shopped at the same Ralph’s market. It took courage to call her. I’m not sure if I was scared she wouldn’t remember me or that she would. We met for lunch and I apologized for being the roommate from Hell.

She explained that regardless of what she might’ve said (I wrote it down, so I knew), she was in the throes of her own anxieties – what I read as brutal rejection wasn’t much about me at all. As it turns out, very few things actually are “all about me.” This insight was healing and, as a bonus, Sharon and I became better friends than we were before we became roommates.

Sharon C_edited-1

 

November 13, 1964

November 13, 1964_edited-1

"Squirmin'" Herman
Squirman Herman

Girls lined up on one side of the hall. Boys barricaded the other. Girls hoped to be asked to dance. (Dancing alone, or with another girl, was not yet a thing.)  The only fate worse than passively waiting to be chosen by a 13-year-old boy with braces was to be that hapless boy, crossing the Sahara of the dance floor to mumble, “Do you wanna dance?” Which is, of course, a freaking joy ride compared to the torturous solo retreat to the boy’s bastion after the girl says she’s “not in the mood.”

Sporting the Bavarian look - with sisters and grandparents
Sporting the Bavarian look – with sisters and grandparents

The month before the mixer, I envisioned my night unfolding much like Maria in “West Side Story”, when Tony glimpsed her across a crowded dance floor. It never happened like that. Why not?  Let me count the ways. I was a seventh-grade giantess trapped in a life-long bad hair day. My mother dressed me like a goat-herding girl in the Austrian Alps and my father was a Lutheran pastor, as terrifying to Protestants as it was to Catholics, Jews and atheists. I wasn’t even a good dancer, due to lack of practice.

Janet and I wear matching home-made dresses.
Janet and I wear matching home-made dresses.

What was right about my life in Jr. High? A mother who loved me enough to sew for me (the results improved). A father who brought me a Squirman Herman caterpillar when he returned from a trip. It was more than enough.

With my family around this time.
With my family around this time.

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?

 

 

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