Follow Who?

I was going to write a snarky post about Thanksgiving being the most American of holidays, citing the rampant and encouraged violent materialism that happens over here the day after Thanksgiving, for which it seems Thanksgiving itself is simply a prologue–and a hypocritical one at that: I’m grateful for what I have, but I NEED MORE STUFF!!

Turns out, though, that that’s about as snarky as I want to get about it, in the end, which might mean there’s some character growth going on over here. I dunno. I don’t want to jump to any conclusions, but it would be nice.

That said, I’m facing something of a quandary over here about the whole “creating a platform” thing regarding my writing. As a younger person, I was so much more consciously intent on everything I did ultimately pointing positively to Christ. That’s not to say everything I did, did. Probably more often than not, it didn’t. It’s pretty hard to shed one’s birthright of selfishness, I’ve discovered.

So, I don’t know if I’ve gotten cynical enough to stop caring, or if I’m just cynical about my own capacity to bring glory to God so I’m not trying as hard anymore, or even if I’ve gotten to the point where I realise I can’t glorify God by my own efforts, so I might as well relax and just hope He’s going to work it out through me. I really don’t know. It’s probably different at any given time of day, really.

Anyway, my point (which it’s only taken me four paragraphs to get to) is that at some point in my life this whole idea of self-promotion which it seems is necessary in the arts world would have been anathema to me, if not right out of the question. I just can’t quite figure out how to get a story out there and keep the focus on Jesus. I don’t know what to do with my emotions when I look at my blog stats and see that for the last three days each, only three people have read anything I’ve written. I feel disappointed, and then I think it’s not supposed to be about me anyway, so the disappointment is just an expression of selfishness. I want God to get the glory for the things I do, but in reality, I want some, too. It seems a little messed up that I named this blog, and now my fanpage, after myself, when I believe the real Story of life is God’s story, and I’m not the main character. I think those times I get mad at God are because I’ve gotten mixed up about that and think that I’m the main character and God is my (more powerful but much more self-effacing) sidekick or something.

I find it hard to imagine that naming a blog after myself and trying to drum up visibility for myself, with an eye to sales sometime down the line, is really very beneficial in keeping my eyes clear and realistic about who’s Story this really is, here. When did I start wanting people to follow me more than I want them to follow Jesus? And what do I do with this?

I have a book–about Jesus, no less, though it’s a novel–more about his mother, actually–that I’m contemplating self-publishing in the new year. (It’s called Favored One.) According to Writer’s Digest, self-publishing has suddenly become industry-acceptable, and if I can scrape together the funds to do it, I want to try to get this book on some shelves. But such a venture doesn’t work unless I talk to you about it a lot, and try to get you to talk about it, too. And I wonder, is it, to me, really just about me in the end after all? It’s not what I wanted . . .



I’m not sure if it’s a function of thinking too much or what, but as a self-described hopeful cynic, I have a little trouble with that attitude of gratitude that some less complicated (or maybe more spiritually faithful) souls often enjoin. The cynical part of me is always looking for the downside of things so as not to be taken by surprise, and even the hopeful part of me is always looking future-ward, which isn’t necessarily bad but does kind of lead to some blind spots about current blessings, sometimes.

Yesterday, for those of us in the United States of America, was Thanksgiving Day, a holiday which I recently heard someone describe as “the most American of holidays.” I might, on a day when I’m not trying not to be cynical (like tomorrow), write a post about why this is and isn’t an apt descriptor, but one reason it might be is that I’m pretty sure almost every American celebrates it, no matter what religion they espouse, and even whether they believe in God or not. And . . . I like it. I should probably (make that definitely) be more consciously and overtly thankful than I am, but I like that there’s at least one day a year that affords anyone who wants to take it with the opportunity to consider that they’re blessed, and articulate it.
And so . . . here are some of my things I’m thanking God for (since I do believe in God), in no particular order and off the top of my head:
I’m thankful that:
1. even though I crashed my flawless Nissan at the beginning of the year, I got another one quickly that does a decent job of getting me from point A to point B and even fits most teenagers for youth group outings.
2. I have (and still have) a job.
3. said job still keeps me interested.
4. I get to work with such a great group of teens, growing group of elementary aged kids, and stellar team of adult volunteers.
5. I am a part of the Women’s Bible study at Now Church.
6. I’ve had three super-fun visits with the BroFam this year.
7. we have family closeness, even if not geographically.
8. I have parents who give a constant example of gracious self-sacrifice.
9. I met The Boyfriend, and that the Matchmaker helped make this possible, humanly speaking.
10. Oscar and The Boyfriend’s dog get along and Oscar doesn’t have the chronic tummy trouble he used to have.
11. The Boyfriend’s and my friendship and relationship is growing and deepening. And also we go on hikes and watch Dr Who.
12. This is the 100th blog post on this blog.
13. The Readership.
14. Friends all over the world.
There’s more stuff, of course. But that’s enough for a blog. I just hope I keep saying thanks, even when no one can see it.

