The Early Years -- An Interview with Eskimo Pie Girl conducted by Eskimo Pie Girl
Id: So why did you decide to interview yourself?
Ego: Because three monkey boys told me to, and I am always doing what they suggest and getting myself into trouble.
Id: So tell me a little bit about your life.
Ego: Well I was born in Arizona, and when I was 2 and a half, my family moved to a small fishing village in Alaska where my Dad taught school.
Id: That's quite a change from Arizona to Alaska.
Ego: Yeah my life has been a series of dichotomies from very early on.
Id: So what was it like living in Alaska?
Ego: It was very primitive. Some of the places we lived didn't have running water, so we had to haul our water from natural springs. Most of the houses were shacks, one was built in the 19th century and proclaimed a historical monument so I guess it will be there forever. We were very far away from civilization, so T.V. was intermittent, if at all, no phone, no newspapers. We drove to the movie house 30 miles away. It was a corrugated quanset hut. But it was very beautiful, no pollution, you could drink out of the rivers. Everyone seemed more laid back. I think maybe with fewer people, there was less "competition" so-to-speak. Also, everyone was put on an equal level by the elements, snowstorms and 30 below weather cut thru all socio-economic strata. My father was well-educated, and my mother was a painter, so I had those influences growing up. But they were not "ambitious." My mother only painted for us and her friends and because she enjoyed it. My father was a walking encyclopedia and had no desire to turn any of his genius into big money-making projects. Every once in a while he would write an article for the Cheechako News (Cheechako means "newcomer" or "gringo"). Maybe my parents were laid back because they were older when they had me, my dad was 41 and my mom 33. I think maybe when you're older, you lose a lot of that constant striving and trying to "make your way" in the world, and you just live peacefully. My dad is a real inspiration to me--starting a new life at age 40 with a family and moving to Alaska. Both my parents were very literate, and from very early on, my mother read to me, and then from about age 5 on, I would sit on a kitchen stool and read entire novels aloud to her while she baked. She had had a classical education in England, and from what I could tell, her public school education was far superior to what we get here in America. She was the one who always encouraged me to write. She was always giving me little diaries and journals as presents; consequently, I have a very well documented life--with drawers full of writings from a young age.
Id: Do you think that was how you developed your reading style, by reading to her?
Ego: Well, apparently, I could read at a very young age, and they didn't have any kindergarten up there, so I went into the first grade at age 5. My parents had to drive me 200 miles to Anchorage to take an IQ test because I was supposedly too young to go to school. Then in the first grade, my teacher pulled me out of the reading and writing classes and made me go sit in the hall and teach a couple of second graders who were struggling to learn how to read. I don't think I was a very good teacher tho'. I remember one time I said to a kid who couldn't seem to read, "What's wrong with you? Are you stupid?" Then in 3rd and 4th grades, during "story time," I would sit and read to the whole class. I gave my first public performance at age 5, singing "All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth." I think there must have been about 200 people in the gymnasium. I was always in school plays every year. And then I was on the forensics team in 3rd thru 5th grades. I won a second place in a regional competition in the "humorous poetry" category. Then I went to the State spelling bee championships in 6th or 7th grade. So I was always getting up in front of people.
Id: How did you end up in California?
Ego: When I was 12, my grandfather died and left my parents a couple thousand dollars which they used to send me to one year at a private high school in the Bay Area so I could see "the real world." Most of the other kids were very very rich, Diane Carroll's daughter went there, and the daughter of the guy who owned 20th-century Fox, and Francis Ford Coppola's son; my roommate was the granddaughter of the Shah of Iran. She always wanted to be called, "Princess." The school was based on Greek ideals of multi-disciplinary education, so I took a lot of cool classes like Classical Drama and Post-World War II Novel, and then lots of science and 4 years of math. They made us do "real world" activities too, so I worked in an office and at the library. One of their requirements for graduation was that you had to spend 3 weeks in the wilderness, so when I was 16, I spent 3 weeks on a backpacking trip in the Sierras. Most of my teachers were much younger than my own parents, and these people became my mentors. I was terribly homesick for Alaska, but my teachers distracted me by taking me away on weekends on backpacking, kayaking, cross-country skiing and rock-climbing trips. They also took me to San Francisco to go sailing, and to see plays, and then up to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival. Then I attended my sophomore year at public schools, half a year in Alaska with my dad and half a year in Arizona with my mom. My dad had like one year left before he could retire, so my mom went down to Arizona and bought a retirement home for them. Then the private school gave me a scholarship to come back my junior and senior years. But when I graduated at 17, my parents couldn't afford to pay out-of-state tuition for me in California, so I had to go to work full-time at Jack-in-the-Box. That was another contrast, here I had been at this school with all of these rich movie stars' kids, and I took all these advanced classes, like I wrote an A+ senior paper on nuclear fusion, and then a month later, I was working at Jack-in-the-Box. I had no job skills, so I had to walk thru the streets of Davis (cus I had no car) wearing my only good pair of pants, handing in resumes at all the restaurants and stores. So that was pretty rough, waking up at 5 a.m. every morning to walk to work, making $400 a month full-time. But I somehow didn't seem to mind. I was madly in love and I was living in the little oasis of Davis--free of crime and city-life stresses. I saved every little penny I had, and within 3 years, my boyfriend and I were able to buy our first house. And a few years later, we bought a really swank 4-bedroom house.
Id: So you did that just by working at Jack-in-the-Box?
