Radio Interview with Marie Stanich LaBrosse

I post this radio interview in the hopes that some young actor, in the beginnings of a career, will benefit from listening to the ploits and exploits of an aging actress. I learned something valuable years ago when I tuned into a Horton Foote interview as I was driving my car. His advice: “If you’re an artist, live simply. Live frugally. When you make money, save it. Create an FU Fund that will enable you to say NO.”

I took that to heart right then and there and lived well but prudently, learning to sew, cut my own hair, and even mow my lawn. Being thrifty enabled me to say NO to doing any more commercials after I admitted to myself that I hated auditioning for and doing them. My agents despaired when I turned down plays or film roles that I did not like but I kept my NO. Oh, I lapsed once or twice saying YES when I really should have said NO and paid for it in the coin of depression. As a result, over the years I carved out a career of which I am proud, and I worked with some of the great people and talents in show business. I hope that this radio interview will inspire and help some fellow actor out there somewhere. 

Even if you’re not an actor, please feel free to listen if you wish. Perhaps you’re like a friend of mine who has great difficulty going to sleep but finds the human voice a soothing soporific. To you, god bless and sleep well.

Here are the links:

E. Katherine Kerr Part 1

E. Katherine Kerr Part 2

A FAIRY TALE

Once upon a time, Little Elaine was very sad, and life seemed to be an awful thing. Sometimes, she wished she had never been born.

One night a terrible nightmare woke her up. When she opened her eyes, she saw a beautiful fairy lighting up the room with magical, pink light. The lovely being held a wand and wore a sparkling, diaphanous pink and gold and purple gown that wafted prettily around her as she floated through the air.

The small child sat up amazed and delighted when the spirit sat next to her and took one of her hands in her own. The touch felt warm and comforting to Little Elaine, who looked up full of wonder into the spirit’s blue, gentle eyes. “Are you my fairy godmother?” she asked hopefully.

“Yes, I am, darling girl,” the fairy said in a musical, soft voice. “And I’ve come tonight because I thought this would be a good time to tell you about your wonderful future.”

“Am I ever going to be happy?” the little girl said with eyes brimming over with tears.

“Oh, yes!” the fairy said quickly. “You are going to have an amazing life. You’ll be an actress in lots of plays and some films. Best of all, you’ll meet and know many, many wonderful people. You’ll go on exciting adventures to countries like England and France and China and many other places. You’ll have oodles of pets that you’ll love dearly. And you will become a teacher, and that will fill you with joy. And you will live for a long, long time—much longer than you can possibly imagine right now. And then, you will live in Florida, and…”

The little girl squealed with excitement. “Live there?! Not just go there at Christmas to see Grandpa and Grandma?!”

“The Fairy Godmother nodded. “That’s right. And when you are older, you will have your own lovely little home not far from the beach.”

“Oooooh,” The little girl wiggled happily. “I love the beach!”

“And there will be a pool right across from your new home that you will have almost always all to yourself.”

“Really, really, really?!” Little Elaine asked in breathless wonder.

“I promise. And it will be heated to a lovely, warm temperature, so you won’t turn blue like you do now when you go swimming in the cold one in the park.”

The little girl reached out and hugged the fairy godmother. “Oh, that sounds wonderful!”

The fairy godmother kissed her on the forehead, “Now go to sleep. Tomorrow you won’t remember anything I’ve told you.”

The little girl frowned. “That’s no good. I want to remember it tomorrow when I wake up. I’m mad at you.”

The fairy godmother reached out and stroked the little girl’s head. “I’ll tell you what. Sometime in the year 2018, I’ll come back and remind you, okay?”

The little girl stuck out her lower lip. “That’s too many years from now! I can’t even count how many. It’s way too long.”

The Fairy Godmother laughed gently, “It will be here sooner than you would ever believe possible. Now go to sleep, darling.” She waved her wand. The little girl’s eyes dropped shut.

And with that, the beautiful Fairy Godmother disappeared in a puff of sparkles.

Many, many years later, in fact, in the spring of 2018, an older woman woke in the middle of the night from a dream about reuniting with pets who had died many years ago. She felt very sad.

When she opened her eyes, she was startled to see a pink light filling the room. She sat up and gasped at the vision of a beautiful fairy in the doorway. “Oh my God!”

“Don’t be afraid, Katherine. I like the name you chose for yourself, by the way. Better for you than Elaine.”

The woman pressed herself against the back of the bed, open-mouthed and speechless.

The fairy laughed with a merry tinkling sound. “Interesting how much less afraid children are of magic, isn’t it?”

