TALKING TO SMOKERS

How does one have a conversation with  smokers about their addiction? It’s really hard. Just a mere mention of someone’s addiction, any addiction, is dangerous. When you stick your neck out, you can get your head verbally guillotined. I know. My sister would get so angry if I said anything about her smoking. Occasionally, I would dare to gently broach the subject with her, but she would tell me to shut up. There was no overcoming her resistance.

She continued to smoke right up through her long decline and horrible death by lung cancer.

I get very upset seeing people smoke because so many of my family and friends have died from cigarette-related diseases: lung cancer, throat cancer, heart attacks. Cigarettes have broken my heart many times, so I am far from dispassionate about the issue.

I KNOW how hard it is to give up cigarettes. I managed to do it in 1971 after smoking for years. It was one of the toughest things I ever did. Cold turkey. No patches back then. For me, the physical withdrawal was easier to get over than the emotional attachment I had to them.

Cigarettes deaden us even before they actually kill us. They create a dull haze that smothers sensations and emotions. When I stepped out from behind that smoke screen, I unleashed a lot of fire inside me.  But, in facing my feelings, I became more fully and completely alive. It was excruciatingly difficult, but oh so worth it.  It helped me to quit when I woke up to the fact that I was being completely controlled by that addiction. That little white stick had me by the short hairs. I got really mad about that. Then it occurred to me to quit for the same reasons I started: that I would be more sophisticated, glamorous, and fashionable—but as an ex-smoker.

Some people are lucky. Once they decide to quit, they just do. My mother and my aunt were like that. I wasn’t. When I finally managed to give them up, I knew how dangerous it was to toy with this addiction, so I vowed never to touch one again, or to allow myself to be lured by that insidious thought, “Oh, just one won’t hurt.” I have known people who, after giving up cigarettes for years, pick one up, smoke it, and get hooked all over again.

A very dear friend of mine is a long-time smoker. She has many reasons why she doesn’t want to give them up—like, “I’m too old. I’ll get fat.” When she said, “And, besides, I love smoking.” I wanted to scream, “I LOVED SMOKING TOO! NOBODY GIVES UP SMOKING BECA– USE THEY HATE IT!!!!!” But I didn’t. I managed to say that quietly.

Horribly, she keeps on smoking in spite of the fact that she suffers from COPD, a lung disease caused by cigarette smoking. It is so severe that she has been visited by EMT crews five or six times over the recent years. Suddenly, she will slip into a terrifying state of being unable to breathe, becoming so weak she can’t even call for help. Fortunately, she wears a panic button around her neck. She pushes it, responders come and rush her to the hospital where doctors and nurses fix her up enough to send her home.

After these frightening episodes, she gives up cigarettes until she gets over her fright, and then starts right in smoking again. It makes me weep. One might ask, “How could she keep on smoking?”  Like my sister, smoking doesn’t make her a bad person. She’s a lovely, generous, intelligent woman. She has just been cruelly snared into one of the most powerful addictions on earth. Unfortunately, like my sister, she has made it quite clear to me that she doesn’t want to talk about it.

Yesterday I got an email from her. She was in the hospital again. She had had another COPD episode. How awful. I phoned her when she got home and managed to say quietly, “Barbara. Is there anything you can do to prevent these attacks?”

“Well, I could give up cigarettes, I suppose.”

The topic was opened. I continued carefully. “You know I love you. I would do anything in the world to support you to give up cigarettes.” We were able to talk about it for a bit. I told her that the way I finally was able to give them up on the fourth try was to understand how evil cigarettes are and that everything about them is a lie.

Of course, she knew that the advertisements years ago lied: “We’re going to make you more attractive and glamourous. You’ll be sexy. Every man (or woman) will find you irresistible. You will be sophisticated if you smoke. Start smoking now.” We had all believed that back then. We had seen doctors recommending certain brands. She might even have glimpsed the ad with Ronald Reagan smilingly holding up packs of Chesterfields or heard  the ridiculous nonsense that menthol cigarettes would be better for you. We had both started smoking before learning that every one of those advertisements was a dastardly lie. It took some time, but the truth was finally exposed that cigarette smoking had led to and would continue to lead to the deaths of untold millions.

