If I Knew Then

August 26, 1977

August 26, 1977
Lazing at Lake Tahoe

 That summer, the Rowells rented a house at Lake Tahoe and CD and I spent a lazy week lounging by the lake. CD was eight and a half months old (those half-months seemed to matter back then).

CD & J on the beach

J enjoyed what – in retrospect – can only be considered conservative gambling. Before he played the first chip, he settled on an amount he was willing to lose and stuck to it, no matter what happened.

The following year in Tahoe again
The following year in Tahoe again

That wasn’t good enough for someone with my Midwestern roots. The concept of gambling was – and still is – an anathema. Spending real money for what will probably amount to “nothing” violates my core values. Watching J do it – with our money – created unbearable anxiety and made me intolerable.

CD & me on the beach in Tahoe

I hovered over his shoulder while he played, snatching every chip he won and stuffing it in my pockets on the theory that if he lost the rest, my stash would pull us closer to even. Not surprisingly, my oversight dampened the fun for him, (apparently, today such chip-snatching is against house rules).

Like father like son in Tahoe

My tolerance for games of chance – for any ambiguity, actually – is considerably lower than J’s, which explains why he’s a trial attorney – a profession in which no verdict is ever guaranteed – and I write fiction, where I control the ending.

 

August 24, 1967

August 24, 1967

 matt3

Once you see the cracks in the fantasy façade, it’s impossible to pretend they’re not there. At sixteen, I prided myself on being a cynic and eagerly traded wonder for the worldly superiority of seeing through everything.

Our family, circa 1967
Our family, circa 1967

The enchantment came back when I took my children to Disneyland. I suspect most parents feel the same way.

J and our kids at Disneyland - I'm evidently taking the picture.
J and our kids at Disneyland – I’m evidently taking the picture.

According to this entry, I liked the Matterhorn. The way I remember it, the first time I rode it with my father, I howled, “Daddy, make it stop!” My final ride on a roller coaster – Space Mountain, at the urging of my sister Joyce who assured me it was a metaphysical experience, not remotely terrifying – ended in hysterics. I staggered off, simultaneously laughing and crying, dimly aware of nearby teens asking, “What’s the matter with you, lady?”

My turn to be in the picture.
My turn to be in the picture.

Apparently, on thrill rides, I easily suspend disbelief.

animated-disney-image-0159

 

 

August 16, 1964

August 16, 1964

With K cousins circa '64
With K cousins circa ’64

 This crazy exploration was my first and only opportunity to do something like this – I wouldn’t consider it in Los Angeles but the risk seemed marginal in Graettinger, Iowa.

With O side of family, circa '64
With O side of family, circa ’64

This type of adventure holds enormous appeal for me. I’ve read novels based on groups of kids exploring abandoned buildings. That’s why it’s so disappointing I don’t recall a single thing we saw inside the Hawkeye Apartments (and naturally I didn’t make notes about that).  Let’s call this Missed Opportunity #1,

Lake Okoboji

Missed Opportunity #2 was not choosing to fly with my Uncle Gilford in his small crop-duster plane.

Missed Opportunity #3 was my total inability to water-ski. I think the problem was that even though I witnessed my sister Janet gliding across the surface of Lake Okoboji, deep down inside I did not believe it was physically possible for water to support my weight. It was my lack of faith, not my total lack of coordination, that doomed me to failure.

With Grandma O
With Grandma O

In keeping with my soon-to-be-standard practice of quitting any activity that I stunk at, I never attempted to water ski again.

 

May 26, 1966

May 26, 1966

I have no independent recall of being the tour guide for incoming students to Wilcox High. I’m not surprised I was easily thrown by a group of sarcastic kids, even those a full year younger than I was. In high school as in junior high I was painfully thin-skinned when it came to taking a joke, let alone criticism.

With my sisters in '66
With my sisters in ’66

Which brings me to the question raised in the second part of this entry – how much honesty is too much? When – if ever – is a white lie not a lie? Vania was a truth-teller, unafraid to say things like “Ugh, I hate your shoes. They’re so ugly!” Objectively, I can accept she acted in good faith in her mind, she saved me the mortification of being seen in such an unsightly pair of shoes. I took Vania’s fashion pronouncements very seriously.  By sundown, the offensive shoes would be halfway to the bargain bin at Goodwill, assuming Goodwill accepted hideous but otherwise functional shoes.

As this unfortunate photo makes clear, Vania did not have to look far to find fashion faux pas to criticize.
As this unfortunate photo makes clear, Vania did not have to look far to find fashion faux pas to criticize.

Subjectively, every time Vania blasted me, it hurt. She didn’t sugarcoat her message and I didn’t challenge her opinions.  I usually agreed with her despite the fact I failed to spot these flaws myself until she pointed them out. I’m not the most observant of people.

