Lessons from the power outage

From 1:11am Monday, October 30th through 11:35 am November 2nd, my generator provided my house with electricity. A massive wind storm devastated many areas of Vermont, knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes.

Having a generator allowed me to cook (which I did), and even watch TV if I wanted (I didn’t). As the generator hummed along, I got work done. Then my internet service and landline went out. Though I could text and make calls using my cell phone, this was too much for me. Ninety percent of my work is done online. Once that was impossible, I tried to work offline. Then I began to obsess about when internet service would return.

I packed my bags and drove to town. Thank goodness, our local library – Lawrence Memorial – was fully functioning and open. Sitting with others seeking internet, solace, and company, I calmed down and focused on bringing “normality” to my day by working.

Still, I couldn’t help but listen to conversations among folks who came by to drop off books or seek something to read. Some had electricity and others didn’t. The outages were widespread and seemed random.

At home when I wasn’t feeling frustrated and helpless, I felt grateful that I’d invested in a generator. It had been a huge expense I hadn’t planned on but I’d already experienced a lengthy power outage and didn’t want to go through days without electricity again. More importantly, I was grateful that I’d had the money to make the purchase.

The outage reminded me of how fragile our connections are. Electricity is needed for most of the work that we do. When it is not available, we can become totally cut off from essential activities and each other.

I learned that I have the capacity to accept what is happening without feeling like a victim. I periodically contacted Green Mountain Power and Green Mountain Access for updates, making sure that I spoke with someone, and I asked them lots of questions. It took all my restraint not to resort to sarcasm and anger as I tried to glean why our area still had no power. Customer service representatives were helpful without promising anything, and they were very polite. Eventually, I put myself in their shoes: Probably hundreds of unhappy customers were calling them, many of them angry.  How difficult their jobs must have been during this time.

And when I felt really low, I texted or phoned a neighbor or friend to see how they were doing. I let them know they could shower or cook at my home should they want to do so. After all, I wasn’t the only person being inconvenienced.

Ultimately, the outage helped me to practice gratitude, patience, compassion, and kindness. It helped me to realize that I am rarely as alone and helpless as I think I am. Looked at from that perspective, it wasn’t that bad.

 

Inner Critic

Sometimes you simply run into things that you need to read at this moment, you know? Today, I needed to gain some insight into my inner critic. Now, I’m sure you have your own inner critic, so you have an idea who I’m talking about. My inner critic is the voice that tells me that I have to write perfectly or I’m simply not good enough to call myself a writer.

The inner critic is vague about what “perfectly” means. Therefore, she sees flaws in everything I produce. Her message seems to be: “Whatever you write, it will never be good enough for anyone else to read but me. And I think everything you write sucks.”

Sigh!

In his blog post Facing the inner critic, Seth Godin writes:

[The inner critic is] living right next to our soft spot, the (very) sore place where we store our shame, our insufficiency, our fraudulent nature. And he knows all about it, and pokes us there again and again.

Godin provided a link to Steve Chapman’s Tedx Talk titled This talk isn’t very good. Dancing with my inner critic. Chapman offers creative approaches to those inevitable encounters with that inevitable presence. Check it out.

Both Godin and Chapman suggest that we stop resisting the inner critic. This gives her more power than is warranted. Look her in the eye, see her for what she is, and keep creating.

So as I was writing today, I listened to my inner critic’s voice just long enough to realize that I did need to change a phrase or a word to make a paragraph clearer, to let my intention emerge.

Creativity is much more fluid when the inner critic is present but not in charge.

Keep writing!

Blissful Solitude and Wonderful Company

I treated myself to a six-day, self-designed writing retreat at the Metta Earth Institute, A Center for Contemplative Ecology. The Institute, located in Lincoln VT, is a working farm and they also offer programs in a vast range of areas: yoga and meditation, ecological leadership, beekeeping, to name a few. The co-directors, Gillian Kapteyn Comstock and Russell Comstock, and a team of young people exemplify engaged practice, meaningful work, and loving stewardship of the land.

This isn’t the typical retreat for a writer, at least not as I have experienced them or heard of from other writers. A writing retreat can be filled with distractions, starting with schedules that dictate when you have downtime or time to write.

During my retreat, I experienced blissful solitude, as well as wonderful company. Prior to arriving at Metta, I planned a list of daily activities, which included reading, writing, revising, and exercise. I also meditated, took photos, and even sketched.

My room was perfect for my needs: a sunny space with exquisite views of the garden and the mountains, shelves of books, a table to work from, and a comfortable bed. During breaks, I walked on a quiet road or in the woods. I practiced tai chi outdoors or visited the chickens, sheep, and cows.

Meals were delicious and expertly prepared by the team and co-directors (At least 80% of the food served is produced on the farm).

The idyllic setting bolstered my creativity and helped me to write and revise several essays and poems. I am so glad that I discovered this serene and inspiring place. I recommend Metta Earth Institute for anyone seeking a quiet place for an individual or small group retreat. There are rooms in the main building, and there are yurts and tents nestled in the woods. Check out their website at https://www.mettaearth.org/

If it is possible for you, plan a retreat during which you focus on your writing and other creative pursuits. Like me, I am sure you will return home refreshed, rejuvenated, and recommitted to writing, joyfully.

Embracing the snow

The snow is hip deep around my house. It started falling at eight o’clock on Tuesday and didn’t stop until Wednesday evening. On Tuesday I shoveled my deck and around my doors twice. The driveway was plowed twice. Within a few hours, the snow had barricaded the doors again. The deck looked as smooth and white as if I’d done nothing. The driveway was almost completely filled in.

I moved from wonder to frustration to despair to irritation when I woke up on Wednesday morning and witnessed even bigger flakes falling, saw the smooth undisturbed landscape. The snow had gently resisted human attempts to combat its quiet relentless power.

I adjusted my Wednesday morning ritual:
Meditated on flakes falling.
Gave thanks that I didn’t have to leave my house.
Sent prayers out to those who had to venture out.
Snowshoed around my house and on my deck, while shoveling here and there (no hope of really clearing anything).

The relentless snow reminded that there are things beyond my control. Embracing its presence, I finally felt a sense of peace.

Word for Today: Tropism

Yesterday, I went to the Women’s March in Montpelier. What a glorious event! Thousands upon thousands of people merged into this – relatively – small town to come together in peaceful response to the negativity that emerged during the recent presidential campaign.

Our power was exemplified in our bodies, our voices, our handmade signs, and our presence.

The word for today on my screensaver is tropism: the turning of all or part of an organism in a particular direction in response to an external stimulus. Usually, I think of plants when I hear this word. Today, I think of all the people at the marches all over the world – yes, world! – who turned toward peaceful, life-affirming actions in response to the violent rhetoric that dominated the media in the wake of the campaign and subsequent election of Trump.

I have deliberately not watched any coverage of the marches (though I will). For now, I bask in the experience of coming together in peace.

The phrase that stays with me is one that I wrote on my sign:
Rise up with Love!

Attending the Women’s March inspired me to offer another writing and conversation series (I offered one in my community in December). Did you attend a Women’s March? What are you inspired to do?

Rise up with Love!

Ruth

Moments of Gratitude

I love the light and the dark.

This time of year lends itself to contemplation. There are fewer daylight hours. It is cold. Life slows down, giving you time to appreciate the simple things.

Yesterday, I stopped writing midsentence and dashed outside because the sun was shining so brilliantly.
A few nights ago, I was drawn to go onto the deck, to stare at the moon, the stars, the stark, leafless trees and the shadows they made on the land.

I am grateful for sunshine and moonlit nights and the long periods of velvet darkness that lead to self-reflection.