Even though, eventually, companies were forced to stop those advertisements and print warnings on packs, smokers continued to smoke, because, by then, we were all addicted. The lying ads were gone, but those demonic little white sticks continued the lies in their own way: “Hey! Don’t worry. You’re not going to die from me. Really. I’m your best friend, I’m there when no one else is. I lift your mood when you’re feeling down. I calm you when you’re upset or excited. I’m always there for you. I make you feel better in every way, don’t I? And isn’t it great that I help you keep your weight down? Mmmmm. You love smoking me, don’t you? Let’s relax and hang out together. I’m your go-to good feeling. Don’t worry about that cough. Grab a light. Inhale deeply, because, baby, you NEED me. And, like the song says, ‘You belong to me.’”

Of course, no one hears that soft, seductive voice, because it is too buried in our addicted brain where we are also oblivious to the fact that we have become co-conspirators with cigarette companies in the mission of our murder. We sink into a hideous death while they get rich. Our loss doesn’t matter because there are always more potential addicts. Here’s their latest policy: “We’ll give cigarettes to children in poor countries. Eventually, they’ll pay for them even if they don’t have food. It’s an entirely new, money-making market!” The whole business is so ghastly, it’s beyond comprehension, really.

I told my dear friend that she must view cigarettes as so awful and nasty that she will not even touch one. She must hate them and see them for exactly what they are. I emphasized again how much cigarettes lie to us in order to trap us into this hideous addiction.

And then an idea occurred to me based on what I knew about her. “Barbara,” I said, “Cigarettes lie to you in the same way Donald Trump does. Think of them that way.”

She laughed. “No one could hate Donald Trump more than I do.”

“Fine!” I said, “You need to hate cigarettes even more than you hate him and his lying ways.”

Listen. If I thought she loathed Hillary Clinton as much as she does Trump, I’d encourage her to use that. I don’t care. It’s way beyond politics for me. I just hope that stirred her to action.

Later, I met some friends for dinner. I told them how despairing I was that I was about to lose yet another person I loved to cigarettes. They commiserated and I was gently distracted by other topics and delicious food.

When we left, I saw a woman standing in front of my car smoking a fucking cigarette. She was lovely—blond, well-dressed, but standing there alone, puffing away. I guess my one glass of wine had stripped away the few inhibitions I have left at my age. I walked right up to her, looked into her blue eyes and said with as much tenderness as I could muster, “You have to stop smoking.”

She looked a bit startled and said, “Nobody has ever said that to me before.”

We talked some more. And, then to my horror, she said that three health professionals had told her that she was too old to stop. “That’s crazy.” I said. “Every day you don’t smoke, your body heals. It’s that simple.” Then, on impulse I went through my spiel about how cigarettes lie to you–“like Trump,” I blurted out daringly, having no idea what her politics were. But it perked her up. She declared with vehemence, “How could any intelligent woman with any sense at all have voted for him!”

I didn’t get derailed and countered with, “How could any intelligent woman with any sense at all continue to smoke?” She sighed, nodded, put out her cigarette and left. Who knows? Maybe I made a difference. Maybe if smokers were approached by strangers who said quietly, “You need to stop smoking.” Maybe….someday, there would be a tobacco-free world. What a beautiful dream.

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.

GOD LOVES TO SHOP

Apparently God loves to shop. I don’t. I loathe shopping. However, I need to buy everything to make my villa livable. God-shopping-online (2)Since, to my utter surprise, my Connecticut house has not sold, I will have to do some extremely frugal shopping. I groan at the prospect.

God says, “Katherine, we’ll do this really fast and inexpensively. Trust me. Don’t resist me.”  I roll my eyes. God knows me well. “Katherine, what is the mantra you have used in the last year or so?”

This is going to work out better than I can imagine.”

“Right. And hasn’t it?”

I have to admit that it has, even if not according to my timing or my plans.

So, after unpacking and recovering from the exhausting drive from Connecticut, I decide that the first things I need are a sofa and another bed. I’ll start there. Thankfully, my Internet is working. so I begin perusing Craig’s List. Many people have advised me to go to consignment shops, but lying in bed looking at pictures is all I can muster right now.

