Writing

December 7, 1977

December 7, 1977

David Ward (copied from imdb)
David Ward (copied from imdb)

 When I read that Best Screenplay Oscar-winning David Ward (for “The Sting”; nominated again for “Sleepless in Seattle”) wrote a spec script about  Sontag and Evans – the California outlaws I was contemplating writing a non-fiction book about – it gave me pause, but not for long. Something I learned quickly – which all aspiring writers should learn – is don’t worry if you find out another writer is working on a script that sounds strikingly familiar to yours. You won’t tell the same story. When I can give ten writing students the same writing prompt, no two of them will approach it the same way.

In 77, I was far away from a writing career and membership in the WGA.
In 77, I was far away from a writing career and membership in the WGA.

As it turned out, I never finished my non-fiction book anyway so stressing about a potential overlap would’ve been an exercise in futility. Still, I was curious about how David Ward approached the subject matter. As luck would have it, I met him at a small screening of a friend’s film (that he’d written) a year ago and got my chance to ask. I told him I’d asked similar questions years ago when he was a guest speaker at a USC writing class. Not surprisingly, he did not recall the evening with the same crystal clarity I did (read, not at all.)

Writing in "the hamburger" - which is what CD called our oh-so-seventies trendy bean-bag chair.
Writing in “the hamburger” – which is what CD called our oh-so-seventies trendy bean-bag chair.

What I should have asked him but didn’t – then and now – is, did you ever feel like you arrived? In 1977, my impression was he radiated confidence. It’s possible he did – I’d radiate confidence if I wrote “The Sting” –but now that I’m older and wiser I wonder. Based on the highly successful people I know well enough to ask personal questions, none feel like they’ve “arrived”. And maybe that’s for the best. Isn’t the journey the point?

 

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 21, 1973

November 21, 1973

 When I met Larry Payne in November of ’73, he was one of two McCall’s west coast advertising salesmen working under the supervision of Mr. G.  Don Draper was decades away, but (in hindsight)  I saw a guy on his way to becoming Draper unless he made significant changes. Not that there’s anything wrong with being young, successful, handsome and charming – all of which describe Larry and Draper. The difference is, Larry wanted his life to be more than a slick Madison Avenue ad for success.

My family at Janet's house along with Larry Payne
My family at Janet’s house along with Larry Payne

Astute as ever, Larry’s secret spiritual leanings flew far under my radar – not too shocking since I quit McCall’s less than three months after I started. My best friend Gail replaced me and when Gail moved on my sister Janet got the job. Via this grapevine, I heard what Larry was up to from time to time. One thing I never suspected was that – of the two of us – his name would appear on book jackets long before mine.

Yoga for Dummies

Cut to the present. Hopefully, I’ll fill in the middle someday. Today (from the bio on back of his book) “Larry Payne, Ph.D., is an internationally respected Yoga teacher and back specialist. He is Founding President of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, founder of the Yoga program at the J. Paul Getty Museum, co-founder of the Yoga curriculum at UCLA Medical School and founding director of the Yoga Therapy Rx and Prime of Life Yoga programs at Loyola Marymount University.  Most Recently co author of his 5th book, Yoga Therapy & Integrative Medicine  Turner Publishing.”

Larry Payne1

Here’s the best part. More than forty years after we parted ways at McCall’s – we are now FB friends – and he’s just as charming as he used to be.

Larry Payne2_edited-1

 

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.

November 9, 1979

november-9-1979

Technically, Knutsen isn’t my real ancestral name. When my great grandfather emigrated from Norway, his surname was Sorensen but when he saw how many Sorensens had settled in Iowa and Minnesota already he changed it to Knutsen. There are far fewer Knutsens than Sorensens and the gap is widening. In 1990, there were 11,300 fewer Knutsens; in 2000, there were 12,500 more Sorensens.

Steamship passenger list identifying my great grandfather as Peter Sorensen.
Steamship passenger list identifying my great grandfather as Peter Sorensen when he arrived in Philadelphia in 1888 prior to his 30th birthday in July of that year.
The 1910 Census identifying my great grandfather as Peter S Knutsen.
The 1910 Census identifying my great grandfather as Peter S Knutsen and listing his family.

Knutsen wasn’t an easy name for most Californians to pronounce (it came naturally to people in the Midwest).  Most assumed the K was silent, not hard, and referred to us as the Nutsens, Newtsens or Knudsens because it looked a lot like that name on dairy containers.

knudsen-cottage-cheese

The Knutsen name’s claim to fame in film appears late in the Big Lebowski and even there – for better or worse – it has the Swedish “son” ending instead of the Danish/Norwegian “sen” like our name.  Here’s a still from the movie with the memorable line.

