WHEN IS THIS MEMOIR COMING?
I find myself alone on this oh so pre-fall, half-crispy day. My son lives in Minnesota, and my mom, dad and brother are all passed; leaving quickly together over fourteen, short and numbing months about eight years ago.
The trips back east have ceased, and my nest is empty. The delights of so many Thanksgivings and Christmas nights with them are a twinkling memory, and sometimes I yearn for just one hour with them again; just one hour to inhale their love, voices, laughter, and soak in the joy of our unique bonds.
Today, I lay back onto my mat and my chest heaved with sorrow, as I cried. I miss them. Them ... my dearest ones I miss you each so so much.
I’ve been writing all my life, perhaps for as long as I could hold a pencil. Carrying a little flip-top mini spiral notepad with shiny inviting covers in four primary colors; red, green, yellow and blue, I’d document, exaggerate, and fabricate all kinds of stories while roaming the neighborhood. A man on a porch swinging gently on a glider would, in writing ,“have his heart mysteriously hanging outside of his shirt,” for instance… and so the story unfolded.
I also kept journals (then called diaries;) small leather, gold embossed pink, or blue books filled with drawings, songs, and pictures of my dog; locks of young hair taped to the pages, and all kinds of delightful pre-teen goofy things; gushing hearts and lipstick kisses for all the crushes; particularly Peter Noone, from Herman's Hermits..my first true love!! A small key slipped into the lock and opened my private hideaway and secrets each and every day.
Writing letters to friends, and pen pals delighted me, and I found pals to exchange colorful painted letters with in many foreign places, like Kansas and Wisconsin. These ornately decorated envelopes slipped into their postboxes like clockwork, and a week or two later I'd delightfully find one in mine. What a thrill!!
It was exciting as hell to send postcards to TV and radio shows entering any and all contests. I once took a 3 x 5 notecard and drew all over it, and sent it to WMCA radio station in New York City and actually won the Top One Hundred hits on 45’s which were delivered directly to my doorstep in a brown box! I was picked from thousands of entries. Somehow with this single postcard I touched the glitter of the big city, whose skyline I could see from my tiny bedroom window. Night after night I’d turn and adjust my transistor radio in the windowsill facing the Empire State Building (way across the Hudson River) hoping to get good reception and hear a new tune, a new band, the music of the times; rock and roll, Motown, Pop…, the famous DJ, Murray the K, read my name on the air; and Wow … I was connected to something big; way big! That moment was my first tiny bite of the apple which intoxicated me with hints of things to come; much bigger things to come…
I prided myself on my excellent penmanship, and loved the smells and texture of paper, pencil and fountain pen. The odor and feel of magazines like High-Lites, and Teen Beat thrilled me. Many an evening I’d tuck under my covers with a small reading lamp devouring all kinds of reading materials including Trixie Beldon books, and autobiographies. I imagined what it would be like to actually be these characters. One time I played out Amelia Earhart after constructing a huge slide out of scrap metal and cardboard. Sliding down the side of my best friends backyard shed … playing out my idol I repeated over and over, flying scenes replete with scarf and goggles. Each month the event of my teen magazine arriving sent me giddy to my room lost in a fantasy world of boys and clothes and concerts as I drank in each image and page, like a good teenie bopper!
After telling my Jack Nicholson story umpteen times, or the story about how I met and dated Richard Gere, or the night Al Pacino performed Richard III for me at 3 am, on my cement steps on W 68th St and Central Park West, it is clear I actually must write about all this. As a co-ed stripping in Wisconsin for extra cash, and getting many of the other dance majors to join me in the amateur contests at Diamond Don’s out in Middleton, is a part of history that must be documented. We dancers from Lathrop Hall imagined we were making a statement of liberation and new women’s freedoms as we gyrated with army boots and unshaved armpits and legs to “Jack the Knife.” Now that’s a story!
And how my mom picked me up at school in miniskirts and Go -Go boots, with platinum blonde hair, wrapped in a flowing pink scarf, wearing sunglasses, roof down. That long white car with the fins would roll up and I’d be horrified standing on the gritty street corner in Paterson, New Jersey, in front of PS 21, as the kids from the projects froze in their tracks, jaws agape at the sight of us, and timidly asked, “Is your mother a Movie Star?”