I see an ad for mattresses on sale by appointment with a picture of a huge truck with BeautyRest written on the side. That’s good sign in more ways than one. Maybe I will find a bed like the oh-so-comfortable pillow top I slept on at the Days Inn on the road. It was so comfortable I had leaned over and pulled up the sheet to find out what brand it was: BeautyRest. I looked it up on line. Pretty expensive. But, now I make an appointment, maybe I can get something like it on sale.

Then, I look at sofas. Here’s a nice one. A Norwalk.  I don’t know anything about brands, but the fact that I have lived near Norwalk, Connecticut, seems somehow serendipitous. This is a goldish color from what I can see, but I want a white or cream colored couch. I almost scan past it.

The Voice stops me. “Go look at it.”

I frown. “But I want a cream or white couch!”

“Don’t whine. It might blend in nicely with those fancy, gold chairs that go with the dining set the former owner left.”

That’s true enough. I study the couch more. Those chairs have classic, curved backs.  The couch’s arms are curved in the same way. But, I resist.

It’s not the color I planned for my new home.

“Katherine. Just call. See if it’s still available. And go look at it.”

So, I do. It is. And I do.

I drive 35 minutes up to Bradenton with a dining room chair in the back to see if the colors will blend. Nice neighborhood. Nice man. The couch is already in the garage. It’s big. I sit on it. Oooooooo Very comfy. The pillows are wide and deep. Great for a lounger like me. I like it. But I hesitate. It’s just not the color I had in mind.

“If you don’t like it, you can get something else next year when you sell the house. Lean back.”

I do. Oh yes. Very cozy. Oh, okay. It’s a good temporary couch.

“Good. Blends in with the chair nicely. Buy it. Offer the man $150.”

“Isn’t that insulting?”

“His wife wants to get rid of it. She’s already redecorated. It’s taking up space in their garage. Offer $150.”

So, trying not to grimace, I do.

The man smiles, “My wife said that if you offered $150 to tell you it’s $175, but, go ahead, take if for $150. What the hell.”

“What the hell or what the heaven?” God whispers.

“When can you pick it up?” The man says not having heard God’s rather lame joke.

“As soon as possible,” I say, but I have no idea how or who is going to get this very large thing down to Nokomis for me. I know no one with a truck.

Next, I stop in the mattress place I saw advertised on Craig’s List and quickly buy a BeautyRest pillow top mattress half price. A great deal, and the sample one feels just like the yummy one at the Days Inn.

A very big man delivers it in the morning. “Umm, by the way,” I say as he lugs it in. “If I give you $50, could you go get a sofa for me?’

“Awesome,” he says.

Off we go and the owner helps put the sofa in a small trailer where it just fits as if it were made for it.

Back in Nokomis, my new friend JoAnn brings her husband over who kindly helps carry the sofa into the house.

They leave.  I rub my hand over the soft fabric of the sofa, lie down, and stretch out. It is not what I had planned. Better, I think. Better than I imagined. This is the comfiest, nicest couch I have ever owned. Actually, if the truth be told, this is the ONLY one I have ever owned. I have a kind of day bed in my living room in Connecticut.  I’m won over. I laugh out loud. “Okay, God. Good choice. I’m never getting rid of itI”IMG_0959

Now all I need is a coffee table, end tables, sofa table, chairs, rugs, everything for the kitchen, a desk, stuff for the den, furniture for both bedrooms, etc., etc., etc.  I throw my arm dramatically over my eyes at the daunting prospect. Oh, god.

“Right here, Katherine. Take a nap.”  I do.  And it’s a good thing given what is coming.

….to be continued

A SIMPLE JOY

breathe-cartoon-for-facebook1“My mind is all over the place,” I notice as I sit in my back jack, eyes closed in front of votive candles and tiny symbols of spirituality: a dolphin, a Buddha, Kuan Yin and a wee little cat. I had been lost in worries. All about the future. I bring my attention back to here. My body is relaxed. Nothing needs attention there. I am present and cozily wrapped in my blankey. “Where do I focus my mind today, then?” I ask, hoping to get a response from the Wise Voice that sometimes comes to me.

It does. “Focus on your breath like many meditators do.”

“Why do they do that?” I ask.