Katherine clutched at the covers. “What do you want? Who are you? What are you doing here?”

“I promised I’d come back. So here I am. Don’t you recognize me?”

Katherine’s eyes blinked quickly as a vague memory emerged from the recesses of her mind. “Oh! Yes! I do! You’re my fairy godmother!”

“That’s right,” The fairy floated over to the bed. “Remember what I told you?”

Flashing memories of that night long ago made Katherine sit up erect. “Yes! Yes!” she swept her gray hair back off her sleepy face as she recalled everything the fairy had said those many years ago. “I had totally forgotten!”

The fairy sat on the bed and crossed her legs. “So, it’s all turned out the way I said it would, hasn’t it?”

“Yes,” Katherine frowned suddenly, with the same expression she once had as a child. “But, you didn’t tell me about all the heartaches and losses and challenges I would have along the way!”

“Well, no,” the fairy smiled gently and reached for Katherine’s hand. “But you got through them, didn’t you? With a lot of help, of course. And all of them have made you stronger, wiser, and more compassionate, haven’t they?” Katherine was surprised to see the fairy’s eyes fill with tears as she whispered, “But, I know. Life can be very hard and very scary sometimes.”

The compassion Katherine felt emanating from this lovely spirit made her own eyes fill with tears. They looked deeply at one another for a moment, then the fairy patted Katherine’s hand gently and sat back, “But let’s remember the good things now. That’s why I’m here—to remind you.”

Katherine nodded, fluffed her pillow and sat up more comfortably. “You’re right. And truthfully, I am deeply grateful for all the wonderful things I have had and have, but….” Katherine hesitated. “Let me ask you—are you here because I’m dying?”

The fairy threw back her head and laughed. The sound rang like bells. “Oh, death, death, death. You all worry so much about that.”

Katherine sat up and hugged her knees. “Well, then, tell me about death and what comes after.”

“Of course,” the fairy said.

And so, until the sky turned light enough to silhouette the branches of the oak tree outside the window, Katherine’s fairy godmother answered all her questions about life and death. Then Katherine fell asleep.

The next morning as she drank her cup of tea, Katherine felt very peaceful even though she could not remember anything the fairy had told her.
****
Has your fairy godmother revisited you yet to remind you that all the wonderful things she once told you about your life have come true? Or does she need to?

The Stuff of Life

Is it me or is life getting more complicated?

It seems that every day there is something I must do to forestall entropy and chaos. Not just laundry, grocery shopping, meals, and personal hygiene…but THINGS!  Seems there are constant computer, phone, and program updates that require time and fussing with.

 

Here’s what I did yesterday:

  1. Activated updated credit card.
  2. Put new light bulb in the cabinet.
  3. Paid home insurance.
  4. Put new clapper in a toilet.
  5. Re-subscribed to theater tickets.
  6. Ordered new filter for fridge.
  7. Changed all the clocks from (or to?) Daylight Savings

That’s just one day. Not hard. Not serious. But collateral time-wasting. Like, I will have to go on every website where I use my credit card to update that information. And then put in the new filter when it arrives.  And, of course, it sounds easy to go around the house and change the clocks, but the digital clock next to my bed that I really like is old and has developed one minor flaw. It can only change hours but not minutes. So I have to set an alarm to just a minute before the hour to quickly unplug the clock, plug it back in, and then rapidly reset the hour. And so, I did and have done for years.

That’s not my only struggle with time shifting. I also had to go on YouTube and find out how to change the time on my little waterproof watch that has four mysterious buttons only the Chinese understand. I found an excellent video by a very knowledgeable little girl of single digit years. She also cleared up for me which buttons to push to get out of a 24-hour system that I had been stuck in since the last time I changed the damn thing. Ah, dealing with stuff. It’s neverending!

I try to simplify. I took the time to go on www.catalogchoice.org and filled out forms to eliminate catalogues that junk up my mailbox. (If anyone knows how to get Red Plum to stop sending me crap, let me know. It didn’t work.) Robo calls ring on my phone. I never answer a number I don’t recognize. And I block them assiduously. But telemarketers just get new phone numbers and keep calling and punching little holes in my peace. Do they believe that I am ever going to answer their frigging phone calls?

The problem is, I seem to have acquired so many more gadgets in my life—like the water filter in the refrigerator. It’s nice to have. The water tastes great and is probably healthier, but it has to be changed every year. Now, that’s not difficult, but it seems like there are gazillions of things that need periodic attention. No wonder there are best-selling books about decluttering. No wonder people are moving into tiny coffin-sized houses. I have certainly downsized, but I seem to have acquired more stuff in the process—like the garage door opener which I have already had to replace along with my cell phone last week.

