WHEN HELL FROZE OVER: STILL SURVIVING THE STUNNING FAILURE OF THE TEXAS POWER GRID

Or At Least We Didn’t Have To Eat The Dog

central texas 2021

As prepared as we were, it wasn’t enough.

Okay obviously it was because I am here to tell the tale, but it wasn’t enough to keep what should’ve been a healthy adventure from becoming a nightmare.

At the start we found the first layer of winter and freezing pretty, refreshingly a tad more than the occasional kiss of snowfall, and thought the power outage was a mere blip, as had happened for a few hours or even once overnight in the past. That morning The Electric Co-op even said I was the only person to report an outage.

Though aware of a big storm coming, we did not hustle our bustle beyond setting aside several gallons of extra water and making sure we had foodstuff for all of us creatures in the event we were holed up for a bit. We’d finish our chores on the day. In our years here we have been through torrential rains, massive hails and the fringe of a tornado.

Well.

By evening we realized this was not about tea and candles and long pajamas.

Though better off than most folks out of power, our normal simple way of living (with a wood stove for heat, a gas cooker, well water and water tanks, rain barrels and an old back-up just-in-case never-tried-out generator), did not prepare us for literally inches of ice quickly coating, encasing, everything. And unrelenting cold that made one’s home feel like an unheated garage. In Canada.

On top of the uncontrollable circumstances were the controllable circumstances – as the consequences of so many choices, of incomplete projects, of every can we kicked down the road – coming back up right in our ruddy, sleet pelted faces.

While submerged in teens to single digit to no digit degree temperatures, in a place not built for extended bouts of such weather, we found ourselves spending precious hours and more precious than gold daylight into the harsh night doing tasks that should have been locked up long before. One ‘incomplete’ caused a chain of floundering events.

We’d be chuckling about how nippy a couple of those nights were IF even only ONE of the following had been done BEFORE the storm and not during.

IF the firewood was cut to fit the stove, thus already dry inside, not coated with unbreakable ice and needing to defrost in tubs and bins all over the house, the chimney top may not have frozen over leaving us with cold inefficient fires those early desperate nights.

IF the horse stall was built all the way we wouldn’t have had to coax jumpy to stampeding horses into a rigged up shed garage spot a after a tree fell on their flimsy temporary roof.

IF my car was parked in the shed garage instead of blocking it. To move it we had to brace up and cut the tree that fell on and buried my car in a mess of thick icy limbs piece by piece.

IF the generator was accessible, not blocked in by immovable equipment and flat-tired sunken in the mud, needing big farm machinery to extract it to the house. It was great until the not fully winterized diesel fuel froze, shutting us down.

He worked to move blocking fallen trees from the road in case we needed to try to 4 wheel it out of here, as well as clear our neighbors’ driveways. Some of them are elderly, some unskilled, and some selfish. All of them left.

Through this we texted and shared photos with friends and family to paint a brighter picture, thank goodness the cell phones worked! But we were, or it felt we were, literally fighting for our lives and animals and everything we have worked so hard for. A primitive lizard brain survival instinct kicked in, and it was ugly. My husband and I had a different set of priorities, each totally correct, which put us at odds against one another.

I focused on helping my husband, but mainly our home and animals, firewood and water. For a couple days we could not bust through the inches of ice to any potential water in the troughs, which meant several daily hauls of warmed water to the coop and horses.

It wasn’t about getting through a night or two. We soon realized we could be out of power for weeks (please not more!) and decisions made in those moments would effect us in that future.

He spent time each day bringing our (in the beginning) limited water to a neighbor’s accidentally abandoned donkey up the hill (she also broke his nose while trying to escape). Some of those days the 4 wheeler would freeze and he’d have a long hike up the hill and back. He also checked on a friend miles down the road, bringing appreciated supplies, and again the 4 wheeler almost shut down, frozen. Each time he left, I had to consider he might not return.

Heavy ice laden log-like branches and trees fell in every direction, near and far, crashing down for days and nights, sounding like gun shots or cannon fire or avalanches.

When that frigid darkness came crushing in on us those first few nights, no amount of candles or flashlights could dispel the stomach churning fear of more deeply understanding vulnerability, mortality, and just writing it now, and even now-now typing what I had written on paper, has it victoriously jogging a couple tight laps around my tummy.

Then it snowed several inches, actually making everything easier to maneuver, without having to struggle 10X more on the ice. The sun’s glare over-lit everything to glowing, with flakes shimmering like diamonds.