Getting a Project Off the Ground

So last week (or something), I suggested that people send story prompts or suggestions, and I’d pick one a week and write a vignette based on said prompt or suggestion, and then I would post it. It’s been over a week since I prompted the prompts, and while I can’t say that they’ve been pouring in, exactly, I can say I have at least enough for two weeks.

Back when I was making that suggestion, I had in mind that Friday, my usual day off, would be a good time for that little writing exercise, and it would if every Friday between now and the as yet unscheduled publication of my next book were cold and rainy. Last Friday I was all ready to start writing a story about how the best place to hide something is in plain view of everyone (thanks to my editor Catherine MacKenzie for that one)–although I’m still not sure what my as yet undetermined character would be trying to hide–but I ended up spending the whole morning at the dentist’s (still no cavities, but a few other things to work on). It was such a gorgeous day that by the time I got out of there, when the Boyfriend said, “Wanna go for a walk?” the answer was yes.

I thought it wouldn’t matter because it was still pretty early in the day and we didn’t have any plans for the evening so maybe we’d watch something in which I was only half-interested (i.e., not Dr. Who) and then I could scribble (or whatever the typing equivalent of that is) something down while TV was going on in the background.

But instead we went to our favourite discount dry goods store (a frequent outing for us) and wandered around, and then when we got back we had to make supper and clean up, and after that? Well . . . there wasn’t enough time really to think of a story, so what would it hurt if we watched Harry Potter or something?

I think this is one of those things that could turn into a habit if I were once able to get it started. I just haven’t started yet. There’s always this Friday. Because I can tell you I won’t be jumping on the Black Friday sales.

A Whole New World . . . But Not Really

Poster for the Mark Twain Exhibition

Here’s the thing about my new eBay hobby–it’s hard to sell things on there without looking to see what’s for sale there, too. I’ll confess to having bought one or two items on there since I started acquiring money in my PayPal account. I’m pretty good, though, usually, at finding a good deal or, more likely, just letting them all pass by. More than actually purchasing, though, I’ve found myself browsing. A lot.

Which is how I first came across the term steampunk. I found a vendor who sold “elven”-style jewelry, and while looking through her wares, found a few with the steampunk descriptor. Some of the things I thought were quite horrible (mostly things involving spiders and eyeballs), but other things were rather intriguing and kind of struck my fancy.

Like most things, I had a very early introduction to the steampunk concept but without knowing it (kind of like being born in the 70’s and only lately becoming interested in the era, or living in Latin America during the 70’s and later discovering just how hip and era-appropriate that was). During my sophomore year of college, I had a suite-mate in my dorm who was quintessentially steampunk, but that was the early 90’s and the term had scarcely been coined yet. I certainly never heard it. Still, Vintage-Bonnie, who had transferred in from somewhere else that fall, wore long black Victorian outfits, put her hair up in a Victorian styles (often incorporating black hairnets) and, having been injured pretty badly in a car accident a year or so before, walked with a cane. She hung out with the art-crowd, some of whom were more or less goth, but, apart from one guy whom she dated for a while, no one else really quite had quite the same style, flair, vibe going on. Not that there was anything specifically religious or irreligious about it, but she stood out somewhat on our small Christian college campus. Roommate-Jenne and I were, I think, simultaneously fascinated and bemused by everything about Vintage-Bonnie.

For the most part, Vintage-Bonnie kind of filled a niche of her own in my experience and observations, because while in college she was one of a kind, after college I never met anyone quite like her either. There were echos of it, of course. I mean, I was an English literature major. I had read Frankenstein, for goodness’ sake. (It probably doesn’t really do to confess that I haven’t, on the other hand, ever read anything by H.G. Wells or Jules Verne.) I had studied Victorian literature and the Victorian era. I’ve seen Edward Scissorhands (which, I suppose isn’t strictly steampunk, but I would argue it shares some elements).