The problem is: I love all my gadgets. It’s great having a computer and a cell phone and an air conditioner. I can’t imagine living without them. So, I guess keeping them in working order is the price I have to pay.

Uh oh. My cell phone just dinged. A reminder. Time for the yearly change of batteries in all the smoke alarms. I’d better stop complaining and get on with it.  But how am I going to replace the one way up high on my living room ceiling? I’ll have to get out a very tall ladder. Hope I don’t fall. I don’t want my obit to read that I died changing batteries in my smoke alarms.  Well. Wish me luck. Maintenance can be dangerous. And good luck to you, too, with all your stuff.

A Letter to Trump

Donald, I have to tell you something. It’s going to be hard for you to hear, but here it is: YOU ARE THE MOST POWERLESS MAN ON THIS EARTH. You’re clueless about this, of course. You have no idea that you give away all your power to others in your Tweety rages. Yeah, you can do some damage, but that’s not what I call real power.

As an acting coach, I have done my Getting Present Process hundreds or maybe thousands of times with students. As a result, it has become crystal clear to me that when you project your rage onto someone else, they own your power. You have handed it over to them. Not that it does them any good. It doesn’t. But giving away your power doesn’t do you any good either.

Listen to me, please. Rage is power. I tell my students that it’s pure energy. You can either use it to light up a city or blow it up. It can be good, usable energy if you have the experience and skill to harness it.

But, Donald, it does require expertise. It’s very difficult to deal with anger like a grown up. Here are the stages one can go through to mastering rage:

  1. BEING UNAWARE OF IT. Numbness/suppression/depression/denial. This is clearly not your problem, but believe it or not, some people have a hard time even recognizing that they are angry. Women especially. So often they stuff it away, express it as tears or inappropriate laughter, or simply put up with abuse. (You might want to forward this to Melania.)
  2. FEELING IT. Pure fiery rage. Now here’s where it takes a lot of skill. I want you to know that it’s OKAY to be angry, Donnie. (I’m trying to reassure your inner child, here.) It’s okay. Really. But Don’t do anything with it immediately. This is extremely important. Just sit with all your anger and hatred for a while. You can hate whatever or whomever you want. Really. But do it alone or with a compassionate witness like a therapist. Give yourself as much time as you need to just hate Obama or Hillary or Mueller or whomever, but don’t do anything about it. DON’T TWEET!!! This is very important. Don’t waste your energy attacking them. Give yourself as much time as you need. About 20 minutes should do it if you really get into it.
  3. TAKING BACK YOUR POWER. Then it’s important to start pulling your thoughts away from that person or people you want to attack. Keep being present in the uncomfortable sensations in your body and don’t allow your mind to wander back to those angry thoughts. This is difficult. I know. Believe me. I have had to do a lot of this with my feelings about you, for instance. Instead of wasting all that energy tweeting about you, I am doing my best to use it in positive actions. (Oh, sorry. This is not about me.)  Please, Donald.  Just focus on those sensations of rage in your body. FEEL them, and do not think about anyone else. Courageously sit with your rage. It is yours, not anyone else’s. Have your power. Take it back. Don’t give it away.
  4. USING IT FOR GOOD. When you get your power back and are calm, you will be able to access a higher part of yourself—a wise part that will know what effective actions to take. When you are really present, you will be so much clearer about how to begin to fulfill all those wonderful promises you made to the disappointed people who voted for you.

Here’s the thing, it’s really hard to sit with the uncomfortable sensations of anger, so that’s why the mind wants to attack, in an attempt NOT TO FEEL. Oh, Donald, I suspect that underneath all that anger, you’re probably really, really terrified. I know you didn’t think you would be president. If I were unexpectedly elected president, it would scare the hell out of me, too. So, trust me, I do understand. Then there’s the Russian thing with your cohorts getting indicted… oh, my.  Well.  If you would like me to help you get present with all that rage and fear, I would be happy to. I’m sure you can find my telephone number.

Sincerely, E. Katherine Kerr

P.S. I would send you my book, but, as I understand it, you don’t like to read.

 

The Poet in the Coffee Shop

The handsome poet turned to me, “You believe in sanity, don’t you?” His smile was a kind of smirk. We were sitting in Le Figaro café at MacDougal and Bleecker Street in New York City drinking Constant Comment tea.

