A Candle in the Storm

candle in the storm - ink drawing on handmade paper

Last night I learned the hard way that one should not try and write a blog post while under the influence of fatigue and preoccupation.  I wanted to write about my experience during Sandy, but I was so busy wondering whether or not we’d be affected by Athena that I hit “publish” way before the post was done.

The dilemma – trash it or try and fix it?  It didn’t seem like deleting it was the thing to do, so I tried my best to fix it by keeping it short and sweet and changing the title.  All in all, a confusing experience and I don’t plan on repeating it any time soon.  About three seconds after I published the post and before I “fixed” it, Katie’s email arrived.

“I think this one got published a little too soon or something went wrong.”

I burst out laughing and called to tell her my tale of blogging woe.  We had a good chuckle about it and in the end concluded that it was OK because it was truly a “musing and random thought.”

The good news is that Athena didn’t hit my area as hard as they were predicting and although I’m not thrilled about the snow on the ground, I couldn’t be happier that I have power and there is sunshine in the forecast.

a little snow after Athena - Trees still have leaves

This morning I pulled up the pictures I took the night Sandy hit and thought about that day and the days that followed.

I realize now that I was completely unprepared mentally for the storm.  I stocked up on water non- perishable food items because my mom and dad told me I should.  Although there were plenty of warnings that hundreds of thousands of people would lose power for up to a week, it didn’t occur to me that we’d be among them.  My point of reference was Irene, during which we lost power for a grand total of three hours.

I can’t decide if eerie or surreal is the better word to describe the hours leading up to the actual storm. On Sunday Christian helped me batten down the hatches and secure everything we thought might turn into a missile or be damaged.

On Monday we rolled up the rug in the basement and put all of the electronic gadgets as high as we could without disconnecting the network of cables and cords.  I tried my best to concentrate on my projects and research but every time the porch door banged and bumped against the house my mind wandered.

I finally gave up and Christian and I decided to take advantage of our power and cable access.  We took a risk and made microwave popcorn that had expired in May (we threw out the package that had an expiration date of 2010) and watched Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter followed by The Incredibles.

The  first movie was surprisingly entertaining and we made it through the entire show without interruption.  Lights flickered and teased us during The Incredibles, but we made it to the very end before the house went black.

I’d forgotten how dark it is when there is no power.  The tiny beams of color from televisions, laptops, modems, and whatnot keep rooms from turning pitch black even if the lights are turned out.  Fortunately I knew exactly where the lighter was and could quickly light some candles.

fireplace by candlelight during Hurricane Sandy

We played cribbage by candlelight, not an easy thing to do.  The most challenging part was trying to figure out whether or not I was moving the right peg.

cribbage by candlelight

“It’s weird to think that people lived like this before electricity and batteries,” I said.

Christian responded, “It explains why they went to bed at 7 o’clock.”

It wasn’t much past 7 when we decided to call it a night and get ready for bed. It was disconcerting and more than a little scary to watch the white curtains dance with the wind by candlelight. The flickering flames added a haunting quality to the night.

candles I knew that if the wind was strong enough to blow the curtains on the inside of my house there was no way we would wake up with power.

We were lucky.  There were quite a few branches down in our yard; but no live wires, no trees, and we got power back within less than three days.

I’m not sure why but I didn’t take any pictures of the aftermath.  Maybe it’s because I don’t want to remember it or maybe it’s because I’ll never forget it.  Instead of taking pictures of fallen trees and sparking live wires my album from that day contains the candles that provided light throughout the storm.

One of my friends challenged me to embrace the experience and find a way to let my artistic side express it.  In an “artistic moment,” I took this picture of one of the candles in my bedroom.  I liked the way the flame reflected against the copper color metal and cast a soft-star shaped shadow against the wall.

candle in the stormOver the next few days the image of this candle and the warmth of the flame and shadows inspired me to capture this Candle in a Storm in ink on a piece of my hand-made paper.candle in the storm - ink drawing on handmade paper

I’m extremely happy and thankful to be warm and safe.

Round 2 – Athena

Post Sandy and now with power; I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts, get caught up on my life, and figure out how and what to write about. After only a few days without power and a week without access to the internet I felt lost.  It makes me feel spoiled and I can’t imagine what people who are still displaced must be going through.

