memory

May 17, 1968

May 17, 1968

We went to see Elvira Madigan, my first foreign film
We went to see Elvira Madigan, my first foreign film

JS was the only boy I ever dated who actually went to Vietnam. In retrospect, I was an academic snob, attracted almost exclusively to college-bound guys. Because of this – and because JS was shipping out soon – I didn’t take JS that seriously. He wrote me letters after he deployed and I wrote back at first, but not as often as he wrote me. Gradually, I tapered off.  To my mind, his letters took on an angry slightly threatening tone – ranting about me and my “hippie friends” – so I stopped writing to him entirely.

The Draft

In retrospect, I wish I’d continued to write back to him. It wouldn’t have required that much effort and from all I’ve learned about what life was like for enlisted men in Vietnam, it probably would’ve comforted him to have a friend back home even if I wasn’t his girlfriend.  In all of his interactions with me, he was nothing but kind and he deserved kindness back.

Me a few months before then
Me a few months before then

Both J and I have casual acquaintances who served but in our immediate social circle, there’s exactly one Vietnam vet. In the thirty plus years we’ve known him, he’s only talked about it – to me, anyway – once. Nonetheless, it’s obvious the experience had a profound effect on him and not for the better. Recently, he’s fallen on hard times and faced homelessness so for the past eight months he’s been sleeping on a fold-out sofa in my husband’s home office.

Feelings of guilt?

The situation is less than optimum for all concerned and I’m hoping a better option will present itself. I know I’m not responsible for his well-being but I feel a certain amount of responsibility nonetheless. He did something my husband and everyone else we know got out of.  Maybe that’s on him, since on some level it was his choice. When he made that choice, however, he didn’t have the advantages that I – and most of the people I know – take for granted. Maybe I’m still feeling guilty about my lack of compassion for JS. Vietnam is far in our national past but I can’t be the only one struggling with the fallout – and I didn’t even have to worry about getting drafted.

Probably the same sweater, sure around the same time.
Probably the same sweater, sure around the same time. I was 17.  I thought I knew what was going on, but – Did you?

 

May 13, 1964

May 13, 1964

 

My family back during those darn times
My family back during those darn times

There was nothing remotely amusing about this entry on May 13, 1964. I was so beside myself with rage I wrote the word “darn” four times, However, reading it – and similar entries– today makes me smile. Why? Because the fears, feuds, worries and daily mortifications that tortured me when I was twelve and thirteen – traumas I believed I’d never recover from – are so awesomely trivial today.

With our grandparents during one of their visits. Notice my enthusiasm.
With our grandparents during one of their visits. Notice my enthusiasm.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think I stayed incensed for very long. I never reference my rage about the injustice of those dance and piano lessons again. Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering who I really am – a klutz with no interest in or aptitude for piano or dance. Obviously, when I wrote this entry, I confused myself with someone else.

At least trying to look happy. Getting all 3 of us to look at the camera at the same time was like herding cats.
At least trying to look happy. Getting all 3 of us to look at the camera at the same time was like herding cats.

My sisters claim that as the oldest I was actually the spoiled, indulged child. As evidence, they cite roughly five thousand more photos of me than the two of them. (Baby pictures only – the photo ops dried up once adolescence arrived). However, facts are facts. My mother’s cold smack-down – “your father and I will decide, not you” – says it all. I rest my case.
3K Sisters

 

May 10, 1971

May 10, 1971

In real estate, the most important factor is location, location, location. To what degree does location affect every other aspect of our lives? Would you be the same person if you grew up in a different place? (I don’t think so.) Can you change who you are right now by changing your location?

My former roommate Miya
My former roommate Miya

In AA, it’s called a geographic when alcoholics attempt to control their alcohol intake by moving someplace new and starting over. It’s considered ineffective, as far as controlling and enjoying your drinking goes. That said, taking my own geographic – moving from Santa Clara to LA – exerted a profound effect on my psyche. It shocked me out of my self-absorbed stupor. So many new ideas, places, and people flew at me simultaneously, I didn’t have time to brood.

Talking to Miya
Talking to Miya

According to Mary, my first roommate at UCLA, my problem was I was never happy where I was, I always wanted to be someplace else. At the time I thought she was full of it but in retrospect she showed extraordinary insight. I hadn’t been at UCLA two years before I needed to escape, which led to an ill-advised intercampus visitation at UCSB.