I frowned. What a question. My mouth dropped open in shock. I felt as if I had been intellectually slapped. Well, I was in my mid-twenties and new to Greenwich Village. He was a brooding, blue-eyed, thirty year old. I wanted to impress him, but I had been minted in middle-class Indiana in the mid-fifties. I was a good girl with no sophistication. I had never even heard of Constant Comment tea. Was I stupid to “believe in sanity?” Is that something one actually believes in anyway? All I said to him was, “Uh, yeah. Don’t you?”

But I never forgot that moment or that question. Now more than 50 years later, I’m still pondering it.   I think there’s a shit load of insanity going on right now. Do I still believe in sanity? Yes. But what is it?  

Well, after many years of living, here’s my answer to that gorgeous but smug poet: 

To me, sanity is being present in one’s body, owning all one’s feelings without projecting them onto anyone or anything else.

Insanity is not being present and lashing out of anger or hurt or fear.

Sanity is telling the truth simply and directly without attack.

Insanity is lying.

Based on what I believe sanity is, I have no choice but to declare our present President insane.

Christmas Redux

December 25. 1942. Bing Crosby is singing White Christmas on the radio. The world is at war and we’re losing. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor just over a year ago. England is in imminent danger of being conquered and destroyed by the Nazis. It’s a perilous time.

I am five years old. My family is gathered in the big room at my Uncle Harry and Aunt Vera’s lovely home in Indianapolis. Everyone is there—except Daddy.  No one talks about it. We are opening presents from a pile under the big tree with multi-colored lights. Most of them are for us kids: me, my sister, Eloise, nine years old and my older cousins: Bill and Harry Junior. I am the youngest.

My father, John Francis Kerr, is not there because he died only four months ago. He was an Army doctor, but he wasn’t killed overseas in war. His shocking death had been from an unexpected, freak accident involving a train. I love him with all my heart. I miss him. I want him here.

I look around at the smiling faces and feel as if something is crushing me. The weight of the despair in the room falls on me. I believe I am the only one feeling sad. I have not developed the adult “skill” to cover up my emotions.

I open the present I am given and say thank you as I am trained to do. I feel terrible, but I don’t have a name for it—those names will come later: grief, devastation. I’m not sick. The scar on my stomach from the emergency appendectomy four months ago has healed, though it will remain visible for years. I cannot relate to the laughter and talk through the misery I feel. I know something is terribly wrong, but I don’t know what it is. I am not thinking about how Daddy took me to the hospital and then died five days later. I do not connect those traumatic events consciously in my young mind. I don’t have a clue how deep the scar on my psyche is. All I know is I feel bad—very, very bad and I miss Daddy very, very much. But no one else seems to because they aren’t saying it.

December 25, 1943. Bing Crosby is now singing the heart-wrenching “I’ll be home for Christmas…if only in my dreams” for all the missing sons and husbands fighting this brutal war. The Allies are still losing an ever-widening, terrifying battle. The family is again at my uncle’s house. I am now six years old and overwhelmed by the same, mysterious and terrible feelings of a year ago. I do not know the cause any more than I did last Christmas. But now I judge myself because I cannot “cheer up” as my mother urges me to do so impatiently. Presents don’t make me feel better.

An inescapable depression at Christmas is becoming established. Every year, I begin to dread the Holidays. I feel like an alien—that I don’t belong in my world.. Like clockwork, I start getting the flu every year that I later call the Christmas Crud. No doubt it was my body’s attempt to bypass the Holly Jolly time. It took years and a lot of personal dredging to understand why I felt so bad come December. Now I no longer get the flu or become deeply depressed, but shadows and sadness still arise in a kind of Pavlovian response to what used to be called Xmas.

December 2017. I sit in a parking lot talking on the phone with a long-time friend who has seen me through those old feelings year after year when they resurfaced.  I feel compassion rather than judgment for my depression now.

I look out at the neon signs and Christmas lights twinkling in the early dark Florida sky. But what I see in my mind’s eye is that first Christmas after Daddy’s death. I can envision the Christmas tree over in the left corner of the room and all the people gathered in a circle.

In that long-gone room were my father’s three older siblings: Uncle Harry, Uncle Paul, and Aunt Louise. Daddy had been a surprise baby, born 11 years after Louise. He was the darling of the family, spoiled and adored. How painful his death must have been for them all. His mother and father, my Grandma and Grandpa Kerr never recovered from that blow to their hearts. Then there was my mother and my sister, whose lives, like mine, were ripped apart and changed forever. The entire room was filled with pain and grief.

