identity

September 20, 2016

September 20, 2016

I felt terrible about being tardy on the very first day of a nine-month class and the panicked rush to minimize the damage made me even more nervous than I would have been anyway (which is pretty darn anxious). A fight-or-flight surge of adrenalin takes over when I have to speak in front of a group of strangers and unless I’m very careful, I talk at supersonic speed. I felt like I was making a terrible impression on this new group of kids which flustered me even more. There’s an obvious solution – think less about how I’m coming across and more about the kids I’m here to teach. Gradually I leveled out. I took some admittedly poor photos of my class that first day.

They weren't being rude and texting. I asked them to take selfies and email them to me - to help me me learn their names.
They weren’t being rude and texting. I asked them to take selfies and email them to me – to help me me learn their names.

This was the first day of my second year teaching Screen Writing Symposium at Columbia and I couldn’t imagine ever liking a class as much as I liked my first class. I kept up with them (as much as you can with occasonal updates on Facebook) but I actively missed our Thursday afternoons in Room E.  I struggled to remember the names of my new students. I thought, it will never be the same.

Josh Andersen, Kevin Salcedo, Peter Zaragoza, Kaitlyn Hutchins, Justin Thompson, Alex Falcon, Charlotte Scrivener, Holden Weihs, Ryan Brennan. Not pictured: Tanner Novotny
Josh Andersen, Kevin Salcedo, Peter Zaragoza, Kaitlyn Hutchins, Justin Thompson, Alex Falcon, Charlotte Scrivener, Holden Weihs, Ryan Brennan. Not pictured: Tanner Novotny

I was right; it wasn’t, in the same way my second child isn’t the same as my first and my third is quite different from both siblings. Inevitably, every class – especially one that meets four hours a week for nine months – develops it’s own unique identity. Comparing them is futile, they’re both special – irreplaceable – in their own way. Just like I miss the kids in my first class on Thursdays, I miss the kids in my second class (except, I taught them on Tuesdays, Fridays, and finally Mondays, so I didn’t associate them with a day).

top, l-r: Jarred McClarty, Kendall Collins, Danae Fishman, Andrew Levin; bottom, l-r;David Alvarez Faith-Ann Bishop, Ryan O'Donnell, David Lugowski. Not pictured: Michael Akkerman, Natalie Frank
top, l-r: Jarred McClarty, Kendall Collins, Danae Fishman, Andrew Levin; bottom, l-r;David Alvarez Faith-Ann Bishop, Ryan O’Donnell, David Lugowski. Not pictured: Michael Akkerman, Natalie Frank

I hope to keep up with them as they traverse the real post-college world, probably via Facebook.  I’d like to see all of them again too.  I fantasize that if and when I retire, I’ll host a party at my house for all my former students and the ones that show up will regale me with the highs and lows of their careers. Hopefully, their wins will far outpace their losses.

top, l-r: Jarred McClarty, Kendall Collins, Danae Fishman, Andrew Levin; bottom, l-r;David Alvarez Faith-Ann Bishop, Ryan O'Donnell, David Lugowski. Not pictured: Michael Akkerman, Natalie Frank.
top, l-r: Jarred McClarty, Kendall Collins, Danae Fishman, Andrew Levin; bottom, l-r;David Alvarez Faith-Ann Bishop, Ryan O’Donnell, David Lugowski. Not pictured: Michael Akkerman, Natalie Frank.

September 17, 1979

September 17, 1979A

My career had yet to begin. I was closing in on a paying gig as a writer but it hadn’t happened yet. If you’re in my situation – no prior job, no WGA membership, no credits – you need to do what I did. Seek out fellow young, hungry producers or directors, work out stories with them as a team, pitch them to anyone who will listen.

