Santa Clara

May 11, 1965

May 11, 1965

The picture in the front of that diary - still hideous after all these years.
The picture in the front of that diary – still hideous after all these years.

 In 1965, I was foolishly over-optimistic about how easy it  would be to conquer my tendency to talk like it’s a race to the finish line (and the loser dies) whenever I speak to a group. The larger the group, the faster I gallop.

I call this facial expression "the Silent Scream".
I call this facial expression “the Silent Scream”.

Obviously, nerves – or more accurately fear – is the root of this malady. A doctor explained it’s due to a primal burst of adrenalin – speaking in public triggers a “fight or flight” response in my reptilian brain.

Given my father, a Lutheran pastor, delivered a sermon to a large seated congregation every Sunday, you’d think I might acquire this skill naturally – by osmosis.  I did not.

Mom! Kathy is doing all the talking again!

I made up for it in small groups – such as my nuclear family – where I felt comfortable. There, I morphed into “Chatty Cathy”, a nickname I loathed. It was all Janet could do to get a word in edgewise.

Word in edgewise

My father recorded us after dinner and doing family devotions. I belted out every verse of every hymn I knew by heart, barely pausing to catch my breath. In my monotone shriek, it had to be excruciating. My father tried to slow me down. “It’s Janet’s turn. Let Janet sing.”

She's too little!

(atonal shrieking)

Joy to the world

 

Let Earth recieve her KING

And on and on, all recorded for posterity. Clearly, I was desperate to entertain them lest they decide I’d become redundant now that Baby Janet was on the scene. Photographic evidence of my terrifying ordeal can be seen in my gallery, “Kathy Vs. the Alien Baby”.

 

 

 

April 28, 1968


April 28, 1968

My nuclear family circa 1968
My nuclear family circa 1968

It’s difficult if not impossible to convey what life was really like in 1968 to people who weren’t even born then. IMHO, most films set in the sixties are cliched embarrassments. The best was “The Big Chill” but even that was nothing like my reality.

I never considered running away. My father made a concerted effort to stay close. He would sit beside me and listen attentively to both sides of a new Beatles album – not to censor my music but to stay connected to my world. He took me – my opinions, my passions – seriously. Since I was still a self-involved child, it never occurred to me to exhibit similar interest in his music. My loss.

My father and I on my Confirmation Day.
My father and I on my Confirmation Day.

Baby boomers like me – teenagers in the late sixties – weren’t all about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll although “revolution” was in the air. My friend JoAnn, an aspiring model, had been obsessed with appearances – her personal revolution was reflected in a new craving for more authentic relationships.

My friend JoAnn
My friend JoAnn

The times exerted a powerful effect on Tal Pomeroy, who drew a high number in the draft lottery. One of the smartest boys at Wilcox, he was successfully challenged in his efforts to help me grasp the periodic table of the elements.  He didn’t take a traditional route to his eventual M.D. like he might’ve in the fifties. Instead, he criss-crossed the US, worked all manner of jobs and got to know all kinds of people. Along the way, he handwrote long beautiful letters which could never be condensed to a text or tweet.

Tal Pomeroy
Tal Pomeroy

I’m grateful I came of age in the sixties. Were they better or worse than other times? I don’t know – but I doubt any other era could be as interesting.

Coming of age in the sixties

April 24, 1966

APril 24, 1966

Santa Cruz Beach postcard
Santa Cruz Beach postcard

This is another one of those splendid spring days Sandy and I shared, when not a whole lot happened. I  probably wouldn’t recall it at all, if I hadn’t written it down (and I think the beach photos posted here might’ve been taken today). I can’t imagine what we found so hilarious about “Rockin’ Robin” – we were probably punchy after a day in the sun and surf with our best friend. As usual, my perennial fear made it into the mix – “I bored her” – but Sandy’s mother was sweet and reassuring.  We were both barely fifteen years old. It was a good time to be young in a city like Santa Cruz.

Sandy on the beach
Sandy on the beach

For whatever reason, my family didn’t go to the beach a lot, at least not that I remember. Our family outings – rare on Sundays, a working day for my Lutheran pastor father – more often than not took us to Mt. Cross (a Lutheran Bible camp in the mountains) or a local tour of model homes. We weren’t looking to buy – we lived in the parsonage, which was owned by the church – but we loved to pretend we were moving into our own house. My sisters and I competed over who got the best imaginary bedroom.

