"My parents, born of immigrants, shuffled from small apartment dwellings in New York City to the cushy cradle of suburbia on Long Island, and finally to a slow moving agricultural hub – San Jose, California. But our home wasn’t situated in just any suburban center. We landed in a unique and progressive neighborhood and mid-century modern house of glass that was like no other, unless you happened to reside in the home of The Jetsons. Our house was called an Eichler." Carol Sveilich
In Reflections From a Glass House, the unforgettable memories of fumbling through school and the passage through adolescence near the "City of Love" are told with comedic prose, amusing storytelling, and gut-wrenching recollections. Sveilich writes with observant precision about nostalgia, the highs and lows of youth, and the darkness of growing up in a family of disconnected souls that had humor as its connective tissue.
Sveilich’s candid, touching, and often hilarious life story wraps around her family’s home and neighborhood in a time filled with both angst and amusement. Baby Boomers will recognize themselves in Sveilich’s mirror and young people will learn what it was like to try to "get back to the garden."
After leaving the San Francisco Bay Area Sveilich worked as a college counselor at the University of California, San Diego, Sveilich’s career as a counselor segued into a career in writing. In addition to her three published books, she had several articles published on everything from the endangered monarch butterfly, to coping with chronic health conditions and pain, and finally to topics on mid-century modern living. Her article on the birth of the Fairglen Art Festival in an Eichler home haven located in San Jose, California can be found in The Eichler Network and CA Modern magazine.
Other Books by the Author
The author’s two previously published non-fiction books: Just Fine: Unmasking Concealed Chronic Illness and Pain, a book endorsed by actor Ed Asner and former placekicker for the San Diego Chargers, Rolf Benirschke, and the more recent But You LOOK Just Fine – a book on coping with depression and anxiety disorders, fall into a very different genre from this new memoir. Carol Sveilich’s first book Just Fine, was awarded first place in the Independent Publisher Book Awards in the area of Health/Medicine/Nutrition. As a community leader for nearly a decade she was also awarded the ABC Leadership Award
As a community leader, Sveilich has offered numerous lectures to physicians, nurses, and laypeople on coping techniques, facilitated a San Diego-based community support group of 150 members for nearly a decade, been recognized by various non-profit health agencies and has produced a national and later international newsletter for those who live with chronic health challenge. She also produced a newsletter for undergraduate students at the University of California, San Diego for 14 years.
Sveilich has an active following on her Facebook page Mid-Century Modern Mayhem. The page focuses on reminiscing about the mid-century modern period with retro ads and discussions on music and pop culture. She has been interviewed for an extensive article in The Chicago Tribute Newspaper and appeared on radio programs and podcasts such as WorldWit. Sveilich has also been featured in articles in the San Diego Union Tribune and other periodicals in Southern California, as well as CA Modern Magazine and N Magazine.
How would you wrap up the book and what it’s about?
I grew up in an epicenter of the Bay Area’s counterculture. Reflections from a Glass House: A Memoir of Midcentury Modern Mayhem takes place in the 1960s and early 1970s in a unique house and neighborhood. My family of four moved from New York to a Bay Area community of odd-looking dwellings that looked a bit like The Jetson’s! They were called Eichlers. This groundbreaking structure nearly appears as its own character in my new pop culture chronicle and memoir – Reflections from a Glass House.
Our Eichler neighborhood, one of the first integrated neighborhoods in the early 1960s, was bursting with a cast of characters that will seem fantastically fictional. But trust me. Every person and word of the story is factual. A “travel memoir” of sorts, I take the reader through one of the most vibrant but confusing eras to date – the 1960s, and one of the most confounding periods of everyone’s life – youth.
Before Santa Clara Valley was a hub of concrete and high-end tech companies – and long before Silicon Valley -- it was a sleepy valley of orchards, be-bop music, and mischief. Kids back then learned how to duck-and-cover in elementary school. Later in the Vietnam War and during protests. It was a rocky time.
How did you come to write this book?
As with all of my books, Reflections From a Glass House didn’t start out as a book. It started out as musings about my early years, my parents, the Pop Culture and music of the 1960s and early 1970s, my personal experiences during the “sex, drugs 'n' rock and roll” era. Some of those snippets and reflections received an enthusiastic reaction so, I thought…maybe, just maybe there’s a book here. I kept hearing "more, more, more!" The more I wrote, the more I remembered.
I had never written a memoir and never thought I would. Most of my books have been along the lines of self-help. My first book JUST FINE: Unmasking Concealed Chronic Illness and Pain, was a book for people with health challenges, specifically those who look one way – healthy and “just fine” – while dealing with an array of challenging symptoms. The follow-up book, which is still available, is titled But You LOOK Just Fine. It focused on coping with depression and anxiety disorders.
