writing

January 22, 1978

January 22, 1978

While combing my diaries for a suitable blog entry, if I find a snippet about CD, I usually send it to the adult CD just to give him some idea of his life as a two-year-old.  Since he has no conscious memories of his infancy, he can’t enlighten me about what actually ran through his mind.

CD at the park 1

A child psychiatrist might hazard an informed guess about which cognitive skills were in development but no one will ever know for sure. Odds are, my instincts were right and what amused him involved repetition.

CD at the park 2

As my diaries suggest, by nature I wrote down almost everything that happened, no matter how apparently trivial. I’m glad I did, now, since some of the things that seemed mundane – even then – acquired significance in the ensuing years. I forgot almost everything I failed to record for posterity.

CD at the park 3

As my firstborn, CD was the beneficiary – or the victim, depending on your point of view – of my meticulous record keeping. Sometimes, in bursts of energy, he’d run races with himself, up and down the family room, shouting “Go!”  a few seconds after he started. We could guarantee a smile by throwing a towel over his head, asking “Where’s CD?” and yanking it off. Hilarious! Two-year-old’s – the best audience ever.

J & CD at the park

 

 

January 12, 1972

January 12, 1972_edited-1

I knew that I bragged too much – “I had to tell people…I got into Kessler’s poetry class.” For sure, I boasted to the pages of my diary. I doubt anyone ever paid me a compliment I didn’t promptly record, verbatim. I’m probably bragging right now, by reprinting this particular diary entry. (“Look how great I used to be!”) That said, if I’m ever going to correct my character flaw of vanity – or is it pride? – I need to own it, so here goes – I’m conceited.

Yay me!

It’s not very Norwegian.  My parents raised me not to “sing my own praises.” (On the other hand, there is that parable about not hiding your light under a bushel but I’m not sure that exonerates me.) I always dislike myself after I “toot my own horn” – just not enough to stop doing it.

Good Norwegians avoid the limelight.
Good Norwegians avoid the limelight.

Obviously, my braggadocio stems from a pervasive sense of inadequacy. Einstein didn’t announce he was a genius. Garbo didn’t brag that she was a famous movie star. Brilliant, talented people don’t need to tell the world how smart and exceptional they are. It’s obvious. It’s equally obvious when they are not. And no amount of self-promotion can turn mediocrity into greatness.

Not always, though.
Not always, though.

December 11, 1967

December 11, 1967

 These conversations may not sound “deep” today (or was the word “heavy”?)  I’m glad I wrote them down – otherwise, I’d have no idea what my sisters and I talked about as kids. Do you remember childhood topics of conversation with your friends? Your siblings? Your parents? Do you ever wish you’d written it down?

Janet and I in 1967
Janet and I in 1967

I have zero independent recall of the vast majority of days described in my diary. They sound vaguely familiar – like something I might’ve overheard or said – but it’s my diary telling me what happened, not any real recollection.

Possibly our Christmas tree expedition - not sure
Possibly our Christmas tree expedition – not sure

Oddly, I do remember this conversation with my father – it started with my short story and evolved into a discussion of coming of age. I can see him on the floor, repairing that cupboard in our Del Monte kitchen. He made such an effort to meet me on my own turf. He listened to my Beatles records, listened to the Doors. Being young and selfish, I didn’t respond with reciprocal interest in his world. I wish I had; he had more to teach me than I could ever teach him. That said, his purpose was never to indoctrinate – he wanted to know me.

My Family
My Family

I should have written a lot more down.

 

December 3, 1980

December 3, 1980

 These were heady, exciting days.  The chance to adapt S.E. Hinton’s novel for the screen was the break of a lifetime and I didn’t want to blow it. At my pitch meeting, I impulsively volunteered to return to high school – posing as a student – to determine if contemporary high school cliques resembled those depicted in Hinton’s 1967 novel.

As part of my disguise, I permed my hair to hide my face. Yikes!
As part of my disguise, I permed my hair to hide my face. Yikes!

I was a novice at writing as well as posing as somebody I wasn’t. I’d written two spec scripts and an unproduced MOW. Technically, I knew what I was doing; I could perform at a high level in academia but what about the real world, for real stakes?  The story meetings were intimidating. Facing blank pages felt terrifying. Add to that, the pressure to pass for a 17-year-old high school student when I was a 29-year-old married mother.

My high school student disguise
My high school student disguise

Because I was a nobody in a sea of somebodies, there’s no reason Jon Davidson should have recognized me – particularly since I worked all of three months at New World, ostensibly as Roger Corman’s assistant (my title) but actually as the receptionist (harsh reality). Jon was sweet to pretend; it gave my ego a tiny but desperately needed boost.

