Monday, October 23, 2017

You'd be Angry Too If Your Name Was Irma

When the weather guessers began predicting that Hurricane Irma would impact the entire state of Florida, we took note. I was most concerned for our friends and acquaintances who live in the Florida Keys. On Monday, September 4th, my manager inquired on my family's plan for Irma storm evacuation. I responded that we would make a decision on evacuation on Thursday as the spaghetti model was at the time inconclusive. In fact it looked like a plate of spaghetti from Carraba's Italian Grill had be dumped on a map of the continental United States, but someone had somehow managed to salvage the meatballs. With the weather guessers continuing to say that even if Saint Petersburg, the Sunshine City, did not take a direct hit, we could see wind gusts over 100 mph, I took them serious.

I remembered when we bought our house the house flipper had installed the bolts and wingnuts it the exterior window frames and cut plywood for each window. I also recalled that he had not labelled them other than the guest bathroom window which is the smallest window in the house and quite obvious which board fits it. We contacted our friends that we had originally planned to hang out with at Disney on Saturday and cancelled. I figured Irma wanted to visit the Happiest Place on Earth worse that we did. On Wednesday afternoon after work, I elected to dig all those sheets of plywood out and begin the process of elimination of identifying which sheet was drilled and cut for each of the remaining dozen windows. I knew this would be time consuming, so I thought the more time I gave myself the better off we would be. I figured we would need to have the windows boarded up regardless of our evacuation decision. I went for the obvious win first by boarding up the guest bathroom window. and what do you know, it was labelled correctly and fit. I then spent the remaining four hours of sunlight figuring out the four other windows on that side of the house and labelling them accordingly. As I was proceeding with the task at work, I could not help but notice the looks I was receiving from passers by and some neighbors - glares of disdain as if I had forgotten my pants or was wearing a tinfoil hat.

On Thursday, the weather guessers had adjusted their models and were now honing their focus in on the eastern seaboard of the Sunshine state. I announced that we would not be evacuating since the storm's projected path would be 100 miles to our east, but that we would continue with our storm preparations. Thursday, I resumed my game of Which-Window-Does-This-Piece-Of-Plywood-Fit. As I was now working on windows adjacent to the street next to our house, the glares of disdain intensified. I ignored them and continued my work until all of the windows were boarded up with the exception of the front porch window. If we were staying, I wanted to be able to see out of at least one window. I picked up a case of water and began packing the freezer as full of bags of water and jugs of water as possible so that they would freeze and provide a solid blanket of ice around all the food in the freezer.

 On Friday, the weather guessers had once again readjusted the projected storm path and were now predicting it would pass between St. Petersburg and Tampa. They were also projecting it would continue due north and their map showed the entire state of Georgia and parts of Alabama in warning areas. We began to hear reports of people evacuating and the highways being jammed. A couple co-workers had spent 4 hours to go 4 miles and had run out of gas and the gas stations were all out of gas. We then began to here reports that there were cars littering the sides of I-75 to our north that had also ran out of gas. We decided that at this point the window of opportunity for evacuation had closed. I dug out emergency candles, coolers, checked flashlight batteries, and picked up an extra bag of charcoal for the grill. We received that all the area gas stations were out of gas and all of the grocery stores and big boxes were sold out of water.

 On Saturday morning, I loaded the coolers into White Lightning, my 1970 Chevrolet pickup and ran up to the corner 7-11 store. I bought 6 bags of ice and noted their gas pumps had bags over them and that their shelves were void of bottled water, Cokes, and bread. We took down the American Flag and carried in all of the flowers and plants from the front porch. I tied the front porch glider swing to a corner post with a ratcheting strap and secured the cover on the BBQ grill out back with bungee cords. Saturday evening we went out for dinner and the normally crowded restaurant was half empty. The wait staff announced that they were serving an abbreviated menu. We understood as many had evacuated leaving the restaurant with a limited staff. Sunday we filled the bathtub up with water. We piled blankets in the hallway and created sleeping pallets. We were watched the storm track on the Weather Channel and watched their reports of the storm's damage to the Florida Keys. A friend of ours was posting Facebook live video feeds from his home in the Keys and it looked devastating. The reports were predicting the storm to reach us between 8:30pm and 9pm. At 7pm the power went out. We lit the emergency candles, donned our headlamps and headed to the hallway. I began reading a book by the infamous Jack Riepe while we waited. Around 8:30pm the winds picked up and the noise level increased. The intensity of the wind noise and the noise of things hitting the sides of the house and the boarded windows continued.