I was working as a university counselor by day and facilitating a large support group in Southern California (150 members) on weekends, while producing an international newsletter for those with easily concealed health challenges. I was also running some of the first online support groups. But that was then, and this is now.
Can you give us a little background on the book?
I grew up in a unique time in history – the 1960s and early 1970s, and I was not only living in a integrated and unique area of the country – the Bay Area – but I resided in a rather quirky neighborhood and house – an Eichler. The builder’s goal was to make sure all people could afford a home, so they recruited people of color to move into the neighborhood.
In the 1950s it was common practice for builders to discriminate. But Joe Eichler was progressive when it came to Civil Rights. He was the first tract builder to sell to minorities, he built a home on his own lot for an NAACP leader and he resigned from the National Association of Home Builders in 1958, in protest of what he considered the organization's racial discrimination policies.
Eichlers with their space-aged styling and openness, were affordable homes with floor to ceiling glass, beamed ceilings with lighting globes that hung down like planets, and a center atrium – like a donut hole – plopped right in the middle of the house.
As I started writing about the home, the neighborhood and it’s uniqueness, I couldn’t help but write about my own childhood, the family dynamics in my household, and how the influences of the 1960s and early 1970s impacted my life – the music, the politics, the TV shows and movies, even the furnishings.
The more I wrote, the more those memories came bubbling to the surface. It became a rather cathartic exercise, rehashing and remembering all these events and emotions of that time period of 1960 – 1972. It took four years to write this book. It felt like a four-year therapy session.
What sort of book is it?
It’s a humorous book, but it’s also introspective, largely because of the family dynamics and emotions at that time. My writing style has been compared to Carrie Fisher’s, but the story, emotions and family dynamics have been compared to Jeannette Wall’s The Glass Castle.
I’ve also been told it would make a great film if Woody Allen would direct it! My family came from Brooklyn and the Bronx, so maybe that makes perfect sense.
Tell us about how you developed your particular fascination with Eichler homes and their design.
One couldn’t help but be fascinated with them. There was nothing like them at the time. Joe Eichler and his crew of merry men envisioned and built them all over the Bay Area and also in Southern California -- Orange and Thousand Oaks California, and a few in Sacramento and other cities. Now they are building new Eichlers in Palm Springs based on the old floor plans.
These Eichler homes looked modest on the outside with no facing windows to the street. But inside, it was like standing inside a Mondrian painting. I’ve often likened it to an artichoke, where the outside looks utilitarian, but the inside is where the magic happens – in the heart – in the meat of the home. The angles, the light, the mahogany walls where there wasn’t glass. It was indoor/outdoor living at its best. It was different. And it was affordable.
You make many references to your love of music and it sounds as if your entire family was quite musical. Is that so?
Music was a large part of my life and it’s a large part of this book. I discuss the music of the 1960s and early 1970s quite a bit.
My family was certainly musical. My mother played piano, by ear, and only in the key of C. She never went beyond the key of C for some reason. My father played soprano sax and clarinet. They were into early jazz standards and our home was filled with Dave Brubeck music, Stan Getz and Billie Holiday. Those standards, along with folk music and rock ‘n’ roll, became the soundtrack of my life.
My brother was a drummer and played string bass along with my parents. I listened to the radio every waking moment and was hypnotized by the songs that came pouring out of the speakers, from Elvis to the The Beatles and later to Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin. The Bay Area was a happening place for music. Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Boz Scaggs, The Grateful Dead, Tower of Power. We had it all.
You chronicle some struggles with your parents growing up. I’m sure many of our listeners can relate. How did you eventually resolve those issues?
Years of introspection, counseling, and just the knowledge that comes with age and reflection. My parents weren’t all that interested in kids or parenting. It wasn’t their fault, it was just a fact. They were wired differently than many parents. Although my brother and I felt neglect in our childhood, we never stopped enjoying and appreciating their wit, their passions for music and politics, and their company. My family of four had a lot of laughs together. Forgiveness and understanding came in time, but it was a rocky road for awhile.
It sounds like others can relate to your story in one way or another. The music, the pop culture, the dysfunctional family, the searching for meaning …
And don’t forget the love beads, love-ins, and sandalwood incense. They were key players. The Sixties were not just about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but I certainly explore all of those areas in this memoir.
They say if you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t there. Well, I disagree. I was there, and I remember. Vividly. It’s all between the covers of Reflections From a Glass House.