embarrassment

January 15, 1965

January 15, 1965

I don’t have any photos from Sandy’s slumber birthday (if digital film had been a thing, we’d have billions) so I’m running one of my own birthday party photos from around the same era.

Top row from right to left Natalie Nilsen, Susan Tanaka, Donna Duncan, Moi, Loretta Dirks, Julie Farnham, Sandy Walker
Top row from right to left Natalie Nilsen, Susan Tanaka, Donna Duncan, Moi, Loretta Dirks, Julie Farnham, Sandy Walker

I was a textbook “dork” (spazz, feeb, or brain.) For a female in 1965, “brain” was a major cut (chop, put down, shut down, slam.) I have no recollection about the game “Starlight, Starbright.”  I suspect it was something Sandy and I invented.

"Dork"
“Dork”
Sandy
Sandy

I wish I’d recorded the revelations that emerged from our game of “Truth.” I’m pretty sure they were silly and tame. As close as we were, it’s unlikely we shared deeper secrets; it never occurred to me anybody carried any.

Photo booth - a year or two later
Photo booth – a year or two later

I was naïve. The older I get, the more certain I am that everyone has a secret life, to a greater or lesser degree. Chekhov said it best.

 

He had two lives...

 

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

March 7, 1964

March 7, 1964

Top: Natalie Nilsen, Susan Tanaka, Donna Duncan, me, Loretta Dirks, Julie Farnham, Sandra Walker (Hegwood) Bottom: Debbie Neel, Kathy Niebuhr, Janet, Roseanne Provenzano, Susan Campbell
Top: Natalie Nilsen, Susan Tanaka, Donna Duncan, me, Loretta Dirks, Julie Farnham, Sandra Walker (Hegwood) Bottom: Debbie Neel, Kathy Niebuhr, Janet, Roseanne Provenzano, Susan Campbell

I think this is the only photo taken at this party but it’s such a classic assemblage of sixties hair and fashion I couldn’t resist. Note my own perennial bad hair day, slacks color-keyed to my sweater, hemmed at that oh-so-chic high-water mark to allow a peek of ankle above thick white socks and shoes.  Compare and contrast to my sister, who overthrew my reign as favored child when she chose to be born two years and two days after me. (See photo galleries When I was an Only Child (2 years 2 days of Bliss) and Kathy vs. the Alien Baby for the gory details.) Not only is she blessed with straight, easy to manage blonde hair that looks classy and somehow “right” no matter what decade you’re in, her fashion sense is noticeably less terrible than mine. And she takes a cuter picture.

Janet and Joyce both out-cute me here.
Janet and Joyce both out-cute me here.

A bowling party wouldn’t be my first (or second, third, hundredth) choice today even though there’s a cool fifties style bowling alley (Montrose Bowl) less than a mile away that other people rent for fun parties. Our Moonlight Bowl party in ’64 was the last time I had fun bowling.

Moonlight Bowl 1964

At a subsequent bowling party – my last, given the humiliation – I scored a total of three points. I’ve repressed the rules of play but I’m guessing I threw nineteen gutter balls and for someone as competitive as me, that’s “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” time. When I’m so successfully challenged by a sport, I don’t climb back on the horse – I quit.

SPARE ME THE GRIEF

During the fifty-four years that followed this party, I lost touch with Donna Duncan and Susan Tanaka – if either of them chances upon this blog, please message me. I’d love to know what you’ve been doing for the past half a century.  Susan and I walked to school when the Lawrence Expressway was still Lawrence Station Road. Donna lived on the other side of Del Monte and we spent many a summer day playing endless games of Lie Detector or Monopoly.

Fighting a losing battle.
Fighting a losing battle.

You might’ve thought all those hours of board games would’ve taught me to be a good loser. You’d be wrong. Neither game required strength or coordination, making it highly unlikely I’d suffer nineteen consecutive losses.

 

November 2, 1965

November 2, 1965

I don’t have much of a defense here. I thoughtlessly exaggerated my victimization – why? To garner sympathy? To make myself sound more interesting? What’s worse, I did it where I could be overheard and hurt my aunt’s feelings. Is this incident why I’ve never ranked as one of her favorite nieces or nephews? Suffice to say, it didn’t help.

Aunt June with all the cousins
Aunt June with all the cousins

In truth, I didn’t mind sharing a room with her that much although odds are that conflict would’ve ensued as I got into adolescence and rock and roll. In 1965, our challenge wasn’t a clash of temperaments but rather lack of space.  Since my father was a Lutheran pastor, my family lived in whatever “parsonage” the parish provided. In Santa Clara, it was a tract home in a subdivision called Lawrence Meadows (adjacent to Killarney Farms. Funny the weird details I remember.)

Lawrence Meadows
Lawrence Meadows

The house was new and fancier than the parsonage where we lived in Elgin Iowa but it wasn’t a McMansion – at most, 1500 square feet. When my father’s younger sister June moved in, there were six people under one roof. So there was a smidgen of truth about my dearth of bureau drawers – just not enough to justify whining about my aunt.

