How Katharine Hepburn changed my life

When I was a kid I lived in the country, far away from the big city.

I knew that if I wanted to go to university — and get away from my current circumstances — I would have to make it happen myself. I would have to organize it and finance it on my own.

But sometimes when you feel you’re on your own, you’re not. Often there is someone whose example gives you the courage to make a major change.

For me that person was outspoken actress and icon, Katharine Hepburn (below, in a 1940 still by Clarence Sinclair Bull, for The Philadelphia Story). She played feisty, independent-minded women in films and was much the same off-camera.

Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story, 1940 by Clarence Sinclair Bull

“That’s all there is to life, being part of it.”

I read those words of Hepburn’s and I never forgot them.

As a teen I desperately wanted to be part of life — a richer, bigger life — which to me meant going off to university and living in a big city. There was energy there, intellectual stimulation and fresh, new ideas and ways of looking at the world!

I had outgrown my circumstances. I needed to stretch and grow and learn, to be challenged. I was hungry for it.

Hepburn’s independent spirit reinforced my resolve. I watched her films and read everything I could about her. Her passion for life and her view that you must take responsibility for your own destiny inspired and empowered me. It made me feel bold and strong.

Where would I be without Hepburn’s inspiration?

How I could have changed the course of my life without her inspiration is something I won’t allow myself to consider. Altering my circumstances was so critical to my well-being and to my future, that I cannot imagine what would have happened had I not done it. I won’t let myself imagine it.

Feeling inspired gives you courage and reinforces the courage you already have. It helps push you to make the changes that will move you forward and into a healthier place.

Katharine Hepburn’s advice for living:

  • “Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting. And you don’t do that by sitting around.”
  • “Without discipline, there’s no life at all.”
  • “The thing about life is that you must survive. Life is going to be difficult, and dreadful things will happen. What you do is move along, get on with it, and be tough. Not in the sense of being mean to others, but being tough with yourself and making a deadly effort not to be defeated.”
  • “We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.”

But don’t forget your sense of humour. This quote inspires Bratty Kathy every single day:

“If you obey all of the rules, you miss all of the fun.”

c 2013 Kathy Barthel

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Coming out of the closet as a brat

For years I was in the closet; only my closest friends and family knew I was a brat.

In fact, this blog only came about because my inner brat decided to bust out a few weeks ago.

Bratty childhood

My kick-ass spirit wasn’t always hidden. When I was four, I scolded my beloved grandmother because she’d made my big sister cry. When I was 10, I wrote an indignant letter to the prime minister telling him to stop the seal hunt. 

Sometimes you have to stir it up, you have to pull the rug out from under things to make them right.

Adventures in bratty dating

The summer before university, I went out with my boyfriend at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night, and returned home at 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

My mom, bless her heart, was very upset and asked what the neighbours would think about me coming in at that time.

I said, “Well, if they’re peering out their windows in the middle of the night wondering where I am, I think they’re the ones with the problem, not me.”

As a parent I understand where my mom was coming from but being a brat means standing up for the truth, even if it goes against the status quo.

And the status quo is often covering up another truth.

Into the closet

I remember doing the dishes with my sister on a visit home from university and saying something typically bratty. She asked if I would say that to my boyfriend and I said, ‘Of course not! He couldn’t handle it.” 

It may have been during the dishwashing that my inner brat went into the closet. 

 Peeking out

This has been a year of change — being downsized, my only child moving away for school, becoming single again and more recently, the loss of my mom.

This post marks one year since that all began.

But it has also been a year of growth, creativity and new alliances.

Just over a year ago I was on my porch enjoying the summer night air and writing about how I wanted to do more public speaking, writing and videos. I wanted to inspire people to live more fulfilling lives by doing what they were meant to do.

I also wanted to move my own life in that direction. 

Busting out

For me that means being a brat — calling out hypocrisy, taking a strip off injustice and ripping the rug out from under my own thoughts or ideas when they get in the way of the life I want to live.

And of course, having a little fun.

When I launched this blog a few weeks ago I didn’t put my name on the posts, only my pseudonym, Bratty Kathy.

I told myself, “If you write about orgasms, you’ll never work in this town again!”

I got over it.

c 2013 Kathy Barthel

The bratty voice in your head

How can you push on with the business of brattiness when there are two opposing voices in your head? The bratty one says, “There’s no one else like you! Be a brat and change the world!” and the scared one says, “Why take that risk? Better to be safe than sorry.”

What do you do? Pretty much nothing. You get spurts of brattiness one day and complete inactivity the next. Each voice cancels the other one out. Pretty soon you’re a mess of fear, trepidation and regret.

Risk is too risky

There is this idea that risk is, well, too risky. It’s that vague frontier where it’s hard to get your footing, a nebulous mass of beige, populated by nasty villains who may jump out of the void at any time and take you down.They’re a bit like “The Blue Meanies” in the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”.

There’s no one else like you

But think about this—being a brat and making a real difference is predicated on the notion that there is no one else like you. Seriously. How could you do it if you were just like everybody else?

You have unique talents, gifts and experiences that no one else has, that no one else has in quite the same mix. You’re one-of-a-kind. Unique. You have your own voice. You are not charging into the void unarmed, not by a long shot. So the risk, is actually not so risky at all.

Don’t ignore the bratty voice

You have what it takes to succeed. But remember, if you ignore the bratty voice that urges you to do what you were born to do, it won’t stop yakking. It will keep right on until you act. That I can guarantee, so you may as well start. 

c 2013 Kathy Barthel