As I sit in my car, my heart goes out to them in their attempt to cover up their own grief for the sake of us children—for making such a valiant effort to be in the Christmas spirit.

I talk with my friend as tears roll down my face. I am weeping for my family. I know now that as a child, I not only felt my own enormous grief, terror, and loss, but theirs as well—even though they tried so hard to cover it up with  smiles. What else could they have done, I wonder. How else could they have behaved?

Were they wrong? Were they just a part of the culture of the times? I don’t know what I would do as an adult in that situation. What does a family do now at the holidays when faced with a terrible loss that affects them all? What do you do?  I would love to hear.

Me and Irma Part Two

“What’s $15,000 compared to your life!” Marilyn waved her arms. “Let’s fly outta here! The highways are clogged with cars and there’s no gas!”  It was true. A quarter of Florida had hit the roads to outrun Irma. Marilyn looked like a scared three-year old. Normally a take-charge kinda woman, she couldn ’t take charge of Irma.

I said, “Let me go out and see if I can get your hurricane shutters closed.”

Marilyn grabbed the phone to find more charter flights with money-grubbing pilots. I went onto her beautiful screened-in lanai with pool and pulled on the folded metal panels. They wouldn’t budge. Some kind of stripping blocked the track. I couldn’t dig it out with my finger. Marilyn came outside and said excitedly. “I have found someone who will fly us to Atlanta for $10,000 each.”

I didn’t respond. “Look at this. There’s something stuck in the track here, so I can’t close the shutters.”

“I’ll call Cal across the street. He’s been really helpful.”

She went back inside while I continued unsuccessfully to close more shutters. Cal arrived, assessed the situation, left, and returned quickly with a crow bar. He was a cheerful, laid-back guy. It was good to have him around.  He pried the strips out of the tracks easily. “These are just decorative. You don’t even need them.”

The shutters pulled together smoothly, but required keys to lock them shut. Marilyn frantically searched through her new house, but couldn’t find any that fit. She made more anxious phone calls. Finally, her realtor located the former owner and called back to tell her where to look for them. She came outside waving a little Ziplock bag of keys triumphantly.  We tested them. They worked.

Cal went back to his home across the street. Having achieved something, Marilyn was calmer and looked more like the can-do woman she is. She decided she would stay.

I said, “Hey. You live in a concrete, built-to-code house with great hurricane shutters. This solid building is not going blow over. It’s the shacks with tin roofs in the islands that collapse in the wind. Stop watching the weather channel so much alone, please. We’re not going to die.”

Actually, I wasn’t so sure of that, because I had no idea what would happen if there was a huge storm surge like the one that flooded Houston during Harvey. But since I knew diddly squat about it all, I thought it best not to bring up that subject at the moment. Personally, I believed if anything was going to kill me, it was going to be fright. People said that hurricanes sound like freight trains running over you. I’m very sound sensitive and jump at the least little unexpected noise.  New York City drove me crazy with wailing sirens and the subway tunnels’ clanging banging metal-screeching assaults to my ears. So, I believed there was a good chance I would just drop dead from the sound of the wind. But, I didn’t mention that to Marilyn either.

She invited me and our mutual friends, Jeff and Trudie. to come to her house to ride out the storm. Since none of us had shutters, we all accepted. I certainly didn’t want to be alone.

Back home, I brought up the NOAA website on my computer screen and frowned at the sight of Irma’s cone edging closer. Sighing, I looked up at my windows. They’re supposed to be hurricane resistant, but that seemed wimpy now—like wearing a water-resistant watch on a scuba dive. I envisioned the glass breaking and rain and wind pouring in.

So, though exhausted from all the stress and preparations, I began carrying as much as I could into a long walk-in closet and a windowless bathroom: rugs, chairs, lamps, pictures, cushions, coffee table, end tables— everything I could lift. I was amazed at how much I could fit into those spaces.

When I finished, my living room was nearly empty. The outside courtyard was already bare. The whole place looked as if no one lived in it.

I had done everything I could to be ready for the very, very worst.

There was nothing left to do, so I made oatmeal/chocolate chip cookies and two quiches to take to Irma’s Party.

Next day I drove to Marilyn’s house with a carload of stuff. Cal had kindly arranged with his snow-bird neighbors to put my car in their empty garage. The only catch was, I wouldn’t be able to get it out if there was a loss of power because the heavily barred garage door couldn’t be lifted manually. Oh, well. Worry about that later (if I was still alive).

