On hurricanes and hermits

I spent the weekend worrying over Hurricane Charley, which struck very near my stepdaughter’s Florida town, Cape Coral, on Friday. She and her mom, stepdad and brothers are okay, but all their trees were uprooted and the roof is in bad shape. Some of their neighbors fared considerably worse. Last we heard, late yesterday, there was no word when water and electricity would be restored to their neighborhood.

I kept thinking about the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in Miami ten years ago. In that storm, an ex-boyfriend and his sister fled their apartment after the roof blew off. When they returned later, nothing was left but the bathtub. I called home from Gainesville during the storm as my stepfather held a sliding-glass door against the wind with his bare hands; miraculously, it didn’t break. The roof creaked and rattled — my sister said it seemed to breathe — but it stayed on. After the storm, the swimming pool was filled with dead birds and squirrels and roof tiles and tree fragments. A few days later I learned that a friend of mine had been killed.

Anyhow, beyond the hurricane-obsessing, I passed the weekend laid up in bed with an unexplained recurring illness. I didn’t feel up to reading, much less leaving the house. So I complained about my health in epic phone conversations with patient friends. Max was working on a website for a client whose fall clothing line goes up tonight, so our guests had to brave the horrors of the G train all by themselves.

I did manage to crack open and read a few pages from Elizabeth Young’s Pandora’s Handbag, a recent gift from the lovely Jenny Davidson, author of Heredity. Ms. Young hailed from the Scottish Highlands and served as a literary critic until her untimely death in 2001. Her thoughts on writing and criticism are entertaining and thoughtful.

But because, due to my ill health, I was already contemplating the (not unwelcome) prospect of staying in my apartment for the rest of my life, venturing out only to have my roots dyed, this passage in particular struck me:

During my thirties, as I anticipated, my family’s marked hermit gene began to wake up and stretch. My paternal relatives have always had an extremely strong tendency to withdraw. They take up their beds and walk into their libraries and are rarely seen again. They live off fried egg and banana sandwishes with a lot of pepper on them. All these impulses surfaced with great ferocity in my psyche. (Right down to the pepper — the laziness gene I can understand but a pepper gene?) All I wanted to do was stay in bed forever and read and drink tea and smoke cigarettes and one or two other recreational substances. Unfortunately nobody pays you for reading books. If they did, I’d be a squillionaire. So I had to shovel aside all the kittens, ashtrays, mags and mugs and install a wooden drawing-board and a laptop in the duvet and start to write.


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