I’d entertain friends through the years with stories from my childhood in Paterson, living in the upper corner of a 4-plex, and how my dad would come home from work each night, all covered in dirt and dust and baked on sweat, and scoop me up into his arms before scrubbing his hands with that rough white Borax soap.I’d watch the hand-scrubbing ritual standing on the seat of a kitchen chair next to the sink, as the hub-bub and foreign sounds of all the loud Italians coming back from "shop" drifted into our kitchen. I loved the sounds of the Italian language. Dad always made sure to tell me, smiling his big white bright smile, how much he loved me and my mother every single day.
Each Wednesday, walking the five, dirty, long inner-city blocks back to 309 Madison Ave, in and around large cracks in the sidewalk, I always followed my nose as I drew near to the Russo/DeMarco family complex. My digestive juices set my stomach growling as those pots of steeping tomato gravy bubbled and led me to my beloved bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, presented precisely at 5pm, right onto that white formica table a few feet from the stove, in that little kitchen wrapped in red rooster wall paper.
Telling stories was the way I learned to survive certain realities in my house, a way to entertain my mother, particularly to fend off her always lurking foul moods, rages and depressions. I told colorful stories as I danced and moved, animating my experiences to bring a smile to her face. She’d slap her side, or throw her head back in a hearty laugh; and I knew all was well and I’d be safe, for a time. My dad looked adoringly at me as he always did in my childhood, and particularly as I crafted my tales.
At 17 I threw myself out into the wild world. The summer of 1969 I deliberately lost my virginity, smoked pot, took acid, attended WOODSTOCK, and all kinds of rock concerts at the Fillmore East, Atlantic City, and at various clubs up and down the East coast. I wore flowery dresses scented with frangipani perfume. Out of high school only two weeks, in a hotel room on Rt 4, Rick Deodato and I lost our virginity. This life-changing event occurred over a bottle of Mateus and a bowl of hashish. Rick was a freshman at Villanova and took me to all kinds of concerts and events including the premiere of HAIR in New York City. Once we sat in the back seat of a black Cadillac with another couple in Totowa, N.J. smoking hashish as astronauts landed on the moon; radio on, listening to their voices, stoned out of our gourds, that hot July night... was... "Wow! Far out man..." The Vietnam war was raging, young people were getting too high, and men were walking on the moon. I was 17.
I acquired every new album to come out, Ten Years After, Led Zeppelin, Doors, Dylan, Cream, Janis Joplin, Rolling Stones, Big Pink, Beatles, and my beloved Jefferson Airplane whose lead singer Grace Slick was my idol. I lost myself in their music and lyrics which soothed my adolescent angst. I displayed my LP’s proudIy on the floor against my stereo that I set up on my fake green Oriental carpet next to my dorm bed, the one with the Indian bedspread everyone who was anyone had in their room. I left for college two weeks after attending Woodstock, and like a homing pigeon I returned home again and again to report on my expanding life and to relay my wild new adventures, in colorful detail, sparing my parents none of the glory, nor the gore. I delighted in these sessions as much as they did.
I’m more than compelled to write it all as memoir now for anyone to read. But more than anything I want my son to one day see my life in full context so he can understand the forces that are always at play from generation to generation, and to maybe begin to accept his life and the continuum and, to forgive me; his wild uncompromising mom who decided at 40 years old to bring him into the world alone, broke, and with no plan... The early years with my little boy are some of the most tender, heart-opening, and most difficult years of my life. Klee's (Clay) beauty and brilliance knocks me out still. These years grounded me after three decades of life in the fast lanes of Hollywood, Paris, Aspen, San Francisco, Taos, and New York City cavorting with the “in crowd” of artists, musicians, writers, aristocrats, super-stars, and a wide variety of eccentrics and wild ones. Always pulling my parents into my life, I once took my mom back stage after attending Saturday Night Live and introduced her to the cast, forfeiting my invite to go dancing with Al Pacino and Robert Dinero at a private club that same night, and sending two of my girlfriends instead.
I’ve been putting shape to this kaleidoscopic delightful mess of a journey, and like a splayed dissected animal, am studying all the oozing and fascinating details, hoping it all morphs into some meaning, into some healing … if only simply for myself. Right now my life story reads like a Jackson Pollack painting appears; all color and drama, and very large. I circle it and splash at it, add a story fragment here and there, and see no end in sight. This confusion is what stops the momentum, and I become overwhelmed. And I plug on.
I’ve read twenty memoirs in the last year, and listen for the tempo, the honesty, the details, and am inspired by my comrades who lived to tell; particularly Pamela De Barres, Sally Field, Grace Slick, Peter Townsend, Keith Richards, and Carlos Santana,… to name a few.