Typing

I was fortunate to find a friend and champion in David Bombyk, a smart, ambitious, charming guy from Michigan. He was a year younger than me. We laughed a lot when we got together to gossip or break stories. I can’t remember who slipped my spec script to David – Martha Coolidge? Kip Ohman?  David and I partnered on several spec pitches and a couple of bona-fide (paying!) development deals but – alas – none of our joint efforts survived to see the light of day.

David made it big without me when he found, developed and co-produced “Witness” in 1985. The same year he produced “Explorers” and in 1986 he produced “The Hitcher” with his friend Kip Ohman.

David Bombyk, Producer

Kip succumbed to AIDS in 1987 at age 41. I met David for lunch a few months later. He looked haunted and thin; he talked about how hard it was sorting through and dispersing Kip’s belongings after he was gone.

David Bombyk 1952 - 1989

It was the last time I saw or spoke to David. He died on January 20, 1989, age 36.  His mother got in touch with me shortly after the funeral and sent me a beautiful ceramic vase David wanted me to have. He collected them.

Green Vase_edited-1

She was charged with the excruciating task of sorting through and dispersing her son’s possessions. I can’t imagine how painful that must have been.

LA Times - David Bombyk

AIDS took a lot of good people, especially in the 80s. For me, David Bombyk was one of the great ones. Unfailingly kind, loyal to his friends and brilliant when it came to developing scripts. Witness has long been a staple in screenwriting classes to illustrate a near-perfect script. I see David’s fingerprints on it. I don’t know if I’d have a writing career at all if David hadn’t believed in me before anyone else did. I’ll always be grateful; I’ll miss him and his laughter forever.

Of Mere Being

 

September 15, 1967

 

September 15, 1967Statistically, I had a miserable time at the Wutzit – or any other dance venue – far more often than I had a great time. A line from Buffalo Springfield’s song “Everybody’s Been Burned” always made me think of the Wutzit.

“Anybody in this place – can tell you to your face – why you shouldn’t try to love someone”

Not exactly “I Could Have Danced All Night”. This night in 1967 was an exception. I’d met Lewis a couple months earlier but hadn’t seen or spoken to him since. This time we connected instantly and dated for the next six weeks, until he broke up with me. As usual, we promised to stay friends but we didn’t follow through.

Lewis at Rio Del Mar beach
Lewis at Rio Del Mar beach

Occasionally, over the next four decades, I wondered what happened to Lewis – where he went, what he did. I didn’t hold out much hope for internet searches since his last name – Bell – is popular. To my surprise, I got lucky in 2014 and happened upon something he posted to encourage someone dealing with cancer. Despite the odds – he was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in 1996 – he survives, in large part due (IMHO) to his relentlessly positive outlook on life.

Lewis 1967Even though we haven’t set eyes on each other for almost half a century, we became FB friends and we know each other better today than we did in the sixties. He’s still a brilliant pianist and it turns out he’s a composer too. He also has an eye for art and gift for graphics that I lack and has graciously shared some of his free time in retirement to help me with these diary-blogs (when he’s not volunteering at his local SPCA, something else I admire about him).

Only photo of Lewis and me together in 1967.
Only photo of Lewis and me together in 1967.

I’m grateful to Facebook for making some of these re-connections possible – and grateful to Lewis for being such a great friend.

September 14, 2003

September 14 2003

I strongly considered skipping this diary entry; I prefer the impression I have a perfect marriage and this entry shows the cracks. I decided to publish it anyway because – while I can’t see behind anyone else’s bedroom door – I strongly suspect most long-married couples suffer through periods when they are less than enchanted with each other – when one of them is so unhappy that walking out the door is an option.

John absent for this big family shot.
John absent for this big family shot.

I was miserable enough to fantasize about divorce more than once but I never followed through. I realize now that I blamed John for my deep dissatisfaction with myself and my life. This was particularly true early in our marriage, when I was stuck at home with a baby and a writing career looked like an impossible dream.  I told myself I’d leave him as soon as I was self-supporting but when I became self-supporting, I was happier with myself so I no longer wanted to leave.

