if i knew then

November 16, 1969

November 16, 1969

Paul McCartney Dead

Not to cast aspersions on any of my high school friends who read this, but in retrospect I think Luke was wrong. While it’s possible most of Santa Clara was more together (mentally) than me, I don’t believe the bulk of my contemporaries charged toward their destiny without a missed step. Luke and I made the mistake of comparing how polished my friends looked on the outside to how messed up I felt on the inside.

To me, Sandra always looked confident she knew exactly where she was going.
To me, Sandra always looked confident she knew exactly where she was going.

In truth, teen-agers navigating the tail end of the sixties had plenty of reason to be confused about the world and their place in it.   From the vantage of almost fifty years worth of hindsight, many of my peers explored multiple paths before finding their purpose. Sandy Walker briefly aspired to be a dental hygienist. (Not to disparage dental hygienists, but it wasn’t Sandy’s thing and she lasted a month.)  At her next gig – receptionist for the Whirlpool Company – she made it all the way to two. Today, she teaches fitness classes part-time (Yoga and Pilates mostly) for a Modesto health club. Tal Pomeroy traveled the country, butchered meat and sold encyclopedias before he became Tal Pomeroy, MD.  Against all odds, my art major college boyfriend Luke became an accountant – I didn’t see that coming.

My art major boyfriend Luke advising me I'm not "together."
My art major boyfriend Luke advising me I’m not “together.”

If you, too, travelled bizarre career paths before you found yourself where you belong,  feel free to comment here or on my domain. I’m endlessly intrigued by the strange trajectories of our lives.

 

November 12, 2013

November 12, 2013

I remember this dinner, which might be impressive if it was more than 4 years ago. It was one of the last relatively healthy celebrations of my mother’s birthday. There was no way to know it was one of the last although the fact it was an 88th birthday might’ve raised a red flag for some.

My mother's birthday in 2013
My mother’s birthday in 2013

Not me. The prospect of my parents not being here was too unbearable to consider. Would occasions like this be sweeter or more painful if we knew it was the last time?

Out for a meal with the family.Out for a meal with the family.
Out for a meal with the family.

In 2013, my mind was on more mundane matters than mortality. I noticed how differently my children act in restaurants compared to my sisters and I. My parents never suggested we couldn’t afford to eat out, but all three of us intuitively ordered the cheapest entree on the menu and requested water instead of an expensive soda. How did we all receive the same explicit message without words?

My sisters and me.
My sisters and me.

My children didn’t receive it. Two out of three never so much as glance at prices. Apparently, they feel worthy enough to order what they want to eat or drink. No crisis has ensued. On the contrary, my father smiled and picked up the tab for the whole group (usually numbering 16 to 20 depending on how many significant others accompany their grandchildren.)  He probably would’ve been equally accepting if my sisters and I ordered appetizers, drinks and other extras, but even today I’d call myself a cautous diner. Other people might call it cheap.

My kids and I - looks like a family meal at the now defunct Marie Callendar's.
My kids and I – looks like a family meal at the now defunct Marie Callendar’s.

It would’ve been fun to rehash these silly observations and memories with my parents, now that it’s long ago and far away and we’re all adults. I wish.

Another big family dinner.
Another big family dinner.

 

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?”

 

November 7, 1976

November 7, 1976

I was the same age as my mother when she gave birth to me when I gave birth to CD (a month after this shower, 16 months after J and I impulsively got married, in case anyone’s counting). Since I was an infant, I cannot testify to my mother’s state of mind or level of maturity but I strongly suspect she was more responsible and together than me at the same age.  Living through the Great Depression– as opposed to the Summer of Love– would tend to mature people quickly.

Pregnant with CD

John and I always planned to have children, just not in 1976.  He was in his second year of law school and before learning I was pregnant I quit my job at USC, leaving us no health insurance.  I doubt many people pay cash to give birth in hospitals today but it was possible then. These financial issues paled next to John and my psychological readiness to be parents.

8 months and counting

Our parents made it look easy; we thought we had it wired – even though we lived in a world without children (unless you count USC students as children). My friends from college were appalled when I told them I was having a baby – “Are you crazy? You’ll ruin your life.”

Let me help you

It did cost me the life I’d led until the birth of my son – because the world and my place in it shifted – but my life wasn’t “ruined.” That said, I’d be lying if I claimed things got easier – for a while, everything – including our marriage – suffered from an overload of change and stress. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. No regrets.

Shower Games2

My children aren’t rushing into things like I did. My youngest is older than I was after my third child.  Statistically, you’d think my odds of grandchildren would be high, with three adult children, but my youngest sister Joyce will soon have two and I have none (Waaaa!). Not that I’d ever want to pressure my children or anything.

Shower Games3

Tick tick.

