great teachers

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.

 

 

January 19, 1981

 

january-19-1981

Brian
Brian

I was sandwiched in the center of a vinyl booth, two boys on either side. While they seemed semi-civilized at school, a round of Pepsis and fries at Denny’s unleashed their inner beast. As much as I hated to encounter obnoxious loud teenagers in real life, it was a thousand times worse to be dead center in a pack of them.

Disguised as high school student for my return enrollment at Wilcox in 1981. I hoped the huge hair would draw attention away from my face.
Disguised as high school student for my return enrollment at Wilcox in 1981. I hoped the huge hair would draw attention away from my face.

My adult self wanted to read them the riot act but my high school persona hunched speechless, red-faced.

Redfaced & Speechless
Redfaced & Speechless

They poured out the condiments Denny’s provided in little baskets on every table and scrawled their names in catsup, subbing salt for glitter.  They blew straw wrappers at each other. They insulted diners who viewed us with disgust. If my four-year-old acted like this, I’d whisk him outside where he’d remain until he could behave himself but I didn’t have that option here. I wanted to beg our waitress’s forgiveness and leave a huge tip – I doubted the boys would leave a dime – but I couldn’t without calling attention to myself.

reality-check

After they dropped me off, I called J in LA. “What’s up with your high school boyfriend?” he asked. I told him I wanted to dive under the table at Denny’s. It was hard for him to relate, since he lived a grown-up life with other adults.

After a date at Denny's with four teen-age boys, I need a glass of wine.
After a date at Denny’s with four teen-age boys, I need a glass of wine.

The worst was yet to come. My 3rd period teacher sent me to the library because they were taking a pop quiz on material I missed.  Another class, taught by Mrs. Murray, one of my former teachers in real life, already occupied the library.

When the lunch bell blared, students mobbed the door. A popular-looking perky blonde shook her bangled wrist and regaled her court with details about where she bought it, who designed it, and how much she paid. Most “girl talk” I overheard concerned fashion. They were as passionate about cute clothes as my sixties friends were about rock concerts and Viet Nam. My musings skidded to a halt when Mrs. Murray peered over their heads and said, 

kathy-knutsen

My adrenalin lurched into flight or fight mode. It was all I could do not to react, to pretend I didn’t realize Mrs. Murray addressed me. She repeated herself, not taking her eyes off me.

kathy-knutsen

I feigned confusion. “No,” I said.

“You look exactly like a girl I had ten years ago,” Mrs. Murray said.


sorry-not-me“Sorry, not me,” I said. As a preacher’s kid prone to Biblical references, I felt like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, denying my own identity three times. How could that exchange not arouse a glimmer of curiosity from one of the student witnesses?  It didn’t. They were all more  interested in being first in line at the snack bar than anything Mrs. Murray or I said.

October 26, 1967

To set up this entry, I wrote a short story (“The Confidence”) which fictionalized a real life confidence my boyfriend Lewis shared with me. I used his secret but the trajectory of the story itself bore no relationship to real life. Even so, my parents were appalled and saw it as a big betrayal.

october-26-1967_edited-1

Mrs. Seidenberg, a wonderful English teacher and friend
Mrs. Seidenberg, a wonderful English teacher and friend

Writing this diary-blog brought this issue back into focus. Since there’s no pretense this is “fiction” I need to be extra careful not to violate the privacy of people mentioned in my diary. Already, I fear I wasn’t careful enough on two occasions although there hasn’t been any negative fallout. It’s not like I’ve got millions of readers and people discuss it around the water cooler. Unless we’re FB friends, odds are you won’t find me.  I hope that changes but that won’t happen overnight if it happens at all.

Photo from domain home page MY REAL TRUE TOP SECRET DIARY - still not famous
Photo from domain home page MY REAL TRUE TOP SECRET DIARY – still not famous

Going forward I will change the name of whoever I’m writing about if I think there’s the slightest possibility someone will be hurt. I’ll continue to use real names if there’s nothing in the blog that could be considered negative. If it’s more a question of whether or not I’m violating somebody’s privacy – telling the world more than somebody else might be comfortable with letting the world know – I’ll make every effort to run the blog by them first and give them the option of killing it (and hope they don’t because I’d have to start over from scratch and write a new one at the last minute.) I would, however, kill it upon request, as much as I’d hate doing so.

On the subject of secrets – I love to hear them but I might not be the best choice to tell them to. My parents used the vintage pose of little Kathy telling little Janet a secret for Joyce’s birth announcement in 1956. Janet and I re-enacted the iconic pose years later in San Diego (the second photo).

i-have-a-secret-1

Don't tell ANYBODY!
Don’t tell ANYBODY!

Even at age four, I ran around blurting out our secret and then instantly regretting it. “Oh no! Now you know our secret!” One kind parishioner pretended she hadn’t heard me correctly and assured me she wouldn’t tell a soul my secret about “baby Jesus”.

September 1, 1970

Gerry Farrington looks thoughtful, talking to Vania Brown in his Fresno backyard in 1970
Jerry Farrington looks thoughtful, talking to Vania Brown in his Fresno backyard in 1970

 

September 1, 1970

 

Trying to sleep in Vania's Rambler
Trying to sleep in Vania’s Rambler

Mr.Farrington
Mr.FarringtonStanding

Mr. Farrington – it would be years before I could call him Jerry – was an instant legend at Wilcox High. A young ex-Marine, 1966 was his first year teaching. To say the least, he was intense. I didn’t witness it, but I heard he hurled a chair at a hapless student.

Our paths crossed when I took his American Problems class, an unlikely bright spot in s bleak senior year. I was used to being teacher’s pet – not for nothing did an ex-boyfriend call me KKK (for Kathy Kiss-up Knutsen) but this was different.  We could talk to each other on a level I’d never experienced with an adult, let alone a teacher.

He challenged me. Early that fall he made me cry by asking questions about a novel I was writing in front of the class. Later he apologized, just like my father would have. (He didn’t realize I wept copiously at anything slightly personal.)

If he gave me an A, he’d remind me it was relative – in a smarter classroom I’d get a C. He said I could do fabulous things if I broke my habit of procrastinating.

Do NOW

And speaking of habits, “Take nail biting, Kathy.” Caught with my fingers near my mouth in front of the whole class, I discovered I bit my nails – and stopped.

Note in Yearbook

Back then, Jerry dreamed of taking time off to write a novel. In 1970 he moved to Fresno and became a college professor. Soon after, he became a lawyer and a father. Jerry, his wife and their extraordinary daughter have lived all over the world, usually in the cause of social justice. Although he’s not religious, his value system is much like my father’s. I admire him more than I can say here – still, it’s time to issue this challenge.

STOP

Stop procrastinating, Jerry. Write that novel!  I, for one, am dying to read it.


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