My family, my aunt June and my grandmother pose in front of the parsonage in Santa Clara.
My family, my aunt June and my grandmother pose in front of the parsonage in Santa Clara.

I wasn’t above eavesdropping myself to catch a false friend talking behind my back. Eventually, I realized how self-destructive that impulse was. Why sneak around to hear something that will – at best – hurt my feelings and – at worst – destroy a friendship forever? Far better to assume the best of others – and try to behave so they can safely assume the best of me.

October 29, 1968

October 29, 1968Mr. Farrington thought he was doing something nice by calling attention to the fact I was writing a book (long-hand, in a spiral bound notebook, not exactly a professional effort). Ironically, his instincts were correct – I did crave attention,  I still do sometimes – I just didn’t want to work (perform) for it. As discussed in prior blogs (link), work in any capacity isn’t one of my strong suits.

"Kathy, tell us all about your novel."
“Kathy, tell us all about your novel.”

In this case, the problem was deeper and more complicated than sloth. I’m an introvert – a loner. In a group – be it therapy, a classroom or a party – I position myself on the fringes or in corners and feign disinterest in their social games. Secretly, I’m far from indifferent. In fact, I’m obsessed with other people’s opinions – of me. I want to impress them and I want something else I can’t admit. What I can’t ask for, I try to steal.

Pay attention to me! (1968)
Pay attention to me! (1968)

I’m talking about attention. I want people focused on how special I am. I want to fascinate with my quirks, my habits, my trivia. I want the cover of Time and Seventeen magazine. I  want Johnny Carson to devote a week to mesmerizing me. What am I prepared to do to make my dreams come true?

I want the cover of Time
I want the cover of Time
And the cover of Seventeen
And the cover of Seventeen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I want Johnny Carson to devote a week to mesmerizing me.
I want Johnny Carson to devote a week to mesmerizing me.

Nothing, actually, but let’s call it my “counter-intuitive” strategy. I try to hi-jack attention by falling mysteriously silent. Some concerned soul will ask what’s going on. The more secretive my answers, the more people want to know.

Don't Pay Attention to Me!
Don’t Pay Attention to Me!

To say the least, it’s far from foolproof. As often as not, people ignore the dull girl with nothing to say, in which case I fume in frustration and resent them for being shallow and stupid. For someone who claims to treasure solitude, I blubber like a baby if I’m not invited to the party where everyone else will be. I do not want to go, understand. But life loses all meaning if I’m not invited.

 

 

October 13, 2007

October 13, 2007

 In my diary blog two days ago, I congratulated myself for being a good mother and exposing CD to new things. It’s ironic that in today’s entry, I chastise myself as a bad (let’s revise that to less good) mother even though I did essentially the same thing for different reasons. In the ‘81 entry, I was all about cramming CD full of life experience and knowledge. In ’07, it was more about getting myself out of a life experience by foisting it on my daughter.

TThe Knutsens - Christmas 2007

In my defense, treating an adult child to spectacular seats at a Genesis concert hardly qualifies as child abuse and apparently Sam had a good time. I might’ve enjoyed the show if I’d gone – why not give it a try?

Sometimes I hit social overload and fear I’ll die without alone time. In the above entry, my urgency leaps off the page – “couldn’t stand” “just unbearable.” Looking back, it was a weird over-reaction to a rock concert and dinner. Unfortunately – for Sam, not me – she’s even less extroverted than me but at least she’s a better sport.

Sam, Alex and cousin Carly
Sam, Alex and cousin Carly

In the spirit of true confession, my youngest recently recalled my most egregegious bad mother moment.  Alex and I were outside when we spotted a demonic possum drinking out of our dog’s water dish. Beyond phobic and hysterical at the sight of anything with a rodent tail, I shrieked, vaulted inside and double-locked the door behind me – stranding Alex on the wrong side of my barricade, face to face with a hissing possum. Alex hurled himself at the door, pounded it with his fists. “Mom! Let me in! Let me in!”  I was too distraught to do so until the possum departs.

J, Alex, Me and Sam
J, Alex, Me and Sam

Alex emerged unscathed, aside from the psychological damage of believing his mother valued her personal safety above his life. First, his life was not in mortal danger. Possums don’t kill suburban homeowners and their children (yet).  Second – I’ve got nothing.  (Other than sheer terror shot my adrenalin up to fight or flight levels which disabled my higher brain functions. Otherwise, I would’ve remembered possums can’t jimmy a lock.)

May 25, 1968

May 25, 1968

 Proms have become a trope in teen-age movies, which would have one believe that attending (or not attending) the prom defines high school existence (Pretty in Pink springs immediately to mind although there are plenty of others). This wasn’t my experience.

Wilcox Senior Ball with Tal Pomeroy

I went to several proms – all in the same lace-encrusted blue dress – and while they were all memorable in their own way, they were not the apex of my teen-age years. I doubt I’m not alone in this. I’ve never met one single person who claims their prom was the defining moment of their high school life.

