Nerd is the New Black

I’ve never claimed to be cool. That is just not in my makeup. I’m not into parties or dressing edgy. I’d much rather have a beer with a few close friends or read, or sit with some needlework. I remember one time when I was in grad school a friend called to ask if I wanted to have lunch. She had asked me what I was doing, and I replied “Oh, just sitting on the couch, knitting and watching Unsolved Mysteries.” There was silence on the other end of the line, and then the question, “What, are you 82?”

Holly Hat Clown–Red Skelton

Yeah. I’m a nerd. Look at the needlepoint project I’ve been obsessively working on the past few weeks. It was a kit I discovered in my grandmother’s sewing basket after she died seven years ago. Mom told me she had bought needlepoint projects for all of her grandchildren at one point, but never finished them. This one had barely been started. I was also told that this particular project had been intended for my cousin Scott, who was just a little kid at the time. Hey Scott, you’re welcome.

I have hung onto this thing for years and never worked on it more than a few stitches here and there. But I dug it out right before the hurricane and started on it again, and somehow it clicked this time. I’ve been rabidly stitching ever since, and binge watching TV shows on Netflix. And just to prove what a total nerd I am, I watched the documentary series The Royal House of Windsor and and am now halfway through Secrets of Great British Castles. So, yeah.

I hope to finish this in time for Christmas. I plan on making it into a pillow to put in my office. It’s so awful that I absolutely adore it.

What’s my point? That I am proud of my nerd status. When I was in my teens and twenties it really bothered me that I wasn’t more outgoing, that I was awkward in large groups, that parties gave me wicked anxiety.  I did get better at it, I learned how to relax and be more outgoing, although it still takes its toll. But in my 40’s I have found that I really like me. I think I’m pretty cool just how I am.

I’m proud of my clown. I can’t wait to see how he looks in my office. I’ll post a picture when Old Red is complete.

Again, Scott, you’re welcome.

 

We’re Back in the Saddle Again

Good old Gene Autry. He wrote the song about being back out on the range, toting his old ’44 and feeling at home. When I set out to write this I just conjured the line of the chorus without really considering the rest of the lyrics, but I find that they mean something more than being back in one’s old routine.

I`m back in the saddle again
Out where a friend is a friend
Where the longhorn cattle feed
On the lowly gypsum weed
Back in the saddle again
Ridin` the range once more
Totin` my old .44
Where you sleep out every night
And the only law is right
Back in the saddle again
Whoopi-ty-aye-oh
Rockin` to and fro
back in the saddle again
Whoopi-ty-aye-yay
I go my way
Back in the saddle again
It’s more than doing something familiar. It’s about being in a place that is comfortable, that suits a person right down to the blood marrow. Every person is different when it comes to their saddle. Some people never discover what theirs is, and for those I feel the most sorrow, for there is something so satisfying at being in a place that brings you quiet joy.
For me, it’s writing.
The Abduction of Audrey Bettencourt is currently out on submission to editors in New York. It is a thrilling and terrifying prospect all at once that chips away at my concentration on everything. My brain is always half somewhere else, wondering, hoping, and wishing for the best news possible.
To distract myself I have started a new novel. I won’t tell you about it yet because the idea is still just a seed and I need to work things out before I start yammering about it to the world. But this is exactly what I need. Writing is being in the saddle for me. It is a place so familiar and sweet that it calms and energizes me at the same time. I can throw my entire brain at it and be absorbed completely, no fretting about what may or may not happen in other arenas of life.
So I am going to dive head first into a new project and give it all my attention. What may come with Audrey will happen in its own time. Don’t get me wrong, I will be out of my mind with happiness if it sells. But in the meantime I am going to do what I love most.
Whoopi-ty-aye-yay.

Les Chats Miserables

The cats are okay.

We took them to the vet on Friday. They got fluids and antibiotics and were sent home. It took most of the weekend, but the snuffling has mostly subsided and as of last night they were eating again. (Hurray!)

Although Fingers did sneeze in my face this morning, quite possibly on purpose for dragging him back out for another trip in the car (or torture chamber, if you had it directly from him).

But they are quickly returning to their former rambunctious selves. Thanks to all who were concerned.

If Comcast fixes our Internet we will officially be back to normal.

Shady and Fingers

The boys in their usual, rambunctious state.

Things are getting back to normal. The boil water notice was lifted yesterday and the sewage system is stable so we can do laundry, shower luxuriantly, and flush the toilets with abandon again. The library only has half-power air conditioning, but the public parts of the building are cool. Part of the a/c is running on a generator and it sounds like an airplane taking off, but if that’s all, I can deal with it.