There were difficult times in the early days too.
There were difficult times in the early days too.

In 2003, we did separate – for a week. I think the reality of a split scared both of us; it scared me, I was a basket case. Things were significantly better when we got back together because we both chose to be there. That’s a big part of marital happiness, I think – the knowledge you chose and have been chosen.

Have things been all sunshine and rainbows since then? Of course not, we’re human. We disagree about many things. We can get on each other’s nerves. We know each other’s weak spots so we’re masters at sticking the knife in – although we do it far less often than we did when we were young. We’re old enough to know that most of the things we fight about aren’t worth it but that doesn’t always stop us. Both of us want it our way, all the time. Neither of us get everything we want.

Kathleen & John

That said, we get enough. We’ve been married 42 years and counting and I don’t see either of us filing for divorce anytime soon. If any young marrieds read this, don’t give up too soon. There are times when your relationship might look hopeless. That doesn’t mean it is hopeless. You’re not the first or last couple to feel broken. That doesn’t always mean it’s over.

 

September 12, 2012

September 12, 2012

Sick on Vacation 2

The view from my hotel window.
The view from my hotel window.

 My youngest son, Alex, was working at Disney when they offered their employees a great deal on a fall visit to their Aulani family resort in Hawaii. The whole family went – me, J, Chris, Serena, Sam and Alex. I was the only one who spent 90% of it in bed (which also explains the dearth of good photos – I’m usually the family photographer and I didn’t leave our room until the last two days).

Disney Kleenex

The family in hotel corridor.
The family in hotel corridor.

Those final days were great. I braved the water slides and the whole family went to a luau. I took romantic couples pictures of Chris and Serena on the beach – they were getting into heavy wedding planning.

Chris and Serena
Chris and Serena

I wish I’d been able to take better advantage of our surroundings but in a way it’s good we went when we did. It’s easy to travel as a family when the kids are little and have no lives of their own. Traveling as a family with adult children, all of whom actually do have busy lives packed with commitments that can’t be rescheduled as easily as a play date, presents some logistical challenges.

At the luau
At the luau

Chris was thinking through his Thesis film for UCLA. John never travels without frequent calls from the office. Sam was embarking on her MLA in Library Science from Drexel. Somehow, we made it work – five of them did, anyway. I spent six full days hacking away in bed.

John and Alex check cell phones to take care of business (at Luau).
John and Alex check cell phones to take care of business (at Luau).

 

September 10, 1996

September 10, 1996

This was an exciting, productive time in my writing career. Maybe a few lucky screen and television writers enjoy steady careers uninterrupted by unemployment; I suspect the majority, like myself, are either overbooked or out of work and terrified their career is over. My specialty, which kept me employed – mostly by NBC – during this period was my speed. I could deliver a Movie of the Week (MOW) ready for production in two weeks. It might not win any Emmys or Humanitas awards, but no one needed to use a pseudonym or hang their heads in shame.

8/7 PM Saturdays on NBC.
8/7 PM Saturdays on NBC.

I felt the pressure but didn’t mind it; I thrived on the crazy deadlines. I enjoyed and respected the creative people I worked with. I loved how MOWs (especially green-lit ones!) went into production minutes after I handed in a script. None of the months and years of development that went into film assignments only to wind up abandoned when the studio regime changed.

NBC Loomed large in my life and my cousin Craig and his wife Karen (who shares my exact birthday - year and everything) when they visited us in California.
NBC Loomed large in my life and my cousin Craig and his wife Karen (who shares my exact birthday – year and everything) when they visited us in California.

Another perk – television writers exert considerably more control over their work than feature writers; this is far truer for staff series writers than MOW writers. Either way, you are far less likely to be rewritten in television than features. That said, I did my fair share of MOW rewrites as well as originals; my name doesn’t appear on some of them because, unless it’s a page-one rewrite, it’s difficult for second or third writers to get credit and it always involves a WGA arbitration.