At my parents house in San Diego with my dog Inga around this time
At my parents house in San Diego with my dog Inga around this time

As soon as I unpacked, I was lost and frantic to return to LA and my friends. Things got worse as I hurtled toward another bout of clinical depression or a nervous breakdown, take your pick. On my weekend visit to LA on the weekend of May 10, I was under the erroneous impression my time at Santa Barbara had “damaged” me. I hadn’t realized it didn’t matter where I was, I carried my alienation inside. Attempts to “fix” myself by changing my location were futile since I brought the old me along.

I hadn’t realized it didn’t matter where I was, I carried my alienation inside
I hadn’t realized it didn’t matter where I was, I carried my alienation inside

To put it in the immortal words of Paul Revere and the Raiders in their song “Kicks”

“Don’t you see no matter what you do You’ll never get away from you”

 

 

 

 

May 8, 2016

May 8, 2016

Visiting at Forest Lawn

This was my first Mother’s Day after I lost my mother.  For most of my adult life, for Mother’s Day my father took us all – children, grandchildren, significant others –  to Marie Callender’s in Glendale. They had a private dining room designed to look like a library that our family easily filled. It figures – maybe it’s fitting – that Marie Callender’s is closed, at least in Glendale. That era of my life is over and I miss it.

Family picture on our stairs

This entry references the end of two more eras. My youngest, A, was approaching burn-out after five years working at the same place. He needed a break and was confident he could re-enter the work force when he was ready. This approach to a career was radically different than my father’s generation, when people expected they’d work for the same company until they retired, their loyalty rewarded with a gold watch. That notion became obsolete by the time baby boomers entered the work force. Speaking as someone with no capacity to stick with the same job longer than three months, I think this is a healthy development.

Knutsen Family

The final bygone era was referenced in the John O’Hara biography. Hard drinking appears to have been a hallmark of early to mid 20thcentury writers – Fitzgerald springs to mind but Dorothy Parker, Hemingway, Raymond Carver, Richard Yates and assorted others fit the template.  While some writers and other creative types will always behave badly, ubiquitous cameras and media scrutiny make it less acceptable to be an abusive drunk. The world doesn’t need more of them, IMHO, so that’s progress.
Knutsen family outing

 

May 5, 1979

May 5, 1979

This was one of my very first meetings on the first of my spec screenplays to be optioned – in this case by the late Steve Friedman who ran King’s Road Productions in ’79. The script was inspired by Janis Ian’s brilliant song “At 17” although I doubt anybody involved actually acquired the rights to the song (I know as a fledgling writer, I couldn’t afford it.)

Me, the fledgling writer
Me, the fledgling writer

Ultimately, the script got optioned three times by different companies and/or producers but – alas – never produced, at least not as of this writing. It did, however, launch my career. It was the sample script that got me hired to adapt S. E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders.

Page 1 - "At 17"
Page 1 – “At 17”

Over the years, I rewrote it many times – incorporating notes from various producers and directors.  Although almost every line of the script Steve optioned has been changed – hopefully, for the better – the original characters, theme and the crisis Steve and I added remain.  Every time I completed another draft, I’d think I can’t possibly do more only to discover that if I set it aside for a year, the next time I looked I could easily spot room for improvement.

Caught in the act of re-reading
Caught in the act of re-reading

The lessons, for myself and anyone who aspires to a writing career?

  1. You’re never done. No matter how wonderful you might think your current draft is, it can be better.
  2. Take a break – as long as possible. My most recent break from this script lasted over twenty years. Talk about fresh eyes! It was like reading a script by somebody else.
  3. Cutting improves almost anything. In particular, look for flab in the first act.
Writing frenzy - Day and night
Writing frenzy – Day and night

May 2, 2007

May 2, 2007

 

If I must be the villain of my life, might as well do it as a Blue Meanie.
If I must be the villain of my life, I might as well do it as a Blue Meanie.

 

By the time I wrote this entry in 2007, I knew I wanted to do something with my voluminous diary entries although I wasn’t sure what. I was well into the process of transcribing my handwritten entries into a computer journal program (currently, I use one simply called The Journal). I started with the first entries in 63 and progressed forward.   Since all my blogs would be in the 60s and 70s if I stuck with that program, I eventually allowed myself to skip around a little bit. I’m still not even a third of the way through all my longhand volumes and if I don’t transcribe them, nobody will due to my horrific handwriting and weird shorthand abbreviations (which perplex me sometimes) – not to mention a few days written entirely in a weird code that looks like cuneiform.