Jeff and Trudie put their filled-to-the-brim car in Marilyn’s two-car garage, and we settled in to wait for Monster Irma. I suggested we pace ourselves and not watch the Weather Channel a lot. Everyone agreed. I was relieved not to have to put up with those highly-energized voices and scary visuals.

We chatted and ate and launched into a prolonged period of texting and Facebooking our worried  friends up north. I was amazed how many people queried, “Are you going to be safe?”  How the hell did I know? But, it was heartwarming to be in their thoughts.

A kind of giddiness set in. Cal texted me: “Don’t go out in the wind. It could rip your clothes off.”

I wrote back, “Thanks for the tip. I’ll be sure to take them off before I go outside.”

We talked calmly, but no one was up for games. Anxiety predominated. When I admitted my fear of the noise of a hurricane, Trudie came out of her bedroom with a box of earplugs that she said were “the best in the world.” She had them on hand because of her husband’s snoring. She showed me how they molded deep into the ear to create a nearly soundproof seal.  I was deeply grateful and relieved.

As dusk approached, Marilyn, Trudie, and I stepped through a still partially-opened shutter and looked up the darkening sky. Ominous, purple clouds roiled above. An already stiff breeze was whipping the palm fronds around wildly. A palpably weird feeling hung in the air perhaps from the drop in pressure. We stood silent and grim for a moment. Then impulsively, I threw my arms up and shouted, “Irma!  Calm. The. Fuck. Down!”  We laughed, but they held me responsible for making that happen. It was a burden I wished I could fulfill.

We locked the last hurricane shutter, closed all the doors and went inside to look at the Weather Channel. The devastation in the Islands was terrible and sobering. Irma lashed at the Florida Keys as a deadly Category 4 storm.

At 4:30 Irma hit Naples 90 miles south of us.  We figured she would get to us in about 5 hours.

At 6 pm the power went out. We scrambled for flashlights and received updates about the hurricane via texts. Amazingly, as each hour passed, Irma actually did calm the fuck down, diminishing from a Category four to a three to a two as she neared us.

At 9 pm, because Irma had weakened so much, Trudie and Jeff went to rest in their bedroom. Marilyn and I hung out in hers and spoke of how terrifying the build-up to this moment had been.  At some point Irma must have arrived but barely rattled the shutters around us.  I had forgotten about the ear plugs as she feebly tapped to enter. We didn’t let her in. We didn’t have to.

Suddenly, it became eerily still outside as Puny Irma peered down at us through her empty, gargoyle eye. As we sat in the absolute stillness, I admitted that when Irma was at her worst, I had almost welcomed dying because then at least I wouldn’t have to go through another hurricane or face the terrible aftermath that was expected.

Marilyn then confessed in a whisper, “You know, I was so sure I was going to die, I only paid the minimum on my credit card.”

I burst out laughing.. Marilyn, relieved of guilt, joined me. We laughed so hard I thought we would never stop.

Me and Irma

September 11, 2017. 10 pm. The power is out. Ugly Irma is on her way. It’s too late to go to a shelter. They’re full. Nothing to do but wait. We sit in the dark talking by flashlight. Trudie and Jeff and I are at Marilyn’s house to ride out the storm: New to Florida and newly friends, none of us have ever been in a hurricane. We have stumbled our way through preparations and planning to this moment.

Each day since September 1 had become increasingly intense as Irma grew to a record-breaking monster in size and strength. A Category 5, four hundred miles wide with sustained winds at 185 miles per hour, she was predicted to flatten, rip out, and destroy Florida from the Gulf to the Atlantic. The newscasters declared her to be the worst storm ever to hit the state. We were about to be devastated.

From the beginning, I hadn’t a clue what to do—whether to go or stay. Undecided, I Googled How to Prepare for a Hurricane, copied the lists, and began taking action. I went to Publix to get the recommended 5 gallons of water per person. The atmosphere in the store was a kind of subdued hysteria, as if people were trying to control their panic. The shelves that normally held water were empty. But at the head of the aisle, a young employee was passing out gallons of water from great stacks as fast as he could. A woman piled her cart with so many my eyebrows raised. She saw me and hissed, “I have kids!” I took three gallons and decided not to buy a lot of food. I could survive on protein powder if need be. I waited in line behind a shopper who had so many canned goods, she could have fed an army. The check-out clerk was whizzing items passed the thing that beeped and smiled gently when she handed the buyer a long, long receipt.

Every day I went online to look at the NOAA Hurricane Center’s website to get their latest reports. I did not watch the Weather Channel. Personally, I think TV presenters just scare the hell out of us so we’ll keep watching. I didn’t want my growing anxiety to be pumped up by fear-inspiring newscasters. The factual information on my computer screen was scary enough as I watched wind speed go up and the graphic hurricane cone edge closer.