Still. I only ever encountered the term for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Then last weekend I took The Boyfriend to the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, because he’s a big fan of the man (and his aphorisms). In the museum, there was an entire exhibit by steampunk artists, more or less loosely inspired by Mark Twain himself. (Apparently Twain–whom the museum staff insist on calling “Sam Clemens,” arguing that “Mark Twain” was his most famous character–is a steampunk honoree, on account of having written an early time travel book in the form of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.)

“What,” I asked the Boyfriend, “is steampunk?”

The thing is, I felt like I already sort of knew. Goggles and gears and airships and aether, clunky and grandiose and a little bit creepy. Actually, some of the things in that exhibit were a lot creepy. Eyeballs and brains and things. The Boyfriend’s and my favourite thing was this amazing black Victorian-style dress with long gloves and lace and a brass watch and other such things, although the story surrounding it was about a dead girl or something. The dress is made of jersey material which is part of why it’s so fabulous–it drapes marvelously–and I emailed the young woman who made it just for fun and asked how much she’d sell it for, because by this time I’ve practically forgotten about the associations with death. Let’s just say it’s . . . more than I’ve paid for anything on eBay.

I haven’t forgotten that I want to be a hippie. I’d still like to toodle across the country (or maybe back down to Latin America) in my Vanagon (and check this out!). There are still things about hippie-dom that I’m not a fan of, either–the promiscuity, the drugs, the paganism. There are things about steampunk that I’m not a fan of as well–the darker side is definitely not me. I feel no need to have a fake brain in a jar in my house, reciting Poe’s Telltale Heart ad infinitum. Someday I may write a blogpost about some of these subcultures which are, in many ways, so intriguing–nay even alluring–to me and their emphasis on death, and try to imagine the reasons why. (I already have some imaginings.)

In any case, I belong to the Church (well, I belong to Jesus, but the subculture of which I am a part is known as the Church), which is frankly more than quirky enough. Signing up for one of these other subcultures sounds like just too much work. There does seem to be some cross-over or at least haziness of definition between some of them, cf. eBay entries for items described as Vintage Goth Grunge Boho Hippie Steampunk, or Hippie Boho Tribal Gothic Steampunk Gypsy. Gotta cover all the bases, I guess. Anyway. I guess what I’m saying is, I won’t be slicing my finger with a penknife and signing any documents in blood or anything like that.

But I am a sucker for clothes. And watch innards aren’t bad.

Capitalist in Spite of Myself

Ever since I was a kid reading National Geographic’s World magazine in the 70’s, and encountered their then-feature, “Kids Did It!” I’ve had this interest in entrepreneurialism. Not that I’ve ever done much about it. But I’ve thought about it a lot. When I was a teenager, I thought I was going to start a small business where I put on puppet shows for little kids’ birthdays. But I had no idea how to go about this, and what’s more, I didn’t have access to a car. I’m pretty sure this was my mother’s idea initially, but I’m not sure what either of us were thinking. I also thought I was going to run a drama camp out of my parents’ basement . . . which would have been interesting, but doomed to failure because, not only am I fairly certain my parents would have had something to say about this, but I can’t act.

I’ve learned over the years that you can make a decent (but not regular) amount of money with freelance articles, but that unless you’re Stephen King, you’re not going to make much writing novels. But also in more recent times, I thought I wanted to open up a coffee shop. I still sometimes think that (now that Starbucks is a couple of years behind me) and The Boyfriend has similar interests in that vein, so we like to bat around ideas about it from time to time. Because both of us could use some extra cash, we actually talk about ways to get more of it fairly often.

Which I guess might be how I decided to become a little more active on eBay. I’ve had an account since 2004, but mostly I got it so I could sell things on, and I think in all that time, I had never sold a thing on eBay proper, and had maybe only bought six items. Then last month they started this deal where you can post up to 50 items a month, auction-style, for “free.” (They charge you if you sell it.) So I started. And . . . it turns out, I’m selling stuff. I’m not exactly raking in the big bucks or anything, but by the end of the week I think I’ll have grossed $100, which is $100 more than I had when I started. Plus I’m cleaning out my stuff, little by little.

