high school

January 12, 1972

January 12, 1972_edited-1

I knew that I bragged too much – “I had to tell people…I got into Kessler’s poetry class.” For sure, I boasted to the pages of my diary. I doubt anyone ever paid me a compliment I didn’t promptly record, verbatim. I’m probably bragging right now, by reprinting this particular diary entry. (“Look how great I used to be!”) That said, if I’m ever going to correct my character flaw of vanity – or is it pride? – I need to own it, so here goes – I’m conceited.

Yay me!

It’s not very Norwegian.  My parents raised me not to “sing my own praises.” (On the other hand, there is that parable about not hiding your light under a bushel but I’m not sure that exonerates me.) I always dislike myself after I “toot my own horn” – just not enough to stop doing it.

Good Norwegians avoid the limelight.
Good Norwegians avoid the limelight.

Obviously, my braggadocio stems from a pervasive sense of inadequacy. Einstein didn’t announce he was a genius. Garbo didn’t brag that she was a famous movie star. Brilliant, talented people don’t need to tell the world how smart and exceptional they are. It’s obvious. It’s equally obvious when they are not. And no amount of self-promotion can turn mediocrity into greatness.

Not always, though.
Not always, though.

December 27, 1978

 

December 27, 1978

“Success” was a syndicated (very slightly syndicated) half-hour talk show (and tax shelter). I recruited J’s boss, Mark P. Robinson Sr., because recently he’d been voted Trial Attorney of the Year.  Mark had an amazing history. He was the youngest wing commander in World War II and was shot down over Yugoslavia. While his plane was going down, he promised he would go to Mass every day if he survived. He kept his promise. He was broken out of a POW camp by an OSS operative, Joe Sampson, who became his permanent private investigator.

Mark P. Robinson
Mark P. Robinson

MPR was an impressive, amazing person as are his sons – Mark Jr., who won the Ford Pinto case (exploding gas tank), one of a series of fantastic results that have continued to this day, Greg Robinson, defensive coach for the Denver Broncos when they won their two Super Bowls, and Geoffrey, who J considers the coolest guy he ever met.

Mark Robinson, Jr. - Greg Robinson - Geoffrey Robinson
Mark Robinson, Jr. – Greg Robinson – Geoffrey Robinson

MPR was vice-president of the California State Bar and co-founded the American Board of Trial Advocates. In addition to being a brilliant lawyer and a devoted Catholic husband and father, MPR had a huge personality and a legendary temper. He formed and shattered at least half a dozen partnerships during J’s tenure with him. Let’s put it this way. No one ever forgot that MPR was in the room. Most of the time, that was a good thing.

Mark P. Robinson
Mark P. Robinson

Not surprisingly, J’s relationship with MPR was volatile. I was horrified the first time I heard them yell at each other on the phone and amazed when it was all smiles the next day. J learned a lot at USC Law School. He learned much more from MPR.

 

 

 

December 17, 1966

December 17, 1966

Sandy and Kathy 1966 1

 This wasn’t the only time Sandy and I boarded the wrong bus, which makes the bonehead move even more humiliating. The “best friends again” reference at the end of this entry suggests Sandy and I settled some temporary tiff.  Usually, the problem was something dumb and juvenile like me getting jealous that Sandy was better friends with someone else than me.

Sandy and Kathy 1966 2

“The Exorcist” was far in the future; consequently, Ouija boards did not have the satanic reputation they’d later acquire.  We didn’t play with the Ouija a lot. It spooked us. We were obsessed with the future, though.  How would our lives turn out? Would the guy we currently crushed on call?

Sandy and Kathy 1966 3

Personally, I still prefer to get a jump on the future if possible. I seek out internet spoilers. I read the end of novels before I get to the middle. My children hate this and beg me not to tell them what happens. They don’t want to ruin “the surprise”.

Kathy and Sandy 1966 4

Sometimes I wonder if they’re really my children.

 

December 5, 1968

 

Deember 5, 1968

As I understand it, millennials – and, for that matter, gen-xers too – get to write their own ticket when it comes to senior pictures. Not only can they choose their own wardrobe, they can select the location(s) of their photo shoot – the better to accurately convey their personality.

Kathleen Knutsen Senior Picture

Back in the Dark Ages, things were different. All the graduating girls in my Wilcox yearbook flaunt the same black drape – it had been a tradition for decades. As a child in my grandfather’s house, I revered the four framed 8×10 senior portraits of my father and his siblings that adorned the wall. The implicit message was, your senior picture is for life – it will follow you to your grave.

My mother's high school graduation photo (I think)
My mother’s high school graduation photo (I think)

I wasn’t entirely wrong. Name a celebrity who hasn’t been mortified by the reappearance of his or her senior picture. Like the driver’s license photo that could double for a mug shot, a senior picture is forever.

My father
My father

I invite anyone reading this blog to post their own senior picture in the comments section. If you went to Wilcox, it’s in my yearbook, but rather than embarrass anyone, I call for volunteers. Any takers?

December 3, 1980

December 3, 1980

 These were heady, exciting days.  The chance to adapt S.E. Hinton’s novel for the screen was the break of a lifetime and I didn’t want to blow it. At my pitch meeting, I impulsively volunteered to return to high school – posing as a student – to determine if contemporary high school cliques resembled those depicted in Hinton’s 1967 novel.

As part of my disguise, I permed my hair to hide my face. Yikes!
As part of my disguise, I permed my hair to hide my face. Yikes!

I was a novice at writing as well as posing as somebody I wasn’t. I’d written two spec scripts and an unproduced MOW. Technically, I knew what I was doing; I could perform at a high level in academia but what about the real world, for real stakes?  The story meetings were intimidating. Facing blank pages felt terrifying. Add to that, the pressure to pass for a 17-year-old high school student when I was a 29-year-old married mother.

