Sunday, March 20, 2016

Guest Blogger: Kathryn Atwood

[From 1976-1983, I taught English and directed plays at Holland Hall Upper School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was twenty-four and had negligible experience. I didn't know up from down about teaching, but during those years, a handful of students changed me irrevocably. Over three decades, one way or the other, they've found me. I recently invited them to become guest bloggers, reflecting on something about their high school selves.

Kathryn never had an ugly duckling moment in her life. She was breathlessly graceful and drop-dead competent. As Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream, she was mesmerizing, effortlessly reciting pages of iambic pentameter. In Look Homeward, Angel, as the forgotten sister and with few lines, I asked her to move silently through the scenes of our six-level set, performing her housekeeping tasks. Accepting the challenge, she turned her endless chores into artfully expressive movement. Only a powerhouse intelligence like hers could accomplish staging perfection. That's how I remember her--in dim light, leaning into that broom, brushing her hair back, staring into the distance.]


I am my father’s daughter. I have always heard this. I have always been closest to him. Compared to him. In writing this piece, however, I have discovered a new wrinkle in the relationship--part of the very complicated relationship--I share with my mother. It has been a revelation.

The boxes arrived this morning. Twelve of them. 

My sister has been busy moving our mother out of her Tulsa condo and into a one-room apartment in an assisted living facility. Mom has Alzheimer’s and the move is necessary, though sad. And in its wake come to Los Angeles boxes and boxes of stuff, family trinkets, odds and ends, the detritus of a family life lived well, though maybe a bit carelessly at times. I unpack boxes with my twelve-year-old son, and my childhood memories invade our living room. The irony is not lost on me that Alzheimer’s is the catalyst.

From an early age, I wanted more. I had to get “out there.” And I dreamed. I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with a mother who grew up in Washington D.C., and had her own dreams. In Washington D.C., she and her sister, my namesake, were The Fletcher Sisters, beautiful, smart, funny, magical. My grandfather owned hotels and was successful, and in my imagination, her young adulthood must have swirled with late night dinners in fancy restaurants, intellectual conversations, and, as she dreamed of being a concert pianist, classical music. 

My mom fell in love with and married my dad, who was from Minnesota, who she met when he was in medical school in Washington D.C. After they married, they moved to Minnesota. I can only assume that Mayo's, where he did his residency, was prestigious enough that she could overlook the fact that they were not in New York or Washington. Plus it was a residency, so not a permanent commitment. Dad was drafted and served as a doctor in Wiesbaden, Germany. I have memories of Germany. I spoke German maybe as well as English. (OK, I was a toddler--how well did I even speak English?) Coming back from Germany, Dad looked for a clinic he would like to join. After looking at La Jolla and Santa Barbara, he chose Tulsa. (Seriously?!) In those days, I suppose, a wife didn’t say, “No, not Tulsa.  Santa Barbara.” At least my mom didn’t. And my dad was stubborn and from the Midwest. He liked Tulsa. It was familiar. So, maybe she might have spoken up, but did not draw a line. And found herself in Tulsa. 

She did not fit in in Tulsa, I think. (Though, I will add that she made great friends and many were interesting, creative, fascinating, and fun, and she still lives there, though my father passed away over five years ago.) But in the beginning, she did not fit in. 

I think she was proud of this. Mom made madeleine cookies for a birthday party for Marcel Proust. I am sure she expected some sort of collective epiphany for everyone invited once they bit into their madeleine. Proust lives! My recollection was the cookies fell flat (Literally, they did not rise.) and those invited did not know who Proust was. (Certainly they had not read every volume, and in French, as my mother had.) In my memory, she was devastated. I still remember her throwing the cookies out in disgust. That very well might not have been true. I don’t know. Memory is a funny thing, right? Proust certainly thought so. 

My mom was young, seriously smart and could be cruelly sarcastic. (My husband used to say he always wanted to sit next to her at dinner parties because she could say the most brilliant, sarcastic, wicked funny things about those out of earshot at the table. Seated next to her, he could appreciate her humor, free and clear of worrying if he were the target.) I remember clearly my mother’s sense of desperation and claustrophobia. But, who can say? One thing I have learned in adulthood, my memories are tremendously colored by my current situation, mood, humor, and even the weather.  But follow me here…

Though it did not occur to me until writing this, my sense of determination came directly from my mother. Desperation to not be like her.  