 

Cuneiform writing system

BLUE MEANIE 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At my most ambitious, I transcribed 15 entries a day which may not sound like much but revisiting my own past is not always a walk in the park.  Sometimes, it’s emotionally grueling as well as confusing because there’s so much I’ve forgotten and/or repressed.  These diary entries force me to reconfigure my life story – the one I tell myself as well as others. If my diary and my memory disagree about what happened, it’s a safe bet the diary is correct.  Many times, I’m forced to face the fact I’m not as wonderful as I like to believe.  I made mistakes, I treated some people poorly.  Sometimes, I start missing people I lost touch with long ago through no one’s fault – it just happened.

 

BLUE MEANIE 3

 

Spending so much time re-examining the past leaves me with a visceral longing to revisit and recapture those times – particularly those when my children were young and my parents were still alive – but since time moves forward, never back, that desire is doomed.  The closest I can come is probably by transcribing them. And so, I forge on….

 

Some, but not all, of my diaries
Some, but not all, of my diaries

 

April 26, 1973

April 26, 1973

Emotionally defenseless

I don’t know what I expected when I walked into Student Counseling – I’d seen psychologists and psychiatrists before but never felt helped by any of them. Maybe because I was so  emotionally defenseless,  this woman got to me.

I knew I was falling apart and I felt terrible about it because I shouldn’t be. I’d just graduated from UCLA and – on the outside – it looked like good things were about to transpire for my writing career. Unfortunately, instead of giving me confidence, this made me feel under pressure which was compounded by my efforts to escape an extremely toxic relationship with L, a much older man who manipulated me with threats of self-harm and other histrionics. (On the plus side, I’m grateful to L for illustrating – by example – how unattractive and unpleasant drama queens can be.)

L took this photo of me - to me, I don't look like myself - there's a lot of strain in my smile.
L took this photo of me – to me, I don’t look like myself – there’s a lot of strain in my smile.

The counselor said  I was lucky to have a supportive family and I shouldn’t feel guilty about moving home. San Diego wasn’t that far from LA – I could make the drive in under three hours if I needed  to take a meeting.

Happy at home, reunited with my sisters around the family dining table. What could be finer?
Happy at home, reunited with my sisters around the family dining table. What could be finer?

I took her advice and moved home. I left L behind, leaving it up to him whether he committed suicide.  (Spoiler alert – he did not kill himself.) It was the right course and I might not have found my way if that counselor hadn’t extended her compassion. I’m not sure I ever knew her name – I know I never thanked her personally because I never saw her again – something I regret because, looking back, I feel like she saved my life

April 22, 1982

April 22, 1982

J in Hawaii
J in Hawaii

In those days, John was such a workaholic that on the rare occasions we did go somewhere for a vacation, his first order of business was to get sick – what I refer to here as the Maui Syndrome. On this particular trip, there was an alternate explanation. On his thirtieth birthday – which occurred a few days prior – John resolved to quit smoking. He did so successfully, cold turkey, with the aid of copious quantities of alcohol. (Giving that up would come three and a half years later.)

Me on the same trip to Hawaii
Me on the same trip to Hawaii

I’m embarrassed to confess I continued to smoke for a few more years, which surely must have been torture for John – especially when enclosed in a car. Mea culpa. I should’ve signed up for Smokenders sooner. In 1982, you could still smoke without being a complete pariah but that would change shortly

Malcolm and Maya Chong - John and his first year law school roommate, Mitch Iwanaga
Malcolm and Maya Chong – John and his first year law school roommate, Mitch Iwanaga

This was one of our final young-and-free vacations.  The friends we travelled with were all unattached as was Mitch. Malcolm and Maya were married but no children yet. J and I left our five-year-old in San Diego with his grandparents (which he loved).

Denise Gail Williams contemplates sea from rock
Denise Gail Williams contemplates sea from  a rock
Kathleen contemplating the ocean as well
Kathleen contemplating the ocean as well

The summer after this I’d give birth to our daughter and the summer after that we’d have our second son. Our single friends, almost en masse, would marry and have children of their own. A new cycle of family-oriented (read child-oriented) vacations would commence. I don’t mean to sound critical – those family vacations hold some of the sweetest memories of my life.