But our kitties, Shady and Fingers, are sick. They haven’t been eating and drinking very little. We were able to get them an appointment at the vet tomorrow morning, but I’m worried about them. They are so lethargic, snuffling and sneezing. Fingers has rubbed his nose raw, poor baby.

We are borrowing a second cat carrier from a friend and coworker. We only have one, and while they can both fit reasonably well, trying to get them both in is impossible. When we left before the storm we only got one inside of it. The other we had to wrap tightly in a towel to carry out to the car. I got scratched pretty bad on the arm from one of them.

I am hoping that they are lethargic enough that they don’t resist much to the cat carriers this time.

If you pray, send one up for the kitties, and for us that we can get them to the vet without incident.  Otherwise, good wishes, vibes, or energy are also appreciated.

 

Summer Swelter

Here is how we coped with the heat for the next few days:

  1. We moved as little as possible. (After taking down the storm shutters on the patio and office window we sat outside, trying to catch an elusive curl of breeze. There was none to be had–the world was still as death. )
  2. Drank as much water as possible. (We couldn’t get still water before the storm so we stocked up on bubbly water. Bubbly water is not fun to drink when it’s warm. But you do because it is 2 in the afternoon and you haven’t peed all day.)
  3. Went to bed when the sun set. (It got dark about 8:30 and the heat from even tealights was too great to stand. And that bed we were dying for when lying on the floor of the shelter? It was now akin to lying in an oven like a roast chicken.)

Then one night we were sleeping and I rolled over and opened my eyes a crack. I nearly shit myself when I saw the light coming from the living room. My first thought was, “There’s someone in the house.” But then it dawned on me that it was the little lamp we had purposely left on so we would know then the power was back on. It was about 10 pm and we both bolted from bed and ran for the air conditioner. Sweet relief!

We got our power back earlier than most, and we were really lucky we only had to live a few days in that exhausting heat. Some people today, eleven days after the storm, are still living in the stifling and oppressive darkness. The power company says they will have all power restored by the 22nd, which is still two days away and I feel for the folks who are last on the list.

But even though we had the power back on things were far from normal. There was a boil water notice in effect which meant you could take a shower, but good grief don’t open your mouth. No washing dishes, rinsing food, or disinfecting hands.

And then the sewers started to back up.

Florida is FLAT. And when water goes into the sewage system it is sent along to the treatment plants by a series of pump stations. But if the pump stations have no power then all the water (and the STUFF in the water) sits there and builds up until it’s exploding out of manhole covers and backing up into people’s drains.

Ew.

Gas was scarce. There were only a few stations with generators that had fuel and the lines were hours long. We waited in line for 2 hours one night to get filled up and missed curfew by 20 minutes. I have vague recollections of the gas shortages in the 70’s and the lines where people would shut off their engines to wait. This was no different.

The world, for a few days, was a scary place. But the thing is, this is how life is like for many people on this earth. I am thinking about the folks in Mexico City today digging out from a far worse disaster than we could imagine here. What’s a little heat compared to being trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building?

Things are getting back to normal. More than 80% of the power in my county has been restored. Gas and water are readily available again. The curfew and boil water notices have been lifted. But this whole experience shows me just how thin the veneer of civilization is. The power goes out and you’re left in miserable conditions. People get angry, hot, tired, and thirsty. Fist fights break out over gas. You can’t flush your toilet every time you use it.

A disaster like a hurricane puts things in perspective. I know exactly how lucky I am to have a roof over my head, food on my table, and running water and electricity. I hope I never take them for granted again.

Homecoming

On Tuesday morning we were up before six, eager to be away from our patch of floor. We asked the police officer on duty at the shelter if he knew of any place that had gas. He told us Sam’s Club received fuel at about 4:45 am. We plugged the coordinates into the phone and left the shelter behind without a backward glance. We are grateful to the folks in Marion County who helped us out. Without them we would have faced the hurricane sleeping in our cars. That’s not a place you want to be.

The line at Sam’s Club was already long at that early hour, but the folks working there were efficient and had a good system going to keep things moving. We probably waited 45 minutes altogether to get to the gas pump. We didn’t have a membership but one of the worker swiped a dummy card for us, which was very nice. We had gassed up just as the sun was breaking over the horizon.