Tonight it seems that round 2 of the storms is making it’s way along the East Coast. The trees still have leaves and we haven’t even begun raking in earnest.

Unlike last week when Sandy hit, I have batteries and dry firewood in addition to bottles of water and lots of peanut butter and jelly.

I’m tempted to leave my patio furniture and grill on the porch until spring.

Hoping I wake up to bright lights and sunshine.

The Hatches are Battened Down

In spite of the ongoing coverage of the the latest hurricane making her way up the east coast, I was oblivious to the news until Thursday afternoon.  Thank goodness I embarrassed myself at my hair appointment by responding to the question, “are you ready for Sandy?”  by asking “who’s Sandy?” so I had a clue that something was going on before anyone else asked me.

I decided it might be a good idea for me to turn on the news and find out more about the storm and what to expect.  Is it wrong for me to admit that I had to use the TV Guide channel to locate the local news station?  I quickly became absorbed in the reports of the storm and the predictions of high winds, widespread power outages, and potential flooding.

Fifteen minutes into the broadcast, my musings as to whether or not my trip to Raleigh would be affected by the storm, the phone rang.  I didn’t need to look at the caller ID to know it was my parents.

“Hi there, so do you know what’s going on around you?” asked my dad.

“Oh, you mean about Sandy, the storm that’s coming up the coast?”  I replied (quite pleased that I actually did know).

“Have you gone to the store yet?”

“No, I was planning on doing that tomorrow,” I said.

We chatted for a while and discussed what supplies I should buy, whether or not it would be a good idea to use the gas grill if it was on the porch, and options for traveling to Raleigh if my flight on Tuesday is cancelled.

I realized I was holding my breath and interrupted my dad, “Ok, so I wasn’t freaking out before but now I am.  I’m going to the store to stock up and I’ll figure the rest out later.”

“Just one more…..”

“Bye, I’m going now..I’ll call you when I get back from the store.”

While shopping for bottled water, bagels, pop tarts, and really green bananas (that are already ripe) my landlord Jeanne Marie left me a voice-mail to make sure I was aware of the storm and knew how to prepare.  It seems that my reputation for being in my own little world precedes me.

She also sent me a checklist of things to consider and I’m happy to say that the majority of them are covered with the exception of filling the tub with water.  Unfortunately I’ll have to ignore the caution against using candles because by the time I got to the store there wasn’t a C size battery to be found.  However, my gas tank is full, I have two hundred dollars in cash, and there’s a good old fashioned can opener in my silverware drawer.

Jeanne Marie called yesterday and she was impressed to know I was so on top of things. Not only were we stocked up on water, Christian and I had already moved anything up to and including the trash cans, that could turn into a missile from the backyard onto the porch.  I had to confess that the only reason I was on top of things was because I’d had a hair appointment the day before and that my parents urged me to get to the store.

trash cans on the porch_preparing for Sandy

I think Romeo knows something strange is going on.  He stood still as a statue in front of the screen door and finally nosed his way out onto the patio.

He stood guard and watched intently while Christian lowered the basketball hoop down on the driveway and weighted it down with bags of sand.

basketball hoop laying in the driveway_preparing for Sandy

I have to wonder what was going through his mind and whether or not he realizes that his 13 pounds of bravado wouldn’t be much of a match for a a 50 mph wind.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that phrases like “we’re far enough inland…” and “maybe it’ll be more like a nor’easter…” are part of my vocabulary.

So for now, we’re as battened down as we can be and it looks like just a normal but blustery fall day.  My guess is that the pretty red and gold leaves on the trees in my neighbors backyard will be shredded and on the ground three days from now.

leaves on trees in backyard two days before Sandy

The wind is picking up bit by bit and if the way my porch curtains are being lifted already, it’s going to get interesting. I’m hoping that we get as lucky as we did during Irene when we only lost power for a couple of hours.  And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my travel plans aren’t completely disrupted.  In either case there’s not much I can do other than be thankful for the people I have in my life who made sure I had my house ready for Sandy and hope for the best.

wind blowing my porch curtains two days before Sandy arrives

There’s No Place Like Home

Second to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, my favorite childhood movie is The Wizard of Oz.  Back in the days before On Demand, Netflix, Redbox, and hundreds of cable stations playing the same movie over and over again were the days of anticipation and excitement. I looked forward to the special night when I could watch a movie while eating dinner and I cried when they ended because I wanted them to go on forever. 