Outside in the NBC parking lot with Craig and Karen Thu again.
Outside in the NBC parking lot with Craig and Karen Thu again.

Kanan Road – which became Malibu Shores – has a special place in my heart because it was a backdoor pilot for a series which was ordered into production early in ’97. It turned out to be short-lived (being scheduled at 8 PM on Saturday nights – what some people called “the Tower of London” because that’s where NBC shows awaited execution – didn’t help. Especially since the target demographic was teens). That said, I learned a lot and appreciated every minute of it. I’m grateful to everyone who made it possible.

NBC Dropped the ball on this one..........
Did anybody drop the ball, who knows?

 

September 8, 1964

September 8, 1964_edited-1

$2.00 - My total net worth at the time.
$2.00 – My total net worth at the time.

 Funny how my perception of what constitutes a “problem” changed over the years. Today, for instance, it wouldn’t bother me a bit to be known as a brain – quite the contrary.

My geeky dud self around this time.
My geeky dud self around this time.

My mother telling me I’d be allowed to go to a Jr. High dance was a really big deal in a positive way.  I do not want to perpetuate the stereotype of a preacher forbidding an entire town of teens from dancing ala “Footloose.” As a Lutheran pastor’s daughter, I can unequivocally state my father never sought to impose his views on a community – or even a neighborhood. And, to the best of my knowledge, Lutherans have not been “forbidden” to dance in my lifetime.

With my nuclear family around this time.
With my nuclear family around this time.

That said, even in the sixties some stigma attached to dancing at least in the Midwest. I had a major temper tantrum one summer when I wasn’t allowed to go to a dance at Lake Okoboji with my cousins. More importantly – at least to me – because of this unwritten stigma about the clergy and dancing, I never got to go to a Father-Daughter Dance with my dad. He was uncomfortable with the idea.

With my handsome father.
With my handsome father.

As far as parents go, mine were the best and I have nothing to complain about. Whining about how I never got to dance with my dad is vain and silly, I know that. Still. I thought he was the handsomest man in the world and I would have loved to show him off and dance with him, just once.

My daughter with her father at her Father-Daughter high school dance.
My daughter with her father at her Father-Daughter high school dance.

September 6, 1980

 

 

September 6, 1980 It’s too bad my 10-year high school reunion fell before John’s. If I’d been forced to attend his first, I would have had more empathy for him when we went to mine. Let’s just say, it’s not easy to attend a significant other’s high school reunion when you didn’t go to high school anywhere close to the same zip code.

John and me at my sister Joyce's wedding around this time.
John and me at my sister Joyce’s wedding around this time.

For a narcissist such as myself, it’s excruciating not to recognize anybody or be recognized; I was a ghost. Seemingly everybody in the place wanted to talk to John.  I had no idea who they were and they had no interest in me. On the bright side, it was excellent training for future office and legal dinners when everybody wants to talk cases with J and I can’t contribute as much as a crumb to the conversation.

John and I at someone else's wedding around this time.
John and me at someone else’s wedding around this time.

A spouse reconnecting with an old high school flame is a typical reunion challenge. For me, it would’ve been a mistake to panic – it brings out the worst. Besides, I could understand why J liked Jill. She was smart, pretty, classy. He wouldn’t meet me for five long years after graduating from high school – of course he fell for other girls.  As friends, they no doubt had a lot in common and genuinely liked each other. It would’ve been stupid and arbitrary to go nuclear crazy and possessive – “Don’t you dare talk to her!” Which isn’t to say I don’t get jealous. I do. But a little jealousy never killed anyone. There is, of course, more to this tale, but I’ll save it for another time.

John and I at my high school reunion, a year earlier. Apparently the photographer missed us at his reunion.
John and me at my high school reunion, a year earlier. Apparently the photographer missed us at his reunion.

