leaving home

November 29, 1968

November 29, 1968

Royce Hall, UCLA
Royce Hall, UCLA

I’ve written elsewhere about how right UCLA was for me (link) but I knew little more than its four initials when I applied. For all I knew, it could’ve been located in the dregs of downtown LA. (Except then it would’ve been called USC. Whoops, my snark is showing.)

The article where I found this picture called it the Ugliest Law School in America. Their words, not mine.
The article where I found this picture called it the Ugliest Law School in America. Their words, not mine.

My parents were equally ill-informed – their now-void plan had been to send me to a Lutheran college where I’d meet and marry a guy at least half-Scandinavian. To their credit, they hid their disappointment well and didn’t try to change my mind.

Life was paradise as an adored only child.
Life was paradise as an adored only child.

Consequently, on Friday after Thanksgiving in 1968, my parents and I left my sisters in Santa Clara and drove to LA. It wasn’t often I spent significant time with them without my sisters as buffer. It was exhilarating to reclaim their undivided attention but also unnerving. Too much focus on me risked revealing defects I sought to hide, especially from them. Based on the most formative experience, which took place when I was two years and two days old, imperfections – the failure to entertain, for example – were cause for replacement. Either one of my younger sisters – both less flawed than me – could easily take my place.

The day they brought a new baby home and my world fell apart
The day they brought a new baby home and my world fell apart

It wouldn’t be the first time. They’d done it before and could do it again.

From this point forward, every photo depicts Janet being held and me in a state of acute distress.
From this point forward, every photo depicts Janet being held and me in a state of acute distress.

Click this link to view family photo albums illustrating the inner torment of a highly sensitive recently displaced first-born child.  You’re not being disloyal to Janet or Joyce. They signed off on my weird obsession decades ago. I’ll add new photos and captions in the near future.

 

November 18, 1995

November 18, 1995

Brad Wigor
Brad Wigor

What’s not to love about travelling to research a writing project? For starters, producers must fly writers First Class – something my Midwestern roots won’t allow me to do for myself.  It’s superficial, but it made me feel important. Another benefit, for some – free alcohol.  All I know is, the diet Coke they serve in first class tastes the same as it does in economy.

Kathleen onboard

In the early days, I fantasized jetting to Paris for a true-life story but apparently very few Parisian lives are MOW material, (link to Movie of the Week). The stories I got hired to write unspooled in tiny Texas or Louisiana towns where the top hotel stood side by side with the local slaughterhouse.  This is not to knock small towns or southern states; I’m from rural Iowa myself (Graettinger and Estherville, anyone?)  However, as quaint and charming as Kickapoo, Kansas, might be, no one will ever mistake it for Paris.

With my cousins at the tiny Spencer Iowa Airport
With my cousins at the tiny Spencer Iowa Airport

I liked everyone I interviewed except the cold-blooded killer in the high-security Texas prison. Getting to know the people made the job fun. What made it hard was their desire for their stories to be told truthfully, like they happened in reality. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them that regardless of how dramatic and compelling their tale might be, inevitably “a true story” dilutes to “inspired by a true story” or, worst case scenario, “inspired by a concept based on an idea related to a possibly true story.”

A real life business trip - Brad Wigor was one of the producers on this movie.
A real life business trip – Brad Wigor was one of the producers on this movie.

This particular tale of young love in the bayou was not produced, which was disappointing but not surprising. In those days, maybe half the scripts a network developed got produced (which is still a significantly higher ratio than feature projects in development).  What did surprise me was my sympathies shifted from the love-struck kids to the Mom.  A tad troubling, since I built my career on angsty teens, not their uptight parents living lives of quiet desperation. Was it possible my struggle with my rebellious teen son was turning me into one of “them”?

Yeah, I think so. About time, too.

September 1, 1970

September 1, 1970

When I started at UCLA literally days after graduating from high school (see 6/22/69 blog), I felt so overwhelmed – so displaced – I couldn’t conceive of feeling comfortable there. The smaller summer student body was a plus I didn’t fully appreciate until fall when the sheer size of the institution sunk in.

Sproul Hall

I got lucky and met two people that mattered in my life – Luke and my second roommate, Mary. I felt like I “knew” Luke and Mary even before we met – like it was destined. For those of you who believe in past lives, we’d met before. Even a fellow Sproul summer resident that I didn’t meet until later had an impact (Suzanne Finney, I’m looking at you)

Mary and Luke on the Santa Monica beach, 1969
Mary and Luke on the Santa Monica beach, 1969

It was a sweltering summer and the dorms weren’t air-conditioned. “Hot Fun in the Summertime” played constantly on the dorm’s PA as did the first Quicksilver Messenger album. In those days, there was a boy’s wing and a girl’s wing and – aside from visiting hours, roughly from 7 – 9 PM –  girls were forbidden in the boy’s wing and vice versa.