Me circa 1966
Me circa 1966

I haven’t been to Santa Cruz in decades but I’m sure – like the rest of the Silicon Valley – it’s nothing like the Santa Cruz I remember. I invite anyone who reads this and has been there recently to share their impressions about how it’s changed – what it’s like today.

Sandy and me on the beach.
Sandy and me on the beach.

Is the boardwalk still there?

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

The roller coaster?

Roller Coaster

March 25, 1970

March 25, 1970

Janet and I in our Santa Clara neighborhood shortly after we moved there.
Janet and I in our Santa Clara neighborhood shortly after we moved there.

It’s not terribly surprising I was adamant about Santa Clara being my home considering my family left Santa Clara for San Diego a mere six months before I wrote this entry. In contrast, it astonishes me that 47 years later, I still regard Santa Clara as my home – despite the fact I never lived there again. Realistically, hasn’t LA – where I’ve lived the last 47 years – earned the right to be called home?

Yeah, objectively, no doubt about it. Emotionally, not so fast. I grew up in Santa Clara, it will forever be where I spent my childhood, it’s the backdrop for all my highly formative memories and experiences.

My sisters and I in front of our Santa Clara parsonage - the girl on the far right in the bathing suit is Alana (Lennie), a neighbor and early friend.
My sisters and I in front of our Santa Clara parsonage – the girl on the far right in the bathing suit is Alana (Lennie), a neighbor and early friend.
The three Knutsen sisters in August of 1957
The three Knutsen sisters in August of 1957

Unfortunately, the Santa Clara I regard as home ceased to exist shortly after I left. I’ve covered this in other blogs (July 18, 1969, August 26, 1969) and I’m loathe to repeat myself. Still, Santa Clara’s metamorphoses into Silicon Valley fascinates me.

Janet, Joyce and I in front of Santa Clara parsonage a little later.
Janet, Joyce and I in front of Santa Clara parsonage a little later.

Someday I’d love to write a historical novel about Santa Clara. I’d approach it as a multi-generational saga about a family who own an apricot orchard, tracing family members and the city itself as it evolves to Silicon Valley.  I’ve been warned family sagas are out of fashion but by the time I finish, they might be all the rage again.

March 19, 1965

 


March 19, 1965

Perhaps Sandy and I shared a deviously clever rationale for the eraser scam – but I doubt it. The truth is, occasionally – maybe frequently, depending on your point of view – Sandy and I could be extremely unique. Creative? Original? Okay, off the charts weird.

Sandy & Kathy2

Apparently, our acquisition of the eraser was a major coup – why? And what, exactly, was the purpose of the Corridor Stomp?  If I put on my amateur shrink hat, I suspect the aggressive march was our way to feel powerful and in control of a situation – Junior High – that was beyond our control.

Sandy & Kathy1

To me, something else stands out even more than our weirdness – our innocence, particularly by today’s standards. When I wrote this entry, Sandy and I were fourteen. In our own minds, we were BAD-ASS rebels without a cause. Kathy and Sandy equals explosion!

Sandy and I, approximately 1965
Sandy and I, approximately 1965

How big was our explosion? We didn’t shoplift, fool around with older boys, deface public property, hot-wire cars or joyride. We stalked – unobserved – down hallways and tricked school supplies out of hapless janitors. Woo-hoo, stand aside Bonnie and Clyde, here come Kathy and Sandy – hide your chalk and bar the doors, or kiss that pencil sharpener goodbye.

Re-enacting the Corridor Stomp years later.
Re-enacting the Corridor Stomp years later.

I don’t regret our extreme innocence. In the fifty years that follow, we’ll find more than enough time and opportunity to lose it. We were fortunate to be as naïve as we were in a world where childhood shortens with every new generation.

No one over 12 years old allowed

I don’t think we missed out on anything nor did we do actual harm amusing ourselves with our naïve rebellions. I never feared being “a little weird” when I was with Sandy, I was too busy laughing and having a blast.

animated-explosion-image-0009

animated-laughing-image-0175

March 9. 1969

March 9, 1969

This wasn’t my first – or last – fantasy about taking drastic measures to escape my life. I didn’t follow through on this brilliant plan or any of the others which didn’t stop me from devising new schemes to start over someplace else whenever I’m overwhelmed where I am.

Flying away to Sweden
Flying away to Sweden

Before my wedding, I thought about hopping a plane and disappearing in Sweden (because I took Swedish at UCLA, as if that would do me any good.)  Thank God I lost my nerve – or regained my senses – and showed up at the church on time. Sticking around and seeing things through was always the right choice.