My high school student disguise
My high school student disguise

Because I was a nobody in a sea of somebodies, there’s no reason Jon Davidson should have recognized me – particularly since I worked all of three months at New World, ostensibly as Roger Corman’s assistant (my title) but actually as the receptionist (harsh reality). Jon was sweet to pretend; it gave my ego a tiny but desperately needed boost.

Real life - if Ren Faire can be considered real life.
Real life – if Ren Faire can be considered real life.

 

November 22, 1970

November 22, 1970

Sharon A

The one-bedroom Sharon and I shared near the VA cemetery was my first apartment but I had years of practice co-existing in small spaces with others. Growing up in a Santa Clara parsonage, then sharing UCLA dorm rooms, taught me a little about compromise but apparently not enough.  Things had been testy between Sharon and me from the start, but it was still devastating when she wanted me gone.


After that, I avoided her on campus. We lost touch after graduation. Decades passed and I still felt badly about how our friendship imploded. I wondered what she did with her life. When the internet arrived, I googled her but “Sharon Richards” produced so many hits it was hopeless– until UCLA published a student directory.

Sharon B

Imagine my surprise to discover Sharon lived less than five miles away – we actually shopped at the same Ralph’s market. It took courage to call her. I’m not sure if I was scared she wouldn’t remember me or that she would. We met for lunch and I apologized for being the roommate from Hell.

She explained that regardless of what she might’ve said (I wrote it down, so I knew), she was in the throes of her own anxieties – what I read as brutal rejection wasn’t much about me at all. As it turns out, very few things actually are “all about me.” This insight was healing and, as a bonus, Sharon and I became better friends than we were before we became roommates.

Sharon C_edited-1

 

November 19, 1968


November 19, 1968

Looking back, the symptoms of clinical depression are in neon lights – but in 1968, I didn’t know what that meant.  If anyone had asked, “Are you okay?” I would’ve said “I’m fine” – the correct Norwegian response to any inquiry about mental or physical health, even on one’s death bed.
KK and depression 1

I felt terrible about disappointing my father but powerless to level up my game.  Was it more important for me to make it to school or look human? They wanted both? I couldn’t do it anymore. Sure, other people managed it without too much difficulty – I did it once myself, but those days were behind me now.

KK depression 2

I saw darkness everywhere, even when babysitting. Two little girls spent hours play-acting “drunken father coming home.” Another couple, who left me with their daughter, urged me to have fun with their cat. The kids appeared in desperate need of affection. They begged to sit on my lap but I was too lost in my malaise to respond with genuine warmth. I felt guiltier for what I couldn’t feel and do than anything that I did – because I couldn’t do much.

KK depression 3

That fall, I had a recurring nightmare, in which I was stalked by an unidentified killer. Just as he was ready to strike, I’d wake up screaming. The trouble was, no one heard me. Surely, someone would have comforted me if they’d heard. If I really screamed out loud.

 

November 13, 1964

November 13, 1964_edited-1

"Squirmin'" Herman
Squirman Herman

Girls lined up on one side of the hall. Boys barricaded the other. Girls hoped to be asked to dance. (Dancing alone, or with another girl, was not yet a thing.)  The only fate worse than passively waiting to be chosen by a 13-year-old boy with braces was to be that hapless boy, crossing the Sahara of the dance floor to mumble, “Do you wanna dance?” Which is, of course, a freaking joy ride compared to the torturous solo retreat to the boy’s bastion after the girl says she’s “not in the mood.”

Sporting the Bavarian look - with sisters and grandparents
Sporting the Bavarian look – with sisters and grandparents

The month before the mixer, I envisioned my night unfolding much like Maria in “West Side Story”, when Tony glimpsed her across a crowded dance floor. It never happened like that. Why not?  Let me count the ways. I was a seventh-grade giantess trapped in a life-long bad hair day. My mother dressed me like a goat-herding girl in the Austrian Alps and my father was a Lutheran pastor, as terrifying to Protestants as it was to Catholics, Jews and atheists. I wasn’t even a good dancer, due to lack of practice.

Janet and I wear matching home-made dresses.
Janet and I wear matching home-made dresses.

What was right about my life in Jr. High? A mother who loved me enough to sew for me (the results improved). A father who brought me a Squirman Herman caterpillar when he returned from a trip. It was more than enough.

With my family around this time.
With my family around this time.

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.

 

April 12, 1976

 

April 12, 1976

I didn’t know it at the time but this was my last day of employment as a secretary and the start of a major transition.  Although it wasn’t officially confirmed I was pregnant, I strongly suspected I was and I was right. Since quitting my job meant relinquishing our health insurance, my timing was terrible.

Impending parenthood.
Impending parenthood.

In addition to impending parenthood, I faced an extremely uncertain future as a film and television writer – as illustrated by my conversation with my UCLA writing professor and mentor Bill Froug. Not only did I learn the unhappy story of another writing professor’s life, I realized it might take Froug – my champion – an unspecified “while” to read my outline. If the man who most believed in me wasn’t eager to read my latest, how could I hope to interest the powers-that-be in Hollywood?

The very busy Bill Froug.
The very busy Bill Froug.

At the time of this entry, I hadn’t earned a dime writing, John was in his second year of law school and our first baby was on the way. I should’ve been petrified but for some reason I wasn’t. To be sure, there were some hard times ahead – it would be four years before I’d see any success as a writer – but I believed we’d be all right – and we were.

One era ends and another begins.
One era ends and another begins.
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