Power(less)

Last Thursday, I began writing my next blog–a discussion about the hard decisions a writer has to make when committing to a memoir. How do we protect our dignity yet still tell the truth–or at least keep the fictionalized version to a minimum?  I’ll  post that soon, but in the meantime, a complaint about distraction (or why that blog still isn’t finished).

Everything about a warmer clime calls to me right now. First, you have to know that for the past ten years, we’ve lived in a rural setting; our house sits on a hill eleven miles from the closest town. Living out here was fun, initially, but circumstances change with professional demands.

On Friday morning, the weather reports were dire: freezing temperatures, snow accumulation, hazardous roads. Not different from what other areas were experiencing, but a bit more worrisome here, since we are serviced by a twisting, county road that doesn’t get first priority for plowing or sanding. Snowed in really means just that.

In keeping with Murphy’s Law, about 2 hours after my partner left last Friday (with his band for an out-of-state gig), the power went off while I was outside sweeping snow off the steps and cars. Naturally, I called the power company, since there is a fuse that goes out about once a month at a small church located a quarter of mile from here. Usually they fix it and we’re good until the next squirrel or bird attacks that particular fuse box.

Thirty minutes later, two really huge power trucks (the kind with pole rigs) show up in my driveway (digging a significant rut) and two burly guys get out and investigate the outside fuse box, the transformer on the pole, etc. They conclude it might be in the inside breaker box. They hesitate to come in because their boots are snowy/muddy.

I point out to them that this is an all-electric house; I will be alone here three days; the pipes will likely freeze; I have a damn cat that I can’t haul into a hotel in town; thus, my floors and their boots are at the bottom of my priorities. Just get the bloody power back on.  I knew where the new power box was, but it didn’t have a main switch so there must be another one. I call my partner on his cell and, although he was somewhere between Nashville and Chattanooga by then, in a van with noisy musicians, he heard his phone and, miraculously, answered.

With my new knowledge, I lead “Muddy Boots” into my resident musician’s room and prepare to find the electric box in his closet. But first I have to unload it because he uses the closet in the other bedroom for clothes and this one is stacked with music shit. Okay, we find the box, the main switch has tripped, “Muddy Boots” restores it and I have power, but he warns me the switch is old and can “go at any time,” to which, showing remarkable restraint, I say, “Okay” instead of “Simply fxxxing lovely.”

So far, the power is on and my floors are mopped clean. I’ll get to that other blog yet.

That Certain Slant of Light–On the Sixth Day

Whenever I am trapped indoors for an extended time, I think of Emily Dickinson.  Looking through the window, at mounds of ice and snow, I recall her lines,“There’s a certain slant of light/On winter afternoons/That oppresses, like the weight/Of cathedral tunes.” I wonder if, on those dark, cold days, she was inspired, or if–like me–she sulked and shivered. Did she pen those well-known lines then, or months later while enjoying a balmy spring afternoon?

For that matter, I wonder if Robert Frost, who wrote so glowingly of stopping by the woods on a snowy evening, would have really thought the winter woods were “lovely, dark, and deep” if he been trudging through the snow. It may have been a frosty, winter night that inspired him, but he wrote the poem in June 1922. Recalling snow as lovely is easier when one’s memories are softened by a gentle, summer breeze. Allegedly, he’d been up all night, working on a longer poem, and stepped outside, observed it was a glorious morning, and the poem popped into his head. He is reported to have said that he wrote about the “snowy evening and the little horse as if I’d had a hallucination.”

After six days in the house, there is something about the snow that is blanketing our property, and making our county road all but impassable, that is definitely oppressing me. I usually tell myself (when warned that a real blockbuster of a snowstorm is coming) to see it as an opportunity. The perfect time to marry myself to my computer and finish my British mystery, work on the sequel to my novel, or produce a new short story or essay. That’s what I tell myself.

Of course, it doesn’t happen.  Instead I bounce around the house, check social media, surf the internet (suddenly fascinated by some obscure article on the ruins of an ancient community or how water clocks were constructed), cook, eat, and read. Possibly cooking and reading are beneficial, but the other activities are simply evasions of my resolution to make the most of my forced confinement.

I do, however, write much more in the spring and summer. There is something about being at my desk in the summer–windows open, fresh air blowing through the house, birds singing, the smell of newly mown grass–that motivates me to put words on paper. When I’m happy in sandals and a comfortable tee shirt, sipping iced coffee, my computer suddenly becomes my friend again. Characters come alive on the page and ideas flow, in sharp contrast to winter when my creativity seems to freeze along with the water in the cat’s dish and the ice on the front steps.

It seems that, like a New Year’s resolution, my plan to take advantage of winter writing weather is, alas, a fantasy. Maybe from now on, when the snow falls and the temperature drops, I’ll simply make hot soup, wrap up in a warm throw, and read a good book. With luck, my characters are hibernating also and will emerge fresh and ready to grace my pages.

I hope you enjoy a writing season as well–a time when you feel motivated to breathe life into your words, and energy into your characters. And the rest of the time? Just live and make mental notes.