Wilcox High

December 11, 1967

December 11, 1967

 These conversations may not sound “deep” today (or was the word “heavy”?)  I’m glad I wrote them down – otherwise, I’d have no idea what my sisters and I talked about as kids. Do you remember childhood topics of conversation with your friends? Your siblings? Your parents? Do you ever wish you’d written it down?

Janet and I in 1967
Janet and I in 1967

I have zero independent recall of the vast majority of days described in my diary. They sound vaguely familiar – like something I might’ve overheard or said – but it’s my diary telling me what happened, not any real recollection.

Possibly our Christmas tree expedition - not sure
Possibly our Christmas tree expedition – not sure

Oddly, I do remember this conversation with my father – it started with my short story and evolved into a discussion of coming of age. I can see him on the floor, repairing that cupboard in our Del Monte kitchen. He made such an effort to meet me on my own turf. He listened to my Beatles records, listened to the Doors. Being young and selfish, I didn’t respond with reciprocal interest in his world. I wish I had; he had more to teach me than I could ever teach him. That said, his purpose was never to indoctrinate – he wanted to know me.

My Family
My Family

I should have written a lot more down.

 

December 8,1973

December 8, 1973 

This debacle – I truly tanked the GREs – was due to my own hubris. I hadn’t spent a minute in a math class since high school. For that matter, I avoided hard core English classes too, choosing to specialize in courses like Ibsen and Tolstoy in lieu of grammatical structure. I never did like diagramming sentences.

In front of Knudsen Hall, UCLA (our name was spelled with a T not a D)
In front of Knudsen Hall, UCLA (our name was spelled with a T not a D)

So, sure, my hard-core academics were rusty, but all my life, I tested high on standardized tests. Why should today be any exception? I sailed into the GRE exam without so much as a cursory glance at a GRE preparation guide. Why bother? How much can a person forget in four years?

Striking a pose

News flash. In four years, you can forget more math than you ever knew.  Granted, I could still nail basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division but guess what? They don’t ask that kind of question. Algebra and geometry were center stage. I suspect calculus and trig played starring roles, too, but I can’t verify because I didn’t take either one in high school.

Walking across campus at UCLA

So, how badly did I choke on the GREs? Suffice to stay, none of the Ivy’s competed to recruit me.

 

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 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.

 

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 8, 1965

April 8, 1965

I tried to impress by playing oboe in the Jefferson Jr.High School Band. It's not impressive if you're terrible but the uniform was fun!
I tried to impress by playing oboe in the Jefferson Jr.High School Band. It’s not impressive if you’re terrible but the uniform was fun!

Mr. Uebel was one of my favorite teachers at Jefferson Jr. High and I desperately wanted to impress him. He inspired me and challenged me in ways I remember to this day. I was lucky enough to have several remarkable teachers – among them, Jerry Farrington (Wilcox High School), Bill Froug (UCLA) and Shelly Lowenkopf (USC). I also had one terrible teacher whose last name rhymed with “cruel” (in third grade). In retrospect, what made her “cruel” was her total lack of regard for me. I was just another kid in her class which was unacceptable.

Gerald Farrington
Gerald Farrington
Bill Froug
Bill Froug
Shelly Lowenkopf
Shelly Lowenkopf

I worked hard – especially for teachers I admired – to be singled out as special. While it’s entirely possible they saw nothing noteworthy about me at all, they convinced me they thought I had something, which was more than enough to motivate an approval junkie like myself.

School picture of a girl desperate to be teacher's pet.
School picture of a girl desperate to be teacher’s pet.

Maybe that’s the trick to motivating most people. Who doesn’t want to feel special? Who isn’t willing to go the extra mile for somebody who sees something extraordinary in them? Nobody I know receives as much attention and validation as they need. It’s not polite to ask for it (and if you do, it ruins whatever you get) but I suspect most people thirst for appreciation. The trouble is, outside of academia, it’s easy to get out of the habit of offering it.  I’m going to make an effort to stop thinking about myself long enough to make a habit of giving it. It’s the least I can do, considering how much has been given to me.

April 5, 1968

April 5, 1968

Sadie Hawkins Announcement

That was the last I heard from Lewis for thirty plus years. I glimpsed him a couple times – once at Valley Fair and once at Santa Clara University – but I felt ugly and unprepared to run into an ex so I ducked out of sight. He never called and having taken the initiative in asking him to the Sadie, I wasn’t about to call him again.

Kathy & Lewis at Sadie Hawkins April 1968
Kathy & Lewis at Sadie Hawkins April 1968
Sandra (Walker) Hegwood and Joey Chadim at the same Sadie Hawkins dance
Sandra (Walker) Hegwood and Joey Chadim at the same Sadie Hawkins dance

This was the rule, not the exception, of how my relationships ended.  Upon parting, we invariably promised to stay “good friends” after which we never spoke to each other again. Why was it so impossible to stay friends back then? None of my relationships ended in screaming or hatred – quite the opposite.   I rarely if ever instigated the break-up although – looking back – in my passive-aggressive way, I drove more than one to dump me.  I was sincere in my desire to stay friends but in those days, there was a stigma against girls calling boys – but maybe that’s just an excuse.