Around 3:30AM on Sunday, I heard a noise which I was almost certain was a tree falling near our house. I donned a raincoat and ventured just out the back door and checked the back yard and side yard. All seemed well. There were a lot of limbs down but nothing significant. I returned inside the house and stepped out on the front porch and surveyed the front yard again finding no significant damage. I stepped off the front porch to check the side yard by the street and to my dismay found a tree had split and half of it lying across the hood of my truck. I ran out to survey the damage and was thrilled to discover all of the truck's windows were still intact. A city policeman in an unmarked car was coming down the street inspecting power lines and homes with a searchlight. He stopped and asked if everyone was OK. I told him we were fine, and thanked him for his service. He continued down the street driving over the curb on the neighbor's side of the street to maneuver around our downed tree. I retreated to the house to get out of the wind and rain.

By 8:30AM on Monday, we had clearing skies and reduced wind. I grabbed my sawzall and a couple batteries and began cutting limbs off my truck. After half an hour or so, I had the limbs cut away from the truck and could find no damage. The remainder of the tree was still lying across the street blocking traffic. I grabbed a cold drink and began taking down some of the plywood over the windows so we could get some air moving through the house. I heard a noise and looked up to see a random man getting out of a pickup that had parked just short of the downed tree. As I rounded the house I saw him retrieve a chainsaw from the bed of his truck. He gave the saw a tug, it fired on first pull, and he began cutting up the fallen tree. I grabbed a set of gloves and began pulling brush out of the street and piling it along the curb. After a few minutes, he shut the saw down. He told me he had been sitting at home bored with no electric and decided the quicker the streets were clear, the sooner the electric company workers could restore power. So he was just driving down the street, stopping at every fallen tree and cutting it up to clear the street. I thanked him for the help, and he headed off for the next one.

One of Allison's co-workers who lives in downtown St. Pete called to check on us. They had not lost power. When they learned of our situation, they began searching for ice. Finding all of the convenient stores still closed and all the grocery stores out of ice, they went to a neighborhood bar with a cooler and the owner sent us a huge amount of ice. We had our freezer packed solid and were not opening it. All of the refrigerator contents had been moved to coolers. So, we drained the melted ice in our coolers and repacked with the fresh ice. They invited us and our two dogs to their home to sit in the AC for a while which we gladly accepted.

Tuesday came and went with no word on power being restored. A friend called and loaned us a generator, so we were able to provide power to the refrigerator/freezer, run some fans,and have some lights. But we didn't have enough capacity to run the AC.

Wednesday we were both expected back at work. I tried working remote by going to a local Starbucks which was open and had power but no internet. I gave up and drove into Tampa. Another of my wife's co-workers invited us and our dogs to their house for dinner and to spend the night. I returned home to protect our belongings and keep the generator running.

Thursday after work, friends arrived with a portable AC unit. We plugged it into the generator and closed the windows for our master bedroom and it began cooling things down quickly. About an hour with the portable AC unit running, I heard the sounds of large trucks. I walked out to see four bucket trucks taking positions along the power lines on our street. All of their vehicles had Missouri license plates. I approached one of the supervisors and shook his hand and thanked them for coming down to help us recover. A few minutes later, they threw a disconnect on the pole and restored the power in our neighborhood. Neighbors came running out of their houses dancing and shouting. Strangers were hugging each other and hugging utility workers and tears flowed.

We were extremely fortunate to only have a tree that fell across the street. A couple weeks later, we had a tree company take the remainder of the tree down. We were fortunate to have power restored after 5 days. And we were very grateful. We learned a lot during the storm and recovery. One of the greatest things we learned was what a great group of friends and neighbors we have. We were blessed to have people checking on us, inviting us to their homes, finding ice for us, loaning us generators and portable AC units, and cutting trees out of the street for us.

We continue to pray for those in the Keys and in Puerto Rico that suffered devastating damage during Irma. And pray their lives are restored.

Blessings
-Allen

Friday, October 20, 2017

Guest Post: Andi Cumbo-Floyd - The Teeter-Totter of Discipline and Grace



Dear Beautiful People, 

For the first time in several months, I achieved my goal of writing 1,000 words a day on my work-in-progress this week.  Most mornings, I didn't want to do it. I had other things to do - things that pay me money and aren't as hard - but I did it.  Each time, it took me less than 30 minutes - I draft very quickly because I've practiced for years, but my revision process is quite slow - and when I was done, I felt great because I wasn't going to be carrying the burden of disappointment and guilt I feel when I don't write. 

