This is Thayer, son of Davona and Lou, who bought the duplex on Raymond Ave. where I spent the happiest years of my childhood. I made this rough sketch in the spring before they evicted us. I mention this because it’s the last portrait I would draw from life. From then on I would feel like an outcast, especially when I went back to school in the fall, having, literally, been cast out—of the gifted group that went on to Miss Oman’s class. Never again would I feel a belonged—I mean belonged—anywhere. Even all my years on the West Coast have seemed like a life in exile, because St. Anthony Park—where for a time, at least, I had a family and a community—has always, in my heart, remained home. Having developed social anxiety disorder, I’ve never been able to feel really in the world again…well, except for my year in Spain. Instead I’ve felt like a stranger, standing out in the cold, peering through a window into a room where there’s warmth and light and other people busy with their lives.

Because of my sense of disconnection, I believe, when I began to draw again during my senior year of college, instead of people I knew, I drew slightly abstracted figures (what strikes me now is how much of a departure this was from my original creative impulse)—and no longer with pencil, which I could erase if I wanted to, but with markers that were indelible. 

I did, on a few occasions, draw a self-portrait, though I no longer consulted a mirror.

These drawings evolved, while I was a stewardess, into a stylized figure I used for my fashion designs, which I’ll be posting on my next blogs. (If my clothes look quaint, bear in mind this was the ’70s.)



I graduated from Cal Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude, and second in the Department of Spanish—a standing I didn’t feel I deserved because I doubted I would have gotten the straight A’s at Cal that I did at the University of Madrid my junior year. I will say, however, that it was in my novel class in Spain that I started to really understand how to approach literature analytically, and I realized at the same time that I was able to bring the same aesthetic sensibility to my writing in Spanish that I did in English. Fortunately I’d had a TA who appreciated my writing ability enough that he never docked me for missing section meetings—something I did occasionally because I had such a hard time speaking up in class.

There was no graduation ceremony at Cal that year, as it turned out, so I never got to don a cap and gown; the ceremony was canceled because of student protests and sit-ins over the war in Vietnam. On more than one occasion, I had to flee the campus because of tear gas.

After I graduated, I was left with a major dilemma. Since I’d devoted all the years since grade school to scholarship instead of developing my creative abilities, when I finally had to come to terms with the fact that I was by nature an artist, not an academic—that it was futile to keep trying to jam the square peg that I was into a round hole—I couldn’t commit myself to any other profession because the urge to do creative work was too strong, yet I had no skills within the arts I could use to earn a living doing something I might actually enjoy.

Towards the end of my senior year of college, I’d started drawing again—stylized figures with felt markers. Sometimes I got so absorbed I couldn’t tear myself away and I’d miss my classes. Once again I was miserable in school, so unhappy that, in the end, I couldn’t face going a fifth year for a teaching credential. I remember feeling so trapped that year, as I sat passively being lectured at, that it was all I could do to stifle an impulse to scream.

So when I cast around in my mind for a job that would leave me blocks of free time in which to develop my creative abilities, being a stewardess seemed to fill the bill as well as any.

Besides, I missed Spain and longed to return, imagining that if I did, maybe I could recover a little of the person I had become there. A generous travel discount was one of the perks of being a stewardess, and, at the time I had my interview with Pan Am, flight attendants, as they are now called, were being encouraged to take time off. Of course, I hoped to be based in San Francisco so I could continue my voice training with Mrs. Unruh, but, as I would learn belatedly, junior girls had little choice in the matter.

That summer I flew to Miami for my stewardess training.



When I look over the Callie’s Ragbag vignettes I’ve posted about this period, a—I mean I— remember an event that isn’t even mentioned. (Yeah, I just made that same old Freudian slip.) My senior year of college I started to go out with a boy…er, young man named John, whom I met at the language lab. He worked there as a technician repairing the machines but was multi-talented, a seeming jack-of-all-trades. Among other things, he played the guitar and started teaching me finger picks and bluesy songs.