Trapped forever.

Although she might be trapped in Tulsa, she believed something burned in me. She told me I was special, that I was meant for something great. So, of course, I decided I was meant to be a great actress. True to being a young girl following a mother who baked madeleines to celebrate Proust, I was not going to be a “movie star,” but an Actress, with a capital A.  So I set out to do what any serious actor would do. I read all of the plays. I read Shakespeare and Eugene O’Neill. I read Beckett, Tennessee Williams, Thornton Wilder, Pinter, and Stoppard. And Arthur Miller.

Death of a Salesman killed me. As a teenager, I was overwhelmed by the total tragic figure of Willy Loman, his sadness, desperation, endless pathetic hope. He became my greatest fear. I did not want to become Willy Loman. 

Questions haunt me in the middle of the night. I find myself awake at 3:00 am, and after worrying about money for a while, I inevitably turn to bigger questions. Am I a good mother? A good wife? A good person? On late nights, after a couple of glasses of wine, Am I happy? And then I continue. Is my son happy? Is my husband? Is happiness actually that important? What is important? Inevitably, I look at my life through a lens colored by my son’s existence. Especially when I am thinking about my childhood.

When my son turned ten, I remember thinking, Oh!  I remember ten. I remember what I cared about.  What I dreamed about. I ‘get’ ten.” He is now on the brink of thirteen. As I write this, tomorrow he will become a teenager. He can’t wait. He thought yesterday that he could make out the barest of a shadow on his upper lip. I honestly told him I did not see it. I am just not ready.

I couldn't wait either, as a teenager. I was restless.

I am my mother’s daughter. I longed to escape as she longed to escape. I applied to boarding school on the East coast and even in England when I was in tenth grade. I moved to New York literally the day after graduation from high school. At least that is how I remember it. Three months later I moved to Paris. And I was off.

It is not that I was unhappy. I loved my high school classes. I have fond memories of the Commons, Bill Webb's chair in the library. I remember standing with my friend Sara out on the football field on a crazy, windy day, trying to jump over the shadows of the clouds racing across the grass. Teachers seemed to take me seriously. I got to act in plays, and I genuinely loved learning. But I was always one foot out the door. I would not fall in love and find myself trapped in Tulsa forever.

I, like almost everyone else I know, had teenage angst. In between studying furiously so I could get into a great school on the East coast--again getting as far away as possible--I had the time and luxury of fearing failure and a Willy Loman existence. Of always dreaming and never seeing where I really was. I wanted to live a big life. In a big city. I wanted to be great. I wanted to be exceptional.  

I tried.

I am not a famous actress. 

But, I am not Willy Loman. 

If I am exceptional, it is because of my son. I am his mother, and I have the possibility of helping him be who he is. I am aware, so aware, of the role my mother has played in so many ways in my life. And I will learn from her. I will emulate her, and I will in some ways turn away from her to find my own way as a mother. I can only be myself with my son. My guess is that will be both a blessing and a curse, much in the same way my mother was with me. 

I am happy (for the most part) where I am. But old habits die hard. I still get restless. I still feel, when the seasons start to change, when it starts to get dark earlier, when again clouds race across the sky, that something is about to happen.

And I can't wait. 


Kathryn Atwood modeled in New York City and Paris, appearing in the magazines Elle, Seventeen, and Vogue to name a few. She graduated with Honors from Cornell University and studied with Frank Conroy at the Iowa Writers Workshop just prior to his death. She has appeared in commercials, television shows, movies, and plays in Los Angeles, where she reprised Helena, her first role at Holland Hall. She retired from acting and is currently the Director of Communications at Pilgrim School, where her son is a seventh grader. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, and two cats who share her determination to escape. 