Luke and I, Santa Monica Beach,1969
Luke and I, Santa Monica Beach,1969

There was one television in the lounge area, not a problem since no one watched much television. Beta, VCR, DVDs and CDs had yet to be invented – and forget DVR or streaming. If you wanted to watch a certain show, you planted your butt in front of the tube at the designated time or prayed for a rerun. If a Bergman movie screened in Bakersfield (I know, unlikely), it just might be worth the drive because otherwise you might not see it for years. Dorm rooms featured two single beds, at most four feet apart, each with a gold bolster in which to store one’s belongings. A desk completed the ambiance. We shared a huge communal bathroom. It says something about the times that none of us considered this barbaric deprivation.

Sproul Hall stock photo made to look like the rooms were spacious. Not.
Sproul Hall stock photo made to look like the rooms were spacious. Not.
Mary leans against bolster on her dorm bed in our room.
Mary leans against bolster on her dorm bed in our room.

Scary things happened late in August (the Manson murders – see blog about the aftermath, 9/27/70) that turned sunny LA’s mood dark. Even so, looking back, the summer is a beautiful blur – one of my happiest quarters at UCLA.

“Hot fun in the summertime” indeed.

 

August 27, 1970

August 27, 1970

DEBBIE CALLAN circa 1970
DEBBIE CALLAN circa 1970

The highlight of every summer in the early seventies was my trip to Santa Clara to see my old friends again. Since my parents moved to San Diego in early September of 69, I never had the opportunity to go “home” for a summer after college. I visited a week or two by myself, sleeping on my high school friend’s couches. It was never enough time to catch up – which, I guess, explains why – although we remained friends – we gradually drifted further apart.

SANDRA WALKER (HEGWOOD) 1970s
SANDRA WALKER (HEGWOOD) 1970s

If I’d stayed in Santa Clara, the changes might not have been as apparent as they were when I visited annually. When my family and I moved to California in the fifties, the Lawrence Expressway was Lawrence Station Road – two lanes bordered by a row of walnut trees, then a path, then the backyard fences of our housing tract. Simply by crossing Lawrence Station Road, I went from Santa Clara to Sunnyvale.

VANIA BROWN, 1970s
VANIA BROWN, 1970s

At some point, a fence went up, separating our house from what was becoming Lawrence Expressway. Before long, I was lost in the city I once knew like the back of my hand. Major landmarks like Jefferson Junior High disappeared, replaced (I think) by some business facility. I grew up believing institutions like public schools would be around forever.

Me, 1970
Me, 1970

We used to walk to Lawrence Square. Macdonald’s Department Store sold high-end clothing. There was a Safeway and a laundromat. Compare Lawrence Square now to what it looked like then. Does it tell the story of our city?

Lawrence Square today - Not my Lawrence Square of memories gone by
Lawrence Square today – Not my Lawrence Square of memories gone by.
Lawrence Station Road 1961
Lawrence Station Road 1961
Lawrence Expressway today. Much change? I'd say so!
Lawrence Expressway today. Much change? I’d say so!

 

 

April 8, 1973

April 8, 1973

Image from "The Top 25 Film Schools in the United States 2014."
Image from “The Top 25 Film Schools in the United States 2014.”

The extreme competition for a toehold in the entertainment industry makes it a major challenge. That, plus the fact a lot of people assume there’s nothing to it. Most people would never attempt to perform brain surgery or extract wisdom teeth because they’re not trained professionals – but when it comes to acting, writing, directing, everybody’s an expert. Some people are right, they’ve got what it takes. Most are wrong; they fail to realize the craft and hard work involved in making it look easy.

Me around 1973
Me around 1973

For years, industry experts have claimed that if you write a great script, it will be discovered but I disagree. I can’t prove it but I suspect a lot of great scripts die in the drawers of discouraged writers unable to get a read from somebody with enough power to help.

Link to a YouTube series by Michael Akkerman, one of my current students at Columbia. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClffzUrRDXk
Link to a YouTube series by Michael Akkerman, one of my current students at Columbia. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClffzUrRDXk

I got my big breaks from professors in college – notably Bill Froug and Shelly Lowenkopf – who liked my work and recommended me to agents. That’s my first advice to anyone who wants to break in. Take a class, impress the professor, make friends with him, her or anyone else with connections. The seminar’s bottom line advice was correct for its time –  networking (“hanging around”) and exuding confidence are your best bet.