Hop a train to a new life, new name, new city.
Hop a train to a new life, new name, new city.

The fantasy of running away – starting a new life with a new name – is probably impossible in our high-tech surveillance-happy world. Even if I could, there’s no reason to believe my new life would improve on the one I’m living. As the saying goes, wherever you run to, you take yourself with you.

Go where?
Go where?

And of course, “myself” is the problem. The only way to change my circumstances is change myself. It’s an inside adjustment, not an outside one. I didn’t know that in ’69, as I sank into a bottomless clinical depression. I find solace in the fact that no matter how much I wanted to leave this life, I stayed – and you know what? It got better.

These boots are made for walking - incognito woman of mystery somewhere far north of here
These boots are made for walking – incognito woman of mystery somewhere far north of here

March 1, 1965

March 1, 1965

animated-scared-image-0006

what if?

What a classic example of freaking out about something that isn’t close to happening. From the sound of this entry, I wasn’t even babysitting when I started down this terrifying path of “What ifs?”  That said, on more than one actual babysitting job, my parents had to deliver Janet to calm me down – and I hadn’t even seen movies like Halloween.  (They hadn’t been made yet and even if they’d been available, my parents forbade us to see horror movies. Their attitude was, “If you still want to see this gore when you’re 18, fine. Until then, you don’t need it.”  Given my propensity for hysteria, I can’t argue with their wisdom.

Photo clearly taken on March 2nd - could be 1965, not sure (sadly)
Photo clearly taken on March 2nd – could be 1965, not sure (sadly)

This tendency to extrapolate the most dreadful outcome of any given situation was a curse in romantic relationships. If a guy didn’t call me on time, I convinced myself he was losing interest, intended to drop me, hated me, was madly in love with my worst enemy. Once these ideas took hold, it was hard to release them and I turned into a needy clingy nutcase.

In front of our house on Del Monte around this time.
In front of our house on Del Monte around this time.

Lucky for me, one area where catastrophizing is an asset not a liability is film and television writing.  When writing a movie of the week, you look for the worst possible alternative. If a husband checks out the hot divorcee down the street, odds are his wife will be dead by the first commercial break. The more trouble a writer can hurl at his hero, the more dramatic and emotionally involving the story. The principle works in fiction – not so much in real life.

February 25, 1969

February 25, 1969

In late February 1969, my clinical depression escalated. (See November 30, 1968) My part-time job at California Book couldn’t save me but it staunched the bleeding. It forced me to adhere to a schedule. I only worked 16 hours a week, but it was my first job and I took it seriously. It didn’t infringe on my social life since I no longer had one. I didn’t miss it.

Some people lose weight when they get depressed. They find no pleasure in food. That was never my problem. I packed on twenty pounds in no time.
Some people lose weight when they get depressed. They find no pleasure in food. That was never my problem. I packed on twenty pounds in no time.
In a futile attempt to hide the extra pounds, I made poor fashion choices like this.
In a futile attempt to hide the extra pounds, I made poor fashion choices like this.

The major symptom of my despair was a total lack of interest in anything. Anhedonia is the technical term. It means “an inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable … including the motivation or desire to engage in activities.”  It took enormous effort to shower. If I also washed my hair, I was too spent to go to school. Not so long ago I could do both – wash my hair and attend school –  but not anymore.

Trying to hide behind my happy nuclear family, I make another poor fashion decision.
Trying to hide behind my happy nuclear family, I make another poor fashion decision.

I knew I wasn’t living up to the curse of my so-called potential. My parents were disappointed, although they never said so. It was nothing compared to how much I loathed myself.

The last thing I needed was more time in bed to think. That kind of self-centered contemplation was like swimming through quicksand – there was no way out, only down. The answer was activity, to get out of bed and out of the house. I knew what to do, but I lacked the energy – and the desire – to do it.

HANG ON!
HANG ON!

Writing about my year of depression is about as much fun as living it. I do it because so many people get stuck in something similar. In the thick of it, I felt alone and empty. It might’ve helped to know I wasn’t. If you’re depressed and read this, remember – you’re not alone or empty either. Things get better. Hang on.

February 23, 1964


February 23, 1964

 

The four of us in 1964 - From the left, Me, Natalie, Janet & Joyce
The four of us in 1964 – From the left, Me, Natalie, Janet & Joyce

From today’s vantage point, life looks simple in ‘64 but it didn’t feel that way then. I obsessed over what other people thought of me (which they didn’t, much). Subtle shifts in friendship sent me reeling. I stewed about my performance in school. I wanted to be number one in everything but I was afraid to be best at anything.

