It's been a brutal winter here in the US, hasn't it? Having earned my badge as an official Winter Weather Expert surviving the Upper Midwestern winters of my Upper childhood, I am authorized to make that pronouncement. Did you know that on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 there was snow in 49 of the 50 states in the US? And yes, that means Hawaii.
This has been going on since December, but it wasn't until the first weekend in February that I found the word to succinctly describe how I feel – disrupted.
There are the obvious disruptions. Snow needs to be shoveled. Events need to be rescheduled or canceled. Cars get hit by falling limbs or passing snowplows, which means insurance companies and auto body repair shops have to be contacted, appointments made, schedules readjusted again. The power goes out, which is charming for about three hours. Then life becomes difficult. Internet service drops. The house gets cold. Batteries die on devices.
I've been coping pretty well with the day-to-day existence, but that early February discovery clarified for me just how much my creative energy has been disrupted. I've still been able to write or compose just about every day for 10 minutes (sometimes more), but I'm definitely having a harder time getting into the flow. My practice time, which is usually a warm oasis, has not been as focused. Teaching is more of a refuge than I often find it. Having to concentrate with a student (or students) means I can't obsessively check the weather forecast or traffic reports.
Look, here's what I'm trying to communicate to you.
We're not in charge.
This is the lesson that I learn over and over again when some unforeseen event disrupts my Oh-So-Wonderful-Don't-You-All-Wish-You-Had-My Life.
We're not in charge.
Nope. Not even close. And that is what makes most of us nuts. We'd like to think we are in charge. We'd like to think we dictate our comings and goings, with an occasional whimsical day off thrown in to show that we're really not control freaks. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, I say this over and over again, to myself, and to anyone who will listen.
We're not in charge. But I still feel disrupted and here's how I've been dealing with it:
I look up. Frequently. The winter sky is full of beautiful colors. The blue, on one of those sunny, bitterly cold days, is gorgeous. I take a mental picture to be replayed on one of those blisteringly hot days in July that you know are coming. I look at those leafless trees and marvel at the shape and structure. Until they come crashing down, they are a wonder.
I get frustrated. I love my work. Having it disrupted once is a nice change of pace. Having it disrupted on a regular basis is, well, frustrating.
I look out. My backyard, small as it is, is covered in a deep layer of white, untouched except for the tracks of George, the neighborhood cat. I'm astonished that after all of the snow I have seen in my life, I can still have my breath taken away by that dazzling plane of pure white.
I become exhausted. I don't like feeling frustrated, so I enter into a mighty battle with myself, attempting to convince the Me in me that I should relax, I should let go. The Me in me resists. Exhaustion sets in.
I put on my coat and hat AND boots AND gloves (pet peeve: no complaining about the weather if you can't even bother to zip up your coat, let alone wear gloves or mittens.) I go outside. The dog and I walk as best we can. I shovel. I marvel in the amount of snow. I marvel that my body can still shovel, and actually enjoys it. I know, odd. And no, I am NOT available to come shovel your driveway.
I get anxious. I'd better leave early in case the trains are running late. No, wait, the trains aren't even running! Oh great, I'll have to take the trolley and the El. Are they running? I'll check their Twitter feed. Oh wait, I'm getting rotten service because the power is out. Dang! This is ridiculous! To make sure I'm on time, I'll leave an hour earlier than usual. Best to take along some toiletries in case they stop running as well and I have to crash at someone's house in the city tonight. Whose house can I crash at?....
I truck on. If I can make an appointment or commitment without the potential of too much harm to myself or others, I do it. I don't give up. I leave early. I've spent many extra hours these past months hanging out in coffee shops because the drive wasn't as long as I anticipated or because our local transit system was running on schedule. That's okay. I made it to where I needed to be and I was safe. Meetings could happen, performances weren't canceled, classes were held. Life could go on.
I get annoyed. Buck it up, people. It is only snow. It melts. And while you're at it, stop complaining. I agree, this winter feels relentless. But your constant complaining is not helping.
I try to attend to tasks on my daily list. I try to keep the routine because I know that's when I feel best. Even during the power outages (which, truth be told, only affected my house on two separate days), I still practiced. Why not? I don't need electrical power to sing and play a piano. How lucky am I?
I feel lethargic. My self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder has clearly kicked in. Sleeping in, followed by sitting in a chair all day sounds marvelous. Standing up and doing a small task takes a massive amount of willpower.
I listen. I can tell before I get out of bed if it has snowed. That distinctive hush. No traffic, felted silence. Or the whipping of the wind, as it swirls around outside. The phone ringing at some ridiculous hour. Even from the second floor, I can hear the machine in the kitchen, “Good Morning, this is the Lower Merion School District.” I roll over and go back to sleep.
I become irritated. Even the slightest thing throws me into an internal fit. Who moved the bowl on the entrance table? Why is there that speck of dirt on the floor that I just swept? Why can't that colleague respond to my email now? Practicing compassion for others takes a Herculean effort, at which I fail, miserably, on a regular basis.
I take a deep breath. I sit in my chair and watch the wind as it whips the power lines and trees around. I feel gratitude that I am inside a home, filled with love and warmth. Then I pull out my computer, grateful that the power is currently on and shoot off some more rescheduling emails.
As I write this post, we've had no major events for 4 days and even better, there are none in the forecast. The temperatures have risen and the snow is melting. It almost feels like all those crazy happenings never happened. Doesn't matter. I'm going to keep practicing the moment-to-moment marvel of not being in charge. Here's hoping I get it right one of these times.