Jeff Bridges in "The Big Lewbowski"
Jeff Bridges in “The Big Lebowski”

When I married and changed my last name to Rowell, I assumed my days of hearing my name mispronounced were over. Not so fast! It turns out Rowell is as tricky for most tongues as Knutsen. (But, like Sorensen, it’s rising in popularity. In 2000 it was approximately 11,400 surnames ahead of Knutsen in the US).  A surprising number of people pronounce it as “Raoul”, like the French first name for boys. Row (rhymes with blow) – ELL (accent on the ELL) is the other common error but there are many more weird variations between the two. I learned to blurt “Rowell, said and spelled exactly like Powell, except with an R” when introduced to someone new. It didn’t help that our first house was on Lowell Avenue – in print, it looks so close to Rowell yet in speech it sounds so different.

drivers-license_edited-1

I’ve gone by Rowell now for longer than I went by Knutsen. Even so, Knutsen will always feel like my true name (I still use it as a middle name).  If I had it to do over again, I’d probably go by Kathleen (Kathy, Kate) Knutsen today. But, as Gertrude Stein so famously said, “What’s in a name?”

 

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.

 

 

October 27, 1994

October 27, 1994

 Writer’s Guild arbitrations are similar to lawsuits, in a way. Sometimes you’re forced into them against your will. All competing writers have an opportunity to present their case in a statement and there’s money at stake –  credited writers split future residuals (uncredited writers get nothing) and usually a bonus is tied to whether or not a writer receives credit. In addition, a produced credit ups your asking price on your next job. (Usually. At least it used to.) In other words, there are stakes in this game worth fighting for.

Once a Princess always a Princess

Just like lawsuits that go to trial, the outcome is never certain. Three anonymous WGA members read all the material submitted by participating writers and independently reach a decision about who deserves credit and why. Majority rules. If there’s no agreement between the three, the Guild gets them all on a conference call until consensus is reached.

Majority Rules

I’ve participated in several arbitrations, all of them stressful. The suspense ends relatively quickly – most arbitrations start and finish in two weeks or less. I’m a nervous wreck until the phone call from the Guild, informing me of the determination. So far I’ve prevailed in all of them probably because I walk away if I feel my claim for credit is less than rock solid.

Princess KathleenI worried obsessively about the lawsuit referenced above, probably because – not being directly involved – I had no control over the outcome. As it turned out, J was right – my apprehension was unwarranted, nothing catastrophic happened. Our insurance companies settled things long before it went to trial. If we were served with a similar lawsuit tomorrow, though, I’d freak out again with fear we’d lose everything.

Don't roll the dice

I would have made a terrible lawyer because I deal so poorly with uncertainty and ambiguity, the state in which all the trial lawyers I know live.  “Doesn’t it feel good to roll the dice?” J asked me during one of my arbitrations.

No! I don't want to role the dice!No, it’s excruciating. It’s why I don’t gamble, either.  I have to settle for J telling me it will be okay.

October 24, 1995

October 24, 1995

Perusing these diaries years later, I can’t help noticing how often I say something like “I want to hold onto the image…” – and how rarely (never) I do retain it. If I hadn’t written things down at the time, I wouldn’t recall most events, forget images.

I simply don't recallIt’s a weird sensation, reading my description of a conversation or encounter with no independent recall of the event. I don’t doubt that it happened, more or less the way I described, because (at least IMHO) my diary style isn’t emotional or subjective. I consider myself a “just the facts, ma’am” diarist. I had no reason to lie or embellish the truth because I had no intention of letting anybody (let alone the entire internet!) read my innermost thoughts.

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

Intellectually, I know I’m reading about my own real life but emotionally it’s like reading about someone else. In my unassisted memories of my life, I’m a much finer person than the girl who wrote these diaries. We all tell ourselves stories about our lives, whether or not we consciously frame it that way. I wonder how many of our life stories are true? I can’t be the only one who prefers to see myself in a better light.

Me in a better light.
Me in a better light.

It’s disheartening to face my pettiness, my envy of others, my callousness and my shallow values. I cared more about cute clothes and popularity than making the world a better place, I was more interested in myself than others. I take some solace in my belief that I’m less self-obsessed than I was as a teen-ager, but who knows? If I read the entries I write today in twenty years, I might be just as appalled.

Guaranteed, I won’t remember much, if anything, about today’s obsessions. It’ll be like reading another person’s diary. Barbra Streisand wasn’t wrong when she sang,

“What’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget.”Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten a lot of the laughter and good things too. That’s why I continue writing things down even if my thousands of diary pages are more likely to be recycled than read. I want to remember every single moment and image.