But Mom and Dad, still at the special needs shelter had only fumes left. When we had left home we put Mom’s oxygen generator in our trunk because there was no room in their car. They forgot to take it with them when we split up so Dad had to drive back to us to get the machine and then drive back. His light was on and his gauge was on E.

Before we could address the issue (we were going to see if we could find a gas can and bring him some fuel) we had to wait for the stores to open. We found an IHOP open and pulled in with a screech of tires, relief washing over us. There was coffee to be had.

Breakfast was one of the most satisfying meals I’ve ever had. I’ve had better meals, but none so sweet as that one. Eggs, sausage, hash browns and toast with cup after cup of coffee. They were one of the few places open and they were packed by the time we left. We were fortified and ready for our next task: getting gas for my parents.

But we failed utterly. We went to a handful of stores (Target, Pep Boys, a hardware store) looking for a gas can but they were all sold out everywhere. But then Dad took matters into his own hands and he and Mom left the shelter without telling us. They ended up at an empty gas station with God only knew how much fuel left. I may have freaked out a little bit.

Gas Buddy saved us. We were about 8 miles from a Pilot on the Interstate and we decided to drive there, the two of us following my parents in case their car died in transit. It was one of the most nail-biting rides of my life. How would we get Mom out of the car if they had to pull over on that country road? We were out in the middle of nowhere and Dad had already pushed the gas tank to the limit.

But we made it. Again, there was a fantastic line at the station, but their car must have made it on fumes and good wishes. They filled up and we parted ways again. They could go on their way home, but we had to go get the cats who were still at the Marion County Animal Shelter.

The cats were piiiisssed. They were both put in the one carrier, which was a tight fit, but they could both lie down inside of it. They were very vocal when we brought them out to the car. The staff at the shelter warned us that they could both very likely pick up colds from being exposed to so many other cats. I was just happy to see them alive and loudly protesting.

We got on the road around noon and started to head south, but it was very slow going on the freeway. We prayed it wouldn’t be like that the whole way home, but it cleared up after the exit for the Florida Turnpike headed towards Orlando veered off. But then, we were stopped dead on the freeway again a few more miles down the road because of an accident. It took us a good half hour to get clear of that. Finally, we were sailing along at a good clip and eager to get back to see our house.

We didn’t really see much evidence of the hurricane until we hit Ft. Myers, which is just north of us. There was a lot of water in the ditches, lakes were really high, and trees were down here and there. We saw a few homes with water up to their front doors and I began to grow anxious. There hadn’t been any reporting about storm surge damage in Naples, just wind and rain, so we were hopeful.

Getting off the freeway we hit ground zero. All the traffic lights were dark, trees were down everywhere, some still blocking the roads in places. We crept slowly towards home, navigating the intersections as best we could. We got to a corner close to home and saw the local Lutheran church nearly underwater and we drew a deep breath. Around the corner, and into Mandalay, and there was our house! It looked all right from the outsides. There were a ton of leaves and minor debris in the driveway, but everything looked fine.

We went in to our dark and stuffy home and found that indeed, we had been spared. I think that was the moment that I finally cried a little. We let the cats out, filled up their water dishes, and headed out to see how Mom and Dad fared. The cell towers were down, power was out, so we had no way to communicate.

A few miles away we got to their condo. The roof was lying on the ground in front of the hall to their front door. But because they were on the first floor they only had a small amount of water damage. They too, had been largely spared. No broken windows, no other damage than a little water.

Back home we took the shutters off the patio and opened the doors. It was hot. The temperature in Florida this time of year hovers between 91-94 degrees with around 80% humidity. Without air conditioning, or one lick of breeze, we began our exciting and new brand of suffering.

More to come…

The Day After the Storm

After our second night on the floor Irma had blown through Ocala as a Category 1 hurricane. It was very early when people started getting up and packing their things. Our classroom was interior with no windows and no power so it was very dark, but some came prepared with battery-powered lanterns and flashlights. Some used their cell phones to illuminate their way. In a matter of a couple of hours we were a few of the last people in the building. We couldn’t leave because we needed gas to go home.

We asked the police officer in the registration office and he told us gas was waiting on the Port of Tampa to open, they were bringing in fuel on tankers, but the winds had to fall below a certain level before they would open again. So we were pretty much stuck.

We had breakfast. We left our dungeon-like room for a exterior classroom with windows. Then we heard from the staff that they were consolidating everyone left in the cafeteria. We shuddered when we thought of the linoleum floor and our one blanket.