At bedtime – those nights brought no relief to our tense and aching and injured bodies, only cold dread, for we knew in a few hours we’d be doing it again, on alert, on our feet, out in the elements til or even into dark. My husband and I could not comfort one another for we, or our inner lower reptile brains, detested each other. One of those mornings in my sleep I ended up next to him for warmth, and upon waking he snarled that I had crossed enemy lines.

There’s more weirdly learned to dos and not to dos, and I hope to write about the positive gleanings at another time. But first is the need to release at least some of this, well, trauma. It’s embarrassing to in any way compare homesteading to such as our Service People go through in battle, yet there’s a shadowy hint of what in the most minor connection of ways, minor like a second cousin, through marriage even, feels like a roaring whisper of PTSD.

This was written on day 11 of no power. I type this on day 15. Who knows when I can wriggle this up online through my phone. However, we’ve figured out a system for the house basics, and are now challenged with keeping the fridge and freezer cold, for over the course of one afternoon, everything has melted into spring.

All of the animals made it (the chickens are champs), and my marriage is stronger for surviving one another, seeing the necessity in each of our efforts, and especially those of my husband who is truly a hero.

We begin the months long work of clearing downed trees and branches, to make structures safe, and he’s patching up the well rutted road with the tractor. My hands are torn up and my feet ache – despite the warm weather they still feel laced with ice. We eat very well, and as part of God’s design, with the aid of sun, the hardships begin to get a touch fuzzy. I try to release more of it here as the true reason for getting words out. If anyone is still reading this rough unedited rant I thank you for your time.

*posted on day 20 without house electricity

**23 days without grid power!

CONTINUITY CHILDSPLAY

I got chillllls, but I dont got trees, the background guys gee-gawking with their arms up and the same hue of seafoam green

My parents didn’t take us to the movies as much as I would’ve liked, but a couple of those early screenings have stuck with me as filmic comfort food.  After the daily stress of the world on hold and nightly chores on the farm, 2020 has been the year of classic cinema. Not meaning highbrow, just old!

Grease is the word! Or it was last night, streaming into our living room.  Way back, when movies stayed in the theater for months, I did get to see this film projected a couple times.  That year a friend and I danced and sang our little girl heads off to the soundtrack. And when it later came out on VHS, and when my family eventually (better late than never) got a VCR, teenage me maybe might’ve rented it once, or twice, until someone down the road gave me a tape of my own. Never got around to a DVD copy.

So my hub and I watched, in HD on a decent sized flat screen. And during the climactic final duet, some childhood cinematic memory urged, “was I right?” There was something that I remembered feeling off about that part of the song where Sandy and Danny move their way up the zig zaggy stairs of a carnival attraction.

And there it was. The close ups didn’t match in continuity, the backdrop didn’t quite match, and were (now quite obviously) filmed on stage. I felt that as a kid!  But I’ve seen this on tape several times since then, and thus knew this already no? No. Poking around versions of the scene on Youtube it became clear. After seeing it in the 1970’s theater, the other viewings were on a squarish TV, the image severely cropped (unless there’s a letterbox version out there), with the softer focus and drained color saturation of a film on tape.

Good grief, who knew then that seemingly useless observational sense would apply to decades of work as a script supervisor!

As an aside, in mentioning this to a friend, she brings up the cringiness of some of the sexist dialogue and lyrics in my beloved Grease. Well, I look at it as a film about the 50’s made during the 70’s. Context people! BTW what kind of example are today’s big name musical artists promoting? I will take my hand jive and pussy wagon all day long over a degraded twerking Cardi B or Miley Cyrus.

the wideshot

ATTENTION ATTENTION !!! PLEASE CONTACT US AGAIN !!!

red alert!!!!

It has finally come to my ATTENTION ATTENTION that many of the ‘contact’ emails have never made it to the site. I thought WordPress was disposing of and bypassing spam, but while the WP reports showed submission numbers going up up up, the actual messages and newsletter (yet to be written, get off my back) requests reaching me were at a trickle.

I tested the contact form when first starting this site (AOK), and now nearly a year later I tested again. And again !!! Where is?!!!

So non technical me tried, alas slowly trudging the learning curve, to figure out the easy and cheap way to fix this, and have, in frustration and general bummed outed-ness, not been posting as much as I’d like the past couple months.

Finally the issue seems to be resolved. I ask if you have reached out in the past and did not receive an email from us please fill out the contact form again! Thank you and you and you!

LISTENING TO YOUR GUT, EVEN IN FILMMAKING

Guest Blog by the Fabulous Michelle Cohen

enlightened gut

After years of questioning my instincts, fighting them and not following through (usually to my own detriment), I have finally been handed enough proof in my life that it is usually wiser to trust those feelings.

