Personal History for Judith Lautner
Just The Facts
Please enter the date you began answering these questions.April 11, 2006
What is your name (first, middle, maiden name, last)? Do you like your name? If you could, would you choose another? What name would you choose? Who were you named for?My name is Judith Lautner. I like my name. I doubt I would choose another. I was named for my grandmother's sister Judith, who appears in a family portrait that used to hang in our dining room. I like the way Judith looks in that painting - which, incidentally, was painted from a black-and-white photograph by the artist. I do not know anything about her.
Are you male or female?Female.
In what country, state, and city were you born? What hospital?I was born in the United States of America,in Los Angeles, California. Some day I'll dig out my birth certificate and enter the hospital here.
What is your birth order?I was the middle child of seven. There was an eighth child who was a miscarriage, after me.
Your Family and Ancestry
List the names and birthdates of your mother, father, maternal grandmother, paternal grandmother, maternal grandfather, paternal grandfather and other great grandfathers and grandmothers. What did you call them?My mother was born Mary Faustina Roberts, and was born on March 15, 1913. My father was John Edward Lautner Jr, born on July 16, 1911. My maternal grandmother was Abby Beecher Longyear, born March 20, 1880. I am not certain of the year. My maternal grandfather was Alton True Roberts, a state senator from Michigan. I do not know his birth date. I never met him.
My paternal grandmother was Vida Cathleen Gallagher. I do not know her birth date. Her husband was John Edward Lautner. I do not know his birth date and I never met him. My mother and others told me he was a very nice man,and that his wife was a "child bride". I did get to know Vida. I called her Vida. I think it was the fashion of the time to call such relatives by their first names.
I called my mother "Mom" and my father "DeeDee". This was a distortion of "Daddy" that my eldest sister, Karol, had used and that stuck. I believe I called my mother's mother "Grandmother".
Do you have brothers and sisters? What are their names? When were they born? Do you remember the first time you saw them?I was the middle child. There were seven of us: girl-boy-girl - then me - girl-boy-girl. The age spread was not exactly the same on both ends:
Michael John: 1942
Mary Beecher: 1944
Christopher Lindsay: 1953
I do not remember the first time I was aware of my siblings,except for Abby. She was born on April 1 and I was nine. She was my baby, precious to me, my real-live doll.
Where was your mother born? Where was your father born? What circumstances brought your parents to the place where you were born? Were there people already there whom they knew, or did they come into the community alone? Was the community welcoming to them?My mother and father were both born in Marquette, Michigan. My mother's family was prominent in the area: her grandfather gave the land to what was to become Northern Michigan University, and one of the original buildings in that college was named after him (unfortunately, it was torn down about twenty years ago). He did very well with buying and leasing land in the Upper Peninsula, and started a family partnership from which we benefit to this day.
My father's father taught German at Northern Michigan State Teachers' College - I believe that was the name of the university at that time.
Therefore, both of my parents were in well-established families in the area, and grew up there.
Tell about your aunts and uncles. Did they play an important part in your growing up? Do you remember any special aunts and uncles?My mother had four brothers. All but one, "Stub", were older than she was. They were all tall, respectable, financially successful, and they all lived elsewhere. We tended to see them on special occasions, when they would arrive to celebrate Thanksgiving, for example, with our grandmother.
I liked "Hoke" best, although I do not really remember him well at all. He was a jazz musician in his personal time and he wrote copy for Hewlett Packard advertising in his work time.
We would mostly see Stub and his wife and children, and, heavens, I don't remember who they all were. Susan was a daughter. His wife was an actress in local theater. I am sorry I didn't find out more about this then. I would now, if it came up.
I resented my cousins, for the most part, for their "normalcy". I can't say I envied them because I didn't understand that then.
I was withdrawn and did not participate in things if I could get out of it. One way I got out of things was to be in the kitchen, cooking, which was one thing I liked anyway. If I couldnt' do that, I'd find a way to slip away whenever possible.
One thing I do remember. Every year Stub - I think it was Stub! - took out his movie camera, set it on a tripod, and took a movie of all of us lined up in order. He would have the oldest person stand alone, and let the camera run on that person for a few seconds, then he'd turn off the camera, telling that person to stay as still as possible. The second would then come in and stand next to the first and he'd turn on the camera again. He would do this down the line so that when the film was played back it looked like we all popped into the picture. I loved that. And because he did it every year, we would each be taller every year.
One year we were particularly broke. We were scrounging around in stores of canned goods just to get food on the table. Stub came in for Thanksgiving, breezily expecting some sort of celebration, and for some reason did not realize how desperate we all were. We went up to my grandmother's house and found some canned chicken in jars in the cupboard. I think we may have made some sort of creamed chicken with that,to stretch it out. My mother was hugely resentful, felt that Stub should have offered to kick in a few bucks. I doubt that he realized that my mother's family lived on our Longyear income, so her fortunes rose and fell with the Longyear fortunes. The brothers all had substantial jobs so their partnership income was just gravy to them.
Did you play with your cousins? Who are some of the cousins you know best?On occasion we played with our cousins. I particularly remember Dana Roberts, who was a few years older than I. He seemed smart, friendly, with-it, and I had a crush on him.
One year he brought fireworks to Michigan from wherever he lived - Minnesota? and we set them off in Deertrack, the vacation resort my grandmother created, that later became a year-round village of twelve rental homes on about 100 acres of woods.
We usually saw fireworks in our car or near it at the edge of Marquette. They would shoot out over the lake. At home we had sparklers and those little ash snakes. I never wanted more than that, and when Dana brought the "real thing" to town I didn't see a need for it. It was a big disappointment in any case.
Now that I have lived in California for over half of my life, I still don't want fireworks, even though I can buy them easily.
Other cousins came into our lives on special occasions but we never built any bonds with them. I am not sure why, except that I've never been one to reach out to make a friend. I have a feeling that we were resentful as well. Our cousins were all far better off financially than we were. This would not have been any deal at all, I suspect, if my mother had not mentioned it frequently, calling herself the "black sheep" because she never made a real go of it.
My grandmother doted on her sons at the expense of my mother. My mother once told me that she wore hand-me-downs from her mother (although I am not sure how that would have worked) and never had clothes that fit right, while her brothers always got new clothes. She was tall, reaching six feet by the end of seventh grade, and thin, and shy. She carried around feelings of inadequacy and, in some ways, blamed her current status on her brothers.
I suspect that many of the attitudes I developed and accepted without question came from my mother. I later took closer looks at these attitudes, but to this day have not examined some of them simply because the need didn't arise.
Was yours a religious family? Did you attend services together? Were these dress-up affairs?Our family was not religious except that we occasionally attended church. My mother believed in God but did not feel religions and religious places of worship were necessary. My sister Karol occasionally brought us to church and sometimes, I recall, I went on my own to Sunday school.