Ego: No, I only worked a few months there; then I borrowed $900 and went to a business school in Sacramento; waking up at 4:30 in the morning to catch the bus to go and learn how to type. The admissions officer looked at my high school grades and said, "Wow, your parents must be really disappointed that you are coming to school here." I had been accepted into UCD, but I had to decline because I couldn't afford it. I didn't really know about scholarships or financial aid, and I think I just wasn't ready to go to college. My parents probably could have afforded to send me to school, and for a long time I kind of resented them for not sending me to school; but they had just retired and I think were on tricky financial footing until they sold their place in Alaska. Actually, I think it worked out best for me because I was able, thru working, to establish myself financially at a young age, and then go to UCD later when I didn't have to worry about money. At the business school, they offered me my first "editing" job, grading other students' papers. After I graduated, I applied for 40 jobs at UC Davis, and I finally got a job as a typist, sitting at a typewriter and typing the same form over and over for two years. Then I got hired as an assistant editor for a professor. And then I got hired as an administrator for a guy who gave me a lucky break and made me a supervisor and gave me a bunch of responsibilities which I had never been given before. I think he hired me because I gave him a paper I had written on Artificial Intelligence. Most of my jobs that I ever got were based on my writing abilities which professors really appreciated. From my early twenties, I began editing manuscripts, and then writing things like business letters and reports and minutes; and then the last ten years or so, I started writing articles and newsletters.
Id: So when did you start writing poetry?
Ego: Well, one day, I hired a poet and I started reading his poems, and then I started writing poems and going to readings, and the rest, as they say, was history. This poet guy was a typical condescending monkey boy who told me I was wasting my life at a desk job. The first poetry reading I went to see was Patrick Grizzell and Gene Avery. I showed them a couple of my poems in a bar afterwards, and they said they really liked them, but I remember Pat laughing and saying, "Don't quit your day job." So six months later, I quit and went to UCD full-time for 3 years. My boyfriend and I got married just so I could have his medical benefits. We were both atheists and considered marriage a religious institution, so we did it strictly for financial reasons. My "ring" was this copper thing we had found in the gutter and it was too big so it fell off my finger down the drain on our wedding nite. We had to keep from laughing aloud while the Nevada preacher kept going on and on about God this and God that. That same nite was the nite of the Exxon oil spill, so I think that was some kind of bad omen for our marriage.
When I attended UCD, I didn't want to major in English, because I had read a bunch of American and English lit in high school; plus the English classes were really huge, and the teachers were kind of anal retentive. I didn't need to learn how to write. I already knew how to write. I wanted to do something different, so I designed my own independent major called, "Intellectual History" which was a combination of Philosophy, Comparative Literature, English, History, Religious Studies and Psychology. Then I had to take a general education science class, and I wound up in a Physical Anthropology class studying evolution and monkey bones. The teacher said I got the highest grade on the final out of 200 students, so I thought, hmmm, maybe I'm good at this. So I immediately took an upper-division class in Primate Studies. All of the people in the class were graduate students and upper-division science majors, and I was scared shitless, thinking I was out of my element. But I was the only one who got an A+ in the class. My main anthro professor who had done a lot of fieldwork with Dian Fossey really encouraged me and tried to lure me into the major, but I think I was held back mainly by my fear of math. I took a Statistics class which nearly killed me because I had not had any math for ten years. I really loved studying evolution and animals though. I was fascinated by how you could learn so much by being a naturalist, by watching animal behavior and studying their anatomy, and seeing how they evolved over time and then drawing conclusions and applying them to humans. Science always seemed so straightforward compared to the Humanities, like trying to explicate Nietzsche. I actually have all the prerequisites to go to graduate school in Animal Behavior, and I just might one day. But I think I love creative writing too much to devote all my time to science. I was already beginning to publish poems while I was in college, and I was writing voraciously, and giving public readings. I spent the last few months in school writing an Honor's Thesis on Virigina Woolfe and Colette, comparing the ouvre of these early 20th-century women writers to the male vision. Most of the male writers were all doom and gloom, but women were just being "allowed" to publish their work, and I identified with all of their yearning and ability to see the beauty in a world dominated by two horrible world wars. I think "A Room of One's Own" was probably one of the most influential books I ever read because she said, "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." I could imagine myself as Virginia, being half-English myself, walking in the gardens of of the college, thinking of having a "room of my own" where I could write. I had spent my whole life, from age 16 to age 28 living with a man, who subconsciously dominated my world. He read science fiction and fantasy, so that was what I read for 10 years. School opened up a whole new world of literature for me, and gave me the confidence to strike out on my own. The week I graduated, my divorce was finalized, I finished my honor's thesis, my house sold in Davis, and I moved into my own little house in Sacto. I had no husband, no boyfriend, no job, no school. The first night in Oak Park, my two little dogs had fleas, and I didn't want them in the house, and I didn't want them outside barking all night, so I slept outside with them all night on a sleeping bag, looking at the stars and wondering how in the hell did I end up here?
Id: Well, I think you have gone on and on far too long, so I think we should end this interview here and save the next portion of your life (your wild "Colette period") for another time.
Ego: Well, you're the boss, and you're the one who always writes my best poems, so I'll trust your judgement, even tho' I am sure that I am the one who knows best. But can't we just go on a little bit longer?
Id: Look, I am the one who is supposed to be asking the questions. You are always getting us into trouble with your high falutin' ways and carrying on, and I say we stop now.