The power was still out but in the afternoon they got the generator working in the cafeteria and there was air conditioning once again. Both Kosta and I were beginning to crash hard–two nights on the unyielding floor with noisy neighbors left us sleep-deprived and longing for our bed. It was a long day of doing very little. I was too tired and distracted to read, and I ended up sitting and watching people while Kosta read my novel on his computer.

And then at dinner they made the announcement: due to the reopening of the high school on Wednesday, they were transferring all the remaining folks to a temporary shelter at Central Florida College.  Since we had a car and didn’t have to wait for the bus we jumped on it to get a choice spot of floor at the new place.

We were the second to arrive. We were shown to a large conference room that, mercifully, had air conditioning. There was a stage jutting out into the room and we found a tidy corner tucked behind it. We spread out our bedding and found that when we sat down we were quite hidden from the rest of the room. It was a nice as sleeping on a concrete floor in a roomful of strangers could be.

The Salvation Army gave us a hot meal and some reading material about Jesus. I was so grateful for the former I didn’t mind the latter at all. I looked around and saw a lot of people with nowhere to go. I knew that when we got gas again we would be on our way and how lucky we were to be in that position.

We settled down to sleep and groaned as our bruised tailbones hit the floor. It was a long night–well, not really–it just felt long. We were up before the dawn and out on our way to find gas before most of the rest had even rolled over in their sleep.

Post Hurricane Irma news: My agent and I have agreed the the book is ready to be submitted to publishers and he is shopping it around now! I am excited and terrified. It was so much work–a labor of love, to be sure–but it was a long time coming. I am ready for the next step up in the game.

Finger crossed for me, please!

 

Shelter Me

Kosta and our little patch of floor.

We got to “bed” on our patch of floor near to midnight. But in our haste to flee we had no pillows, no blankets, nothing but our suitcase, computer bags, and some food and water. We did have two bath towels from the car, and we rolled those up to use as pillows. The lights were on in our room as folks were still coming in. But we lay down and tried our best to be comfortable.

The floor was poured concrete with just the thinnest skimming of industrial carpet and before long our backs, hips and shoulders protested. Our necks twisted painfully under the towels. At 1:30 the lights went out. But some jackass was watching Pulp Fiction on an iPad without headphones and the sounds of gunshots thudded through me. I was already strung as tightly as possible and squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for it to end.

Finally, all was quiet, but getting cold. I had not packed wisely. I grabbed three t-shirts, but nothing with long sleeves. I at least had long pants but the air conditioning was over-efficient and we both were starting to shiver. But then a flashlight appeared out of the darkness and some angel came towards us with a blanket. “Here,” she said, “do you want this? I noticed when you came in you didn’t have any bedding.”

We gratefully pulled the blanket over us, snuggled together as best we could, and finally were able to sleep.

In the morning we got in line for breakfast. The cafeteria had scores more of folks sheltering on the floor, demarcated areas with painter’s tape marking their little rectangles of personal space. Everyone looked like something out of The Walking Dead–glassy eyes, shambling gaits as they waited in line for food.

Waiting for breakfast in the cafeteria.

The storm still hadn’t hit that far upstate so we ate outside on picnic tables. I think we had food they normally serve high school students. If that is the case, we need to do better as a country at feeding our kids. The food was edible, but highly processed and tasteless. Don’t get me wrong though, I was damn grateful that we didn’t have to feed ourselves solely from the snacks we brought with us. Popcorn doesn’t fill a belly like toast with sausage and cheese.

The day was long and uneventful. We watched as much storm coverage on my phone as we could. My breath hitched as I watched the eye of Irma move directly over Naples on the radar–my house right underneath it. We talked a lot about what we would do if our house was destroyed. Mostly, we were trying to mentally prepare for the idea that we would have nothing to come home to. But my parents, the cats, and Kosta and I all had our lives. The rest could all be rebuilt if need be.

I was able to talk to my parents and found they had fared somewhat better at the special needs shelter. They had both been given cots, Mom even had a mattress. They didn’t have blankets but they had brought their pillows so they were able to sleep in reasonable comfort.

The day was an interminable wait, our nerves stretched tight. I tried to read but our neighbors made it nearly impossible. The room was filled with screaming kids, people watching movies on their phones with the volume turned up, and lots of loud talking, one woman in particular shouting at her toddler every few minutes with a voice like a bullhorn. We sat quietly in our corner and tried to block it all out.