“Well, think about it. Breath connects you to the world. You are taking in oxygen molecules all around you.  They give you life and energy. If air were to be removed, you would be dead quickly. Perhaps that is reason enough to focus on breathing—with gratitude.”

So I notice the air going in my nose and feel my chest and my abdomen expand to receive it in my lungs. Not a big movement at all. Actually noticing it makes my breathing a little self-conscious.

“Yes, because breathing is so automatic. You don’t have to think about this life-giving energy from the world around you feeding you every moment of every day. It is just there. Notice also how the air absorbs the carbon dioxide you breathe out. Simple and miraculous, isn’t it? The world giving you life.”

I focus on my very small breaths in and out. My body knows just how much to breathe. I become acutely aware of this amazing synergy between my body and air. I feel it surrounding every inch of my body. My appreciation extends to water and food. My meditation has gone from my problems to being joyful at the wonder of life.

The timer plays its little harp music. Twenty minutes has sped by.

I set it for another ten. I want more time to breathe in the magic of life before I get absorbed in dealing with the material world again.

This blog applies to the Principle of RELAXATION

CREATIVE EXPLOSION JUNE 11 & 12 2016

5. CE widgetEverything worthwhile in life takes just a little more courage than we currently have.—John Patrick Shanley

Learn to:

  • Master Fear
  • Access Your Own Wisdom
  • Eliminate Negative Self-Judgment
  • Express Yourself Fully

The workshop is not just for performers.

 Katherine Kerr is a brilliant actress. It is not surprising that her method of teaching is as alive and plugged into human behaviors as are her portrayals of characters that you would swear have just been brought into the room from their real lives. –Mike Nichols

I was in a production of Urban Blight at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York City with E. Katherine Kerr. I watched her, riveted, in the wings every night in one of the most powerful moments I had ever seen onstage yet it was never the quite the same. I enrolled in her powerful Creative Explosion Workshop.  My career and my life have never been the same.  The Four Principles are life altering. —Faith Prince, Tony Award Winning Actress

While the workshop is powerful, it is also easy and gentle. There is no pressure. We write, share, learn, and laugh a lot. Participants leave the workshop feeling clearer, energized, and often utterly transformed.

Saturday and Sunday June 11 & 12

1 to 6 pm in Wilton , CT

 FEE: First time participant: $250

Repeating participant: $150

To enroll or more information email EKatherineKerr@aol.com

AM I NORMA DESMOND?

Am I Norma DesmondI watched Sunset Boulevard last night. It was horrifying. Not, perhaps, for the reasons other people would find horrifying. For me, it was learning that nutty Norma Desmond, living like Dickens’ Miss Haversham was only 50 years old. That’s right. Fifty. Bill Holden threw that number at her like a death sentence. He thought she was an old hag. My shoulders sank. Instead of saying to her, “You’re only 50 years old, for God’s sakes, Norma. You’ve got tons of money. Get out and have some fun!” Nope. No chance for that. In Bill Holden’s eyes, and dare I say, the world’s, Norma was done, used up, finished, beyond any chance of having a life or being loved except by her creepy, sinister German butler.

I thought, Wow, I’m so many years older than Norma. Granted she was probably certifiably crazy, but am I even crazier trying to create a new life at my age? Sometimes the answer veers toward, “Yes,” especially after spending a day like yesterday looking at dreary homes for sale in my price range in Sarasota, and then making the unfortunate choice of watching Sunset Boulevard at night.

Aside from my personal reactions, it’s a great movie, so I continued to watch. Gloria Swanson, if you took away the weird makeup and over-the-top distended eyeball rolling, looked really good. And her imitation of Charlie Chaplin is terrific.

Many years ago, I happened to sit at a table next to her in Spoleto, Italy. I was surprised at how lovely she was in person. After that, I read her autobiography, Swanson on Swanson, which is one of the best autobiographies I have read. So, Gloria and I go way back. But in her iconic role, she damned me and my life to the dustbin. Am I Norma Desmond minus her money, butler, and toy boy Bill Holden?