It’s weird how addictive this eBay is. I find myself checking it the way I check my blog stats, and, like the blog stats, most of the time there’s not too much interesting to report, but every once in a while, like finding out someone got to this blog by googling “how to start the Arian controversy paper” (see this page to understand how they got here with that), I see that the price column next to an item I’m selling has numbers printed in green all of a sudden, instead of in red. It fascinates me to see which items people look at, and which ones end up selling. When they sell, I always think, “Man, I should’ve charged more for that,” but probably if I had, they wouldn’t have sold. You just don’t know, do you, and maybe that’s kind of the fun of it, too. It’s sort of like gambling without (now that you can post certain items for free) actually having to put any money down up-front. A little suspense, without the outlay.

I renamed my eBay account to match up with all my other online presence (thatsajennstory), even though it used to be flyinglatte, which was kind of fun, too. I think of the stuff I’m selling as stories, too, really. At least, I could probably tell you a story about any item on the list. (I didn’t promise it would be interesting.) You’re welcome to visit and look at my wares. And if you have an eBay presence . . . well, I don’t know if I’ll buy anything, but I’d be curious to check out what you’re selling.

That’s a Fan Story

“In the interest of ‘branding,'” I wrote on my Facebook wall, “in case, you know, I ever publish another book, this page will be replacing the Trees in the Pavement page.” The page in question is the That’s a Jenn Story fan page I just created over there. “I will,” I went on, about the old Trees page, “be deleting that one probably by Christmas. ‘Like’ this page if you follow my blog, feel guilty for not following my blog, wish I would follow your blog, like Trees in the Pavement, read New England Condominium, are connected to Christian Focus Publications or want to be able to say you helped get this author to write again.”

Consider yourself to have received the same invitation. Or I mean, “offer.”

You can “like” it from here if you are so inclined. The thing is, I am not too sure there’s much of a point to a fan page unless I’m willing to make it a little interactive or something. I made a fan page for Trees in the Pavement specifically, a year or so ago, and I got about 300 fans, which was gratifying, but then it just kind of sat there, and what’s the good in that?

So I’m trying an experiment. I’ve been getting Writer’s Digest emails for years and never actually read them, but recently I’ve discovered that they’re kind of a good resource with certain good ideas, including posting a “writing prompt of the week.” So . . . I’m trying something similar with this blog/the fanpage. Send a short- (very short) story idea to me at I’ll pick one per week and post it, and then I (and you, if you feel like it) will write a less-than-700-word vignette about the idea. I’m trying to figure out a little prize I can send to the person whose idea I pick, although I’m not overly inspired as yet, given a non-existent fan-budget. I’m thinking of making “That’s a Jenn Story” magnets out of bottle caps. Is that completely lame?

Anyway. It could still be fun. Send me your ideas and let’s see where this goes!

The Moment of Truth

For a while there, I was going to grad school and then the summer got kind of weird and along with all the other things that were going on, some people suggested I should consider transferring to a seminary where I could get some actual financial help. Since researching these options was proving time-consuming and . . . well, making decisions is never that easy for me and some of these were doozies, so I decided to take this semester, and probably next semester, off.

During this time, as you know, I made a few visits to other schools, the favourite of which was Princeton Theological Seminary. Probably because of talking about toilets with the students or something. The thing was, I just wasn’t sure I wanted to make the geographical move at this point in my life. Which is kind of silly, since I’ve made much larger moves with a lot less deliberation or hesitation, although obviously different factors have gone into those decisions. At some point over the weekend, I made the declaration that I had decided that, even if I got accepted to Princeton–even if they gave me money toward my studies there–I wouldn’t go.

Yesterday was Day 2 of Now Church’s annual Church Fair, and I stayed there most of the day, stopping at the house briefly afterwards before going over to The Boyfriend’s house to watch a movie with him and his daughter. During the stop-off, I checked the mail. Of which there was very little, it must be said. Another newsprint flyer with grocery deals–the sort of thing I throw in the pile of starter in the woodstove. An offer from a bank trying to get me to buy life insurance. (Don’t you love how junk-mail ads are called “offers”? As if the purveyors aren’t actually trying to get you to do something for them?) Some mail for my grandmother. And an envelope from Princeton Theological Seminary.

A thin envelope from Princeton Theological Seminary.