I didn't much like church or Sunday school. There were always attendance "games". I remember one where you put a sticker of a choir book on a paper for each Sunday you attended. I was one of the worst. My choir was without music, for the most part.
Did your family say grace? Did you sit down at the table together for every meal?We did not say grace, except at Thanksgiving. We did sit together at a large table, made of a wooden door (designed by my mother) on two angled supports. Our family was loud and not particularly well-behaved. I don't remember intelligent conversations going on at the dinner table - it was probably too loud for that. Mostly we were grabbing food from each other and arguing.
The House of Your Growing Up
Do you have warm feelings about the childhood home that you remember the most?The house I remember most from my childhood is the house at 335 E. Arch Street in Marquette, Michigan. The last time I looked it was still standing, and looked to be in better shape than it was when I lived there.
When I was a child a house was just a house, and this one was just a big old house. I didn't see anything special about it and I believe I was jealous of the homes of my friends, homes that suggested suburbia in our small town. These were split-level - or not - usually one story with a basement, clean, with perfect lawns and shrubs, a concrete driveway and a clean car in it. I can't remember what our driveway looked like. It seems like it was gravel. We had a garage that could fit two cars but I don't remember cars in there. The driveway could fit several cars, so any that we had tended to be there.
When I read about parents who accidentally back over their small children this is the house, this is the driveway, that I think about. I might even think of the convertible Buick my sister Karol had- she had that, didn't she?? I know she bought a volkswagen overseas and brought it back on a ship, but didn't she have a buick as well? That's what I remember, a light blue convertible buick. She would have had it when she was 16, or possibly 18, which would mean 1954 or 1956.
There was a large living room downstairs, split by rows of bookcases and a baby grand piano on one side, a couch, more bookshelves, a fireplace, and eventually a black-and-white television that offered us one channel. The local station was channel 6 - CBS - "with an eye for Upper Michigan".
I wasn't the only one who was not fond of my grandmother Vida. One time Vida came to visit from Chicago and she was talking about how deprived we children were because we didn't have the cultural advantages in this small town. My mother later laughed in a fashion I can only call derisively, and said Vida obviously didn't notice the books or the music or else she didn't identify those objects as cultural. My mother didn't think highly of Vida's intellectual powers or of her creative powers either.
I always shared a room in this house. There were seven children and my mother and four bedrooms. My mother had one bedroom, my brother Mike had a very small cubbyhole of a bedroom that was perhaps never meant to be a bedroom, my sister Mary and I shared a bedroom, and Karol had a bedroom. That is, until Cathy, Chris, and Abby came along.We got mixed around then but I honestly do not remember how we ended up. Did Chris take over Mike's room after Mike moved out? And did Cathy move in with Karol? Then later did Abby room with Cathy, after Karol was gone? I'm not at all sure.
The bedrooms and two baths were all on the second floor. One would take the stairs up from the front hall and enter a landing. Across from the top of the stairs was my mother's room. To the left of her room was mine. To the left of mine was the standard bath. To the right of the staircase was Karol's room. The hallway went to the right, past Karol's room, and ended at the second bath, the one with the footed tub. I did know that that tub was something special, yet it was old and not all that inviting. It was more a source of fantasy than reality.I remember it particularly being used as a bath for our dogs, particularly our Irish wolfhound Fara.
To the left of that bath,as you faced it from the hall, was Mike's little room, and just left of that, sort of opposite the bath, were the stairs to the attic.
We had an attic and a basement. My mother remodeled part of the basement into a darkroom. The remainder stayed dirt, but held shelves that often had her canned fruits on them. My mother enjoyed doing things like canning fromn time to time but was not interested in developing botulism so she stuck with the safe stuff.
Our living room had a large fireplace.It was a two-story fireplace, with the second one in my mother's room. We used my mother's fireplace for Christmas stockings.
I remember Christmas mornings as good times.
Who were your best friends in your neighborhood? Do you still know them or know what happened to them?Until I entereed school I didn't make friends with others in the neighborhood. I stayed home. I have a vague recollection of going to preschool in Los Angeles but I am not at all sure that this happened. Certainly I don't remember if I met anyone there or liked anyone.
I also remember learning to ride a tricycle. It was a large one, compared to what I see out there today, and I am not sure why. When I first started learning it, I rode it backwards, couldn't get the concept of moving my legs in the right direction. I don't think that went on for long, though. But I do think I didn't even get to that cycle until I was five.
Later,when I was attending grade school up the street, I would go to a store that was in the block behind my house. I would hop the fence at the rear of our large lot, slip through the neighbor's yard, and come out across the street from the little neighborhood store.
The store was set back a little bit from the street, and there wasn't any parking for it. Nobody would have expected there to be parking there.
It was when I was on one of these frequent visits to the little store, where I bought candy, sodas, comic books, and sometimes cigarettes or sanitary napkins for my mother, that I met my first friend, Candy. He full name was Candace LaBlue, and she was dark in complexion. I didn't realize at the time that her family was French-Canadian.
Candy was short, with short dark hair and brown eyes. She was pretty and of normal weight. I was tall and quite fat. Her house was a normal house for that day and time, holding a family of five: two parents, three children. Candy had an older brother and an older sister. Their house was orderly and furnished in a style typical for that time,nothing unusual I could see. I noticed that they didn't have many books, if any, but they did have movie star magazines.
Candy doted on the stars, especially Elvis. I didn't care about Elvis one way or another, just thought he had big lips, and to my little mind that was not a good thing. I didn't understand all the fuss about him, about how he moved or how he sang. It was only later that I was able to see that time in perspective.
Candy and I were not the least bit alike. Yet we hung out together. I woudl go to her house and we would play jacks on her porch or we would go to her bedroom - to do what? I no longer remember. I remember feeling awkward and out of touch when a popular song came on the radio. I didn't pay attention to popular songs. I was shy and pretty much "went along" with whatever Candy wanted to do, at times pretending to like what I didn't even understand.
Perhaps that was why she led me to the lake shore one night, where we met some sailors who wanted to "make out" with us. This happened in fifth or sixth grade. Candy was already well-developed by then, but I had a few years to go. Still, my guy would have gotten it on with me if I had been interested. I wasn't. I was nervous and out of sorts and uncomfortable. Candy loved it. That may have been the last or nearly the last time we did anything together.
I don't think we ever had words or arguments. We just gradually grew apart. I have not heard from her since.
I went to a different school in seventh through ninth grades, to a "laboratory school" at Northern Michigan University that was called J. D. Pierce. I didn't make any real friends in these years, just tried to stay by myself and not get noticed too much.