Laughter remembered with Martha Coolidge
Laughter remembered with Martha Coolidge

In the words of a Paul Simon lyric,

“Preserve your memories – they’re all that’s left you.”

 

October 19, 1994

October 19, 1994

A. Martinez and Perry King on left; Felice Gordon and myself on right. A mystery, beyond that.
A. Martinez and Perry King on left; Felice Gordon and myself on right. A mystery, beyond that.

 This was the first and only time I traveled to the set of one of the MOW’s I wrote (other than shows that shot in LA, in which case I might drive ten miles – to Occidental, for instance, where they shot “She Cried No”). I’m not complaining – it’s boring on set unless you’ve got a job (and maybe even then, just saying). I was excited about a trip to Minnesota, especially with Joe Maurer, Brad Wigor and Felice Gordon, three producers who became friends. The fact they issued the invitation to me at all speaks volumes about how well they treated their writers.

A. Martinez, Me, Connie Selleca, Felice Gordon
A. Martinez, Me, Connie Selleca, Felice Gordon

In Minnesota, I sat through a table reading of the script – an extremely high-tension exercise for me. It’s mortifying when a line I wrote – especially a line intended to be funny – dies in front of the full cast and crew. There’s no ambivalence; it’s not a judgment call. Lines work or not and the thud is deafening when they don’t. I say nothing, draw a skull beside the clunker in the script, and slink down further in my folding chair.  If I don’t die of humiliation, I’m expected to fix what I failed to get right the first time – fast.  This close to production, every wasteful delay bleeds money.

Someone failed to focus this shot of me and Joe Maurer.
Someone failed to focus this shot of me and Joe Maurer.

After the reading, I accompanied Joe, Brad and the director – Bill Corcoran – on a location scout. By sheer coincidence (or cosmic design, you decide), we drove past Bethesda Lutheran, the hospital where I was born. In honor of this karmic connection, Corcoran insisted I leap out of the van and pose for a historic photograph (see below).

Me in front of the hospital where I was born.
Me in front of the hospital where I was born.

I sat by Felice on the return trip to LA and – along with other fascinating facts – discovered Felice was Jean Shrimpton’s manager when Jean was the ultimate supermodel girls like me longed to look like.

Me with Felice Gordon
Me with Felice Gordon

As if this wasn’t enough excitement, my youngest hit double-digits and turned ten.  Too much was happening, too fast. And I loved every minute of it.

A very happy birthday to Alex!

 

Birthday boy with his grandparents.
Birthday boy with his grandparents.
Alex with his cousins.
Alex with his cousins.

October 15, 1964

October 15, 1964

Dueling teachers

Hmmm, “Stage-struck.” Based on the sizzling synopsis, I’m baffled it failed to become an international sensation. Unfortunately, the title – the characters – and the story-line – are all too typical of what I generously considered “creative” writing at thirteen. My oeuvre was stories about junior high girls, one popular and one brainy, frequently involving show biz.

Sandy and I could make almost anything fun - or funny.
Sandy and I could make almost anything fun – or funny.

Mr. Uebel was one of my favorite teachers although I was a nervous wreck in his room, I was so desperate to impress him. Mr. Call, our Spanish teacher, was great too, as evidenced by their musical duel. The innocence of these times seems unreal from the perspective of 2017 yet I can unequivocally swear life actually was this innocent, this simple – at least at Jefferson Jr. High.

My family circa 1964
My family circa 1964

At thirteen, it never crossed my mind to rebel against a teachers or authority figure – and to the best of my knowledge, none of my classmates did either. Maybe Jefferson got lucky and employed teachers with big personalities who loved teaching.

This shot clarifies where I found inspiration for my fictional character - the unpopular brainy girl.
This shot clarifies where I found inspiration for my fictional character – the unpopular brainy girl.

Full disclaimer – far from being anything close to a radical dissident trouble-maker, I was a kiss-up sycophant who idolized my teachers. I made it my mission to be teacher’s pet (not exactly a fast track to popularity, in case you’re wondering). More often than not I succeeded, not because I was so special or brilliant (although I liked to think so) – I just tried harder.

My dad giving sister Janet a horsy ride on what was probably a family night.
My dad giving sister Janet a horsy ride on what was probably a family night.

Looking back, I regret how eager I was to be free of our Friday family nights. Little did I know that once gone, those nights could never be recaptured in quite the same way. I should have treasured and prolonged every last minute.

Unpopular nerd girl captured in family setting.
Unpopular nerd girl captured in family setting.

Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/katrow6/kathleenrowell.com/wp-content/plugins/clicky/clicky.php on line 447
Skip to toolbar