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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Guest Blogger: Alex Eaton

[From 1976-1983, I taught English and directed plays at Holland Hall Upper School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was twenty-four and had negligible experience. I didn't know up from down about teaching, but during those years, a handful of students changed me irrevocably. Over three decades, one way or the other, they've found me. I recently invited them to become guest bloggers, reflecting on something about their high school selves.

Alex Eaton, Class of 1981, had impeccable timing. Except when he didn't. But somehow he always recovered. Miraculously. Through him, I realized my own dyslexic issues, and in an uncommon kindness for a teenager, he tried to help me by insisting I learn to juggle to improve my eye-hand coordination and left/right orientation. (Okay, it gave him a chance to show-off, too.) The same Hail Mary skill that made him a talented athlete also made him a fine actor. Granted, he never knew his lines until opening night, but he instinctively turned each scene into something riveting. Required to light a cigarette onstage in Look Homeward, Angel, Alex didn't just light it, he leaned back and blew smoke rings. Unscripted. Audacious. Perfect.]


When you ask, you learn that everyone hated high school.

You and all of your adult friends hated it, too. It may come up occasionally over dinner or coffee, but, for the most part, no one ever even talks about high school because everyone hated it. You hated the awkwardness of your body, your voice or your skin. No one understood you and your high school was oppressive intellectually, stifling socially and basically a prison where you did hard time. You couldn’t get out fast enough. And when you graduated, in your head you said, “Hasta la vista, baby!” in your best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice.

No, there’s no debate.

Everyone hated high school.

Except me.

You see, in high school, I got to be the Golden Boy. I got to be Hubbell Gardner, or, more precisely, I got to be Robert Redford. In high school a friend of mine had a name for me. Lisa was a year behind me and helped me with all the math I never mastered. The name was “The.” That was it. The. She didn’t call me it often, at least not to my face, but I was thickheaded enough to finally ask once what she meant by it. She screwed her face up and said, “What, you don’t get it?” I was clueless. “You are The Alex Eaton. It’s just easier to say The.” Oh. Like The President of the United States? Or The Ohio State University? “Yeah, like The One and Only.”

I got that it wasn’t a compliment. Not the way she said it and certainly not the way she meant it. But I loved hearing it anyway. Because deep down, although I never admitted it to anyone, what I aspired to in high school was to be The.

For me, being The meant being quarterback and captain of the football team, captain of the soccer team and captain of the track team. It meant being team MVP and earning all-conference recognition. It meant being Senior Class President and Co-President of the drama club. It meant singing in the choir and always having a girlfriend. It meant, as a senior, scoring the winning touchdown in overtime against our crosstown rivals. It also meant getting plumb lead roles in all the school plays, stealing bottles and bottles of Jack Daniels from my father’s liquor cabinet and chasing young women on a regular basis.

All of which I did.

I didn’t hate high school; I loved it. Seriously. But that’s not to say it was a walk in the park either. I don’t expect any sympathy here, but there were these things called “grades” that kept getting in my way. I’m dyslexic and so in high school I couldn’t read and I couldn’t write. I couldn’t add or do any of the other mathematical derivatives expected of a high school student like multiplying polynomials or solving quadratic equations. I couldn’t memorize and I couldn’t take tests either. So academically high school was a real grind. It didn’t help that I attended what was considered one of the more challenging high schools in Oklahoma, where both my older sisters had graduated from and gone on to attend Yale University. Yale. Both of them.

I didn’t go to Yale.

But I did go to college and play football, and luckily, I learned a few things before I got there--things that helped make my life more than just the Golden Boy moment of high school. Because it easily could have gone the other way. There were plenty of people who were willing to give me a pass when I fell short and played the Golden Boy card. In fact, most of them did. When you are the Golden Boy, people tend to look the other way when they shouldn’t. But because of a handful of amazing people and a flawed but extremely progressive high school, I wasn’t allowed to glide through my Golden Boy stage with so much rope that I hung myself.

But God knows I tried.

I think this handful of people knew that what really mattered in life had nothing to do with being the Golden Boy. That it would be fleeting and potentially destructive. And, in fact, being the Golden Boy did make adulthood a little more challenging when I finally got there. But like I said, I was lucky. Despite being much more interested in pretty girls than American Civilization, there were teachers in my life who taught me about things like honesty, empathy and trust. Accountability and consequences.