Here is a tale of what happened when, despite my doubts and fears, I listened to my inner guidance and found myself swiftly whisked across the country to LA – with meetings at CAA, UTA and ICM for my movie…

Emails kept popping up about a film networking opportunity in downtown NYC. Being from the theater, new to film, and not a comfortable partygoer…I promptly deleted all three of them. When the 4th message came in, I finally realized I HAD to go.  By then I had at least learned how messages are not that insistent unless there is a reason. So I replied with a sigh, ‘yes.’

But a few days before the event, I came down with such a horrible cold that during a coughing fit I burst a blood vessel in my eye. Aye yai yai! Now I sounded and looked like Quasimodo and figured, cool, don’t have to go.

And what came was such a loud, resounding, YOU ARE GOING NO MATTER WHAT message in my gut, I became more nervous to ignore the advice than to attend the event. So, resisting the temptation to don a pirate’s eye patch, I made my way to the party and hoped for the best.

In moments I was approached by a woman who introduced herself as “Tequila” (not kidding). She was so taken by me that, without my knowledge, she went around the room telling everyone about my screenplay. I found myself at the center of attention without having to say or do anything. Without even moving –  everybody came to me. Including the “suit” which is really the one person you want seeking you out. 

Not only was he intrigued, he asked if I was going to AFM in Santa Monica. Again, theatre person, no clue what he was talking about. He explained that it’s a huge film market event. Next week. Next week? I needed to get on a plane and be there and he would personally introduce me to everyone I needed to get my movie made.

What?!!

Back home I checked him out and sure enough he was legit. Wise advisors in my circle said that it was nearly impossible to get into this organization without that kind of support so I should absolutely find my way there.

No, impossible for this to happen! But my instincts continued to reassure me that this could be easy if I let it be. Sure enough, my parents had frequent flyer miles they kindly shared, and my sister and brother-in-law, living in LA at the time, offered to put me up.  In spite of my apprehension, next thing I knew I was in Santa Monica. The “suit” was true to his word, already waiting with people prepped to meet me. It was a whirlwind experience but within the week I had lined up a distributer, producer and investor interest!!!!! 

And within the month, I found myself in the offices of the highest agencies in Hollywood, each of them trying to get me to choose to work with them!

Now I am very aware, this is not the norm. But what if we truly listen to our instincts even when they seem highly improbable, could it be more commonplace? For while I certainly resisted from my personal comfort level, when I followed through – it brought me to an inconceivable amount of opportunities.

Michelle Cohen is a producer, writer, director, performer & intuitive coach moving seamlessly from the entertainment industry to the written word to the invisible world. Her many talents have been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, MTV, NPR’s “All Things Considered”, and in People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and The Washington Post.

For more info visit her website: www.michellecohen1.com

A WRINKLE IN TIME PERCEPTION

Lockdown to Slowdown

Woke up…no alarm…sunrise…. Did not know what day of the week it was.

This sentiment pops up on the Internet, seeing others comment that in lockdown they are losing their bearings. Basic patterns disrupted, unsure as to when things will get back to normal, a certain monotony of days blending together…

This is not uncharted territory for folks in the film industry! After completing a job you might just float around til the next one. But when in production, crew becomes initiated in to a sort of club where the framework of time is lifted, or shifted, in a ‘through sleet or snow or any hour’ kind of way. If not clocking in at a sound stage, and instead doing location work, more than likely schedules will shift, with no natural day of the week or weekend.  Circadian rhythms be damned, if we need to shoot all overnights, we shoot all overnights. If we need to shoot 6 days a week, well by golly that’s what we do.  If we need to film Wednesday through Sunday, then that’s that. And say goodbye to the 40-hour work week.

Friends and family don’t automatically understand that you can’t meet up after work or for Sunday dinner, or that you can’t plan too far ahead without the caveat “if I’m not working.”  They may be shocked that you miss a little calendar marker, or that your bills might be late, or that you aren’t caught up on the news.  

They may not understand how with odd and shifting work schedules you can get turned around as to the day of the week, and even if you are off on Sunday you must do laundry, wash dishes, look at mail and paperwork and try to sleep for that 6 a.m. start time on the next day.

They may not understand… until now. At least some folks. Depending on the level of lockdown, some people have been home in a loose loop. Saturday night may not differ much from Monday morning.  Home bored, or home busy – cleaning out closets and cabinets, learning an instrument or writing that novel. Working from home in half the time. But missing haircuts, no concerts or shows, nor eating out, no conference room meetings. Sweatpants, and keeping those brassieres in the drawers (this, actually, is pretty good) – all are big adjustments to a whole world’s habits and rituals and normal operations. 

