May 20, 2021

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.