No—in the light of this gray day, Norma wanted her old life back. I don’t. I had some wonderful experiences as an actress, but I don’t want to play Alzheimer patients. I want to create something new. I’d love to have all my beloved family, friends, and pets alive again, but that is not going to happen. So, I’m ready let go. I think trying to hang onto or recreate the past is what plunged Norma into the Land of Haversham. But, letting go means standing in emptiness, (see p.112 in the new edition of The Four Principles: Applying the Four Keys of Authentic Acting to Life). Emptiness can be scary as hell because it demands a big dose of trust. So many times one wants to hang onto what doesn’t work rather than walk into that big empty space of not knowing what to do, or where to go. or how to get what one really wants.

So, even if I am crazy, I’m going to see if I can create a new life. It’s a challenge and an adventure. Here I go.

I’m ready for my close up, God.

This blog addresses the principle of Commitment.

A BIG QUESTION

question_markCan I, a 77 year-old single woman with almost no family, create a whole new life?

It’s a big question that has been coming up since my acting career faded away. Four years ago, after the death of my sister, I drove around the US in a camper van for three months trying to revive myself. It worked. During the trip I sometimes wondered, “Would I like to live here? Or here? Or here?” The answer was pretty much “Nope.” But it was a wonderful adventure.

Enlivened, I came home and rebooted my life without my former connection to my acting career in New York City. But each cold winter became more unbearable to me and more friends and family died. So last winter, I began seriously exploring warmer climes to relocate. I traveled around much of Florida and even went to Merida, Mexico. I felt like Goldilocks hopping in and out of beds. Nothing seemed right for me: The Keys were too low key for me, Miami and environs too big. So I turned to central Florida. The Villages seemed too much like an adult Disneyword, Mt. Dora, too small. I loved Winter Park, but it was, frankly, too expensive and I wanted to be closer to the beach. So, this December, having heard Sarasota had a lot of theater and culture, not to mention the beach, I decided to try it out. Within days, it felt right to me.

I did not know one person there. But one of the great lessons I learned in my trip around the US was: There are good people everywhere. And, indeed, through chance encounters at restaurants and even on the street, I am on my way to creating a circle of friends. One woman I met took me with her to feed the homeless on Christmas Day. I plan to do that again next year wherever I am. Two people I chatted up at a restaurant happen to be very connected in the theater. They have already introduced me to several people who are also active in theater in Sarasota. And talk about good people! Another woman, JoAnn, who I had met at the theater and for lunch days later, turned out to be a kind of angel. When I fled my rental because of a nutty, rather scary landlady, JoAnn gave me her house to stay in while she was in California! Such generosity I won’t ever forget. (The landlady, by the way, was the exception that proves the rule about good people everywhere.)

So today, when I ask, “Can I, a 77 year-old single woman with almost no family, create a whole new life?” It may take some courage and a little craziness, but my answer is a resounding YES, I CAN!  And I’m excited about the prospect!

This blog has to do with Commitment. As I say in my Creative Explosion workshops, “A really good commitment may look a little crazy.”

 

 

DEAR MIKE NICHOLS

imagesThis morning someone sent me a text about your death. I hadn’t known you were gone until that moment. I burst into sobs. I feel as if God died, or my father, or a guru.

I’ll never forget meeting you opening night of Cloud 9. I did not know you were in the audience, thank god. I was so in awe of you and had always dreamed about working with you. At the party after the show, you stopped me as I walked by your table and said something so complimentary I was taken aback. Literally. I fell over the chair behind me. I remember nothing of the evening after that.

A week or so later, a woman called. “This is Colleen, Mike Nichols’ secretary. He would like to know if you would help him out with a reading he is doing of a screenplay called Silkwood.”

I nearly choked on the intake of my breath and tried to cover my reaction with a casual, “Sure.”

“It’s going to be very informal because it’s mainly for the authors Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen. Meryl Streep will be reading her role. Kurt Russel will be reading his. Someone will be reading the men’s parts, and you’ll be reading all the other women’s roles.”

All the other women’s roles?! I could barely get out, “Oh. Okay.”

The phone call over, I ran up and down my hallway screaming wildly.

When I got the script, I thumbed through pages covered in red underlining–all the parts I was going to read including Cher’s. I panicked. Oh god oh god oh god.

I did not sleep the night before the reading. At the studio, young, beautiful Meryl Streep grabbed me and said, “I’m really scared.”

“I’m terrified,” I responded, grateful for her openness.

