Barbara Park Blankenship

After Pomona I majored in music at UCLA and ended up in opera. To earn money while I was in opera school I answered an ad for experimental subjects in a sociology study at a think tank (System Development Corp, a RAND spin-off). There I worked my way up from guinea pig to computer programmer, and there I met Don. He had a physics degree from CalTech, was (is) an able pianist and a formidable cook, and was working as a programmer. We've been married since 1969.

In the early 70's, Don switched to experimental psychology, attending grad school at the fledgling UCSD, while I sang in the San Diego opera. After he finished his degree it was my turn to choose our next destination. I selected Germany for opera, and Don got a post-doc there. We lived in Germany for 5 years, loved it, hated it, a thoroughly enriching experience.

In the end, both dissatisfied with our careers, we returned to L.A., where Don went back to his old programming job. A year later he joined friends who were starting a new software company, Cuadra Associates, specializing in data systems for libraries, museums, and records managers. He is still with them after 22 years, contentedly devising new ways for people to manage their information.

Meanwhile I had grown interested in linguistics, largely from living in northern Germany while I was singing at the state theater in Flensburg, where the local language mix includes Plattdeutsch, Frisian, and rural Danish. Back in L.A., I wormed my way into my neighborhood grad school, UCLA, without realizing that the linguistics department was world famous. We also started our family about that time (the girls are now 20 and 21), so it took me 10 years of intermittent study, raising kids, PTA, and designing databases to pay the mortgage, but in the end I got a PhD in acoustic phonetics. That's the science side of linguistics: how people make and perceive the sounds of languages. And believe me there are some funny sounds. My dissertation used data from Mazatec (spoken in the mountains of eastern Oaxaca), Cherokee, Chong (northern Thailand), Tagalog (Philippines), and Mpi (Burma on the Indian border).

Lately we have slipped into managing an informal youth hostel. Our daughters' boyfriends live with us, along with whichever other friends are currently at odds with their parents. There are usually at least half a dozen young residents, spilling over into the garage when we run out of beds and couches. They face challenges most of us have never had to face: drug abuse, prison terms, diminished job opportunities, lack of structure. I haven't been able to articulate why I enjoy having them all here, but I do.

18 months ago when my database consulting contract ended, I decided it was a sign I should start a career in linguistics. I had a few nice interviews in the high-tech world, and then the whole thing imploded. No phonetics, no databases, no openings. Finally this January I landed a temporary position teaching at UCLA. I had never dreamed of becoming a teacher, so haven't had much practice at it, but I've learned a lot of useful skills in the business world that feed nicely into it. So here I am at a new beginning, just when I'd prefer retiring to a life of eternal vacation trips.

That's my secret past. My secret future, if I ever finish paying off the education loans, will include travel, anything to do with fibers (lace making, weaving, Chinese knotting), yoga, rollerblading, hiking, and learning the viola so I can play chamber music. Everyone is looking for a violist, right?