Vania Brown
Vania Brown

I’ve never been so truthful or blunt, depending on your point of view. It would take something far out of the ordinary for me to volunteer a scathing critique of anyone’s clothing or hairstyle. Even when asked for my “honest opinion”, I usually dissemble and say something nice or innocuous. Is this the kindest course in the long run? Would I be a better friend if I braved a friend’s reaction and shared my unvarnished brutal truth?

Vania Brown again
Vania Brown again

Maybe. To this day, I’m not sure.

 

May 24, 1980

May 24, 1980 These notes on a Hollywood party were accurate for a newcomer/outsider in 1980 and I suspect they hold true today. It was thrilling to scan the room and recognize famous people even though I understood the unspoken rule to act as if I didn’t.

J and I circa 1980 - at a wedding.
J and I circa 1980 – at a wedding.

Even now, I’m not sure I understand the rationale for why, particularly if you’re a fan as was the case for me with Claudia Weill’s movie. I can’t imagine there are very many people – even celebrities – who don’t enjoy hearing that someone loves their work, thinks they’re a genius. I know I wouldn’t mind being interrupted by someone who wanted to rave about my writing. It’s never happened and probably never will but I’m reasonably confident I’d enjoy the hell out of it.

J and I dancing at a wedding_edited-1

Our aging green Plymouth Satellite car – unmistakable in a sea of Mercedes, BMWs, and Porsches -– outed us to the parking valets if no one else – as people who didn’t really belong in this rarefied atmosphere. That’s never a comfortable feeling, but I’d endure it any time for the fun of watching a party like this unfold.

Cheers

May 21, 1970

 

May 21, 1970

I’m not a big believer in the value of psychoanalysis especially when it comes to interpreting dreams; I don’t think dreams are deep messages from my subconscious. Mine tend to be a brew of whatever I watched on TV that evening, glimpsed on the cover of a book or magazine, or worried about. A couple times, when I’ve awakened, I’ve thought to myself, “That would make a great plot for a book or movie!”

Luke in art studio (Dickson Hall)
Luke in art studio (Dickson Hall)

Uh, no. On closer examination, what appeared to be intricate clever plots are as lucid as other gibberish dreams. For sure, I’ve never dreamt anything that came close to foretelling the future. I’m not saying other people aren’t blessed with profound, deep, life-changing dreams. I’m just saying, I’m not.

The 2nd of a three movie day
The 2nd of a three movie day

My dream about Luke was an exception. Over time, I’d appreciate the wisdom of what Luke’s professor (I didn’t know any of his professors in real life) told me in the dream even though I was not consciously aware of it. He might disagree with me about this. If so, any attempt to convince him otherwise would be futile.  Useful information in any relationship, so thank you, subconscious.

Over time, I’d appreciate the wisdom of what Luke’s professor told me in the dream.
Over time, I’d appreciate the wisdom of what Luke’s professor told me in the dream.

Three serious, heavy movies in a day was a lot, especially when two of them were in Swedish (the language I studied at UCLA). As strongly as I doubt psychological insights revealed in my dreams, I love Ingmar Bergman’s brilliant use of dream imagery. As a film-maker, he was in a class of his own.

3rd of three movies
3rd of three movies

In a surfeit of riches, this was the first time I saw Citizen Kane, which completely blew me away (as we used to say in the sixties). I’m curious about how it impacts today’s more sophisticated young film students.  Does it wield the same power? Discuss among yourselves.

It blew me away

May 17, 1968

May 17, 1968

We went to see Elvira Madigan, my first foreign film
We went to see Elvira Madigan, my first foreign film

JS was the only boy I ever dated who actually went to Vietnam. In retrospect, I was an academic snob, attracted almost exclusively to college-bound guys. Because of this – and because JS was shipping out soon – I didn’t take JS that seriously. He wrote me letters after he deployed and I wrote back at first, but not as often as he wrote me. Gradually, I tapered off.  To my mind, his letters took on an angry slightly threatening tone – ranting about me and my “hippie friends” – so I stopped writing to him entirely.

The Draft

In retrospect, I wish I’d continued to write back to him. It wouldn’t have required that much effort and from all I’ve learned about what life was like for enlisted men in Vietnam, it probably would’ve comforted him to have a friend back home even if I wasn’t his girlfriend.  In all of his interactions with me, he was nothing but kind and he deserved kindness back.

Me a few months before then
Me a few months before then

Both J and I have casual acquaintances who served but in our immediate social circle, there’s exactly one Vietnam vet. In the thirty plus years we’ve known him, he’s only talked about it – to me, anyway – once. Nonetheless, it’s obvious the experience had a profound effect on him and not for the better. Recently, he’s fallen on hard times and faced homelessness so for the past eight months he’s been sleeping on a fold-out sofa in my husband’s home office.

Feelings of guilt?

The situation is less than optimum for all concerned and I’m hoping a better option will present itself. I know I’m not responsible for his well-being but I feel a certain amount of responsibility nonetheless. He did something my husband and everyone else we know got out of.  Maybe that’s on him, since on some level it was his choice. When he made that choice, however, he didn’t have the advantages that I – and most of the people I know – take for granted. Maybe I’m still feeling guilty about my lack of compassion for JS. Vietnam is far in our national past but I can’t be the only one struggling with the fallout – and I didn’t even have to worry about getting drafted.