Link to "Life as a Mermaid" a web series my current student Faith-Ann Bishop and former student Ryan Brennan have both contributed to. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhhRQ8-sIZc&t=41s
Link to “Life as a Mermaid” a web series my current student Faith-Ann Bishop and former student Ryan Brennan have both contributed to. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhhRQ8-sIZc&t=41s

To a certain extent, YouTube and other on-line venues level the playing field. If your short film goes viral, it doesn’t matter if you live in Kansas and don’t know a  soul in Hollywood. They’ll find you.

Marketing
Marketing & Branding are essential to success.

I hate the word platform but it can’t be ignored in today’s market. An ability to market and brand yourself is invaluable. These subjects weren’t taught when I was in film school and I’m not sure they’re taught today – but they should be.

April 4, 1975


April 4, 1975

 Even as a child, I tried to get out of housework – so much so my mother warned me I’d better be rich enough to hire a maid or I’d live in squalor. John’s chivalry with regard to the mop notwithstanding, he wasn’t exactly Mr. Clean around the house either. My mother almost fainted when his mother expressed relief, “that John finally has someone to keep him neat and organized.”  If I was supposed to play Felix to his Oscar, we were in big trouble.

Rare shot of myself doing something similar to housework - stripping paint off a desk, to be specific.
Rare shot of myself doing something similar to housework – stripping paint off a desk, to be specific.

Domestic situations aren’t the only ones where I feign ineptitude to avoid doing something I just don’t want to do. Almost anything technical or complicated involving computers or electronics qualifies. My children and husband accommodate me, more or less, although lately my daughter’s exasperated sighs are more pronounced. “Is it plugged in?” she always asks. It’s embarrassing how many times that turns out to be the problem.

Kathleen taking a break

I recognized my own “learned helplessness” in 2001, when I lived alone in New York. My laptop broke down and because I needed a laptop for my job there, I couldn’t afford to be without it. Basically, the hard drive needed to be replaced.

Kathleen laboring in the yard

If I’d been at home, I never would’ve attempted such a feat but J and my children were in California and I was in New York. My back against the wall, I followed instructions, removed my old hard drive and replaced it with a new one. When push came to shove, I could perform and I was proud of it.  I fully intended not to default to learned helplessness when I went home.

You may or may not "Seymour" pictures of me actually working in future blogs. Most likely not.
You may or may not “Seymour” pictures of me actually working in future blogs. Most likely not.

But of course, I did. Some habits die hard.

 

March 28, 1992

March 28, 1992_edited-1 

Two sisters in Taos

Joyce and I went to Taos to visit a former friend I’ll call V (for Voldemort – she who must not be named). Neither Joyce nor I had ever been there. Ostensibly we were going to get a lot of writing done but I’m not sure either of us believed that would happen (it didn’t). In truth, it was a chance to escape our routine days – which revolved around our husbands and children – and reclaim our “independence”.

Getting silly. (Joyce and I do this a lot.)
Getting silly. (Joyce and I do this a lot.)
At African dance class.
At African dance class.

We shopped in Taos, took silly pictures, and beaded necklaces. V talked us into taking an African Dance class.  Later she wound us up and down twisting mountain roads to a secret hot spring that supposedly few people knew about. After we parked, we hiked down a narrow slippery path to the spring.

Buying beads.
Buying beads.

It was every bit as spectacular and secluded as advertised – a genuine hot spring with a breath-taking view of the Rio Grande rushing past hundreds of feet below. Joyce and I, Midwestern Lutherans at our core, are not the type of girls to skinny-dip, but V ridiculed our narrow-minded inhibitions so we shed our clothes and slipped into the steaming water.

Memories come back of Joyce and I in the hot tub trying to do an Ingmar Bergman PERSONA inspired pose.
Memories come back of Joyce and I in the hot tub trying to do an Ingmar Bergman PERSONA inspired pose.

I’m glad she did. It was magical, a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I would’ve regretted it if I’d declined. Remembering special times shared with V creates all manner of cognitive dissonance. It’s easier to demonize, to refuse the existence of any mitigating factors.

Striking a pose1

I suspect I am not alone here. Experiences contradicting my mind set are inconvenient and acceptance is hard work.

Striking a pose2

My diary drags me kicking and screaming back to reality.

Striking a pose3

 

March 25, 1970

March 25, 1970

Janet and I in our Santa Clara neighborhood shortly after we moved there.
Janet and I in our Santa Clara neighborhood shortly after we moved there.