Karen Henry Clark was one of those people. Craig Benton was one, too. Coach Charlie Brown, Doug Bromley, Don Paige, Carlos Tuttle, and Ted Sloan, as well. All of them, to the one, held me accountable when most others did not. They forced me to push beyond the easy smile and gee-whiz slacking common of a Golden Boy and to work for things harder to obtain like how to give credit and how to take blame. And when I failed, they continued believing in me even as I gave them ample opportunity not to.

And honestly, when you’re the Golden Boy, you don’t always get that.

Karen would stroll behind the pillars of our Commons where we rehearsed the school plays and peer around them, gazing over the top of her glasses, and giving me a look of amazement mixed with dismay as I freelanced my way through a soliloquy that should have been memorized weeks before. She never dressed me down publicly but also never let me off the hook. I’d try to do to her what had worked with others, to smile my way to a shortcut and forgiveness, to no avail. Her small notes on the back of incomplete English assignments haunt me to this day. I have them in a shoe box as reminders. There’s also lots of encouragement in those notes.

I was never going to be a professional athlete. I chose not to pursue acting and it chose not to pursue me. But it turns out that through all of this there was something I was pretty good at in high school that has become my strength in adulthood. Leadership. I think my mentors at Holland Hall saw some of that. And while I didn’t fully embrace it at the time, the singular skill they helped me discover and nurture in high school, and one that I have honed throughout my adult life, is how to effectively lead people.

So unlike you, and almost everyone you know, I loved high school.

But my good fortune is that while my high school experience became a big part of me, it is only one part of me and luckily, I hope, not the best of me. The Golden Boy thing had a time and a place. But rather than let it ruin me, Holland Hall, and a small group of pretty exceptional people, helped me keep it in proper perspective so that I passed through it rather than got stuck in it.

For that, I am forever grateful.


Alex graduated from the University of Redlands in California, lived in Los Angeles and then New York City where he met his amazing wife Diane. They moved the family to Tulsa 18 years ago where Alex now leads the largest travel management company in the state. They have two boys, James (19) and Garrett (13). James graduated from Holland Hall in 2014 and is attending Cornell University. Garrett is in 8th grade at Holland Hall, where he recently won the middle school geography bee.

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Guest Blogger: Janet Rorschach

[From 1976-1983, I taught English and directed plays at Holland Hall Upper School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was twenty-four and had negligible experience. I didn't know up from down about teaching, but during those years, a handful of students changed me irrevocably. Over three decades, one way or the other, they've found me. I recently invited them to become guest bloggers, reflecting on something about their high school selves.

From the Class of 1982, Janet was a spitfire, a firecracker, a spotlight with no dimmer switch. I could give her any role, from impish fairy to bitter southern mother, and she was completely, impressively convincing. Despite the fact that her offstage manner was overall quiet and kind, she had a powerhouse sense of purpose onstage. When a scene required her to slap another actor, they decided to go full on instead of choreographing the movement. Did she ever! Back then without a performing arts center, our plays were performed in The Commons, and I believe that shocking crack of her hand lingers to this day in the rafters.]


“I want you to write an essay, about anything, about the things you learned in life. Tell your stories about high school, college, wherever,” Karen Henry Clark wrote in an email several months ago. Leave it to her to perpetually give me a daunting task.

I’m the woman who sweats over one sentence for YEEEEEAAAAARRRRRS! An essay? Like high school, I’m negotiating. “How many words? Can it be double-spaced? How bad will my grade be if I turn it in late?”

Time to tackle this. 

The Wonder-Full Wonderful

Wanna know what I learned? People, if you wanna know about the obvious, come talk to me. Subtlety, nuance. That’s someone else’s business.

Oh yeah, and let me tell you this: After years of learning, I believe I have undiagnosed dyslexia and dyscalculia. Why? You should have proofread this essay before I submitted it. OY! THE RED! Words looked as if I were eating an alphabet salad...tossed with extra dressing to glom up the leaves! I’m just sayin’, God bless spell check.

Something else I learned. I cannot run away from what makes me ME. 