I was afraid to be best at anything.
I was afraid to be best at anything.

My need to be number one began in ‘53, when my parents shattered my fragile 2-year-old psyche by bringing my sister Janet home. I got their message loud and clear. If I’d been a better baby – cuter, smarter, more entertaining – they wouldn’t have needed another baby. I ran outside and bawled my eyes out.

Me, on the day they brought Janet home.
Me, on the day they brought Janet home.
It's nice to have Janet to play with sometimes.
It’s nice to have Janet to play with sometimes.

They flat-out refused to return her. Over time, I discovered she – and later Joyce – had some good points. Little sisters were easy to trick. Gradually both of them became fun to talk to. In fact, it was easier to talk to them than anyone else in the world.

We can talk to each other about things other people don't understand. Because it's a Knutsen thing.
We can talk to each other about things other people don’t understand. Because it’s a Knutsen thing.

Because we knew which buttons to push, emotions ran high. They could cut me to the bone, infuriate and inspire me, rouse my jealousy and my compassion. On balance, we shared more laughter than tears.

Sharing some laughter.
Sharing some laughter.

I trust them with my deepest secrets, my darkest self. When I fail and feel all is lost, my sisters raise me from the dead. They’ve got my back when I need them most. They love me when I don’t deserve it, believe in me when I give up. They’re the wind beneath my wings, my bridge over troubled waters. They light up my life. You get the gist.

We learn how to share precious puppies and kittens.
We learn how to share precious puppies and kittens.

Maybe all things considered, what my sisters give me is bigger than the narcissistic wound Janet inflicted. Maybe gains always come with pain. Maybe I should stop whining about what happened 63 years ago.

Is it finally time to let this go? Now that we're all so mature?
Is it finally time to let this go? Now that we’re all so mature?

Nah. Not yet. More on this in my three photo blogs – When I was an Only Child (2 years 2 days of Bliss), Kathy Vs. the Alien Baby and And then there were three.

 

They're so happy and normal. I would be too, if everyone loved me best.
They’re so happy and normal. I would be too, if everyone loved me best.

 

February 20, 1978

February 20, 1978

 The script I refer to here turned out to be my breakthrough spec script “At 17”, inspired by and loosely based on the brilliant Janis Ian song of the same title. I didn’t have the rights – I don’t know if anyone actually did – but ABC was developing it as a Movie of the Week (MOW).

Jani and I when we were both close to At 17 in real life
Jani and I when we were both close to At 17 in real life.

My former boss at NBC, the late and much lamented Len Hill, was one of the ABC executives in charge of MOWs; my sister Janet was his assistant/secretary. He told me if I could write a brilliant script in the next ten days he’d consider it equally with the scripts the network paid for. Ten days isn’t enough to write a great script from scratch under any circumstances and it wasn’t the best of times for me. My son CD was 14 months old but well on his way to the terrible twos.

Most of my time and energy went into containing CD
Most of my time and energy went into containing CD

Nonetheless, I gave it my best shot. The tension was so high I threw up on some of those late nights (gross, I know) but – with Jani’s assistance – I finished it.  I don’t think Len or anybody else expected me to do it.

Janet and I
Janet and I

The problem was – it wasn’t good enough. The network preferred the writer who cashed their big checks. The rejection was so devastating I gave up until my pride and desire for revenge resurrected me. “I’ll show you,” I thought. “I’ll do a great rewrite and prove you were wrong to dismiss me.”

"I'll show you. I'll do a great re-write and prove you were wrong to dismiss me."
“I’ll show you. I’ll do a great re-write and prove you were wrong to dismiss me.”

 Did I succeed? I think so. Although the film never got made, it was optioned three times and garnered interest from directors like Martha Coolidge and Amy Heckerling. Years after Molly Ringwald aged out of playing a teen-ager, she told me she would’ve loved to play one of the parts. To say the least, I would’ve loved for her to play it but my script didn’t reach her at the right time.     

No one was better than Molly Ringwald when it came to playing complicated teenagers.
No one was better than Molly Ringwald when it came to playing complicated teenagers.

That’s the way things go. Big ups, big downs. Victories won, battles lost, it’s hard to quantify wins and losses when script quality is so subjective and the industry’s in constant flux.  The bottom line is, were those ten sleepless days and nights worth it when I failed to get what I wanted?   Would I do it again? Hell, yes. If I had my life to live over, I’d try harder, reach higher and risk bigger losses.  The only way to fail for good is giving up.


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