It’s not terribly surprising I was adamant about Santa Clara being my home considering my family left Santa Clara for San Diego a mere six months before I wrote this entry. In contrast, it astonishes me that 47 years later, I still regard Santa Clara as my home – despite the fact I never lived there again. Realistically, hasn’t LA – where I’ve lived the last 47 years – earned the right to be called home?

Yeah, objectively, no doubt about it. Emotionally, not so fast. I grew up in Santa Clara, it will forever be where I spent my childhood, it’s the backdrop for all my highly formative memories and experiences.

My sisters and I in front of our Santa Clara parsonage - the girl on the far right in the bathing suit is Alana (Lennie), a neighbor and early friend.
My sisters and I in front of our Santa Clara parsonage – the girl on the far right in the bathing suit is Alana (Lennie), a neighbor and early friend.
The three Knutsen sisters in August of 1957
The three Knutsen sisters in August of 1957

Unfortunately, the Santa Clara I regard as home ceased to exist shortly after I left. I’ve covered this in other blogs (July 18, 1969, August 26, 1969) and I’m loathe to repeat myself. Still, Santa Clara’s metamorphoses into Silicon Valley fascinates me.

Janet, Joyce and I in front of Santa Clara parsonage a little later.
Janet, Joyce and I in front of Santa Clara parsonage a little later.

Someday I’d love to write a historical novel about Santa Clara. I’d approach it as a multi-generational saga about a family who own an apricot orchard, tracing family members and the city itself as it evolves to Silicon Valley.  I’ve been warned family sagas are out of fashion but by the time I finish, they might be all the rage again.

March 18, 1975

March 18, 1975

My face betrays a trace of doubt here - or maybe I'm just worried I'll spill the punch all over my dress.
My face betrays a trace of doubt here – or maybe I’m just worried I’ll spill the punch all over my dress.

 There were plenty of reasons both John and I felt uncertain about the future. He was in his first year of law school, finding his place in a highly competitive environment. If anything, my future was even less assured.  At least with law school, odds are you’ll find work as a lawyer assuming you pass the bar. My MFA was in Professional Writing and there’s no guarantee you’ll make a living writing, ever. If anything, odds are you won’t.

Cutting the wedding cake

Speaking strictly for myself, I was sick of dating. I spent entirely too much time obsessing about the state of my relationships. There wasn’t a snippet of male-female behavior, subliminal messaging, or secret motivations I didn’t ponder for days. A relationship I could rely on – i.e., a husband – freed hundreds of hours previously devoted to relentless analysis about how he really felt about me, what would happen next, what he really meant when he said I’ll call you later.

J & K having a bite of cake

What about love? Isn’t that the reason to get engaged and married? We were very much in love, at least insofar as either of us understood what love meant, which is to say – not much. Realistically, we were in the grip of mad infatuation. We thought we knew each other but we didn’t really, not as we’d come to know – and love – each other over the next 42 years.

Exiting the church

IMHO, love is nothing but illusion in those starry-eyed early days when you can’t see past the glorious magic of the other. Love becomes real when you realize your partner isn’t perfect – that is to say, she or he isn’t exactly the way you want them to be all the time – and you stick around anyway. Real love requires patience, compromise, forgiveness, compassion, empathy. It hurts sometimes. It changes both of you.  It’s not easy – but it’s worth it.

The bride and groom

That said, if I knew then how not perfect – how difficult and sometimes painful – love and marriage would be – would my answer still be yes? Absolutely.

March 9. 1969

March 9, 1969

This wasn’t my first – or last – fantasy about taking drastic measures to escape my life. I didn’t follow through on this brilliant plan or any of the others which didn’t stop me from devising new schemes to start over someplace else whenever I’m overwhelmed where I am.

Flying away to Sweden
Flying away to Sweden

Before my wedding, I thought about hopping a plane and disappearing in Sweden (because I took Swedish at UCLA, as if that would do me any good.)  Thank God I lost my nerve – or regained my senses – and showed up at the church on time. Sticking around and seeing things through was always the right choice.

Hop a train to a new life, new name, new city.
Hop a train to a new life, new name, new city.

The fantasy of running away – starting a new life with a new name – is probably impossible in our high-tech surveillance-happy world. Even if I could, there’s no reason to believe my new life would improve on the one I’m living. As the saying goes, wherever you run to, you take yourself with you.

Go where?
Go where?

And of course, “myself” is the problem. The only way to change my circumstances is change myself. It’s an inside adjustment, not an outside one. I didn’t know that in ’69, as I sank into a bottomless clinical depression. I find solace in the fact that no matter how much I wanted to leave this life, I stayed – and you know what? It got better.

These boots are made for walking - incognito woman of mystery somewhere far north of here
These boots are made for walking – incognito woman of mystery somewhere far north of here

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