For those on the sidelines that didn’t experience any sickness, maybe this was a strange gift, a moment to slow down, catch up, to look inward, to intuitively appreciate simple moments and small things.

It’s almost summer. Businesses begin to open. Production is officially allowed to shake the dust off its shoulders in Texas, but projects have yet to ride over the horizon.  People have had to live in the slipperiness of an expanded view of time, and maybe that has changed us in a good way.

MEDIA CIRCUS, FILM INDUSTRY?

balancing act

The tension of not knowing what the film production future will look like, as in jobs, as in when, as in being decades invested in such a niche industry, and the thought of trying to make a living at something available and new, deep into middle age, finally got to us. Fighting over planting the green beans. At one point the words “breaking up” were uttered, and not by me.

That night I did not want to hear another word, no syllable nor peep, and stumbled upon a silent film from 1928, Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus. CC can be a little syrupy for my taste, but after reading that he had pulled this movie out of circulation for nearly 50 years, rereleasing it in 1969 (to an audience both sophisticated enough to appreciate a master in film history, and perhaps exhausted from the hippy beads of culture shock confusion mixed with a deepening march of war), I hit play.

In an exaggerated way the Tramp lives out our primal fears – homeless, jobless, alone and hungry. But he holds his head up. Given a chance to work at the circus, stumbling through various jobs and actual circus acts, one could cynically say he is taken advantage of, used, and placed in danger.

But it doesn’t actually feel this way to watch. Despite his misadventures the Tramp can love, share, protect and sacrifice, maintain more dignity and grace than those who have a flush wallet and a full belly. And now, here on Earth 2020, our circumstance may change but it needn’t change who we are. It can’t.  What makes us “us” are internal qualities, not possessions or positions, no matter how entrenched we seem to have become with such. In trying times we see what we are made of.

By the film’s climax my husband and I were laughing out loud, tears running down my face (and I am a hard nut to crack), as the Tramp fills in for the Tightrope walker. I wont describe it for hoping someone here will actually watch the WHOLE film, but lets say its an allegory for how some of us may feel a this time – safety line snapped, a monkey on our back, being out of balance, caught with our pants down.  Tears of laughter are better than tears of fears.

JERRY LEWIS, FRIEND OF THE SCRIPT SUPERVISOR

Virus and a Video

The Genius Jerry Lewis – with video camera mounted to film camera

Well our country and world is kind of …closed. Some people have been dealt tragedy, many mere inconvenience, and a few, with good cheer and stocked pantry, hold a winning hand of rest and reconnection with family and home.

Here on the farm it’s just another day after day of spring chore after chore. When it’s finally time for a little lie down before bed, too many news programs bring the fear. So I prefer the comedies of the 60’s, which as a child of the 70’s were like comfort food, safe cozy movies playing on TV in the afternoons or on the weekends.

We started with some Jerry Lewis. The French thought him a genius. And they were right! Not his spasmodic shrilling that first brought him notice, but with Directing and the construction of story – composition, timing, editing, visual transitions, the use of sound, expanding simple moments. Some of his films are downright experimental for their time (like The Bellboy – who else could make a successful modern Hollywood film like that, where the star is silent and there is no story just a bunch of rather unrelated vignettes?!).

Beyond what’s on the screen, Jerry Lewis changed film production technology for the rest of us in advancing the cause of Video Assist.

What?

To be able to truly direct (himself) and best assess his performance as Actor, he worked with the Studio and Sony to develop what we now know as video assist, or having monitors and playback.

Basically at a time when movies were shot literally on rolls of film, he pushed to have a video system capture what the film camera was seeing (by mounting a video camera onto the film camera!). Thus he could adjust his performance take by take, instead of waiting for the film to be developed and a print to come back from the lab, only then deciding whether to reshoot the performance, or live with what he got. All time and money.

The Script Supervisor of yore would often watch takes from as close to the (ONE) camera as possible. Think of Pat Miller, with her binder, on a ladder behind the camera! Now with a faster pace, multiple cameras, location shooting, hand held etc…the video monitor is an essential tool in doing our job.

And this “LAAAAAAAAAAAADY” says thank you Mr. Lewis.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

Filming on Location

spot the board of boards ( for the production initiated only)

I spent last week in the big city working on a commercial and crossed another production while driving to my set one day.  It’s kind of funny to see the (literal) signs of filming on location that thousands of people are oblivious to.

First there’s the yellow placard at the street corner, rather inconspicuous, telling those in the know to turn “here.” This will never display the show’s title, but perhaps the initials or the production company’s name.

