Sunday, January 12, 2014

The "Aha" moment when I first realized I wanted to be a writer

I'm killing two birds.  From time to time I present brief excerpts from my book THE ME GENERATION BY ME... GROWING UP IN THE '60s (still available on Amazon and funny as ever) on my formative years in swinging Southern California. Reader Tamara submitted a Friday question: "When did you first know that you were a "writer"?  So here's a way to combine both posts. 

We all had to take state aptitude tests. These were a series of tests intended to determine which career path might be best for you. One test was spatial relations. We’d see a folded house and be given four flat layouts. Which layout, when folded properly would match the house? Other than working for Ikea, how could this skill possibly help you? I think I finished in the 40th percentile.

Worse was mechanical reasoning. “If Gear A turned left and Gear B turned right, how does a steam engine work?” I had no fucking idea how to answer any of these questions. I placed in the 25th percentile. That has to be in the severely retarded range, doesn’t it? The apes in 2001: A SPACE ODDESSEY who pounded sticks on the ground had to score at least in the low 30’s.

The only test I excelled at was clerical proficiency. As fast as we could we had to copy down sequences of letters. I placed in the 78th percentile. So according to the State of California, my life’s calling was filing.

Thanks to Miss Harper for providing another option.

Miss Harper taught U.S. History. Instead of tests she would assign us several essay questions on Monday that had to be turned in on Friday. To answer the questions you needed to hear her lectures and read the chapters. Essay writing has never been my strength. I would slog through the material and vomit back as much as I could. My grade was usually B-.

One week I put off the assignment until the last night. Having worked at Wallichs that evening it was well after midnight before I tackled the essay. I didn’t have time to do all the reading so I padded the paper with a few jokes. If I was going to fail at least I’d do it spectacularly.

I got an A.

Miss Harper had little exclamation points after the jokes (no one knew from LOL in those days).

So the following week I sprinkled in more jokes.

Another A.

By week three I had stopped reading the textbook entirely. I just used the essay topics as springboards and wrote comedy monologues. I suspect the quality of the material was not that stellar but I was Richard Pryor compared to the twenty-five other explanations of the Monroe Doctrine.

I breezed through that course with an A and a light went off in my head – there’s gold in them thar hills. Writing comedy might just be a more lucrative skill than alphabetizing.

Thank you, Miss Harper, for being my first and maybe most important fan.


Harper said...


Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

I sure hope you had a chance to thank her in some way. (I read your book but it's been months since)

Every kid should have a Miss Harper.

Seventeen said...

LOL! That's amazing! I wonder if that will work on my AP World Exam. Hmm…. ;)

Ben Scripps said...

My optimal career path, based on those tests, was to become a priest. I never tried, but I suspect it's tough work for an agnostic like me to get.

And second best--I swear this is all true--was "game show announcer".

I must have been one really f--ked-up child.

blinky said...

"Getting 2 birds stoned at once" Ricky from Trailer Park Boys.

Todd Everett said...

Ken: did you grow up (as I did) reading Richard Armour?

DBenson said...

I remember the aptitude test from the early 70s -- I think it was actually a military thing.

I got a recruitment brochure from the Army indicating which specialties my score qualified me for. I could have chosen a career in counterintelligence or in motor pool parking supervision. I didn't make the cut for actually working on cars.

To this day, I wonder if big decisions were being made by guys the motor pool didn't want.

Slovenly Suzie said...

FRIDAY QUESTION - Not sure exactly the question I want to ask... Watching a Law and Order rerun, and yet another stunning, chilling performance from a child actor. I guess my question is, how do some productions get these amazing performances out of child actors? And why do child actors seem (to me at least) better equipped to carry off dark, dramatic, material, versus comedy?

Writing an Essay said...

A great way to organized what you find & shares in your blog...

W. Keith Sewell said...

Ken, I still don't know how you can post orig/ entertaining material here on a daily basis and write scripts... you're good. Funny, I hated writing in High school. I graduated on the strength of my test/quiz grades. Couldn't get past that final "Term paper' though.

W. keith

W. Keith Sewell said...

Ken, I've viewed all 20 of your videos for sitcom writers. Downloaded your webinar. Read your posts... I've come to the conclusion, You're pretty knowledgeable on the topic of TV comedy writing:)
I would like your permission to place links to your blog on my blog - Hey! That makes us 'blog buddies'! No? Ok.