It was in these years that the famous - I say famous because I have told others of this - incidents in the music classes took place.
In seventh grade, specifically. A music teacher would come to the classroom once a week. Mostly she led us in song. She also taught us some things about music but I didn't retain them. Much of it I already knew from studying piano. One song she liked to have us sing was "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot".
There was a boy, Jerry, in our class that year who had some kind of learning disability. He was slow. He walked awkwardly and wasn't aware of subtleties, so the boys could easily make fun of him and he wouldn't notice. Or at least it seemed that way. The boys thought it would be great fun to push the two of us together one way or another. They would tell me that Jerry was interested in me and I suppose they told Jerry I was interested in him. I ignored them. But it was hard to ignore the music class when we sang that song.
Whenever we sang that song, the boys would sing loudly, "Swing Low, Sweet Jerriot, Coming for to carry Judy Home". It was not subtle. Anyone could have heard the twisted words. But the teacher never seemed to notice. I always sang the right words, looking at the front of the classroom and not at any of these boys, and did my best to survive the song without showing any sign that it affected me. Obviously it affected me or I would not still remember it now, almost 50 years later.
J.D. Pierce closed down the year I would have entered tenth grade there, and we were all shunted to the big public school, Graveraet. We moaned and groaned, as we had of course made fun of that school for years, and now here we were. During these years I made another friend. Jane.
Jane lived across the street from us, in a ranch-style house with a perfect lawn, a finished basement "rec room", an older brother, and two parents. I believe I have mentioned her somewhere else in this memoir but never mind.
Jane loved horses and Humphrey Bogart. Once again, I had no clue.I didn't have a particular fondness for horses and I didn't know who Bogart was. (Now I know: he's a cat my daughter lives with.)
I visited Jane at her house. We might have snacks in the perfect kitchen, then go downstairs to visit her collection of little horses. I did ask her about them. I didn't get it. I later learned there were these "horse girls" in every neighborhood. Sometimes, I imagine,we drew things. I have a vague idea there may have been a television downstairs but I could be wrong. Did we play with paper dolls? I don't think so, but that was one thing I could have gotten into. I loved buying and making paper dolls and designing clothes for them. The hours I put into those dolls! The joy I got from getting a new paper doll book! I can feel it now, how much I loved it.
In a way I miss those paper doll books. I suspect that if one showed up in my house I would be right back in it. I would enjoy it as much. Perhaps this is where my enjoyment of the Sims comes from.
When we were in tenth grade we had biology together. One standard assignment was to make our own drawings of certain biological things, label them,and turn them in on Friday of each week. We copied drawings from the biology text book. I am not sure why, but that was the deal.
I did the work. I took a piece of drawing paper and copied the book picture, using my no. 2 pencil, erasing as needed, and then labeled it quickly, in my not-great printing. Jane would then take my drawing and trace it in a harder pencil and label it beautifully. She always got A+s and I always got Bs. Neatness counts. It was in the final grading period that I finally got it. I traced my own drawings, as Jane did, and did my neatest printing, and I got A+ all the way through. It seems funny to me that I didn't work this out earlier in the year.
I lost touch with Jane, too, I think even by the eleventh grade. I was in my own world. I didn't work at having or keeping friends and I am not sure I missed having any. I liked being alone. Besides, I had a big family, which was always in the way one way or another. I longed for the time I would be out on my own,deciding what I wanted to eat for dinner, cooking for only one. No, I don't keep in touch with any of my childhood friends.
Elementary School Years
What was the name of your school? How big was it? What did it look like? Was it a private or public school?I went to two elementary schools. For kindergarten through fifth grade, I went to Froebel elementary school. It was a large sandstone block building just up the street from my house.
The kindergarten was in a room that I remember as round, on the close end of the building. I remember going there the first day and learning that there was another Judy in the class. I had thought I was the only one and found this astonishing, though that somehow we were related. Sometimes we still feel that way, don't we? That we are somehow related to others with our name.
Did you ride a bus to school? If so, did you like riding the bus? Do you remember anything that happened on that bus?I did not ride a bus to either school. Froebel was just up the block from our house, and the other elementary school was a few blocks away. I walked.
We had crossing guards and hall monitors, chosen from the fifth- and sixth-grade students. At one time I was a monitor, stationed just inside the main doors. I honestly do not remember what I was supposed to do there. I do remember one day arriving late and throwing my coat on the floor near me before I took up my post. Later that day I discovered that my birthday money - something like seventeen dollars, a lot at the time - had been stolen. I was very upset about it and never recovered it.
What did you learn in school that you still use to this day?It is hard to think of anything positive that I learned in elementary school that I still use today. Perhaps the example of one teacher, my fourth-grade teacher.
I do not remember her name. She was a twin, and invited us to visit her at her home. I can remember no other teacher making such an invitation, and I took her up on it. Was I alone? I think that I was, and it surprises me that I went, if so, as withdrawn as I was. I was surprised to see that she had a real house, a small one, that she lived a life entirely separate from school. Oh,surely I knew by then that teachers were people too, but it surprised and even distressed me. I wanted her to pay attention to me alone.
Perhaps she did pay a lot of attention to me. I am not certain of that, but I do know she liked me. I could sense it. She did place me in the top math group, the "independent" group, that sat at the back of the classroom, working on our advanced problems. I don't think the problems were very advanced, but she knew that we could work our way through them with little or no help from her.
In her house, which I visited on a Saturday, was a picture of her twin. I knew of twins and probably had met one or two, but seeing a picture of a grown twin was also a surprise to me, for some reason. I may have been thinking that this twin was like her sister in more ways than appearance. Or I may have sensed that the two women were really two parts of the same person.
I worried that this independent woman would leave us. After all, how special were we to a woman with a twin and her own little house, full of pictures and other things that she loved?
I learned opposite lessons from my second-grade teacher,Miss Knusi. Interesting that I remember her name. The k is pronounced, by the way.
Miss Knusi never liked me. Our class produced a "second grade newsletter" every week, telling of what we had learned that week. The class participated in developing the articles by calling out the ideas, while Miss Knusi would write them on the chalkboard. Then the chosen student would print the newsletter on mimeo paper and it would be copied and distributed to all of the students. Although there were more weeks in that school year than there were students, I was never chosen to print the paper. All year I looked forward to my chance, and it was denied me.
Admittedly I was a terrible printer. I don't remember being told that excellent printing was a prerequisite, however. I understood that we'd all get a chance. And of course I would have printed as carefully as I could, if I had gotten the chance.
It is interesting how these memories stay with me, more than fifty years after they happened.
There was another reason I disliked Miss Knuse. In those elementary years students would get weighed periodically. We would all line up in front of the scale and the teacher would slide the weights around and record the weight on a chart. When I got up on the scale Miss Knusi noted that I weighed over 100 pounds and that I was much heavier than I should be.