As a child I thought that Dorothy’s companions were the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man. As an adult I’ve come to realize that the foursome was really worry accompanied by fear, insecurity, and doubt.  In spite of the anxieties and feelings of panic, Dorothy and her friends survive danger, conquer the enemy and emerge from their journey triumphant.

In week nine of Walking in this World (Julia Cameron) the author defines negative emotions and explains how they can play a positive role in life if they are kept in their proper perspective.  I wondered if Julia had somehow read my journal before she wrote the chapter Discovering a Sense of Resiliency. The first section is entitled Worry (which is my middle name) and she introduced me to the chapter with a gentle but firm reminder, “No artist is immune to negative emotions…As the week focuses on the inner trials faced by artists, it assures us that while the dark night of the soul comes to all of us, by accepting this we are able to move through it.”

Merriam Webster defines worry as “mental distress or agitation resulting from concern usually for something impending or anticipated: anxiety.”   Julia describes worry as obsessive and “a kind of emotional anteater” and says that “[w]orry is the imagination’s negative stepsister.  Instead of making things, we make trouble.”  Worry is often accompanied by panic and fear.  Panic is the immobilizing certainty that we know just where we want to go but no idea how we are going to get there.  Fear can take a small worry and translate it into “paralyzing inertia.”  She also pronounces fear as both “positive and useful,” and further explains that we should not give into our fears but we should pay attention to them, admit them, and be open to help. 

Too often we pretend we are not scared, we feign bravery and we begin to feel isolated, helpless and not good enough.  When we ignore the message fear is sending us, when we hold ourselves to blame, “we blind ourselves to the possibility that there might, in fact, be someone or something wrong in our environment” and we may miss the opportunity to change something wrong into something right.

I took heart when she said, “If we are to expand our lives, we must be open to positive possibilities and outcomes as well as negative ones.  By learning to embrace our worried energy, we are able to translate it from fear into fuel…This is a learned process.”  I think I have a lot of learning yet to do.

Lately I’ve been feeling restless and out of sorts.  According to Julia “restlessness is a good omen” and it means destiny is getting ready to knock, prayers will soon be answered, and that “[i]nner malcontent actually triggers outer change – if we are willing to listen to our malcontent with an open mind and listen to what will feel like a wave of irrational promptings.”  I had never thought about feeling agitated or discontented in this way, but as I jotted down a list of major breakthroughs in my life creatively, personally, and professionally I had to admit there may be something to what she was saying.  Maybe fate is asking me if I want to dance.

Maybe things do happen for a reason, and maybe that reason is because we finally acknowledge our fears as well as our dreams and in doing so we quit clinging to Plan A and we become open to Plan B or C or even Z.

I think most people are insecure and as human beings and especially as artists we tend to focus on how we compare to others rather than being content with who we are.  We lack patience and hold ourselves to a standard of perfection that has little to do with actual criteria, instead we feel bad because we’re not as good as we think we should be. We negate our own value by wishing we were as good as what’s his name rather than being proud of our accomplishments. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try and improve ourselves, but it is saying that we need to accept ourselves for who we are and we need to guard against allowing our insecurities to keep us from following our dreams.  In the task Exactly the Way I Am Julia asked me to list fifty specific things that I like about myself. After completing the list I realized that there is a lot to like.  “By counting our blessings we can come to see that we are blessed and that we need not compare ourselves to anyone.”

Julia has a way of turning things on their head for me and her take on doubt is certainly one of them.  “Doubt is a signal of the creative process.  It is a signal that you are doing something right – not that you are doing something wrong or crazy or stupid.” I thought my doubts about my writing meant that I was self-aware and realistic and that the essay I had just written really did deserve to be deleted because it wasn’t any good.  It turns out that doubt and self-appraisal are not one in the same.  Doubt plagues us at night when we’re alone and vulnerable and tells you that you can’t while self-appraisal arrives in broad daylight and helps you adjust your course.  Doubt is something to be waited out without giving into behaviors that are self-destructive.

There is an underlying theme woven throughout the lessons. Although we will encounter negative emotions and unsavory characters along our own version of the yellow brick road, we can combat them, wait them out, and use them to our creative advantage, but most importantly self-acceptance and self-respect will lead us safely home.