Sometimes everything’s clustered together and sometimes parking, basecamp, work trucks and location are spread apart. In some ordered combination are the white box trucks, lined up just so, and trailers, with a parade of passenger vans making the rounds. A bank of crew cars may display matching parking passes tucked on their dashboards.

Closer to set may be large equipment as lifts or cranes, as well as an array of pop up tents and carts, metal stands and big black or white sheets. Lights and cameras are the big giveaway.  Some passers by may be accustomed to the scene, “ oh another movie,”  some intrigued, “ oo what are you filming?” and some annoyed, “BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!” 

This can be home for weeks or just a couple of hours, when the AD proclaims, “We’re done here, company moves!”

And in a slow motion blink of an eye, hundreds of people, gear, equipment, vehicles and all – POOF – are gone, with the cinematic caravan on to the next location.

Is there a movie or TV show filming near you?

FAKING IT IN FILM

The Magnificent Cheat of the Ill Prepared Actress

Typically a cheat in production world is visual, like faking one location for another, playing with an Actor’s eyeline, or shooting day for night. My favorite cheat happened in secret, long ago.

A very established Actress came to set but forgot her glasses. “I’m blind as a bat.” She and I spent quite some time going over her scene – 2 pages of a phone call, with her character doing most of the talking.  Her version of the lines weren’t close enough. These Writers placed clues (not shared with us) into their scripts and wanted the dialogue delivered as written.

Picture’s up. Props handed me a cell phone so I could read the other side of the conversation to our Actress through the phone instead of screaming them out. I was moved away from set for sound. Our Actress dashed over and asked me to read HER lines instead of the ones she was supposed to respond to.  A couple takes in a couple sizes and we were done. High five! 

This was the only time she wasn’t right on the nose that I saw, and it was kind of fun to sneak through the scene this way. Now a friend comes home from working on a show out of town with a big name Actor, who wore a hidden earpiece and brought his own guy dedicated to feeding him his lines. Is that a cheat? It kinda sounds more like a lie. 

GOING GREEN ON SET

healthcare in the workplace

A decade ago I worked on a show whose Executive Producer ‘demanded’ his rental car be a Prius, and that there was no plastic flatware at catering (he was actually in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car). I’ve worked on sets that gift crew a refillable water bottle to clip to your belt or bag.  Now I’m seeing projects proudly declare themselves GREEN by banning the plastic water bottles altogether, telling crew to bring their own reusable bottle to refill from 5 gallon jugs or coolers.

So what does going green on set really mean?

It means refilling your reusable water bottles from the lip of the same water dispenser a hundred other people are using all day, unconsciously putting their dirty bottle up to the spigot. Spreading germs/bacteria/virus around the crew like wildfire, going from bottle rim to bottle rim – basically mouth to mouth, resulting in nearly everyone coughing and sneezing on set. …For weeks and weeks because the show must go on and folks be working those 13 hour days, without enough rest between time to heal.

Where’s the green? You mean the color of the gooey infected mucus hacked up out of the lungs, or the few bucks saved by production in not buying cases of individual single serving water bottles that touch your lips and your lips alone?

Shows try to set up recycling, difficult with ever changing locations and funny schedules to drop off the goods.  The AD’s often have paper recycle in their trailer.  Call sheets and maps are often sent electronically. But why not try some real changes like: 

  • use clean renewable biodiesel for the work trucks 
  • film more often on stages or nearby locations, saving fuel
  • have above-the-line self drive instead of passenger vans doing 2 round trips for each Actor, Director, Writer, also saving fuel
  • use non toxic or “organic” paints and materials in set construction, as well as cleaners
  • use more locally grown/raised food for catering instead of corporate food trucked across the country
  • use recycled paper in the office
  • have Director and Producer SHARE a trailer at basecamp

This is just off the top of my head but seem like worthy pursuits, yes? NO. Why not? Because it’s too inconvenient, and too expensive, especially compared to the fake feel good virtue signaling (OMG I’ve never used that term before) of “reducing plastic” while breeding sickness.  I dunno, maybe some show out there is making progress in a real way, creating a healthy sustainable work environment. Sick crew can’t give 100%. The crew crud is nothing new, but why make it worse, creating walking pneumonia? Spreading it through families, missing school or work, slamming over the counter drugs, perhaps Dr visits and prescriptions. Setting us up for that chain of events doesn’t sound green.

Do not get me wrong, I am a tree hugger! I live on a farm, compost like mad, work to reuse reuse reuse -from jars to clothing to grey water, and am conscious of not buying/bringing home stuff that makes waste with crazy packaging.  I drive (and repair) an old car, and buy things used when possible. On set I would bring home my empty plastic water bottles to recycle.  What ideas do YOU have for a greener set and greener world?