That night some jackass tried to invite the entire shelter to our classroom for a dance party. He went so far as to go to the office and ask if there was an intercom system that he could use to tell people about it. Then he put on some music and tried to coerce everyone into dancing. The only takers he had were the kids in our room, bursting with unspent energy.

Then Mr. Dance Party got sullen. He got on his phone and started talking to a friend loudly how we were all useless and just “waiting to die.” I ignored him and kept my nose stuck in my book. Finally he shut up.

The light were out by 11:30 and things quieted down for the night. But then at about midnight we all heard the power die as the air conditioning ground to a halt. The faint howl of the wind could be heard through the bunker-like walls and ceiling. Kosta and I held each other and tried to sleep.

 

The Calm Before the Storm

The house we left behind.

We just went through a hurricane. Irma barrelled through Naples just a week ago and heavens did we have an adventure. Things are still not back to normal but they are getting there.

But let me start at the beginning. Last Saturday we were all prepared for the hurricane. The storm shutters were up and my parents had moved in to weather the storm with us.  We had food and water and were as prepared as we could be.

Then we looked at the storm surge map on NOAA.gov.

They were predicting that we could have 6-11 feet of flooding. Six feet of water is taller than I am by a good stretch. After seeing the horror that happened in Houston we started calmly freaking out. Would our house be underwater?

We did what we had to do–less than 24 hours before the storm hit, we left. We packed up what we could take in an hour, bundled the cats into the car (and boy were they unhappy, I have the scratches to prove it), and we headed north out of Naples. Irma was coming and we weren’t going to wait around until the water reached our lower lip.

I never thought there would be a day when I would take what I could grab and flee my home. From time to time in our lives we look around and think about what we might take it we had to leave at a moment’s notice. For me, I had my computer with my novel, some of my good jewelry, my Grandpa Wally’s wedding ring, and the cats. Other than a few changes of clothes and some food and water, we left everything behind, not knowing if there was going to be anything to come back to.

It was surreal. How do you mentally prepare for something like that?

We left at about 7 pm and headed up I-75 towards Tampa. Both my parents and Kosta and I had full tanks of gas and that got us to Ocala. We were down to a quarter tank and there was no gas to be had anywhere. All the gas stations were EMPTY. Everyone evacuating in the days previous had sucked up every last drop of fuel that remained. There were no hotel rooms available anywhere. So we went to a hurricane shelter.

But my parents had to split up with Kosta and me. We had to stay at Vanguard High School in Ocala because it was the pet friendly shelter, and Mom and Dad had to go to the special needs shelter because she is oxygen dependent. It was hard to say goodbye to them for a few days, but we did what we had to do.

We were late–it was after 11 pm when we got to the shelter.  We were so late they didn’t have space to keep Shady and Fingers at the high school. They had to transport them to the local animal shelter for the duration of the storm. But they probably had better accommodations than we did. We registered, and were shown to a windowless classroom.

To be continued…

Writing in a Vacuum

Writing is an isolated business, at least for the writer. Once a book is sold it becomes a team effort of agents, editors, designers, printers, bookstores, and marketing teams. But before a writer gets to that lovely prospect, there are countless days of agonizing over every word, plot point, and character. Usually all alone.

I am one such person as that. While it is true my husband (also a writer) is hands-down my best go-to person for reading pages, giving critiques, and editing with me, it still is a rather lonely place. I know my husband loves my writing, but he did marry me, right? I know he wouldn’t bullshit me, but he is just one opinion.

The Algonquin Round Table — the ultimate writer’s group.

That is why a writer’s group is so important. You can get feedback from more than one person, and if you have a good writer’s group, that feedback is helpful. Ah, but not all writer’s groups are equal, are they?

For example, last year I heard of a group that met at a church on Saturday mornings. It was a drive but Kosta and I arrived on time and took seats in the meeting room. It was a very large group–near to twenty folks crowded around the tables. But as the first few members began reading their work I realized I was in the wrong place.

How did I know? Because my husband and I were nearly the only two folks who were not octogenarians writing about their husband’s cancer/Alzheimer’s disease. That’s not entirely true, but it did feel more like a therapy group for widows. They enjoyed what I read (at least they said they did) but I didn’t get any helpful criticism. How could I when I was only aloud to read one page?

For a serious writer it can be hard to find a group of like-minded folks who are working on projects for publication. I still haven’t found one, but I am always on the lookout for potential partners. But it seems that for now I am on my own. And that’s okay. I’ll just keep working hard and doing what I love. That, in the end, is what it’s all about anyway.