Though he was barely older than I was, he’d gotten custody of his younger brother after their parents died. (I’m a little shocked that I no longer remember how they died.) At first he struck me as the nicest guy, but over time I began to realize that he was always making promises that he wasn’t able or willing to keep—and I felt constantly let down. If I expressed disappointment, he took umbrage, as though I had no right to expect him to be as good as his word.

At the time I was living in a house near campus that I shared with three guys. The day that I realized I had to break up with him, I was in so much pain, I went—ostensibly—to take a bath but instead used a razor to cut long diagonal lines in my stomach. (The blood bubbled up like beads on a necklace.)

When I’d tried to tell my mother some time before how much pain I was in, she’d railed at me in exasperation, “Why do you have to dramatize everything?” and she’d insisted that, unlike her and her clients, I didn’t know what suffering was. I resorted to cutting myself that day as the only way I could think of to make manifest my pain—to prove to myself, in the face of my mother’s contention to the contrary, that it was real. And I would have the scars, I told myself, as lasting evidence. At the time I’d never heard of cutters, who typically feel a rush of release in the act of cutting, but for me it hurt.



“Kirsten Flagstad is quoted as saying that the subject of breathing is ‘almost impossible to learn or understand and almost impossible to teach’”—The Singing Voice, by Robert Rushmore.

There are three basic types of breathing, Rushmore tells us: upper chest breathing—the quick, shallow breaths we take when, say, we’ve been running and need to catch our breath; intercostal, where the abdomen is held in and the ribs push out to the front and sides above the navel; and deep abdominal breathing, where the abdomen protrudes as the diaphragm flattens out. The major complication is that we can breathe in any combination—and in any proportion—of these ways.

He includes part of a review from Opera magazine by Rupert Bruce Lockhart, written after he attended a meeting of the Union of Singing Masters in Paris; the evening’s subject was breathing: “I was taken by one of the most famous musicians and singing professors in Paris. We laughed helplessly all evening. There was almost a free fight. No two people in the entire assembly seemed to agree on a method of breathing. Insults were hurled around and two of the doctors finally turned their chairs back to back and refused to speak to each other.”

In the middle of my senior year of college, while I was struggling to come to terms with my death despair, my father cut off the small college allowance he’d promised me—to punish me for not writing him recently.

(Reading a passage, only last week, from a letter I wrote him when I was seventeen, I belatedly recognized the irony of this. “What’s new with you?” I asked. “ I have no idea, you know, since you never write. If you’ve moved or married, I wish you’d tell me. I don’t even know if you get my letters. All I can do is to keep writing.”)

I sent him a letter telling him that without the allowance I couldn’t continue my voice lessons, which meant everything to me. When he turned a deaf ear, I went to my mother and begged for help. She’d come to one of my recent lessons and cried when she heard me sing. But…

Doug had dropped out of Hayward State three years earlier, though his status as a student was his best hope of staying out of the war in Vietnam. He thought he could beat the draft by claiming he had a physical disability or, if that didn’t work, that he was a conscientious objector. Since then he’d spent his days playing golf.

My mother told me she couldn’t give me more financial help than she already was—she was giving us both a small allowance—and, besides, it wouldn’t be fair to Doug. I argued that Doug should get a job, at least part-time, to ease our financial straits, pointing out that I’d worked at the language lab part-time and maintained a Regents’ scholarship throughout my college years to help defray the cost of my education. But my logic only made her furious. She screamed at me, “You want everything—and you want it now!”

(A couple of things strike me in retrospect as I read her accusation. One: I’d waited ten years to realize my dream of becoming a singer. Two, another irony: Just as my mother’s father refused to help her pursue her dream of going to college—something she was still bitter about, though the G. I. Bill ultimately allowed her to get a Master’s degree—she refused to help me pursue mine.)

Mrs. Unruh told me if I were to quit at that time, I would never sing; I can’t say that I believed her, but I did sense that I was at a critical point in my training, that I was standing on the threshold of mastery. It was then that she also told me I was the most gifted student in her studio. Nevertheless I did quit, feeling that I had to graduate and hoping that when I got a full-time job, I could pick up my voice training where I’d left off.