WRITING MY MEMOIR,
reflections on this Christmas Eve 2015
It is Christmas Eve and I find myself alone for the first time in my life on this oh so quiet night. My son went to visit a friend in Kansas, and my mom, dad and brother are all passed; leaving quickly together over 14 short, numbing months.
The trips back east have ceased, and my nest is empty. The delights of my early Christmas nights with them are a twinkling memory, and sometimes I wish I could have just one hour with them again; just one hour to inhale all the love and joy of our unique bonds.
Today, at the end of a challenging hot power flow class, I lay back onto my mat and my chest heaved with sorrow, as I cried under my facecloth. I miss them. Them: My dear ones I miss you each so so much.
I’ve been journaling all of 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 I was captive to. A small key slipped into the lock and opened my private hideaway each and every day.
Writing letters to friends, and pen pals delighted me as well, and I found pals to exchange colorful painted letters with in many foreign places, like Kansas and Utah. These ornately decorated envelopes slipped into their postboxes like clockwork, and in a week or two I would 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 came direct to my doorstep in a brown box! I was picked out of 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 and better 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 autobiographies, imagining what it would be like to actually be Amelia Earhart; and once constructed a huge slide out of scrap metal and cardboard, sliding down the side of my best friends backyard shed … playing out Amelia Earhart 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 they’d ask,“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, just to tell me smiling his big white bright smile, how much he loved me and my mother. 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 the "shop" drifted into our kitchen. I love the sound of the Italian language to this day.
Each Wednesday, walking the five,dirty, long inner-city blocks back to 309 Madison Ave, in and around large cracks in the sidewalk, following 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 with the 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 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 and frangipani perfume. Out of high school two weeks, in a hotel room on Rt 4, Rick Deodato and I lost my coveted 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 cadillac with another couple in Totowa, N.J. smoking hashish as the men landed on the moon; radio on, listening to the astronauts, stoned out of our gourds, that hot July night...it 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 years old.
I acquired every new album to come out, Ten Years After, Led Zeppelin, Doors, Dylan, Cream, Rolling Stones, Big Pink, my beloved Jefferson Airplane whose lead singer Grace Slick was my idol; and I lost myself in music and lyrics which seemed to soothe my adolescent angst. I displayed the LP’s proudIy on the floor against my stereo I set up on my fake green Oriental carpet next to my bed 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 by herself. The early years with my little boy are some of the most tender, heart-opening years of my life. HIs 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, and New York City cavorting with the “in crowd” of artists, actors, musicians, writers, aristocrats, and a wide variety of eccentrics and wild ones. Always pulling my parents into my life, I once even 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; 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 gory 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 twelve memoirs in the last three months, and listen for the tempo, the honesty, the details, and am inspired by my comrades who lived to tell; particularly Pamela De Barres, 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 60 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. My journals during this time burst with every detail of my days, dreams and desires. Every meticulous page vanished along with a footlocker, and a bright yellow bike, all left in the back hall of the Victorian apartment of Wyatt Landesman, brother of Knight Landesman of New York City, now publisher of Art Forum. Yes I will be,... ut oh, me bad, name dropping like crazy, people… but this is not a story about others. This is not a kiss and tell.. this memoir is about a girl from blue collar America, post WWII baby boomer bliss with freedom and a dream for big things; a 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. All this contact with fame instantly ignited my ambitions to move to Los Angeles and “to become a movie star;” and thus changing the trajectory of my life forever.
My 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: trying to figure out just who I was. The structure of school was now gone. I was lost. With $70.00 lent to me, and a Swedish boyfriend to drive down with, I left with three outfits and a pair of boots on Feb 1, 1977; a few names scratched on a piece of paper, and headed for Sunset Strip. I checked into the Sunset Doheney Motel, for a week, and had a whole $10.00 left. I was 25 years old.
As I bobbed in the “pool of sharks” of Los Angeles, navigating around innocently, my nubile, dance and yoga-sculpted body swimming 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 the free wheeling sex-capades rampant during the 70;s. My diaries hit the land fill 250 miles north of Hollywood. Oh well...Now I was living my dream.
It was there, in Beverly Hills, I found my lifeline to Yoga at Bikram’s Yoga College of India. 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 doubles until I got my Self back, only to be called off for another wild adventure with the “good doctor.” Here I was studying yoga, training to teach; one of the coveted few Bikram chose to teach; and running with the 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 is as fresh and available as ever… Yoga. I am so grateful for this gift.
I now have the opportunity and the time to write. I feel 10 months pregnant with story. After 6 decades, life almost makes sense. 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… 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 2016 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.;)