November 4, 1973

November 4, 1973

I know that girl

I realize how vain and conceited I sound and that’s fair enough. I spend too much time worrying about my looks, comparing myself (negatively) with other girls or models in magazines. If anorexia or bulimia had been a “thing”, I probably would’ve been first to sign up. In 1973 (and before), I bought every wacky diet book– Twiggy was the ideal, remember – and obsessed about my weight.  Who knows what I might’ve accomplished, if I’d turned my mind to something meaningful instead of making endless diet plans (“If I lose two pounds a week, on January 7th I’ll finally be skinny!”).

What the mirror reflects
What the mirror reflects

I suspect I suffer from body dysmorphia alhough I haven’t been formally diagnosed (because  I never told a therapist how much time I waste obsessing about weight. They’d think less of me.) Basically, that means no matter what I look like in the mirror, I see a fat person. Anorexic thinking without the starvation.

What I see in the mirror
What I see in the mirror

That glimpse – on November 4, 1973 – was the first and only time anything like this happened. I’ve never forgotten the sheer shock – the burst of euphoric self-confidence – I experienced. I might’ve been dangerous if I’d been able to hang onto it. Alas, I can’t remember what I looked like – only how I felt.

I remember how I felt
I remember how I felt

I wish we lived in a world where everybody felt like that all the time but maybe we’d turn into  narcissists. Our insecurities keep us humble. Still – enough is enough.

 

November 2, 1965

November 2, 1965

I don’t have much of a defense here. I thoughtlessly exaggerated my victimization – why? To garner sympathy? To make myself sound more interesting? What’s worse, I did it where I could be overheard and hurt my aunt’s feelings. Is this incident why I’ve never ranked as one of her favorite nieces or nephews? Suffice to say, it didn’t help.

Aunt June with all the cousins
Aunt June with all the cousins

In truth, I didn’t mind sharing a room with her that much although odds are that conflict would’ve ensued as I got into adolescence and rock and roll. In 1965, our challenge wasn’t a clash of temperaments but rather lack of space.  Since my father was a Lutheran pastor, my family lived in whatever “parsonage” the parish provided. In Santa Clara, it was a tract home in a subdivision called Lawrence Meadows (adjacent to Killarney Farms. Funny the weird details I remember.)

Lawrence Meadows
Lawrence Meadows

The house was new and fancier than the parsonage where we lived in Elgin Iowa but it wasn’t a McMansion – at most, 1500 square feet. When my father’s younger sister June moved in, there were six people under one roof. So there was a smidgen of truth about my dearth of bureau drawers – just not enough to justify whining about my aunt.

My family, my aunt June and my grandmother pose in front of the parsonage in Santa Clara.
My family, my aunt June and my grandmother pose in front of the parsonage in Santa Clara.

I wasn’t above eavesdropping myself to catch a false friend talking behind my back. Eventually, I realized how self-destructive that impulse was. Why sneak around to hear something that will – at best – hurt my feelings and – at worst – destroy a friendship forever? Far better to assume the best of others – and try to behave so they can safely assume the best of me.

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 21, 1997

October 21, 1997

I’m a sucker for self-help books.  The hope that a solution to my problems awaits within a book is irresistible. Eternally optimistic, I reach for the latest release even though none of the previous hundred tomes told me anything new. I already know what I “should” do in most situations. The trick is making myself do it. I tend to procrastinate, delay, hoping a third option will appear and allow me have my cake, save it and eat it too.

J and I both looking demented in 1997
J and I both looking demented in 1997

In 1997, I bought Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch, the best self-help book I’ve read. Schnarch posits in every couple there’s a High Desire partner and a Low Desire partner. The Low Desire partner runs the show because he/she controls supply and demand. Over the years, partners may switch places but there will always be a High and a Low. Desire won’t be stable and equal until they’re buried together.

1997
1997

Scharch’s ideas are ground-breaking and challenging, not for the faint of heart. I recommended J read it and we both devoured Scharch’s earlier, more academic book – the Sexual Crucible. I’ve reread portions of both books countless times since then because the content is deep and real. He states out loud things most people are too afraid or uncomfortable to think.  Passionate Marriage is aimed at long-term couples in gridlock but anyone who wants to keep excitement and passion alive without sacrificing security can benefit.

J and I with Batakas (therapeutic tool - work out your aggression with these pillowy bats) years earlier.
J and I with Batakas (therapeutic tool – work out your aggression with these pillowy bats) years earlier.

That’s how J and I found ourselves in Colorado, participating with seven other couples in an intense marriage workshop led by Schnarch and his wife Ruth. The above entry was written early in a week rich with insights and breakthroughs. If you’re a self-help junkie like me, check it out. I haven’t come across anything better.

 


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