Well, yes, I was, and I knew it. But then, so was she. I was embarrassed enough at having to be weighed in front of the whole class, but when my teacher loudly declared that I needed to lose weight I was triply embarrassed, and my distress translated in part to anger against this large woman.
Was this when I was first aware of my weight? It seems like it wasn't, it seems like I always felt fat, but when I look at pictures of myself I see someone different from who I remember from then. At the end of kindergarten I was not overweight at all. In second grade I did have a chubby body, but I wasn't the monster I thought I was.
I learned something about how to treat young children from these two examples.
To be fair, there were other things I learned. I learned to read fluently and well. I learned arithmetic well.
Most of all, though, I learned to be a stoic, to hide embarrassment, never let anyone see when I was hurt.
Life in a Small Town
What was the name, state and population of your town?I grew up in Marquette, Michigan,although I was born in Los Angeles. Marquette hugs the shore of Lake Superior, has a population of approximately 20,000. The population has not changed significantly since I left there about forty years ago, in 1966.
What was the main source of the town's income?When I was growing up in Marquette, the main income was from tourism, as I recall. There were iron mines in the area and there was logging, but the bulk of the income came from people trekking to the U.P. (Upper Peninsula). I believe most of the visitors were hunters and fishers. They joined local rednecks in blasting the woods during hunting season and trying for Lake Superior Whitefish during fishing season.
Others came because the U.P. is beautiful, naturally. The manmade additions to the lovely landscape have not enhanced it, although some now would enjoy the older residential neighborhoods in Marquette and nearby towns.These neighborhoods contain homes built in the early 1900s, large and stately, on relatively large lots. Our home was one of these, although to me it was a big dull house on a generally unkept lot. Ours was not the best-kept lot on the block. I can imagine the neighbors wishing we'd move out or at least hire a gardener and someone to clean the windows now and then.
Were the windows dirty? Yes, from dust from the mines, red dust. Honestly, we usually had a housekeeper and she probably washed windows now and then. It isn't something I noticed that much at the time. The rest of the mess I did notice.
Did you have the pride of having a farm or business handed down from generation to generation?No.
My mother's mother was a matriarch of the town, if that could be said. She figured prominently in the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), at which my mother scoffed, but probably not to her face.
My grandmother was divorced long before I came on the scene. She had married Alton True Roberts, a state senator, as I mentioned earlier here. I never heard what went wrong in that marriage, although I got the impression that Roberts was not a nice man. A divorce in those times was also "not done". Even in my mother's time it was taboo, although my mother seemed not to care what the town thought. Part of her "black sheep" persona was to take pride in ticking off the city fathers and mothers.
My grandmother's income came in part from her father (partnership distributions), John Longyear,and in part from the rental of cottages in Deertrack. She had sufficient money to be able to live as she liked. She lived in a Wright-designed house at the entrance to Deertrack, where she could overlook much of her property. Deertrack is about four miles outside Marquette's city limits, inside Marquette Township. From her throne here, my grandmother wielded what power she liked. She was getting on by the time I first came to know her, of course, and not as active in civic affairs. She did, at one time, record an oral history that is supposed to be in the Marquette Historical Museum.
I never fully understood all the ties and influences my grandmother held, but I know it was nothing particularly to do with Deertrack, and we did not inherit anything that resembled a long-time family business. My sister Karol, after my grandmother's death, purchased Deertrack from her estate and runs it now.
Holidays and Celebrations
Do you like your birthday or dread it? What birthday do you remember the most?I usually like it, although it is less important now than it has been in other years.
When I turned 21, I had champagne. I had never had it before. I do not know if I had had any alcohol before. I may have tasted a martini, out of curiosity, but it's unlikely I actually drank a full one. Or a beer. Or a glass of wine.
My twentieth birthday seemed more momentous than my 21st. I changed from a teen to an adult that year, not the year after. The actual change from having a "teen" attached to my year to having it be a decade year shook me a bit. I felt like now I had to be an adult, had to act like an adult. I was a child no longer.
It isn't as if I were childish then, or given to crazy feats of adolescent behavior. Actually quite the opposite. But I was charged with making something of myself, and I felt that when I turned twenty I should have accomplished more, had more of a start in life.
I think I was right. I have always been a "late-bloomer". I make excuses for myself with that statement. There are many directions, many roads I could have taken. As I look back I mourn those I did not choose, although in some cases I recognize I was right.At this point, though, I have not really done anything, and it bothers me.
Did you get to choose the meal on your birthday? Were birthdays considered a "big deal" when you were young? Did you raise your children to think they were a big deal?I believe we did get to choose what we ate on our birthdays. Otherwise, though, our birthdays were not a big deal. I do not remember having a real party, ever, or expecting one. My sister Cathy was given fancy parties with many gifts and guests and fancy table decorations and I was shocked and jealous, but I couldn't imagine having such a party myself. I didn't have many friends and I did not know how to act in such a situation. I still don't.
Did your family make birthday cakes or did you buy them? What were the favorite flavors? What kind of birthday parties did you give for your children?We made our cakes. In fact, we made a specific cake: a chocolate cake made with beaten egg whites, from a Betty Crocker cookbook, topped with an egg white frosting, usually made with corn syrup (more stable than the boiled sugar version), then drizzled with melted bitter chocolate, mixed with a bit of butter. It was drizzled around the edges so that it dripped down the sides, leaving the interior free for candles.
The parties I gave for my children...I even gave a speech about these parties for Toastmasters when I was a member. I don't have the organizational skills necessary, nor do I have the social skills, to pull off a good party. I was afraid of having children who had nothing to do. So I got creative.
I will return to finish this later - it is going to take a little telling.
Where did you go to high school? What was your mascot? What were your school colors? Do you remember any of the cheers? What was your favorite song during high school? What type of music was popular?I didn't think much about school colors or songs or what was popular in high school. I'm not a typical American in this respect.
I went to two high schools. The first was John D. Pierce High School, which was a "laboratory school" attached to Northern Michigan College (later university). That school was closed at the end of my ninth grade.
The closing was almost a tragedy for the students. Pierce was a small school - the high school had about 100 students - and was considered superior to the public school. As a matter of course we made fun of the local public school, Graveraet High School.
I had moved into ninth grade from the junior high in J.D. Pierce, so I was with the same class for three years. As may be typical of small schools, we had a lot of "school spirit". In high school there was a team spirit award that was awarded at the end of the year. One way to win high points was to have 100% attendance at all of the basketball games. So I went. I tried to be a part of it. I got on the bus for the "away" games and I dutifully found my way to the gym for home games.