John, Gail and Bennett Traub enjoy a picnic
John, Gail and Bennett Traub enjoy a picnic

It would be years – eighteen or twenty, really, around the time the kids are all off to college – before we’d vacation with adult friends but now it’s got an entirely different quality than those young-and-free days in 1982. We don’t run up and down mountains anymore (truth be told, I never did) and concessions must be made to health. Bathroom stop are more frequent (almost like traveling with a toddler!) and we no longer talk, smoke and drink until 4 AM about our lives because we all tire more easily. What will the next phase be like?  All of these eras have their moments. In my life, I’ve loved them all.

In my life, I've loved them all.
In my life, I’ve loved them all.

April 18, 1975


April 18, 1975

John's nuclear family around this time - top row Jimmy, J, Richard, Chet; bottom row Florence, lucy, Mary Frances and Mary Ann
John’s nuclear family around this time – top row Matt, Jimmy, J, Richard, Chet; bottom row Florence, Lucy, Mary Frances and Mary Ann

The welcoming committee on my first visit to Fresno was bigger and more daunting than just his family, which was intimidating enough. In addition to all six of his brothers and sisters plus his brother’s fiancée Cindy and Aunt Mary half the neighborhood and assorted family friends assembled in the Rowell living room, all curious to see what kind of freak agreed to marry a guy she met a mere six weeks earlier. In retrospect, this was totally understandable – if I was one of them, I’d be dying of curiosity too.

Me and other spouses as well as future generation in casual family shot
Me and other spouses as well as future generation in casual family shot

They called him Johnny which was disconcerting because I never thought of him as a Johnny. His sister Lucy teased him about a receding hairline, which caused me to look twice – how had I missed a thing like that?? (For the record, he still has all of his hair and most of it hasn’t gone gray.)  Their collective astonishment that John was getting married gave me pause – why did they find it so incredible? (In their minds, he was still the chess-obsessed loner he’d been years earlier.)

Me and other Rowell spouses in formal family portrait.
Me and other Rowell spouses in formal family portrait.

As ego-gratifying as it was to watch his letters from old girlfriends dissolve to ash, I shouldn’t have encouraged him to do it – particularly given my own egregious failure to follow suit. I qualified my refusal by explaining that my old love letters were “research for my writing” – which is true – but the bigger truth is our different reactions reveal our characters. He loves to throw things out; I love to cling to them. Neither of us are likely to change.

Me with John's mother Florence around this time (I think)
Me with John’s mother Florence around this time (I think)

April 15,1965

April 15, 1965

Sandra Walker Hegwood around 1965
Sandra Walker Hegwood around 1965

Written down in black and white, the details of these days seem like the textbook definition of dorky, but all these years later I remember the experience – and the feelings, the rush of euphoria that came with finding a friend I connected with – as beautiful and perfect, just like the diary says.

13 year old dork in nightgown.
13 year old dork in nightgown.

If I try to insert the names of other friends – even close friends – instead of Sandy, it simply doesn’t work. I never could have shared these goofy adventures – let alone laughed as hard as we did – with anybody but Sandy. Her wild, quirky imagination met mine. She could be as deep as she could be silly. As complicated as “where the woodbine twineth” or as simple as “Nature Night”.  I have no idea what made it so much fun to spy on little kids in her neighborhood – it never would’ve occurred to me with any of my other friends but she could find intrigue anywhere, make an adventure out of anything.

Fred and Sandra (Walker) Hegwood, CD, me and J - late 70s
Fred and Sandra (Walker) Hegwood, CD, me and J – late 70s

In my diary entries, I worry obsessively about being boring but in retrospect there was some projection going on. While I very well might be boring as hell, the truth is I am – and always have been – easily bored (which, according to some, means deep down I’m as boring as I always feared, but isn’t it all subjective?). Boredom was never an issue with Sandy. She had a knack for making anything interesting.

She even could make lying down and contemplating the universe fun!
She even could make lying down and contemplating the universe fun!
And with a quick costume change she became a rock star!
And with a quick costume change she became a rock star!
She has a love of animals
She has a love of animals
And a love of the great outdoors
And a love of the great outdoors
Sandy Walker - always so much fun.
Sandy Walker – always so much fun!
Skip to toolbar