Suffice to say, if a boy didn’t make the first move and call me – which they did not – we didn’t stay friends.

The internet – Facebook in particular – was a game-changer. For starters, it’s a lot less threatening to send an email than pick up the telephone. The passage of time helps too – not many wounds remain raw after twenty or thirty years.

In addition, we’ve all grown into ourselves and – most important of all - the pressure’s off.

In my experience, in any given break-up, one of the people involved wants it more than the other. Even if the dumpee agrees to be friends, there’s a hidden agenda to be more than friends. Twenty or thirty years after the fact, no one expects a relationship to pick up where it left off – hence, it’s possible to form a genuine friendship based on what two people originally had in common. I’ve been lucky that way with several exes, Lewis among them. While I can’t call this phenomenon closure – because these friendships aren’t over, they’re ongoing – they satisfy my need to make sense of what happened all those years ago.

 

 

February 27, 1969

February 27, 1969

 This entry captures my skewed priorities during my senior year (aka known as my Great Depression). Getting accepted at UCLA was momentous (and kind of crucial, since I neglected to apply to any other institution of higher learning). It was truly life changing.

Reading acceptance letter from UCLA
Reading acceptance letter from UCLA

That said, my obsessive focus was on pinpointing where I stood in my relationship with X – talk about an absurd waste of time!  A mollusk could’ve deduced I was nowhere – the same place I’d been for almost two years.

Even a Mollusk would know
Even a Mollusk would know

It’s a peculiar kind of hell, pretending to be satisfied being “just friends” with somebody  you’re madly in love with. To level the “just friends” playing field, I invented a boyfriend to compete with his living girlfriend. When he tortured me by rhapsodizing about how much he loved her,  I could retaliate with my make-believe relationship with the non-existent Pericles. (I gave him a more normal name which is not to imply he was one iota more believable.)

The letter that forged my destiny
The letter that forged my destiny

To render an already pitiful situation more pathetic, I repeatedly pulled my fictional punches. Instead of touting my relationship with Pericles as a love affair for the ages, at the slightest hint X might be interested in me again, I kicked poor Pericles to the curb. My brilliant reasoning  went, “X secretly wants to come back to me but he’s afraid he’ll be rejected for Pericles! Play it smart. Tell him you dumped Pericles so you’re fully available to him.”

Saying goodbye to Santa Clara
Saying goodbye to Santa Clara

Yeah, that’ll work every time – somewhere other than the planet earth. Suffice to say, my Herculean efforts to recapture X’s heart failed miserably. When I left Santa Clara (as it turned out, for good – and in June, not September) I never expected to see or hear from X again – but at least I had UCLA in my future.  And that’s what actually mattered.

February 13, 1969

Never miss an opportunity to gaze mournfully at something.
Never miss an opportunity to gaze mournfully at something.

February 13, 1969

In my senior year of high school, Mr. Cameron (my counselor) offered me the chance to be a counselor at the Redwood Glenn Science Camp for a week in lieu of attending high school. I didn’t think twice – sign me up! I’d enjoyed my weeks as a camper at Mt. Cross years earlier and I loved the movie Parent Trap, half of which took place at camp. What could possibly go wrong?

More sulking in the great outdoors.
More sulking in the great outdoors.

I forgot I was neither a nature girl or a science whiz, for starters. It poured all week long but despite monsoon conditions, we hiked all day every day and once at night. That was more than miserable enough,  even if the rain hadn’t roused armies of huge thick worms.

Sulking in the great outdoors with my nuclear family.
Sulking in the great outdoors with my nuclear family.

As if the worms weren’t enough, I had twelve angst-ridden 6th grade girls to shepherd. One leeched herself to me and never stopped talking. One was a bed-wetter, not a huge problem until the other girls found out and teased her to tears. She ambled along like a puppet loosely strung, everything about her limp, lifeless. Or was I projecting my lethargic depressed self onto her?

Brooding indoors, which I vastly preferred.
Brooding indoors, which I vastly preferred.

My duty as a counselor was to bundle them in and out of oversize rain gear, herd them on hikes, scrape uneaten or recently disgorged food off their plates, persuade them to shower so our tent didn’t get too ripe, and attempt to pay attention to them – something they all seemed sorely deprived of and were desperately needy for.

I did my best, but it was a bad fit. I regretted saying yes to this gig. Once again, I’d forgotten who I was – i.e., a curmudgeon who lacked rapport with children. I was too serious and impatient for my peers, forget little kids. And, in 1969, I was in the throes of clinical depression, so no matter how old my companion might be, the time spent with me was no one’s idea of a party.

Clearly, the life of the party!
Clearly, the life of the party!

All that said, I believe they all had a much better time than I did and no lasting harm accrued to anyone. Those little girls would be 59 or 60 years old today. I wonder how their lives unfolded?

 

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