I suppose I’m lucky or something; I’ve never had a thin envelope from an educational institution to which I’ve applied before (I cannot report similar results with publishing houses), but I know what they mean. My first thought was, A thin envelope. I didn’t get in. Recycle bin. It wasn’t like I needed to read it. But, like the proverbial train wreck, I couldn’t avoid looking. The letter was polite but brief and unequivocal.

I’m still not sure how I feel about this. I wasn’t going to go anyway. It eliminates any need to make a decision. But . . . well honestly, for some reason I really did think I was going to get in. The less Christ-like part of me would have liked to have been able to say I turned an Ivy League school down instead of that I was turned down by one. I comfort that part of myself by saying I was just too evangelical or conservative or something for them, and they’re just not tolerant enough to handle someone like me, but I suspect that’s simplistic at best and not even true at . . . worst?

The thing is, I’ve been praying for clarity. There’s some way, or maybe ways, in which I am not Princeton’s type, and that fact certainly helps provide that clarity. It’s kind of nice not to have to wonder, in this particular case at least, what would have happened had I made the other choice.

The Superphantasmagorical Ubiquitous Multipurpose Car Accessory

A few weeks ago, The Boyfriend and I were going for one of our regular tromps through autumnal foliage. On our way to the hiking spot of the day, we had to stop at a gas station so he could fill up his car with gas and his diamond-plate travel mug with coffee. I no longer drink gas station coffee (unless I’m beyond desperate, and even then, I’m more likely to dump it out after the second sip than actually to finish it), so I sat in the car and waited.

All of a sudden a sharp, harsh noise rent the crisp, fall air. (Sometimes bad writing is necessary, guys. I couldn’t help that one.) You’ve all heard this noise before. It’s what most people simply know as a car alarm, but which I am now calling the Superphantasmagorical Ubiquitous Multipurpose Car Accessory, or SUMCA for short. This is what New Englanders say when an onlooker (who has only recently crawled out from under a rock, or belatedly from the primordial ooze) asks, “What’s that horrible noise?” “Oh,” they say. “Some cah.” (Okay, that’s not really what we say, but we could.)

The sharp, harsh noise was extra sharp and harsh for me, because it was coming from the very car in which I was sitting. I can’t remember why I didn’t just get out and go to the gas station and tell The Boyfriend to shut off his stupid alarm, but there must have been one (though likely one of the flimsy variety), because I didn’t.

Since I didn’t, I got to witness firsthand the usual progression of the emotion of onlookers, as well as experience the the other purpose of the SUMCA: abject embarrassment. Here’s the thing about SUMCAs. I think it’s maybe almost plausible that when they were first developed, they were meant to actually alert people to intruders/vandals/thieves attempting to have their way with their cars. But that was–when? The 80’s? The 90’s? I would like to see some figures showing that a majority of car thefts are halted because of car alarms. I don’t think they exist. But SUMCAs still do exist, and in all my life of hearing them, the only purposes I have seen them fulfill are 1. annoyance and 2. embarrassment. And sometimes even, as a bonus, 3. lack of sleep.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a SUMCA go off because someone was actually trying to break into the car in question. Usually, it seems to me, it’s some sort of user error, and most people who commit the error realise it, murmur sheepishly while fiddling with their keyfob, and shut it off post-haste. In such cases, the SUMCA hasn’t really been blasting long enough to irritate passers-by unduly, and the owner’s level of embarrassment is usually low. Heck. It happens to everybody. Situation sorted. Move on.

There are, however, occasions where the SUMCA gets to run through its entire repertoire of car-horn rhythm variations and fulfill its two primary purposes as perhaps, depending on the time of day, its bonus purpose. The day in question? Was one of those days. This is the brilliance of the SUMCA. If, for some reason, it is impossible to make it stop sounding pretty immediately, it manages to draw two separate demographics (onlookers, passersby and people working in nearby office buildings, versus people directly associated with the car) into a vortex of distinct emotional responses simultaneously.

When the SUMCA in The Boyfriend’s car started honking, I, as a person associated with the car, instantly thought the noise was my fault. I’m not sure how this could be, as I had been sitting nearly motionless, probably thinking about how Oscar and The Boyfriend’s dog were both pretty stinky in the back seat. They were pretty motionless, too, so it couldn’t have been their fault either. All the same, I found myself whipping around and looking at the, and then looking at my hands in my lap, wondering if some sort of electromagnetic field in me had set off the beeping.