Real life - if Ren Faire can be considered real life.
Real life – if Ren Faire can be considered real life.

 

August 30, 1980

August 30, 1980

Sailing


Art, CD & J sailing
Thirty-eight years flew by and we never went sailing with Art – or anyone else – again. How do our good intentions – our genuine desires – get so easily buried under our daily routine?

Castaic Lake

Most people – myself included – have at least a vague idea about what might make us happy but most things I think I want – my fantasy about shopping for a medieval chateau in France, for example – rarely top my To Do list.

Skipper Art

Okay, that example is over-the-top, particularly since I don’t speak a word of French, so I’ll scale it down to “we should go sailing more often.”  Current reality suggests that goal is as impossible to realize as a castle in France.

J sailing

In part, that’s due to the Protestant work ethic – in the words of John Lennon, “a man must work to earn his day of leisure.” Until I make significant progress toward my grandiose goals, I don’t deserve to reward myself.

Kathleen enjoying sailing

My second handicap is the fact I’m spectacularly disorganized. Every weekend, I promise myself I’ll stay home and order my life so that next weekend I’ll have nothing but free time to do whatever I please. Unfortunately, like Gatsby’s green light, my dream of a perfectly organized life “year by year recedes before me. It eluded me then but that’s no matter. Tomorrow, I will run faster, stretch my arms farther, and one fine morning – so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (Thank you, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’m pretty sure I’d die happy if I wrote something that beautiful.)

Cd sailing

August 26, 1977

August 26, 1977
Lazing at Lake Tahoe

 That summer, the Rowells rented a house at Lake Tahoe and CD and I spent a lazy week lounging by the lake. CD was eight and a half months old (those half-months seemed to matter back then).

CD & J on the beach

J enjoyed what – in retrospect – can only be considered conservative gambling. Before he played the first chip, he settled on an amount he was willing to lose and stuck to it, no matter what happened.

The following year in Tahoe again
The following year in Tahoe again

That wasn’t good enough for someone with my Midwestern roots. The concept of gambling was – and still is – an anathema. Spending real money for what will probably amount to “nothing” violates my core values. Watching J do it – with our money – created unbearable anxiety and made me intolerable.

CD & me on the beach in Tahoe

I hovered over his shoulder while he played, snatching every chip he won and stuffing it in my pockets on the theory that if he lost the rest, my stash would pull us closer to even. Not surprisingly, my oversight dampened the fun for him, (apparently, today such chip-snatching is against house rules).

Like father like son in Tahoe

My tolerance for games of chance – for any ambiguity, actually – is considerably lower than J’s, which explains why he’s a trial attorney – a profession in which no verdict is ever guaranteed – and I write fiction, where I control the ending.

 

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 30, 1976

April 30, 1976

George Sontag & Ed Morrell
George Sontag & Ed Morrell

Back in 1976, when I was immersed in research for what I hoped would be a non-fiction book on central California train-robbers Sontag and Evens, I knew their story down to the tiniest details. (Link to previous blog) Driving through the central Valley to interview another old-timer, I mused about the true nature of these dead people I read about in the history books. They were as real to me as most of my friends.

John Sontag, the wounded outlaw and the successful manhunters
John Sontag, the wounded outlaw and the successful manhunters

It’s disheartening to read this entry today and realize I have no idea who “George” was. The name Ed Morrell sounds familiar but I’ve forgotten the part he played in the story. All those facts I thought were hard-wired into my brain lasted about as long as the Southern Pacific ruled the central Valley (not very).

animated-train-image-0031

There’s a box in my garage full of cassette tapes of interviews, notes from old newspaper articles, dusty books with yellowed pages. I never consciously abandoned the project; I told myself I was taking a break to unmoor myself from the trivial literal details that paralyzed my efforts to tell the story.

Research notes and letters - all hand typed - no spellcheck back then
Research notes and letters – all hand typed – no spellcheck back then

To pick it up again, I’d need to start over and the process would be different. An hour on the internet probably equals weeks of pound-the-pavement research. The downside is that all of their contemporaries are dead. I probably have some of their last interviews, although I can’t vouch for their accuracy. For all I know, someone else wrote the book I intended to write.

Official photographs of Chris Evans
Official photographs of Chris Evans

But if they haven’t – there’s a box in my garage that awaits my attention.  Maybe the time has finally come.

 

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

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