In my total inexperience, I had no real plan in place. The one thing I knew was that I didn’t want to go through this hurricane by myself. I considered several options: get in the car and drive up north, go to one of my friends’ houses in mid-Florida or the east coast, or simply stay here. A most surprising and generous offer to ride out the hurricane came from a lovely woman I had only previously spoken with for 15 minutes in CVS.  During that conversation, she invited me on a tour of Ringling College where she was in charge of programming. We had discussed the possibility of my teaching there. When we cancelled the next week due to Irma’s impending arrival, she invited me to shelter from the storm at her house with her, her husband, and a friend “you will like.” We would play charades. I was deeply moved by her generous offer and was seriously considering it.

Another Florida friend phoned to urge me to leave. She was frantically packing her car and leaving her rented house to drive up north. A psychic had told her she had to leave NOW!  As a homeowner, I wasn’t so ready to pack up and flee.

It seems as if life presents one opportunity after another to face up to terror. I have heard FEAR as an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. But, for me, it’s more like Future Events Appear Ruinous—like standing off stage opening night on Broadway, or listening for the doctor’s phone call, or staring at graphics of a big mother of an approaching hurricane. There were way too many days of that. Waiting was hard.

During that time, it helped to be active, but when I wasn’t—especially in the middle of the night—fearful thoughts about what was coming were almost impossible to resist. I did my best to be present with the sensations that were whirling around my body. It was a roller coaster in and out of shaky fear and calm. Given that dying in a massive hurricane was looking like a possibility, I rewrote my will, had it witnessed, and put other important papers in an in-case-I-die waterproof packet to wear around my neck if a storm surge swept me away. Hurricane Harvey’s disastrous floods in Texas were fresh in my mind. The instruction to residents to write their social security numbers with indelible ink on their arms haunted me.

On September 8 Irma’s cone moved west on the NOAA website. Now, it looked as if she was in a direct line right over my house at a whopping 155 miles per hour. By the time I thought it was a good idea to leave, it was a bad idea. A quarter of Florida’s inhabitants had jumped in their cars and were fleeing north. The highways were packed. Gas stations were running out of gas.

Marilyn,  who had only just bought a house and moved here three months ago, phoned me. Evidently, she had been watching the Weather Channel way too much and was in a clear panic. “Katherine! We’ve got to get out of here! I’ve found a guy who will fly us up to DC. It will cost us $15,000 each, but it’s worth it! Come on. Pack your bag and let’s go!”

I wasn’t going to give that kind of money to some greedy bastard. And what would I do in DC? Go up to the White House and ask them to put me up for a couple of nights? But I said, “Okay. First, let me come over and help you see if your hurricane shutters work.”  She had them, but had never tested them. “You’ll need to secure your house.”

When I got there, she grabbed me by the forearms. “Let’s go!  I’ll pay for you! Really! We have GOT TO GET OUT OF HERE!”

(to be continued)

The Long Hot Summer

In the middle of May I began to panic. The days were heating up in Florida. I envisioned sweltering, humid, insufferable, Equatorial months ahead. Oh My God. What am I going to do?!!! How am I going to get through the Long Hot Summer?  I’ll be trapped in my house by the heat like I was by the cold in the long winters in Connecticut!  

I did have air-conditioning, of course, but, the idea of having to stay indoors all during the heat of the day alarmed me. I get cabin fever easily. I need to be out in nature or with people.

“Expectation is the source of all unhappiness” I once heard and thought it was about anticipating wonderful things which can be a setup for disappointment. In this case, I think, it also applies to dread, because I didn’t need to be so fearful. It’s now mid-July and I’m not only dealing with the heat, but the whole summer thing is turning out to be just fine. What a surprise!

I adjusted. Maybe my Indiana farmer genes kicked in because I love waking up before dawn. I don’t even use an alarm. I have a cup of tea as the sun rises. Most mornings I hop on my bike for a ride in the shade and cool air. Back in for another cup of tea and then out for a swim before the sun gets too high. I’m usually done with exercise before 10 am. I feel invigorated and ready to write, do chores, or take care of business.