While I was registering these first pangs of alarm and embarrassment, the people at the surrounding gas station were looking around, too. No one ever actually anticipates seeing someone break into a car when a SUMCA activates, nor do they intend to help if they do, but there seems to be a general human tendency to pass the buck and so everybody immediately had to look around obviously, as if to say, “Wow. That’s a lot of noise. Good thing my car’s not making it.”

My next instinct was to try to figure out how to turn off this insistent noise. But it wasn’t my car, and even if it had been, I wouldn’t have known how to turn it off inside my own car without the key fob. I tried to make it really obvious that I was looking around for a way to solve the problem, in case anyone was watching.

People were watching. The beeping had continued beyond 15 seconds, at which point, for most onlookers, it achieves “annoying and won’t someone turn that thing off” status. Now they were looking at me accusingly or at least bemusedly. “What’s that chick doing in that beeping car? If she set it off, why doesn’t she turn it off?”

After that I wanted to get out of the car and–not go inside and let The Boyfriend know that it was his car beeping and that he and only he could shut it off, but–to stand outside and announce to all and sundry that, although I was sitting in the car emitting the offensive noises, I actually had nothing to do with it, and that not only had I not set off the alarm, but I wasn’t stealing anything. I did not do this, however. I simply watched people’s faces descend more and more deeply into settled irritation.

And then The Boyfriend came out. The irony of the situation was, of course, that he had been registering all the emotions of an onlooker or passerby, when in reality he was one of the people directly associated with the car. He stepped outside of the convenience store and for a moment his face registered neither annoyance nor embarrassment, but surprise. Then he started laughing. And then the noise stopped.

2008 and Present-Day Magic

There are some years which are just sort of definitive, and 2011 is up there, but so far nothing has topped 2008. I’d kind of like to keep it that way. When someone talks about that year, I have this brain surge which, if it were to verbalise, would go something like this:

“Oh–the year I embarked on my first real and long-term romantic relationship and my niece was born and my book got published and the Family of Six moved in before moving overseas and the kitten stowed away across state lines in the engine of their car and disembarked at my house and I started working at Now Church and I got diagnosed with breast cancer and the Ice Storm nearly stole Christmas . . . ” Only when it goes through my head it’s a lot faster than it takes to type it or read it or say it.

Because of the snow storm we had two weekends ago, and the fact that it took four days to get power back, which is only two days less than the six it took to get it back after the Ice Storm, I’ve been thinking about that year a lot, and I even went back to my old blog and reread some of my entries (particularly the ones surrounding the Ice Storm, naturally). I was very struck by how differently I reacted to a very similar scenario this time as compared to the last time.

Last time I was beyond stressed, and for good reason. I had (as evidenced by the run-on sentence paragraph above) already had quite the busy year, and I was just on the verge of starting radiation therapy after my cancer surgery. I really wasn’t much more than a few prods away from a catatonic fetal position, I don’t think, and those old blog posts evidence that quite well. I don’t blame myself for it in the least, but I must admit I’m pleased that I’m not reacting quite the same way this time around.

On Sunday after the snow fell and the power went out, I stoically set about keeping the wood stocked up in the house and the fire going in the wood stove. I tried to read a lot, and I guess I read more than I usually do these days, but I kept having to hop up to put more wood in the stove, or to top off the buckets and bins and lobster pot in which I was storing snow for water. The great thing about having well water (as opposed to municipal water) is that . . . well, it generally tastes better, and one hopes it’s healthier, too, but the bad thing about it is that when there’s no electricity, there’s no water either. Fortunately I had bought a few large bottles of water for the hurricane and had ended up not using them, so I had something to drink, but I also needed something for washing up and flushing toilets.

The snow was very wet and heavy, but it still “shrinks down” considerably after it melts, so even though I tried to pack it firmly into the containers I had set aside, I kept having to go out and put more snow in there. I don’t remember where I first learned you could flush a toilet by dumping a bucket of water down it, but I’m pretty sure it was when I was a little kid in Honduras, and I’ve had a few other times where I’ve needed to utilise that knowledge. The trick is you have to have a decent amount of water to get enough force going–thus the constant snow-refills. There were little bits of twigs and leaves and things that ended up in the water because they had been in the snow, so I was grateful I had bottled water to drink, although if I hadn’t, I would have been willing to boil the snow for a while if I needed to. That was another skill I learned as a child in Honduras. And that you can pour salt on slugs to kill them. That particular knowledge was not apropos to this snow storm, but I should have considered it over the summer when the slugs were eating my tomatoes . . .