When I think back on it now I wonder how I coped with it. I had no friends there, although in general the other students were not awful to me (with some exceptions). I was alone, I didn't have a buddy. Perhaps I was already used to this by then.
Also, I had been carrying around a camera for the entire time I was in the school. I would bring my trusty Minolta to games and take available-light black-and-white shots of the game. Girls would ask me ahead of time to catch certain players and they offered to pay for prints. I gladly shot these players and developed and printed the rolls in our darkroom. I don't think I accepted money for them.
The funny thing is that the boys the girls liked were invariably not the top players. So it was easy to find them alone on the court, not exactly with it.
I am sure it was my photography that carried me through. And because I was becoming known for it, the yearbook editor wanted me to be the school photographer the following year, when I was in tenth grade. I was so excited about this that this is what hurt the most when I learned that the school was going to close.
J.D. Pierce's colors were blue and gold. I don't think there was a mascot. I hated cheerleaders as much as I envied them.
My next school was Gravaraet High School. The school was so crowded that it had to go to split shifts. I recall having the afternoon shift one year. Twelve noon to five. And another year I had the morning shift (7 - 12). I liked this aspect of it, the short days, and the shifts made it easy to fit in piano lessons, which I had started to take again in ninth grade.
My piano teacher felt I was too fat. Well, sure, I was, and I knew it. She took it upon herself to provide me with a "healthy lunch" when I was there for an afternoon lesson. Peanut butter on white bread and a glass of skim milk. I choked this lunch down. I had not yet developed a taste for skim milk (I have now and I don't even like any fat in it any more) and plain peanut butter on bread sticks to your mouth.
I had already had lunch, though. I don't know why I was unable to tell her this. I didn't want her lunch.
Graveraet's colors were red and white. What cheers?
Favorite songs? I actually did pay some attention in 12th grade. I was riding the school bus that year because we had moved out of town, and there was a radio in the bus. So I heard the popular songs. And I caught the Beatles craze. I moved beyond my classical limits to let in the Beatles. For a long time this was the only rock group I would countenance, but in college I explored many more of the more interesting rock groups.
Who were your friends? What did you like about them? Who were your favorite teachers?Friends?
Jane lived across the street from us when I lived in town. In tenth grade we shared a biology class. Did I already talk about this?
Do you remember any students you felt sorry for because other students made fun of them or took advantage of them?Usually I was the one who was made fun of. There were a few others who were ostracized as well, but I don't remember them specifically. I wonder how many of my fellow students remember me.
Did science or math come hard to you? Did art or English come easily? Do you remember any long papers you wrote or any special projects?I was especially good at both math and English. I was less good but okay in science, good in art. Generally I was a good student all around, although I didn't particularly care for history or geography.
One year I submitted a poem to some group that published "the best" high school poetry. It was published, and my name got in the paper. Then the poem was chosen for a follow-up volume of the best of the best, and I was very proud. It isn't much of a poem. I think the whole thing was a scam by the publishing company - they wanted to sell the books. Somewhere I probably still have a copy.
Who did you go to your prom with? What did you wear? Did you dance much?Oh now we're really kidding.
I had no boyfriends. No male in his right mind would have been interested in me. Oh, wait, there was one, but I didn't know it, and he later "went gay" anyway.
So no prom. I didn't even dream of that.
Were you a beatnik, hippie or rebel?In my way I was always a rebel, but I didn't come to flower until I hit college.
Romance and Relationships
Do you remember your first kiss?I think so.
My friend Candy lived across the street from me. We went to elementary school together but to different schools in junior high. I cannot remember if this happened in elementary school or later. It's possible that we still got together when we were in different schools, but I do remember how we drifted apart so much I didn't know her.
I remember I was young, just don't know how young. Candy was one of those girls who "develop early". She was well-developed in fifth grade. I was flat until I was 13 and in eighth grade.
Candy developed sexually as well. That is, her hormones raged early. Probably went along with the body. She liked to hook up with boys and kiss casually. This she did on her own. One time she asked if I wanted to go with her to meet some sailors. I was curious but not thrilled at the idea. I went.
We found a couple of men in white suits down by the docks. I don't remember how we got together, only that Candy had a guy and I had a guy and we walked up the street together. We found a dark space behind a building. There were places to sit, bench-like places. I remember the darkness and the trees near us. I believe the buildings backed up to a steep hill, going down from where we sat, and that hill was thick with trees. It was woodsy.
Candy and her guy were all over each other, on their bench. And my guy was trying the same thing with me. Only I didn't like it and I must have shown it. I was a passive little girl in a lot of ways but this isn't the sort of thing you can fake that well. I wondered why Candy liked this, this slobbering kissing by someone she didn't even know.
I still don't understand that.
What kind of dating did you do in high school? What is your favorite kind of date - even now?None.
I have had so few dates in my life that I can't imagine what a "favorite" kind would be. But I will think about it.
Moments From Your Adult Life
When you and your friends got together, what did you do? Whose home did you go to most often? Did your children become friends with your friends' children? How did you meet the friends you are most comfortable with now?I am a solitary person. I do not have many friends. That doesn't meant that I am not friendly, but I can certainly be called "reserved".
Some people need large groups of friends. Others need only a few. I have had friends of both types, and I have read that the outgoing sociable types of persons tend to be happier in their lives. I want to be happier so I tried this. I wasn't good at it. I find it better to accept my core self, whether or not it is happy.
I have rarely had friends I could call "close". I don't necessarily hide things from others but I have found that the effort it takes to reach and reach and work on developing deeper friendships is more than I want to expend, most of the time. It isn't just me, either. I have taken risks, have put myself forward, have tried to change a nice friend into a closer one, and have not succeeded.
So what my friends and I have done together - it seems such a fluffy question. We met for dinner. We went to see movies. We have gone to concerts. We've hiked together. I have even traveled with one good friend.
My house is unspeakably messy and cluttered. I don't invite people here. I have visited some friends at their homes and on really rare occasions I have let a few of them in here. When I feel comfortable enough with a friend to let her or him in here it does mean something.
Yet at the back of my mind is the desire for more. The friend who would come over on the spur of the moment and sit with me over coffee. And talk. And talk of things wide-ranging, and of things personal, and of pain in our lives. Simply accepting each other.
I don't want friends who idolize me (I've had some) and I don't want friends who jump to conclusions about me, and I don't want friends who immediately sympathize whenever I mention something that has gone wrong, friends who can't really see the humor. I'm fussy. and I'm not the greatest friend myself, although if I say I will do something then I will. You can count on me.
No, my children did not make friends with my friends' children. When my children were young I got to know the parents of some of their friends but we were always that: parents of our children's friends. When our children moved on so did we.
