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.

 

Go Play!

When I was a little girl, I used to draw in the blank pages of my mother’s books (I’m sure there is a name for those pages, but I don’t know what that is). She was an avid reader, so there were many blank canvases for my stick figures. This was a time when hardcovers were fairly inexpensive and practically given away through book clubs – 5 for $1, for example, if you signed up to receive one book a month.

Needless to say, my mother did not see this as art. I was defacing her books.

I was not a burgeoning artist. This was not a precursor to an artistic talent that grew into a career. I just liked to draw. I didn’t care if the art was beautiful by others’ standards. I just went for it.

At what point did perfection become my constant (and difficult) companion? It is likely that in school, drawing moved from a youthful pastime to an activity that was graded. I did not become an Artist.

Yet, so many years later, I still sketch and I have taken up collage. My artistic expressions have also included modern dance. After many years of comparing myself to The Real Artists, I now accept that sometimes expressing oneself is something to be done because it feels good, because not doing so makes your life feel empty. So these days, I am not concerned if the work is good. I just care that I take time to do it. As when I was a child, art emerges from my urge to create.

That urge carries over into my writing as well. The difference is that, while I never considered myself an artist or dancer or collagist, I do consider myself a writer. Naming myself this has often led to feeling that I have to measure up to standards established by someone other than me.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in conventions and quality, and creating something that can be seen as beautiful by someone other than myself. However, if I keep those external standards uppermost in my mind, as I am creating, I will never find that center, that well of imagination, that allows me to bring forth art that is Mine.

Perhaps, like me, you have always felt the urge to create. Maybe you didn’t have the materials or the support but you had the impulse. And though your creative impulses were discouraged – maybe even stamped down – by loved ones who just wanted you to Get Real, you still wrote, or painted, or danced or …

Today, you might feel that you don’t have enough education or support or money to take yourself seriously. If you did, you would ___(fill in the blank). I thought that for a long time and my creative impulses kept calling to me until I could no longer ignore them.

Maybe that is happening for you as well. Maybe you hear a sound in the distance. Like a bird or a flute or the whisper of the wind. It is your creative spirit saying, “Come out and play.”

So…

Go play.

***

Ready to work with a coach or editor to finally finish that book? Contact me at 802-377-3001 or rfarmer@gmavt.net.

Keep writing!

Ruth

 

Five things to do when you don’t want to write

We’ve all had those moments when we don’t want to sit down and write. I don’t mean those times when we can’t, when the words don’t flow or seem gone to the big beyond. I mean when we just don’t want to sit there and write, not one more word.

Well, I give you permission to rise and walk away from the journal, or computer and do something else. Here are some things I do instead of writing, in no particular order.

Exercise: This need not be strenuous. Any movement shakes up the brain, warms the limbs, gets other parts of the body excited – or at least feeling like you love them. Walking, yoga, dancing. Something simple that does not require equipment is the best, although a pair of dumbbells might add a bit of spice. Move long enough to allow your thoughts to slip away from writing to whatever comes into your body.

Eat: something that nourishes. Or not.

Read: the most important thing is to not choose anything remotely related to what you are writing. That could send you into a spiral of unworthiness, guilt, and shame at the author’s ability to do what you at the moment are not doing.

Domestic chores: This is my second favorite, exercising being the first. Mind you, I am not a domestic goddess. Cleaning, dusting, or straightening things out usually make me feel anxious. But these activities yield tangible results – a sparkling sink, an organized sock drawer, and books off the floor and onto shelves – unlike the squiggles on a computer screen that lead to the big nowhere.

Netflix: see warning under “Read.”

Just as I was revising this piece, the alarm on my phone went off. It is a lovely tune that got me dancing from one room to the next*. My brain is clearer already. And having hit snooze, I anticipate another opportunity to stop writing.

Happy writing or not writing!

*In case you are interested, click on this link to the ringtone, “One Step Forward”

Mother’s Day

My Mother’s Day gift to myself is to focus on one thing at a time today. No multitasking.

I listened to Marianne Williamson’s lecture on A Course in Miracles without exercising or checking email as I frequently do.

I read my students’ papers in silence and noticed the growth in their thinking and  writing.

I sent out Mother’s Day texts and read each response with undivided attention.

I made biscuits (a treat!), measuring out flour and salt, baking powder and sugar, lard and milk slowly, enjoying the change in texture with each added ingredient. The dough’s stickiness yielded to a malleable shape little by little. Each biscuit has its unique presence and potential yumminess.

The wind outside sends leaves skittering across the yard and into the air with a periodical humpf! of sound against the windows.  A turmoil of motion greets me when I step onto my deck. The post-rain air feels refreshingly cool as I walk to the compost bin. I add food scraps to the pile, taking my time, feeling the outdoor breeze.

Today, I am grateful to be reminded of how fulfilling tasks are when you simply pay attention to each one in its turn.