The Disconnect

Big tree limb down on the property Right as I was finishing dinner on Wednesday night, the power went out. The chili was basically done, left to sit on the gas stove and allow the flavors to intermingle. I had started to bake some cornbread which, once I remembered after locating the flashlights and candles, was about half baked. The house has a gas fireplace and we had been through this power loss routine before. We sent out text messages (I did a couple of Twitter updates) and made a few calls to let people in the area know what had happened (and reported it to the utility company), and then put them down to save on our charge. Gathering what we needed into the family room, we hunkered down in front of the fireplace and made the best of it.

Kathy had a book and read for most of the evening (and as it would turn out, most of the night). I had a book as well that I could have gotten, but I was in no mood for reading. I wasn’t really in any mood for doing anything, really; I was just listening to the wind outside. Laying on the couch, with the crackle of the fire, eyes looking out the back window area watching the tree sway in the wind. Shortly after the power went out, we had limbs from trees around the Where the trees were hitting the front  of the house house breaking off under the weight of the snow and hitting the roof. You wouldn’t hear the crack, just the dull thud as it hit the roof and rolled off. A couple of these whole limbs, perfectly healthy limbs (not a good sign), snapped off at the trunk of the tree. Most rolled off the roof and into the shrubs, squashing them under the weight of branch and snow. I wouldn’t say that I wasn’t worried that one of these branches would fall in such a way that it would smash a window or take out the power lines, but I tried not to let it cross my mind.

Early in the evening, I went out to shovel a little bit. I wanted to do something and that was the only thing that I could really do. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to do much or get very far, but I was not ready to simply lay there while this was going on. The driveway of the house is not under and trees, so I was going to stay out in the open and not risk getting hurt or killed by a falling branch or tree. I told Kathy I would knock on the window at regular intervals so that she wouldn’t worry; if it went too long without a knock, she should come check up on me. The eaves on the house are rather wide, so I had a place to duck under to avoid any potential falling debris. I got wrapped out and headed outside to shovel the back walk and anything else I had the strength and energy to do.

Once outside, it was bright in only the way that a winter landscape can be. The dark trees against the cloudy sky made everything stand out as I shoveled my back to the driveway. It was apparent very early on that this was going to be a short trip outside if I wanted to continue to shovel; the heavy wet snow was enough to make any snow removal arduous. I didn’t want to take out the snowblower since there is a lot of driveway under trees and I wasn’t feeling that adventurous. So, in standing under the eaves of the garage, shoveling every now and again, I would listen for the wind to kick up. You could hear it coming through the trees from far away, so I’d stop, watch, and listen.

Big downed limb on the property Near and far, you could hear the sounds of branches snapping, their popping and crunching coming through the winter air. Some were so close I’d peer through the darkness to see if I locate the source; others were like distant gunshots, their noise taken away by the wind. I did hear one crash close enough to put it a house or two away, but my vantage was blocked. I did go around the edge of the house to check out the limbs that had fallen, to note their location, and to see if there was any visible damage to the house itself. During this period in time, I watched someone try to make their way through a side street, their tires spinning in the sleet and snow mixture that had formed on the road. I don’t know what would possess anyone to leave their home, but it must have been enough to brave the storm.

Afterwards, I came back into the house, changed into pajamas, and took the couch that I would be sleeping in that night (pictured below). There, laying on the couch, listening once again to the fire next to me and the storm above me, my situation dawned upon me.

My bed for our night without powerI had not been so utterly disconnected in a long while. No computer, no text (saving phone charge, just in case), no games, no television, no technology whatsoever. I had no idea what time it was; I couldn’t even remember the date. As I lay there, my mind was still churning but without the usual external stimuli. It was like a party where the noise level suddenly dies down and all but one person shuts up so their voice carries throughout the room. In this case, my mind was the only voice left.

And so, as I lay under many layers of blankets, I just let my mind roam.

I can’t really say that I thought of anything deep and profound, but that I didn’t realize how much of my day had some form of technological input. Even when I’m out and about away from the computer screen, I text on a fairly regular basis with a number of different people. It didn’t matter where I was, there was always a level of connectedness that was present. With the power loss and a driveway full of snow, it was gone. It was a disconnect that I hadn’t experienced in years. (As I write about it now, I think it might have been when I was riding around Australia on my own back in college.)

And so it was, staring at the ceiling and watching the flickering of the fireplace light on the ceiling, almost a passenger in my own brain. With the outside idea support structures away, it was left to its own devices. Scenes from my life, work at the library, friends new and old, just wandered in and out as the night stretched on. I have no idea how long this went on; I know Kathy told me I dozed off several times.