In the afternoons, I find that it’s easy to go from the air-conditioned car to air-conditioned store or museum or restaurant or wherever. It can be hot, but I’m not uncomfortable if I’m not actually spending time hanging out in the midday sun. In the evenings, it’s still possible to eat outside at restaurants—usually there’s a breeze or a fan. I assumed that when the snowbirds when back north that this area would feel empty. Not at all. Restaurants are full, theaters still put on shows. Lots is happening all the time. People even come here for vacations in the summer, which I found astounding. At sunset, there are many more people on the beach than during the winter. The colors are spectacular, turning the clouds leftover from the afternoon brief thunderstorms into brilliant pinks and reds with turquoise, purple and blue skies all around.

Everything about summer here is surprising me. I don’t want to say this too loudly, because I can hardly believe it myself, but I’m actually liking it. Who knew?

Silly me for worrying. I should have remembered my motto that formed the acronymic name of my home, The Villa BETICI—because so far, this summer has definitely been Better Even Than I Could Imagine.

SKY GOD FIREWORKS

We sat on the second-floor, long balcony looking at a panoramic view of the Florida sunset as we waited for the fireworks to begin. Sipping pina coladas and nibbling on canapes, the five of us watched the sun dip down below the tropical vegetation and the inlets of brackish water headed for the gulf.

Suddenly, dramatic, dark clouds rolled across the sky and shut out the blue.  Lightning flashed. Thunder rumbled. The time between them lessening as the massive storm crawled overhead. As if a faucet had been turned on, so much water dumped from these clouds that the landscape was obscured from view. The rain lashed the screens and patio doors covering the outside of the lanai.

“Oh, golly,” one of the guests who had just moved to Florida said, “I’ve never seen such rain as there is down here!  I was driving the other day, and a storm came out of nowhere! I couldn’t see a thing in front of me! I was terrified!”

“Oh, don’t worry,” responded a young woman who has been a full-time Florida resident. “No one else can see anything either.”

We all laughed. Lightning flashed with a loud crash at the same time. We screamed. Then, noticing we had not been struck dead, laughed again.

But, like the new resident who had spoken, I, too, have never experienced anything quite like the summer storms of Florida. In fact, I have never seen cloud formations like the ones here. One day, after just arriving, I looked up at the intensely blue sky and gawked at a massive structure–puffy white clouds piled one top of the other to form something like Mount Everest floating gently by. I watched it with wide-eyed awe

The rain outside the balcony passed as suddenly as it had arrived, but the storm clouds lingered high above. The rain comes and goes here so quickly. It can be pouring on one side of the street and the sun shining on the other.  It’s not at all like the kind of rain in Connecticut that I have known. A rainy day there is just that….usually an entire day when the sky is a blanket of flat somber gray with hours or days of rain–dull, dreary weather that some people love, but I find depressing. Oh, yes, we had our summer storms—some pretty impressive, but nothing like the kind I was witnessing at the moment. The random lightning/thunder never seemed to pause, as these behemothic clouds roiled above. Bolt after bolt shot down constantly accompanied by instant loud crashes.

I thought of my beloved dogs who used to tremble, drool, and pant wild-eyed at the slightest distant rumble of thunder. They would have died of fright at this. I was glad I had not moved to Florida while they were alive. Had I been alone now, I would have scurried back into the house. But being with people was comforting. The continuing bolts of lightning elicited yelps and laughter from our small group.

We were in the middle of spectacular, heavenly fireworks. There were so many constant blinding white jagged lines streaking down to the earth, I could not imagine why the world was not on fire.  After a half hour or so of this, we did hear a siren…someone answering some alarm.

The clouds were massive and thick, but varied in density, so that often light showed through the dark shapes. The setting sun turned these lighter areas pink and gold. At one point there was even a hole where we could see clear, blue sky and red-tinged clouds high above.

We all whooped as particularly powerful streaks of lightning shot to the ground.

“Yikes,” the new Florida resident spoke with a hush as the Sky God’s Show went on, “I have never in my life seen anything like this! This is pretty unusual, right?”

“No,” the host said. “This is pretty much what happens in July and August in Florida!”

We yelled in unison as another spectacular display of lightning lit up the sky. The scene looked primeval to me. I felt I was watching the earth eons ago when deserts were covered with water. I would not have been surprised to see dinosaurs rise up from the waters below to roar defiantly at the thunder gods who created them.

Surprisingly, in the middle of all this, the town’s fireworks began to the left. Against the gigantic displays in the sky, they seemed like delicate little sparkly flowers. In our agreed upon estimation, they were no competition against The Sky God’s program. Our eyes were distracted time and again to the bursts of  startlingly bright bolts slashing down from the clouds.

I sipped my drink and quietly congratulated myself for venturing into such a wild, new world.

It certainly isn’t boring.