That first night I set up a bunch of candles and read for few hours by their light and that of a flashlight. It was cosy and I was rather proud of myself for being so resourceful and self-sufficient. But the thing was, I had gone to the Good Neighbours’ that afternoon to use their shower, because they have a generator, and I had got out of the house in the sunshine to go get gas for my car. It still wasn’t exactly roughing it. And after that I basically spent the night at a different friend’s house every night until the power came back on Wednesday afternoon. It could, theoretically, have stayed off for another four days at least if I were to have availed myself of all the invitations I received. My friends are amazing. (They were in 2008, too.)

All the same, the experience made me think how much I take for granted and how much electricity and water I could conserve if I just did things a little differently. Sometimes I feel like we in this country are living this magical existence that really shouldn’t be possible, and one of these days the spell is going to break and we’re going to have to “do for ourselves” a little more manually and a lot more like most of the rest of the world, or like our ancestors. The four days of no electricity felt like the spell was getting holes in it and we had just landed in one for a little while.

But the electricity came back on and the hole closed up and lots of people seem already to have forgotten that we even had a freak October snowstorm. And I have resumed flushing toilets. Like the other people in Magic Land.

The Wrong Month

I think maybe this October and next March had a little conference sometime over the summer and October decided that it wanted to try the in/out like a lamb/lion thing. It picked “lamb” first. I’m not sure why I didn’t blog about this before, but I really should have mentioned earlier that at the beginning of October it was so unseasonably warm (on a statewide holiday, no less) that for The Boyfriend’s Daughter’s birthday, she, one of her pals, The Boyfriend and I all went to the beach. For the whole day. I got more sunburnt than I have in years because evidently I felt the fact that it was October should have had the same effect as SPF 70. It didn’t.

The “lion” bit of the month was over the weekend, as I recently mentioned. Neither weather event was socially appropriate for October in New England–I’m not sure what it was trying to prove. On Sunday morning there was a foot of very slushy snow on the ground, and there were also a lot of wires and hanks of tree-limbs there instead of where they were meant to be. It never got as windy as the 2008 Ice Storm, but the trees hadn’t dropped all their leaves yet and the snow, being sticky and dense, stuck to all the extra surface area, teamed up with gravity, and yanked everything inexorably downward. My mother’s tall, thin, upright lilac tree bent right in half and until the snow melted, I couldn’t tell if it had broken or simply jackknifed. (It turns out it was the latter, and it has sprung back up most of the way, but I don’t think it will ever be quite the same.) Two birchlings in the back are kissing the kitchen window. A branch broke off a tree in the woods and crashed onto a hapless rhododendron, which had had another limb from the same tree crash on it (for less apparent reason) over the summer.

Down the road from me is a house which once had a sturdy old oak tree in the middle of the front yard. At least . . . it looked sturdy. Now it looks like it exploded. When I see it, it doesn’t even make sense, it’s such a splintery, leafy mess everywhere, and yet the tree seems still to be standing. It doesn’t look like there are enough tear-off marks in the trunk for there to be as much mayhem on the ground, and the other remarkable thing is that the house, which is mere feet from this large piece of vegetation, doesn’t seem to have been hit. But the wires were all tangled up in it, and it’s going to take a while to clean up what’s left, I think.

In 2008, the ice made everything spiky and shiny, and there were no leaves to camouflage anything, so I think I noticed the devastation a little more immediately. This time around, although I still find myself dodging leaf-covered branches in the road, I think it’s taken me a little while to realise just how much damage has been done to the trees. It looks like some clumsy giant decided to go leaf-peeping in New England and stomped on everything he was trying to view. In other places it looks more like some trees held an unseasonal and not quite appropriate celebration of Palm Sunday, committing some kind of weird and masochistic religious asceticism, flinging themselves or at least some of their branches into roads and pathways. Somehow, the branches in the roads always seem to be blocking off the lane one is, at that moment, driving it, no matter which direction one is driving. There are never any on the other side.

Most of the snow is gone now, and it’s a little easier to assess the actual damage on one’s own property now, because you can see which trees and branches are springing back and which aren’t. I think The Boyfriend and I are going to be working on some clean-up this weekend. All I can say is, if this was a trade between months, next March better be about as non-descript as Cream of Wheat.