The friends I have now...there is one, really. We became friends because I thought we could, so I invited her to have dinner with me one night. We met in chorale rehearsals and she looked and seemed down-to-earth, intelligent, with a sense of humor, and I suspected (I was right) an open mind about the world, non-censorious.
We meet for coffee now and then, we travel together to our yearly "retreat", we share stories of our children and our lives, we are both involved in the same foundation. We're comfortable in large part because we are older single mothers who have been there and back and can see the world with a laugh. But more than a laugh.
Your House Now
Some people prefer to describe the home in which they lived most of their years rather than the home in which they are living now. What is the address of the home you would like to describe in the following series of questions? What are the dates you lived there?I could answer this question for more than one home but I'll stick with the one I have now. The address is 3500 Bullock Lane #57, in San Luis Obispo, CA.
I have lived here since 1985.
Why do you like your home? What do you dislike about your home? Do you have an attic? If so, what is in it?I don't like it.
My home is a mobile home. It is 12' wide and 60' long, with a "pop-out" attached to the living room that is eight feet wide and about 12' long. So it is about 800 s.f. in area.
What I like about it is that the bedrooms are at opposite ends, and each is next to a bathroom. This design makes it about as private for two people as a small mobile home can be. And at present that's a good thing, because there is someone living in the other bedroom.
I dislike that it is falling apart, it is not worth anything, it is too small, it is cluttered and messy. Of course there is no attic. And no basement. I do have two storage buildings in the back yard. They contain tools, a car bike rack or two, slides (photographic), copies of my digital photos on CD (for once I'm smart enough to make backups), and a few odds and ends. One of the buildings, the newer one, is reasonably well-organized.The other is a mess and is falling apart.
What is the most comfortable room in your home? What is your favorite chair? Favorite place to read? Where do you usually sit to talk on the phone? Where do you usually do your computer work?I'm laughing now.
There is no comfortable room. Maybe the bedroom? Because there's a bed in there that is reasonably comfortable. My bed has not always been comfortable. For a long time I lived with a twin bed that had a "hole" in the mattress. I slept around that hole. I don't remember when it hit me that I didn't have to do that! I could have a new bed. I'm so glad it finally did hit me.
My favorite place is one of my couches. It is long, fairly substantial, and comfy. I like to lie on it lengthwise and read. Preferably with some munchies if I can arrange it. Ah, heaven! Lie down, read, and munch. That would maybe be my heaven.
Describe what you look like now. Have you been happy with the way you look? What did you look like as a teenager? As a young child? If you had to name a famous person whom you looked like, who would it be? Who would you most like to look like?I am tall, slightly stooped at times, overweight. I have blue eyes and thick curly light brown hair, which has quite a bit of gray in it.
At times I have liked one thing or another about the way I look. When I have been thin I have been fairly happy with my looks. When heavy I usually am not.
Once I took a sketch book with me to a mirror and drew myself naked. I enjoyed drawing the curves and my body became something else, something I could like. It's nice to remember, to think of myself this way, to think of the different-shaped breasts as interesting aspects of this model, of the round stomach as a beautiful curve.
I was a fat teen. Fat and sloppy. It wasn't a look I would wish on anyone. Fat and tall and often, no doubt, smelly.
Pictures from my past tell me I wasn't as overweight as a younger child and I had interesting features. I was even described by a teacher as an attractive child who just needed some cleaning up. At the time, though, I thought I was a monster. It surprises me to see some of these pictures from back then, to see that my view of myself was so badly distorted.
What is your best feature? Your worst? Do you have any birthmarks or scars that differentiate your looks absolutely from anyone else?My hair is my best feature. It has a natural wave, it's thick, and it is fine. It doesn't tangle much, yet there is so much of it and it often looks good in spite of my inadequate care of it.
My eyes may be my second-best feature, mainly because they are, honestly, windows into my soul. I don't believe I have a soul but the concept is good. Through my eyes you can know me. It isn't that they are beautiful, it is that they hold so much.
I have a scar on my right foot, caused by the explosion of a battery in the fireplace when I was very young. My brother Michael was playing with the battery. It may not have been exactly that, but that's what I remember.
Moods, Attitudes and Philosophies
Do you like rainy days? What do you do on them?I love rainy days.
Rainy days are somehow "private" to me. They close in the world and protect me.
Rain is beautiful. It cleans the air and diffuses light, placing a temporary screen over everything, creating an impressionist painting from the sky.
I like the feel of rain on me. I can't say I love to be cold and I find it inconvenient to sit in an office soaking wet, yet these are small prices to pay for the glory of standing in the rain and taking it all. I'm waterproof.
I do whatever I feel like doing when it's raining.
I learned a long time ago that people have a tendency to go to stores when it's rainy. More candy is eaten. More people are grocery-shopping. I think people like to be together in a rain. I too like the sense of being alone with others, the lack of obligation to anyone else yet the connection.
Then when the clouds lift and the sun peeks through, the landscape is lit up beautifully, three-dimensionally. It is the best time to take photographs and to find rainbows.
As an old dog, have you learned new tricks?I am always learning.
Enjoyment of anything, to me, is almost always from learning.
I am improving my swimming stroke now. I was never a great swimmer. When I was young, I would take classes in the summer and reach the "intermediate" level. Every year. I never got past that level.
Finally, in my forties or fifties I joined the Masters Swim Team in town, just so I could learn to swim laps. And, of course, be healthier. I learned how to breathe and I learned three strokes: freestyle, backstroke, and breaststroke. What I had known of these strokes before that time was so elementary it was almost as if I didn't know how to swim at all.
I never got very fast and I eventually became discouraged and stopped going. Just last November (November 2005) I took up swimming again, on my own. I have been trying to get back what little I knew, and I have read about swimming and about flip turns and i have practiced. I am now a little faster and a little better than I was six or more months ago.
I am considering joining the masters team again, so I can get real coaching and get better yet.
I am quick to learn computer skills. People in the offices where I work tend to gravitate to me with their techie questions. I have learned how to create websites and have dealt with a lot of arcane nonsense in the process.
I don't think I am ever as excited as I am when I am learning new things.
Although I started taking pictures, with my mother, in seventh grade, adn have had cameras ever since, I have rarely concentrated on improving my photographic skills. I am about to do so. I am going to purchase a better digital camera and take some photography classes. I am VERY excited about this.
So yeah, I have learned new tricks. And I continue to learn new tricks.
What heroic attributes do you have? What not-so-heroic-at-all attitudes do you have?I'm honest, at times to a fault. But not always. That is, if it's going to make me an outcast I might not be honest, I might choose to say nothing rather than say the right thing.
I don't like conflict. I sometimes will get into conflict because I am passionate, then I'll want to get out again. I want to walk away.