The Morning After

The night Irene hit, I went to bed expecting to wake up to a house with no power and a basement full of water. I figured by morning we’d be surrounded by a moat and the yard would be littered with downed power lines and tree limbs. When I got up to assess the damage, I discovered that both the wind and rain had subsided and it was almost still.

In spite of the relative calm, Annie, my fearless, or maybe neurotic, miniature dachshund, took up her post at the front door.  She started her ‘guard’ duty sometime on Tuesday after the earthquake shook the house and stood her ground until the weather returned to normal on Sunday evening.   

She stood on her hind legs, front paws positioned on the bottom window sill, her nose pressed against the glass, she cocked her head from one side to the other as she watched and waited. I’m not sure what she was looking for, or what she was going to do about it if she found it, but she was persistent. 

Truth is, we were lucky.  Aside from the fact that my front yard and the driveway look like an experiment on how to grow kindling, we made it through Irene unscathed.  Our preparation paid off and the storm didn’t hit as hard as it might have.

The trench drained the water away from the front of the house and we were in no danger of having to swim through a moat to get the mail or the newspaper.  Everything on the porch from the trash cans to the new furniture and even the gas grill survived the driving rain and wicked winds. 

We had no flooding and were without power for only a few hours.  Our biggest hardships were the mini-fridge starting to defrost in the den and being without cable or internet for seventy-two hours.

It’s an experience I won’t soon forget and not one I want to relive any time soon. It felt like a combination of preparing for the destruction of a tornado combined with the potential for power outages that accompany a blizzard.

We now know how to ‘batten down the hatches.’  Although I’m still trying to figure out why people were stocking up on microwave dinners at the grocery store when the biggest threat of the storm was the possibility of a two-week power outage.  We also know that after the storm there will be ‘the morning after’ and life will return to normal even if we have to spend a few hours without internet.

Now for the cleanup; that’s what fifteen year old boys are for, right?

Batten Down the Hatches

“Batten down the hatches” is a phrase that makes me think of movies like “A Perfect Storm” or “Pirates of the Caribbean.” I never thought it would be something I would hear as part of a conversation while waiting in line at the pharmacy, let alone that it would be relevant to me.

I knew there was a hurricane on the way, and that we were likely to get some extra rain over the next few days, but I didn’t realize the potential severity of it until I received a text message from my landlord.

JM: u been watching weather forecast?

Me: i haven’t been. is it bad?

JM: have a peep at the weather channel for Yardley.

I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me nearly 30 minutes to find the local weather station; I’ve hardly turned it off since.

It turns out that Irene is the size of Europe, and although she’s ‘only’ a category one hurricane, she has already caused the evacuation of over two million people from North Carolina to New England. An unprecedented 400,000 people in New York City have been displaced from their homes to shelters varying from the comfort of a friend or family home to a cot in a high school gymnasium. Eleven states have declared a state of emergency, including Pennsylvania.

In the Philadelphia area, we’re expected to experience winds of fifty to seventy miles per hour and six to nine inches of rain within twenty-four hours.

With that in mind, it seemed wise to ‘batten down the hatches,’ although I did have to take a moment to find out where the phrase originated.

Its broad definition is “prepare for trouble” and refers to the securing of property. The specific origin is nautical and relates to preparing a ship for bad weather. A batten is a strip of wood that is used to hold something in place; a hatch refers to an opening, as in the deck of a ship. A ship’s crew would cover the hatches with a tarp and secure them into place with wooden strips (batten) to protect the ship during severe storms.

Thank goodness for my landlord who guided me step by step through the process of preparing for Irene. I never would have thought to put the gas grill or the trash cans on the enclosed back porch or to dig a small trench outside the front door to help the excess water drain down the hill instead of pooling higher and higher in front of the house.

The trip to the grocery store was surreal, there were more people buying groceries than the day before Thanksgiving and Christmas combined and the level of frenzy matched if not exceeded either holiday. We stocked up on essentials like bottled water, ginger ale, and food. The bad news was they had the same number of flashlights for sale as all the other stores in town, zero, but the good news was that my neighbor had a spare one to loan me.

We’re settled in for the storm and as well prepared as we can be, up to and including the relocation of the mini-fridge from the ‘man cave’ to the den. Now all we can do is wait and see what happens.

I wonder if you can take pictures during 50 mile per hour winds without getting blown away.