As much as I would think to avoid putting a moral or conclusion on this experience, it feels right to say that I need more kind of this time. While it could be at home, the temptations of the household technology make it a harder sell. I should think that, in conjunction with my new year’s resolution to get out of the house and be more social, I should be looking for more opportunities to find places that make such temptations hard if not impossible. I’ve heard of monasteries that rent rooms to people to allow them to come and stay (with devices forbidden), but I’m thinking of some more local nature destinations. Banish the cell phone to the car, go camping or hiking, maybe visit the beach. I’m not completely firm on ideas, but this feels like the right direction.

It’s always interesting to me how the perception of things can change with just a little shift. I guess this was one of those times. And from the looks of it, it was a tiny bit overdue. This past year has put me on the move and perhaps it is time to take another. 😉

(For those interested, here’s the link to all of the snow pictures from the past week.)

7 thoughts on “The Disconnect

  1. Your descriptions of the blizzard are beautiful! It seems like it usually takes disasters to shake things up and reprioritize things in our lives. On an airplane to go to SXSW last spring, I read an essay from the mid 1990s about community. In it, the author predicted that we would become so disjointed from others that eventually we would form pseudo-communities using technology. (I wish I could remember who wrote it, though I know it was in a book borrowed from a friend – I will have to figure this out!) As I read it, I could see that many of the predictions the author had made had come true. I stepped off the airplane changed.

    A few days later the author of the essay’s words rang clear at an amazing show that I could not believe I had gotten in to. The guy next to me was twittering away and leaned over to me and proclaimed how he couldn’t believe how many other people were twittering about being there as well. As I looked around and saw many people with their thumbs to their Blackberries (and whatever else) I was dumbfounded. There we were in one of those perfect moments and no one was really being “there” – they all needed to tell someone else about being there in order to feel it really mattered.

    Upon returning to Pennsylvania, I chose to stop using many social networking sites and such because of all the time I wasted on them, and because I knew they kept me from experiencing moments like the one you described in your blog. It’s not that I want to be disconnected from society; I just want to be more aware of the potential time I waste on these distractions and live more consciously throughout each day. Thank you for sharing about your time in the snow, and for reminding me about why time away from technology is good for us all!

    • I’ve taken similar steps. While I do keep my iPod touch at conferences for checking on things (such as email, Twitter, so forth), I made the decision to keep a legal pad and paper for note taking during presentations and keynotes. When I was in law school, I did take notes using word on a laptop, but that’s different than tweeting all the points. It’s disjointed and doesn’t capture things in the order they were presented (I also type faster than I write, hence my inclination to type over write in an atmosphere like law school.)

      I can’t agree more. People want to share what they hear right away with people outside when there is equal (or possibly greater) to taking in everything, collecting it, turning it over in your mind, and then coming out with a conclusion. I remember talking to someone who was surprised at the lack of blog posts about the last ALA; they were used to reading people’s summaries after the event. Now, people just tweet it. Even as I think of it, is this really the best use?

      Hmm. I’ll have to think over on that.

  2. I’ve been having many similar thoughts over the last few days. Being snowed in alone at home on Wednesday was so relaxing– I didn’t have to go anywhere, and I actually had time to read a book and *think*. Matt and I were talking last night about deliberately building more quiet into our lives. Camping sounds like a great start. 🙂

    • That sounds great, Kelly.

      I think you can get away from it all in smaller ways. It may sound silly, but turning off the radio and driving in silence has been working for me as of late. It’s just a quiet time within the boundaries of the car. Also, rather than boot up my computer, I check my email in the morning on my iPod touch. I just scan the headlines and see if there is something that I should answer right away. Most of the times, nothing meets that criteria and I just on and do something suitable less interactive/low tech.

      Camping is a good idea, I know it has been thrown around with different people. Even just a quiet cup of coffee out in town is about right, but maybe that’s just me. =)

  3. Pingback: On memories and daydreaming | the strange librarian

  4. I love this post. It is always a beautiful reminder when mother nature overtakes man made distraction.

    A few years ago I suspected I was wasting my life in front of the television, so, I ditched it. An amazing thing happened. All of a sudden I had time to cook healthier meals and clean up after myself. I had time to read. I had time to write (just completed a YA novel and I have time to try and get it published) and make art. I had time to visit or talk to friends, pet my dog, go for walks or do nothing and just sit on my front porch and let my mind wander.

    Hulu and Fancast are beginning to encroach on this. Your post is really a great reminder of just how rich our lives can be when we disconnect.

    My friend and I were just talking about this last night because she has a 5 year old and she wants him to grow up knowing how to use technology but not hampered by it either. Play without gadgets…heck without anything that plugs in or uses a battery. In the middle of our discussion he came roaring into the room with a metal lamp shade on his head and announced he was a robot. I think he’s on the right track.

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