Honestly, I have run as fast, as hard, as aggressively as any person can. There is within me the perpetual hope that I shall be better in the next phase, as I shed a personality like a piece of old clothing going to Goodwill. I haven’t decided if that’s good or bad, but when you are clinically depressed, survival means you cling to the hope, remember to change your underwear, and take your meds. It’s a bonus day if you get in the shower and use soap.

If you were to ask me about my high school days, I would tell you I purposefully forgot most of it. 

Yes, I used the word purposefully. You see, it was an awkward, uncomfortable, marginalizing, lonely time. I was filled with teenage angst, bewilderment, and frustration because my body and mind were behaving so weirdly, while unrequited love sent me into sleep deprivation because the boy I was madly in love with pined for someone else. I constantly felt out of sorts, at war with everyone and everything, including the universe.

It was a time that almost every person I know went through. It could be described as zit-faced, hormone-driven child trying to become an adult before even knowing what that word meant, but doing the best anyone can with the information at hand while being laughed at and derided. It was as if four years were spent with a kick-me sign perpetually plastered to my back, coupled with my skirt bundled around my ankles displaying inside-out underwear stitched with the label “Monday” and “Janet’s.”

There are still people in my life who try to shame me about the person I was then, as if growth doesn’t occur and that my behavior needed explaining and their forgiveness. That baiting makes me angry and I don’t like being baited or angry. I don’t have time for shame. And I’m done with arrogance and bullying. So, when they start to tell me how much I was hated in high school, I respond with: “I’m so sorry. I really don’t remember what you are talking about. What do you think about this new cookie recipe I’ve developed? Gluten-free. I’d really like your opinion on THAT!”

When my mind decides to journey to those years, having long since dumped my year books in the garbage--I told you, I know how to run away like an Olympic Champion!--I turn on the small video player in my head. 

There is Craig Benton practicing his calligraphy; Karen Henry Clark, so over our idiocy, she runs full-bore into one of The Commons’ columns and, like the best of the silent comediennes, falls backwards spread-eagle onto the floor; David Rollo corralling his choir to sing with a passion only he understood; Ted Sloan smoking his cigarette in that ebony holder of his, while planning to stir trouble amongst the students in his gleefully evil way.

Briefly, I miss those moments. 

There, on the page, I swipe away the splash of salty water that represents so many fading things, experiences, and people. Not fading, but pieces of my past falling off onto the pavement and being left behind as I move on.

The realization that I live my life constantly filtered through a sieve of depression sadly does not soften my inner critic. It says, for an easier life, I should be like others, not make waves, and certainly not draw attention to myself. HA! Like that’s going to happen. HELLOOOOOOOO!

I am part of the 1%. Call me oddball, outcast, loner. I prefer artist. 

I chose independence over having a family. I chose to define my life, my rules, my ethics. I will anger you, disappoint you, and confound you, and none of that matters to me. I will delight you, challenge you, and cheer you, and none of that matters to me. I am not being aggressive here. 

Feel what you feel. 

Think what you think. 

I am simply moving on. 

All I’ve cared about is that I always have a choice. Although my process is not for everyone, making choices propels me closer to my version of freedom and peace.

I return to the title of this essay, The Wonder-Full Wonderful

I didn’t learn only in high school. I’ve been learning my whole life and it hasn’t stopped. Everyone of you is The Wonder-Full Wonderful. Each of you has given me a gift: knowledge, imagination, passion, wonder, humor, strength, hope, forgiveness, patience, love, respect, anger, exasperation, derision, urgency, pain, loneliness. You have challenged me to think, broken my heart, and comforted me when I hurt. I am amazed at each of you and the grace that carries you through life. You have shown me what it means to live, to truly embrace what moments I have left. 

Life requires courage, curiosity, and the need to fail.

And I have failed. 

I have failed brilliantly, picked myself off the ground, turned away from the ledge, nursed my wounds, kept carrying on, and know that even my worst day is precious.


Janet Rörschåch, chef, food stylist, artist, and writer, teaches online cooking for Escoffier, walks her dog Leo, and is looking for a new place to live. How does Iceland sound?

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