Probably the same sweater, sure around the same time.
Probably the same sweater, sure around the same time. I was 17.  I thought I knew what was going on, but – Did you?

 

May 13, 1964

May 13, 1964

 

My family back during those darn times
My family back during those darn times

There was nothing remotely amusing about this entry on May 13, 1964. I was so beside myself with rage I wrote the word “darn” four times, However, reading it – and similar entries– today makes me smile. Why? Because the fears, feuds, worries and daily mortifications that tortured me when I was twelve and thirteen – traumas I believed I’d never recover from – are so awesomely trivial today.

With our grandparents during one of their visits. Notice my enthusiasm.
With our grandparents during one of their visits. Notice my enthusiasm.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think I stayed incensed for very long. I never reference my rage about the injustice of those dance and piano lessons again. Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering who I really am – a klutz with no interest in or aptitude for piano or dance. Obviously, when I wrote this entry, I confused myself with someone else.

At least trying to look happy. Getting all 3 of us to look at the camera at the same time was like herding cats.
At least trying to look happy. Getting all 3 of us to look at the camera at the same time was like herding cats.

My sisters claim that as the oldest I was actually the spoiled, indulged child. As evidence, they cite roughly five thousand more photos of me than the two of them. (Baby pictures only – the photo ops dried up once adolescence arrived). However, facts are facts. My mother’s cold smack-down – “your father and I will decide, not you” – says it all. I rest my case.
3K Sisters

 

May 10, 1971

May 10, 1971

In real estate, the most important factor is location, location, location. To what degree does location affect every other aspect of our lives? Would you be the same person if you grew up in a different place? (I don’t think so.) Can you change who you are right now by changing your location?

My former roommate Miya
My former roommate Miya

In AA, it’s called a geographic when alcoholics attempt to control their alcohol intake by moving someplace new and starting over. It’s considered ineffective, as far as controlling and enjoying your drinking goes. That said, taking my own geographic – moving from Santa Clara to LA – exerted a profound effect on my psyche. It shocked me out of my self-absorbed stupor. So many new ideas, places, and people flew at me simultaneously, I didn’t have time to brood.

Talking to Miya
Talking to Miya

According to Mary, my first roommate at UCLA, my problem was I was never happy where I was, I always wanted to be someplace else. At the time I thought she was full of it but in retrospect she showed extraordinary insight. I hadn’t been at UCLA two years before I needed to escape, which led to an ill-advised intercampus visitation at UCSB.

At my parents house in San Diego with my dog Inga around this time
At my parents house in San Diego with my dog Inga around this time

As soon as I unpacked, I was lost and frantic to return to LA and my friends. Things got worse as I hurtled toward another bout of clinical depression or a nervous breakdown, take your pick. On my weekend visit to LA on the weekend of May 10, I was under the erroneous impression my time at Santa Barbara had “damaged” me. I hadn’t realized it didn’t matter where I was, I carried my alienation inside. Attempts to “fix” myself by changing my location were futile since I brought the old me along.

I hadn’t realized it didn’t matter where I was, I carried my alienation inside
I hadn’t realized it didn’t matter where I was, I carried my alienation inside

To put it in the immortal words of Paul Revere and the Raiders in their song “Kicks”

“Don’t you see no matter what you do You’ll never get away from you”

 

 

 

 

May 5, 1979

May 5, 1979

This was one of my very first meetings on the first of my spec screenplays to be optioned – in this case by the late Steve Friedman who ran King’s Road Productions in ’79. The script was inspired by Janis Ian’s brilliant song “At 17” although I doubt anybody involved actually acquired the rights to the song (I know as a fledgling writer, I couldn’t afford it.)

Me, the fledgling writer
Me, the fledgling writer

Ultimately, the script got optioned three times by different companies and/or producers but – alas – never produced, at least not as of this writing. It did, however, launch my career. It was the sample script that got me hired to adapt S. E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders.

Page 1 - "At 17"
Page 1 – “At 17”

Over the years, I rewrote it many times – incorporating notes from various producers and directors.  Although almost every line of the script Steve optioned has been changed – hopefully, for the better – the original characters, theme and the crisis Steve and I added remain.  Every time I completed another draft, I’d think I can’t possibly do more only to discover that if I set it aside for a year, the next time I looked I could easily spot room for improvement.

Caught in the act of re-reading
Caught in the act of re-reading

The lessons, for myself and anyone who aspires to a writing career?

  1. You’re never done. No matter how wonderful you might think your current draft is, it can be better.
  2. Take a break – as long as possible. My most recent break from this script lasted over twenty years. Talk about fresh eyes! It was like reading a script by somebody else.
  3. Cutting improves almost anything. In particular, look for flab in the first act.
Writing frenzy - Day and night
Writing frenzy – Day and night
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