“Jump off the cliff and learn how to make wings on the way down.”
– Ray Bradbury
We old ladies wrote the manual on wing building. After years of experience, study and observation, we have a passel of feathers of assorted sizes, shapes and colors and can crochet, macramé, weave, hot glue them together at breathtaking speed . I’m not going to be so bold as to state that we have learned every lesson, but when I compare what I knew at 7, at 17, at 27- you get it- I’m downright impressed at what I have in my own bag of tricks!
In my youth, I believed that you had to know how to do something before attempting to do it. My life was not particularly challenging. I had no great passions. There was no great imperative to expand my limited horizons. It’s not that I wasn’t learning and growing. It was just being done at a casual pace, lacking sufficient conviction, courage and confidence to really jump off that cliff.
My life totally changed when I jumped off my first cliff to purchase a house. Always in love with all things old, I wanted a vintage house. I scoured the neighborhoods of East L.A., Pasadena and Glendale seeing house after house that had been stripped of its original features and charm in feeble attempts to “modernize.” Every day I came home with a heavy heart and a tummy ache, mourning the destruction of what I learned later were termed, “character defining features.”
I attended home tours in historic neighborhoods always featuring houses that had been lovingly restored, and was thrilled that people were being educated in the beauty of preservation and feeling like I wanted to be a part of this education.
I finally found a house that had not been totally abominated, a 1910 Craftsman. After having looked at 100 houses, it was an instant resonance. It also required that leap. Though we had been in the wood flooring business for many years, neither my husband nor I knew anything about the workings, or not-workings of any other parts of a house. Especially one that was 90 years old, with many original features, but possessed a horrid kitchen, complete with a vinyl pop-out window from the 80’s. Kitchens are notoriously expensive renovations and I was petrified! I was very close to backing out of the contract when I by chance, spied an Old House Journal in a book store. Right there on the cover was a picture of a lovely young woman at the stove in her old kitchen. The cover read, Bungalow-era KITCHENS on a budget. There was my wished for feather. I didn’t know that it would turn out to be a truly magic one.
After closing, we painted, refinished the wood trim and floors and moved in. It was so full of fumes that I slept by a wide open window with a fan blowing. It was a chilly L.A. December, so I wore 2 layers of sweats, gloves and a hat to bed and pointed my nose at the window.
I had seen signs from a local Realtor around the neighborhood and one day ran into her at the local Trader Joe’s. I introduced myself and mentioned to her that our neighborhood should have home tours and she surprised me with an invitation to join the committee that was forming to produce such an event. I of course attended and began my metamorphosis into a neighborhood activist/historic preservation advocate. .
The committee as a whole was diving off that cliff. We had no experience with creating a tour. We just made it up as we went along. Each one of us had gathered some valuable life experience, so we contributed feathers and hoped for the best. Month after month we met in one another’s homes, reporting tasks that had been completed and inventing what to do next. We sold tickets through local businesses and during the weekends the last month, our local Trader Joe’s, ever the generous community booster, permitted us to set up a ticket selling table outside their door.
Our neighbor, to the east, Pasadena, hosted a tour every year that attracted several thousand people. This tour was perfectly run, featured exceptional historic homes and, every house had exhibits outside so that you had something of interest to do when you were waiting in the long line. While it was a wonderful model to emulate, it set the bar frighteningly high! Advance ticket sales moped along and we were very unsure of what tour day would bring.
A PERFECT LANDING
After an almost sleepless night, the day of dawned. The weather was sparkling. The sky was perfectly blue, the sun warm and the bit of cool breeze. We started setting up around 3 hours in ahead and we were a highly apprehensive group of little beavers.
To our amazement, the lines started forming about half an hour before game time and stayed steady throughout the event day. Everything went smoothly and by the end, my cheeks were sore from smiling so broadly for such an extended time. I don’t believe I have ever experienced a day of such universal joy! Every attendee surveyed was blissfully pleased with every aspect from the organization to our cheerful volunteers to our pretty homes. We committee members were relieved and thrilled.
By the third tour year, we had a manual for every task, for every position. It was a great amount of work, but we had created a machine. Truly built on the way down, now solid.
EEK! IT’S A BIG ONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
My most wild leap was my decision to produce a historic documentary film about my neighborhood where I was a part of the historic committee of the neighborhood association. I had virtually no film production feathers in my bag other than I had lived in L.A. and that’s what everybody does there! I had seen a film made by the City of Tampa about an historic area, Ybor City which swooped you up and transported you 100 years into its past. I wanted to make a film like that.
The usual way that I assemble resources is to just start telling anyone who will listen about what I need. I jabbered about this film idea to many folks for a couple months. They all looked at me like, “Yeah, yeah, that’s Suzanne. She’s from L.A. where everybody makes films.” I kept jabbering, having faith in the power of communication. One day my phone rang. It was a sweet sounding young woman asking how she could join our Preservation Committee. I invited her to our next meeting expressing my pleasure in her inquiry. I asked about her interests and she said that she loved doing research and then dropped the bomb. Her husband was a film maker and had participated in the making of the Ybor City film.
Instantly, I was a film producer, being highly uncertain of what a film producer did! After Googling what is was, I scraped together every skill that I had ever developed to make and premier that film. Then I got another bomb dropped on me by board of the neighborhood association who wanted it to premier it in a historic theater downtown which seats 1,500 people and costs several thousand dollars to rent. I had raised money before, not as much as I needed for this project, but I had raised money. I’d filled 100 seat venues many times but here I had to attract 1,500 behinds to fill 1,500 chairs. It was ridiculous! I alternated between raising funds, coordinating the film and promoting the premier showing. Midway through, I needed to have a wisdom tooth removed and the surgeon broke my jaw in the process of freeing that big tooth from my small mouth. My jaws were wired shut and I could speak, but only very softly.
Meanwhile, at a holiday party, the chair of the Preservation Committee, a founder of the association and a walking repository of neighborhood history sat with my husband making small talk. I was very happy that I would be interviewing him the next day to capture his wealth of information on film. One minute he was chatting and the next he was on the floor, dying of a heart attack.
Fast forward through 3 months of frantic, feather-flying wing building.
I arrived at the theater the afternoon of the showing exhausted and starved. As of one slim day earlier, I had a film in the can. Ticket sales had been brisk so I was relieved that I would not look the total fool. As attendees began arriving, I ducked into the ladies’ room to eat my one meal of the day and dress. I called my mother to let her know that all was well, tossed down some food, washed my face and changed my clothes.
One of the main characters in the film was a woman who had been born in the neighborhood in 1926 and lived there her whole life. Perceptive and articulate she wove tales of the early years. One tale was a childhood story that we titled, The Balloon Factory. Our neighborhood was bordered by a river surrounded by woods- the perfect place for young lovers. She and her little friends had found condoms there and brought them home, thinking that they were balloons. They had filled them with water and pinned them on the garage door for a game of water dart when her mother came out of the house to investigate.
THE SMELL OF THE GREASEPAINT. THE ROAR OF THE CROWD.
It was at this point I happened to emerge from the ladies to hear 1,500 throats truly roaring at her hilarious story. It was the single most thrilling moment of my entire life.
Here’s my take on jumping off cliffs. JUST DO IT! You’ll build those wings and have a blast doing it!
P.S. Bradbury doesn’t mention that it requires a team to build your wings. I am ever thankful for the friends I had who brought their own feathers, determination and hard work to each of my endeavors- our endeavors. Thank you one more time!