September 5, 1981

September 5, 1981

I met Holly Palance at Francis Coppola’s house. She was there with Fred Roos and I was there to see some test footage of “The Outsiders” shot by another director. There wasn’t any chance to talk to her nor anything in particular we needed to talk about. Fred encouraged both of us to go to the upcoming Telluride Film Festival – and both of us took him up on it, on the assumption he would be in Telluride too.

In Telluride with Holly Palance

Not so fast! Something came up and Fred couldn’t make it to Telluride after all. I was there with my sister Janet and neither of us knew anyone else. Small prestigious boutique film festivals like Telluride can make anyone feel like an outsider. Everyone in town for the festival is somebody in the “Industry” and they all know everyone else as well as the up and coming talent to watch.

Holly in Telluride

Since I was none of the above, I was quarantined on the fringes until I recognized Holly strolling alone down Telluride’s main street. I called hello, not expecting much. She could’ve traveled in whatever circle she so desired but she was kind. It was more fun to be on the fringes with Holly than dead center in the In Crowd.

Hanging out at The Senate

Our backgrounds couldn’t have been more different – Holly, a movie star’s daughter, grew up in Beverly Hills. She actually met the Beatles! Me, a Lutheran pastor’s daughter from Iowa via Santa Clara, a legacy more linked to pig and corn farmers than Hollywood. Holly has exquisite taste; I have no artistic eye. Somehow, we connected, though, and formed a close friendship that lasted for years.

Young Holly about to shake hands with George Harrison.
Young Holly about to shake hands with George Harrison.

Not long enough. For no apparent reason, by no one’s design, we drifted apart. Reading this and recalling the great times I shared with Holly, I regret not paying enough attention to prevent it from happening. I suspect that’s the root cause when friendships slowly fade away without really ending.

Kathleen & Holly

Maybe it’s not too late. I miss Holly and one of these days I hope we’ll meet for lunch and another long conversation. We have a lot of terrain to cover, but coming from such different worlds, we always did – and that much of Holly’s history can’t help but be full of fascinating surprises. One of these days….

 

September 3, 1978

September 3, 1978

 Board Games in Tahoe 1978

This is one of those vacations that passed without significant incident – no sight-seeing or hiking expeditions, just a few ordinary days in a beautiful environment away from the distractions of home. There was more “action” doing Tahoe with the Rowell’s, in part because there are more of them. John is the oldest of seven and all of them, plus his parents and his aunt Mary, were at Tahoe in 1977  – unlike John, at least for the first two days, who was not. He worked for a maniacal boss and couldn’t get away. When he did escape, he almost immediately got sick.

More board games in Tahoe 1978

The Rowell’s were more social – what I thought of as party people. No one would ever describe my family as “party people”.  I might as well be gauche and say it; they had more money. They dined out at swankier restaurants than Bob’s Big Boy a couple nights a week.  Unless it was Bob’s or we had a coupon, we rarely ate out more than once or twice a year. I’m not complaining; my palate was satisfied with a Big Boy. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued by my in-laws more glamourous life-style.

Joyce and me striking a pose and Captain Janet probably winning at miniature golf.
Joyce and me striking a pose and Captain Janet probably winning at miniature golf.

Our relatively quiet brood of five – six including the soon to be Terrible Two CD – were less cosmopolitan. Our idea of a party took place every Sunday night, when my father finished his duties at church. Instead of dinner, we indulged in a weekly “popcorn party” – the popping part involved more ritual before microwaves simplified everything.

CD - 1978
CD – 1978

Casinos were not on our itinerary but we played every board game under the sun. By 1978, Jani and I no longer burst into tears and accused each other of cheating. There’s something to be said for learning how to lose. Was this an exciting vacation? Hardly. Memorable? Not that much. I’ve shared as much as I remember.

We 3
We 3

Still, looking back, this low-key time assumes a bittersweet beauty – magnified now that I’ve lost both my parents. What I wouldn’t give for a few more of those beautiful ordinary days with them!


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