I admire people who will persevere doing what they feel is right, in spite of how it may marginalize them to do it. I admire that strength of spirit, and I do not have it.
Would you say you're a doer or a procrastinator?I am absolutely a procrastinator.
I can put things off forever - and then what does it matter? But ultimately I do get to what has to be done, even if it costs me dearly, in money or time.
Although I know that I am joined by many others, that I am far from alone, still I feel immensely guilty that I am not like the forever-active, the driven ones. Maybe I'm a lapsed driven one, and the lapse - when did I lapse? - maybe I'm not lapsed, because I never fulfilled that destiny. I dodged it.
I have often thought that I might have been someone else. With a different start in life I might have felt greater confidence, not had a problem with weight, might have found love, might have kept a neat home. It's useless to dwell on what might have been, though, so when these thoughts pass me by that's what I let them do- pass me by.
Some people mistakenly think of me as a doer. I think I put on a good show and I'm sharp so they make the mistake of confusing my brainwork with actual work. Someone who thinks as fast as I do has got to do things fast, too. And yes, I often do things quickly. But I don't do things often.
Would you say you're blessed? How so?I can say I'm blessed, and I have said so. I don't say it in the usual sense, that some mythical creature called "God" blessed me. I don't believe in God.
But I know I am lucky. Fortunate.
I was born whole and healthy and with a large helping of brains. Like many in my family, I am interested in everything and I can do many things. I am never bored.
I live in a beautiful place, which I enjoy every day.
I have two wonderful daughters and a terrific grandson.
I am still healthy, if overweight. My ills and complaints are not life-threatening.
Sometimes I think about others who have never lived anywhere beautiful, others who were born with severe hardships, physically or mentally. I think of places where I might have been born, where I would not have the freedom to do what I am able to do. I was lucky to be born where I was and when I was.
Have you been able to trust your instincts? What do your instincts tell you?I do trust my instincts.
I haven't always, but over time I have learned that they are built of my experience and observation and they are trustworthy. A therapist I saw for a while first said it out loud: "You have good instincts", when I was thinking about a man I had just met. It helped me to hear her say this.
Who did you trust and / or respect most in your life?I cannot think of one person I trusted or respected most in my life. Over the years there have been people whom I have trusted or respected, but their part in my life has been small.
In high school I had a forensics coach. I believe he was an English teacher, but I do not remember having any classes with him. He worked with me as in individual, respecting me and who I was and helping me present myself to an audience in a better way.
I was very fond of him. It was unusual for me to get this kind of personal attention, and I was hungry for it. I was also not entirely ready for it, not as open as I could be.
For example, from the options available I chose a comic presentation. This meant that I would choose a short comic piece, written by someone else, and would read it dramatically. One of my first choices was one on "book control" by a well-known author in the early 20th century. I thought it was hilarious but this coach told me it might offend some people, because it was a parody on birth control. I hadn't even put the two together, frankly.
He suggested a different one: a piece about a young woman who was trying to be part of a sports team. I remember vaguely that it was a kind of skating, but I could be wrong about that. The main force of the piece was that the speaker was awkward and ungainly and not particularly good at sports. The incidents were therefore very funny, in the witty way the writer made fun of herself. This coach recognized that I would fit the profile. Today I would gladly take the piece on and run with it, but at that time I was trying to distance myself from myself. I didn't take it anywhere near where it could have gone, and of course I didn't win any contests.
He also pointed out, when I was rehearsing at one point, that I was fiddling with the buttons that ran down the front of my dress. Nobody ever called attention to these kinds of things before, with the exception of my piano teacher, who noted that when I was concentrating on playing my tongue would often find its way between my teeth. She suggested it wasn't a good look for me. But while I always resented such intrusions by Mrs. Swinton (the piano teacher) I welcomed them from this guy.
That was, of course, a blip in time. But I remember it.
Did you have any real vices / bad habits?Where do I begin?
I don't have any headliners, just boring bad habits that are shared by many others. I add my own unique twist to one or two, of course.
I eat too much. So much is said of being overweight that I hardly feel like repeating it here, and yet I have the consuming feeling (do you like the choice of word there?) that I must write of weight. That, if I do nothing else in my life, I must somehow explain that weight has been at the center, at the edges, and everywhere in between, of my life. My life is the definition of "weight", or rather, my life exemplifies every aspect of "weight".
What I feel I must do is purge my system of all that this means and has meant over the years, and the only way I can do this is by writing.
I escape obligations by procrastinating and occupying myself with mindless activity. Not entirely mindless or it wouldn't be entirely an escape, but distracting. I read all the time. I love to lie on the couch and read and eat at the same time.
I watch entirely too much television.
And I play video games. Specifically, one game: Sims 2. I may be addicted to it. Sometimes I think about it, about how anxious I am to get this or that sim through this or that challenge, or how I have an idea for a house I want to build. Or...some other sim thing. My epitath is not going to say, "She created some great sims."
I am lucky that I never started smoking. I suspect it would be a really difficult habit to break if I once began it.
I drink, but in moderation. A "light" drinker. There have been many alcoholics in my family and I have lived with what that means, to the point where I almost always think about drinking too much. When I have three glasses of wine with dinner I feel like I've really overdone it. At one time I was having a beer or two every evening, and I started to look forward to that beer. Then I quit, because I didn't want to be dependent that way. Periodically I do the same thing, have some wine before dinner several days in a row and then stop.
Seriously, I believe I don't have the personality to become an alcoholic. Seems I would have done it if I did.
I'm a lousy housekeeper and I'm disorganized and I waste a lot of time. Boring boring boring...
Would you prefer a burial, cremation, mausoleum, Viking funeral, or something else?I prefer cremation because it is quick, simple, inexpensive. However, when I am dead I am not the one who matters. If my children were to want me in the ground with a headstone over my body that would be fine with me. What matters is what they want.
I can see the appeal to having an actual grave or some kind of marker, where one can come to think and remember.
If I am cremated, I'd like my ashes to be spread somewhere beautiful. It can be Lake Superior or Red Rock or the wilds of San Luis Obispo county. Perhaps trickled over a trail I have hiked many times. It would be good to get back into the earth.
Do you feel that you put enough energy into parenting as you should have? Did you have energy left to take care of your parents in their later years?I never felt I put enough energy into parenting. In fact, energy is exactly what I felt I never had when my children were young.
I understand young parents who say they know they should have done this or that with their children, but they were too tired.
For me, it seemed to be more than just being worn out. I felt I did not take good enough care of myself and did not take good enough care of my home, our home. Because of this lack of care I felt drained. My energy level was low mostly for emotional rather than physical reasons.
When my parents were in need of care I was not there for them. I felt glad that there were seven of us to share the burden of care, and I was even more glad that some of the others simply stepped in and said "I'll do it". I was never good at sick beds, which is no excuse, but thank heaven others in the family were better.