Same old Prom dress at our Prom Party
Same old Prom dress at our Prom Party

In real life, I don’t think who got crowned king and queen of the prom was of matter of life and death (Carrie).  I was never in the running so I didn’t really care. My parents, however, were the King and Queen of their high school prom

My parents as King and Queen in 1943
My parents as King and Queen in 1943

Our Prom Party sent up the movie-fantasy stereotype of a high school prom, it didn’t have much to do with the real thing. One of my Columbia students, Holden Weitz, wrote a hilarious teen movie that parodies this trope. That’s the movie I want to see made!

 

 

 

May 19. 1972

May 19, 1972

Asleep

 This is another one of those mortifying memories I would’ve successfully repressed if not for my diary. Obviously, at 21 my social skills were sadly lacking. I didn’t even try to engage when I felt intimidated – the only thing I could think of to do was escape. If that meant falling asleep under a table, so be it.

Wanting to escape reality
Wanting to escape reality

I never did become a party animal. Truth be told, I’m uncomfortable at parties now – even small dinner parties. I think today there’s a term for this – social anxiety – and it’s considered a genuine psychological disorder. I believe I suffered from it then (and now). It was worse when this condition didn’t have a name or diagnosis – when it was simply weird behavior.

Social anxiety
Social anxiety

Over the years, I learned to hide my social anxiety far more successfully than I did in ’72.  I understood it sprang from extreme self-consciousness, the ridiculous fear that everyone was looking at me and judging all the things I did wrong.

Cornered
Cornered

For a few years, alcohol eased my self-consciousness and enabled me to socialize more freely but it was a temporary fix that – if anything – exacerbated my underlying insecurities. It was only after I gave up the crutch of alcohol that I began to make real (if slight) improvement. I’ll never be the life of the party, but I don’t think I’ll crawl under a table and go to sleep anytime soon either – although sometimes I still want to.

 

May 11, 1965

May 11, 1965

The picture in the front of that diary - still hideous after all these years.
The picture in the front of that diary – still hideous after all these years.

 In 1965, I was foolishly over-optimistic about how easy it  would be to conquer my tendency to talk like it’s a race to the finish line (and the loser dies) whenever I speak to a group. The larger the group, the faster I gallop.

I call this facial expression "the Silent Scream".
I call this facial expression “the Silent Scream”.

Obviously, nerves – or more accurately fear – is the root of this malady. A doctor explained it’s due to a primal burst of adrenalin – speaking in public triggers a “fight or flight” response in my reptilian brain.

Given my father, a Lutheran pastor, delivered a sermon to a large seated congregation every Sunday, you’d think I might acquire this skill naturally – by osmosis.  I did not.

Mom! Kathy is doing all the talking again!

I made up for it in small groups – such as my nuclear family – where I felt comfortable. There, I morphed into “Chatty Cathy”, a nickname I loathed. It was all Janet could do to get a word in edgewise.

Word in edgewise

My father recorded us after dinner and doing family devotions. I belted out every verse of every hymn I knew by heart, barely pausing to catch my breath. In my monotone shriek, it had to be excruciating. My father tried to slow me down. “It’s Janet’s turn. Let Janet sing.”

She's too little!

(atonal shrieking)

Joy to the world

 

Let Earth recieve her KING

And on and on, all recorded for posterity. Clearly, I was desperate to entertain them lest they decide I’d become redundant now that Baby Janet was on the scene. Photographic evidence of my terrifying ordeal can be seen in my gallery, “Kathy Vs. the Alien Baby”.

 

 

 

March 19, 1965

 


March 19, 1965

Perhaps Sandy and I shared a deviously clever rationale for the eraser scam – but I doubt it. The truth is, occasionally – maybe frequently, depending on your point of view – Sandy and I could be extremely unique. Creative? Original? Okay, off the charts weird.

Sandy & Kathy2

Apparently, our acquisition of the eraser was a major coup – why? And what, exactly, was the purpose of the Corridor Stomp?  If I put on my amateur shrink hat, I suspect the aggressive march was our way to feel powerful and in control of a situation – Junior High – that was beyond our control.

Sandy & Kathy1

To me, something else stands out even more than our weirdness – our innocence, particularly by today’s standards. When I wrote this entry, Sandy and I were fourteen. In our own minds, we were BAD-ASS rebels without a cause. Kathy and Sandy equals explosion!

Sandy and I, approximately 1965
Sandy and I, approximately 1965

How big was our explosion? We didn’t shoplift, fool around with older boys, deface public property, hot-wire cars or joyride. We stalked – unobserved – down hallways and tricked school supplies out of hapless janitors. Woo-hoo, stand aside Bonnie and Clyde, here come Kathy and Sandy – hide your chalk and bar the doors, or kiss that pencil sharpener goodbye.

Re-enacting the Corridor Stomp years later.
Re-enacting the Corridor Stomp years later.

I don’t regret our extreme innocence. In the fifty years that follow, we’ll find more than enough time and opportunity to lose it. We were fortunate to be as naïve as we were in a world where childhood shortens with every new generation.

No one over 12 years old allowed

I don’t think we missed out on anything nor did we do actual harm amusing ourselves with our naïve rebellions. I never feared being “a little weird” when I was with Sandy, I was too busy laughing and having a blast.