I think way too much, and experience writers block more than not. I must write. I must write. I know it. I wake up in the night with fully formed paragraphs lurking at the edges of my cerebral cortex, and memories of amazing events I’ve experienced, only to fall back asleep and having the vivid pictures and words erased clean by morning.
I have perhaps 20 journals left after losing many in my wild rapidly changing scenarios, having moved over 70 times, always forgetting or losing something in those mad dashes into the NEW. I once lost two years of journals in San Francisco when a friend left the city and tossed my things into a garbage bin without ever telling me.
During this time those San Fran journals burst with every detail of my days, dreams and desires of young adult life. Every meticulous page vanished along with a footlocker, and a bright yellow bike, all left in the back hall of his Victorian apartment. Knight Landesman, his older brother from New York City, now publisher of Art Forum, was our connection going back to my first year at UW. Wyatt had a little shop but soon left and along with it all of my belongings.
This is not a kiss and tell story by the way. No details about any intimacies with amazing people. This is an autobiographical memoir about a girl from blue collar America, a post WWII baby boomer born into the rare opportunities of this unique time, born into great new freedoms for women, and a dream for big things. I had an insatiable thirst for adventure ... and the guts to pursue it all.
My journals, post college, documented the tender early 20’s years, meticulously describing meeting “Jack,” our phone calls and the personal stories he shared with me. I blabbed on and on about directors I admired and all the female stars of the New Hollywood cinema who inspired me; Karen Black, Jessica Lange, Ellen Burstyn, and Sissy Spacek, to name a few. This sudden, although obtuse contact with fame after meeting Jack Nicholson instantly ignited my ambitions to move to Los Angeles and “to become a movie star,” and thus changed the trajectory of my life forever.
The everyday struggles in the dance/theater company “Players,” and the drama of communal living in the Haight Ashbury, being on food stamps and serving cocktails in the evenings, fired this dream as I climbed up and down the hills of foggy San Francisco, mostly like a trapped animal, depressed and lost at 23, trying to figure out how to actually get to the “city of angels” without a job or a dollar to my name. I struggled to figure out just who I was. The structure of school was gone. I was lost. With $70.00 lent to me, and a Swedish boyfriend to drive down with, I left the Bay Area with three outfits and a pair of boots on Feb 1, 1977; and a few names scratched on a piece of paper, heading for Sunset Strip. I checked into the Sunset Doheney Motor Inn, for a week, leaving me a whole $10.00 left. I was 25 years young.
As I bobbed in the “pool of sharks” of Los Angeles, navigating around innocently, my nubile, dance and yoga-sculpted body swim fearlessly in these new waters, holding but one nostril above the water, I navigated clumsily this jasmine and honeysuckle-scented world of stars, fast cars, pools, parties, alcohol and drugs ... and dabbled in the free wheeling sex-capades rampant during the 70's.
It was in Beverly Hills, at Bikram’s Yoga College of India, I found my lifeline, my grounding, and a shelter. Bikram Choudhury was my rock through every affair and madcap trip. We'd talk late into the night and he'd lecture me to stop running crazy with "these people." I’d limp into his studio after ten days on the road with Hunter S. Thompson, 6 lbs. thinner, wasted, but ready to become strong and focused again; doing double classes, until I got my Self back, only to be called off for yet another wild adventure with the irresistible “good doctor.” Here I was studying yoga, training to eventually teach yoga; one of the coveted few students Bikram chose to teach; and running with the infamous Gonzo journalist at the same time whom I was madly in love with. Go Figure.
It was always the yoga practice that steadied me. It still is. After all the glitter faded and changed; (as Bikram predicted it would,) there it was as fresh and available as ever… Yoga. I am so grateful for this gift.
I feel 10 months pregnant with my life story. I can see, feel, taste, and touch the spiritual line, the coherency, the whys, what’s and how’s of it all.
If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my memoir, He will make … putting it into someone’s hands who would be inspired to shape. If I don’t die before I wake, I will craft it anyway … for goodness sake.
How could I not? It’s the only thing I obsess about day after day. I finally have nothing left to do. The New Year, 2023 is upon us, and my intention is to finish this tale of tales for once and for all. I will produce a first draft this year… and hopefully screaming with vivid and colorful life ready for anyone who is interested to read.
So now to it!
I am planning to release chapters into my blog; a toe in the water. Feedback welcome.;)