If I had been an only child I assume I would have done more. I would have felt that obligation. I am not heartless.
Is there anyone you envied in life? Why?I have often envied persons who are not as screwed up as I am.
I procrastinate. I walk away from projects. I don't always finish things. I constantly berate myself for my shortcomings.
I try to dull my bad feelings with food.
Every day I have to make decisions about what I will do. Nothing is automatic. Nothing is a habit. Every day I decide to swim or not, to eat carefully or not, to take on a challenge or not, to complete a project or not. I find myself wanting and agonizing over my faults.
I envy those who have grown up with healthier feelings about themselves, who don't waste so much time on wondering if they are doing what they should be doing.
I have learned to talk back to myself. It does help when I talk back vigorously, get myself out of these moods. But I envy those who do not have to do this.
And yes, I do know people like this. They are not Pollyannas. They are not always happy. But their percentages are better, they manage their lives better, and they accomplish more.
Sometimes I think about who I might have been. I envy that person.
Yet, interestingly, I have learned that while I do not have the positive traits I wish for, I find that my life has given me a glimpse at the lives of many others and I understand those who are beset by troubles, whether real or imagined. I empathize better than my more fortunate friends and acquaintances do, as a general rule. I like this about me. I like that I understand and feel perhaps more than many others. My envy does not rise to a real desire to be someone else.
Do you have any fears or phobias? Have they changed during your lifetime? How much have they affected you?I developed a fear of heights early in life. I don't know from where. I suspect that I had a normal, healthy fear that expanded when it had the chance.
The chance I gave it was through my assumption that I could not overcome such fears. I gave in to it. Actually, I didn't give in right away. I took on challenges, like riding a ski lift and looking out from tall buildings or mountains. I rode rollercoasters to prove to myself that I could do it. But these efforts did not result in any lessening of my fear.
My mother had many phobias. She was afraid of heights, afraid of the dark, claustrophobic, and later in life she developed a fear of travel beyond the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. That may seem a bit odd but I can see no other explanation for her extreme reluctance to travel anywhere other than in her comfort zone.
My mother told me that when she was three, her brothers threw her into a swimming pool. Ever after she was afraid of water. She did not believe that she could overcome it and I don't think she even considered trying.
So when I developed a fear of heights in one way I was identifying with my mother,and there was some comfort in that. I have read recently that phobias are in a way "contagious". Especially from parent to child. Children learn a great deal from observation. I am certain that this is how I learned to be phobic from my mother.
At the same time, though, I hated that she let her phobias run her life, and that is probably why I kept getting on the roller coasters and the ferris wheels and trying the ski lifts.
After I had been challenging myself this way for many years, and had two young daughters who had no such fears, I finally said "enough" and started to refuse to challenge. I simply said no more roller coasters. No more gripping ski lifts with both hands and eyes closed. No more palpable fear while creaking up in a ferris wheel. I was just done. I didn't need to do those things.
But. That wasn't the end of it.
When I was about to turn 50 I thought that it was time I did the things I wanted to do but never had. I felt that if I did not get out and do them then I never would. It was now or never. There was something about turning 50 that triggered a real change in my head.
One thing I did was to start "dating". I had never really dated in my life. A few dinners with my daughters' father led to casual living together and then children and then...all of which belongs on another part of this story. Enough to summarize here. I had been without any sexual partner for about 15 years.
Well, yeah, that's a long time. I went online to correct it. I have never been good at flirting or meeting men in person. I knew I had a better chance if I were direct and open and online.
I was right about that. In the next couple of years I had intimate relations with about eight men. All short-term encounters, but at the time that is what I wanted. I wanted to prove to myself that I was attractive to some men, and I seem to have succeeded in that.
I started to feel more grown up, more a woman. And there was something else. I had done things - including hooking up with these men in the first place - that required that I look at my fears more directly, more realistically.
When I told myself "I can't do this," I asked myself why, and I asked what is the worst thing that can happen? I did this again and again, and thus, one little step at a time, I talked my way through one experience after another.
It was natural that eventually I would start to look at the fears that I had given in to all these years. I remember the day I went up to the top balcony of the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo to see a performance. My daughters and I usually got these seats because they are the cheapest, and I usually managed all right if I sat back far enough from the railing and didn't look over. My daughters had a habit of fooling with me, pretending they were pushing me over, because they knew of my fear of heights. Which they did not share. They knew I would react.
This time I was alone. I sat in one of the side chairs, which I always prefer, and I found myself looking over the railing without fear. Just the tiniest awareness, no debilitating fear. I experimented. Leaned over, stood up. Still no paralyzing fear. It was amazing.
I wasn't completely sure that I was "cured", of course. I continued to challenge my assumptions whenever I was at a great height or near an edge.
Here's the thing. In my early days I thought I could overcome my fear simply by exposing myself to what I feared. It did not work. What was different this time is that each time I encountered a fear I questioned it. I did more than challenge my body. I challenged my mind, my thinking. It's damned simple when you get it. I have since discovered that most of what those psychologists do when they try to desensitize phobic patients is exactly what I did on my own.
A year or so after I had this experience in the concert hall I decided to drive up highway 1 to celebrate my birthday. It was a beautiful day and I had my camera with me and my good spirits. I didn't have any specific plans, but thought I might take in a hike near Big Sur.
I headed up the coast. I was enjoying the gorgeous beauty of this incredible highway, the sharp dropoffs, the deep blue of the ocean, and I was enjoying taking the turns with a considered speed. That is, I was careful but not a wimp. Then it hit me. In the past the twists and turns of highway 1, as it gets north of Ragged Point and moves aggressively toward Big Sur, usually scare the hell out of me. In fact, I had made it a practice to bring someone else in the car, someone who could take over driving at this point.
But in the middle of one of these luscious curves I realized I was feeling nothing but joy.
I was over that fear. I am over it. I know now that I can face anything, with enough deep breaths and calm thinking.
I sealed it with a ride on a roller coaster. I was in Las Vegas, visiting my daughters. We went to the MGM casino, which has a roller coaster. I admit I was afraid and not at all sure how I would take it. My daughter mary insisted that I take the front seat, next to my daughter Elaine, so that i could have the full benefit.
At first I was terrified. I was screaming, I was hanging on, knuckles white. Then I started to breathe and I told myself, "You aren't going to die". And suddenly it was just fun! I was loving it! When the car came to rest at the end my first thought was, "Is that all?" I wanted to go around again. That was the icing on that wonderful cake.
I believe that this overcoming of fears is one of the "major themes" of my life. I am deeply interested in fear and anxiety and probably know more about these emotions than the average person does.