We sat down to the table for the reading. You were sitting at the end of the table. I was at the corner to your right. When I said my first line, you laughed. I don’t know if it was funny, but your easy laugh relaxed me completely. You had the most joyful, open laugh. How I loved to make you laugh. I think one of the most thrilling moments of my life was when you came to a reading of my play, Intelligent Design and laughed and laughed.

At the end of the Silkwood reading, Nora and Alice joined in saying something like, “We’ll have to find her a part, Mike.” Although there wasn’t really a suitable role, you offered me Gilda Schultz. She was written to be younger and kinda saucy and sexy. I was so excited to get to play her.

Magically, my impossible fantasy of working with the Great Mike Nichols was suddenly coming true! So, at 46, an age when most American actresses are being shoved out to pasture, I arrived in Dallas to begin my short and limited movie career. My costumes were flattering. Even at my age, I thought the costumes and makeup made me look pretty good.

The day before the first day of shooting, I was told to meet with you. When I entered the room, Nora, Alice, the producer, the costumer, and you were all sitting in a semi circle. I was certain I was about to be fired because your faces looked so grim. You told me gently that the concept for my character was being completely changed. Ann Roth then took me into a fitting room. My sexy, pretty clothes were eliminated. I was dressed in ugly polyester outfits. Then, the hair stylist cut my hair into a terrible, unflattering style. I was told I would wear no make up at all, and it would even be removed if I was caught cheating. (I had never gone without makeup publicly ever, let alone on film.) The change was shocking.

The next day, the first day of shooting, over 200 people were on the set: crew, cast, extras to shoot a locker scene. I was depressed and angry. I hated the way I looked and couldn’t wrap my mind around my new character. I tried to hide my fury and disappointment by staying in a corner. I decided to just grit my teeth and get through the day. I stayed out of sight as best I could, but somehow, even in the midst of all that first day chaos, you noticed me.

At a break an assistant said you wanted to see me. I didn’t want to see you. I didn’t want to talk to you, but I went because I had to.

You took me aside and spoke without your usual warmth. “Katherine,” you said. “I can take anything but sullen. I can’t take sullen.”

“Sullen” was the exact, right word. I hated being nailed as that, but I never forgot it. Years later, when I wrote Intelligent Design, I gave that cutting insult to the character of God when he complained about Eve: “She’s very sullen. I hate that sullen shit.” The word is funny to me now, but back then, it wasn’t.

My heart sank. I was caught.There was nothing I could do but tell the truth. “Oh, Mike,” I said. “It’s just that when I look in the mirror all I see is my mother.” Given the history with my mother, the last thing I wanted to be was her.

“Well,” you said. “Maybe it’s time you rejected your mother.”

I was so shocked by that I burst out laughing. What a politically incorrect thing to say! Not, I should “forgive” her or come to terms with her. According to you, it would be okay to reject her. I doubled over and nearly peed my pants laughing.

“Good. All I want is that aliveness again that I know is in you.”

The rest of the film went fine. We had no more problems. In fact, once, during the course of the shoot, you asked me a question no director before or since has ever asked: “How do you want to do this scene, Katherine?” It was such an astonishing question. It made me feel deeply respected. It implied that you assumed I had given it some thought. I hadn’t.

I made something up on the spot. “Um, well, given I was supposed to be sick, I thought I’d start in the toilet stall and then head over to that sink and wash my face while I talk with Meryl.”

“Fine,” you said. “We’ll do it that way” and told someone in the crew to make sure that the sink I had pointed to was ready with running water. It certainly wasn’t an inspired suggestion, but you liked it, and we did the scene in one shot.

When I was asked to teach acting, my only intention was to try to teach the way you directed–to see the light in people, to treat each and every person with the kind of respect you gave me. You taught me to not focus on what doesn’t work but to empower and strengthen what does work in people.

There is so much more I could write about, but I’m tired and have a headache from crying. My eyes hurt. The fire in the fireplace is dying down.