For me, writing is a calling, a vocation, my life's work, if you can bear that level of grandioseness and not think it some sort of April Fool's Day joke.( I assure you, I'm serious.) So when I'm not using it, I feel a bit like that servant from the parable who buries the money in the dirt.  I don't like that feeling. 
Over many years of practice, after reading many books on writing, through listening to many friends who are further down the path of words than I am, I have learned that a real key to writing is discipline, a regimented putting-of-the-butt-in-the-chair.  I don't believe in inspiration. I believe in hard work, in showing up, in facing the page as often as possible to get the writing done. 

But I also believe in grace.  I believe that it's far more detrimental to my mental health if I walk around on the days I don't write feeling shameful about what I haven't done. I know that shame is too heavy a weight to bear when I need lightness to create.  I am certain that no good - and almost no writing - comes from feeling weighed down by what didn't happen. 

So here's how I keep the teeter-tooter of discipline and grace for myself. (By the way, I am coming to think of balance as shifty, not something you pin down forever like a beautiful butterfly, but something we dance through during the various days and periods of our life.  Hence, the teeter-totter metaphor.)
·         I have a regular goal for writing.  For me, that's 1,000 words a day five days a week.  That goal is achievable for me on a daily basis.
·         I have a regular writing time for each of those five days. Right now, that time is 6am because I can wake at 5, do a little reading, write, check email, and then feed the farm animals.  That time will shift as the sunrise moves earlier this summer.
·         I give myself time off. I don't write on weekends. That's my farm time, my time with Philip, my time to binge-watch Firefly. My time with family and friends.  If I'm making space for things I love sometimes, I don't tend to skimp on writing, which I don't always love, the other times.
·         I look ahead to how I will make this time given what's happening in the rest of my life. If I know I'm traveling - as I as this week - I evaluate whether or not I'll still be able to write that 1,000 words. If I don't see it as possible, I scratch that day off my calendar.  But just that day. By looking ahead at what might make my goals hard to achieve, I give myself the space to not hit the goal that day without derailing myself with guilt for many days.
·         When I miss a writing day unexpectedly, I look at why that happened as soon and as honestly as possible. Sometimes, I just don't get it done, and so when that happens, I take stock right away. Did an emergency arise? Was I sick? Or did I make choices that got in the way? If this was about choice, why did I make that choice? Am I okay with that choice? And if not, what will I do to make better choices to allow for my writing next time?  I find that 90% of my missed writing days were my choice, and most of those choices I would like to not make again.  So I adjust my schedule or my practices - like this week, I committed to not looking online until my 1,000 words were done.  It worked well for me.
For you right now, 5 days a week may not be possible; 1,000 words may be too little or too much.  Mornings may not work. You have to find what works for you.  

I believe you have to make a goal and set a schedule that work for you, and then do all you can to keep to it. And I believe this is possible for everyone most of the time.  You may be tempted to say that because you work a lot of hours you can't set a goal or schedule, or because you have young children you can't keep a schedule, or because you have a chronic illness you can't make a goal or keep a schedule, or because your second toe is longer than your big toe schedules don't work for you.  I get it. Life is hard for all of us a lot of the time and in a lot of ways.
Here's the thing though - people have written books while raising young children. People have written books while working to make partner at a law firm and working 18-hour days.  People have written books while battling cancer for their lives.  The way they do that may not be as fast as I do in my childfree, write-for-a-living daily life (which has it's own griefs and challenges, I assure you), but they do it.  And they do it by committing, by practicing, by prioritizing, and by giving themselves the grace to say, "Today was not the day, but I'll try again tomorrow."

So here's my NO FOOLIN' challenge for you.  
·         Make a weekly writing goal. 
·         Set a weekly schedule for achieving that goal. 
·         Celebrate when you meet your schedule. 
·         Evaluate when you don't and let the "didn't" go. 
·         Try again the next day.
What do you say?  Are you in?

Much love,
Andi

  
Excerpted from Love Letters To Writers: Encouragement, Accountability, and Truth-Telling by Andi Cumbo-Floyd – Forthcoming on November 14, 2017. 

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer, who lives at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, 4 dogs, 4 cats, 6 goats, 3 rabbits, and 37 chickens. You can read more of her words on writing at andilit.com.


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