I’ve felt your presence all day today. I was only on the periphery of your world—an asteroid to your sun. Still, your love and light shone on me as brightly as it did on all those who were fortunate to be closer to you. You loved so many people so wholeheartedly. I cannot imagine the demands that were made on you because of that. Everyone wanted to be close to your genius and your love. I cannot imagine the needs and requests that must have come to you from all those who wanted to be with you or wanted something from you—and not just from peers but from wannabees and crazies. Even I, an asteroid, dared to ask you for a quote for my book The Four Principles. When you emailed it to me with such generous praise, I cried.

Perhaps you were able to love so fully and fearlessly because you knew never to sacrifice yourself—knowing that sacrifice would damage that love. Maybe you just loved and loved until your enormous, generous heart gave out. I don’t know. You taught me in ways I am not even conscious of, You taught me to love better.

I’m crying again. It’s as if I can hear your voice saying, “Well, for all you know, Katherine, I’m sitting right in the chair across from you enjoying the fire. I can be everywhere now—with everyone I love. I am with Diane. I am with Elaine. I am with my children and my beloved grandchildren. I am everywhere now, and best of all, I don’t have to be any place I don’t want to be.”

Whether that is true or not, I know you are in my heart and will remain there as long as I live. When the body dies, love does not. Love lives on. Thank you, Mike, from the bottom of my soul and the fullness of my heart.

Minor Miracles

HelpWhat you need will show up the moment you need it—not a moment before and not a moment after.

I believe this because it has happened to me so often. Here’s a short tale about just that very thing happening:

Four years ago, as I prepared to leave on a three-month trip around the US in my camper van, I was stumped as to what to do with the dehumidifier in my finished basement. Like many basements, it is damp, so I had been running a dehumidifier for years. Sometimes I would have to empty it daily. What to do while I was away?

Being a self-proclaimed champ of jerry rigging, I bought a small pump on line that would pump out water when it got above a certain level. I wrestled it into the tray of the dehumidifier, attached a hose which I jammed it into the pipe where my washing machine water flushes into the septic tank. This is more information than you need, but I’m so proud of my “invention” because it worked for four years.

Recently, however, I noticed that although the dehumidifier turns on periodically, the basement feels dank. Yet another thing I do not want to confront.

Finally, I slump down the stairs (I slump a lot when approaching daunting tasks) and pull out the tank.  It is full of dust. Definitely the humidifier has gone belly up. I unplug it, lift out the pump, go upstairs, and test it in my kitchen sink. It still works.

Now what? Sigh. I guess I have to get rid of the dead monster down stairs.

I go back to the basement and heave the heavy, old dehumidifier off the table and onto a rolling cart. Sweating and grunting, I manage to get it up the stairs and out to the barn. I have no idea what I am going to do with it. I’ll have to find someone to take it to a dump.

Back in the house I fling myself onto the bed unhappy that I will have to A: find someone to haul it away to a dump, and B: go to Home Depot, purchase another one, drag it home, somehow get it into the house, and haul it down to the…..

The phone rings. And, here’s where the story gets good. It is my ex husband’s secretary, Linda. She asks me to tell someone who’s now waiting in the driveway that she’s late and will be here soon. I go outside. It’s Dave, the guy who did such a great job repairing my barn after Hurricane Sandy. He’s here to fix the bathroom in Linda’s office. (Yes, my ex and I have a friendly partnership.)

“Dave!” I call out. He walks toward me. We chat.

As we start toward the house, I stop and ask, “By the way, is there any chance you could take that dehumidifier to the dump for me?”

“Sure!” he says. “I’ll put it in the truck with that old washing machine. On my way to the dump after I leave here, anyway.”

“How much….?” I start to ask.

“Nothing! Don’t worry about it.”

In the house we talk about his young daughter, Sophia, who is an aspiring actress. I run to my office to get a copy of my acting book and autograph it for her.

Linda arrives. While Dave goes to look at the bathroom, I tell her about the dehumidifier pooping out.

“Oh, I’ve got one in the storeroom I’m not using any more.”

“Really? Can I use it?”

“Sure.” Linda goes to her store room, rolls it out, and I plug it in. It not only works, it has a built-in pump! An easy hook up to the tubes I already have in place!

The whole thing, from dreaded confrontation to resolution happened in less than an hour.

My basement is now nice and dry.

What you need will show up the moment you need it—not a moment before and not a moment after.  Love it.

(This blog addresses the principle of RELAXATION/Trust.)