by Deborah Atherton
In the Northeastern United States, we are all currently waiting for Hurricane Sandy to descend and disrupt our lives. The early warning system provided by weather satellites and 24-hour media, designed to give time for preparation, manages in fact to fill us with anxiety. Instead of saying “Good night” when they leave work at night, people are asking, “Do you have batteries for your flashlight?”
It’s a kind of exaggerated version of the anxiety we live with all the time now, aware of every disaster, whether it happens around the corner or around the world from us. You’d think we’d get hardened to it, but we don’t seem to; we turn on our computers, our phones, our TVs every day to hear more news. It’s on in the elevator of the building I work in. There is no separation from the rest of the world’s misery, or, as today, our own apparent impending doom, although it’s not actually arriving for another few days, so we have a lot of time to think about it.
I have batteries in my flashlight, I have the 3-4 days worth of food and water FEMA has suggested, I have candles and lots of books to read. I am reasonably sure any flood will not reach the very high floor I live on, and if it does, the entire island of Manhattan is in more trouble than it is ever likely to get out of. So this should be the moment when I pat myself on the back, and pick up one of the scenes I am trying to fix, or finish a chapter in the book Leslie and I are working on.
But no, I keep going back to the Weather Channel, hypnotized by the approaching storm.
We might tell ourselves we can multi-task, and of course, to some extent we can, but no one can stay glued to blow-by-blow reports of the pending apocalypse and get any creative—or even uncreative—work done. And maybe this weekend, it’s an actual imminent threat, but even so—there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. Sandy will waltz up the Eastern Seaboard, and either encounter—or not encounter—the other two weather systems that will help create a perfect storm. She is disregarding the wishes of both Presidential candidates, who would just like clear roads so people can go and vote. (That’s another impending event over which I have absolutely no control, but absorbs a great deal of my thought right now.)
The only possible thing to do is turn it all off. Check often enough for safety—and I’ll undoubtedly check more often than that—but try and create a quiet space in which to generate a little quiet thought. Push every little button with a green light and wait until the color fades away. Let go of the apocalypse long enough to know that however much we hype it, it’s just a storm. It is the nature of storms to pass.
Of course, Sandy might just do all that for me. In which case I might have 3-4 days with no news but occasional reports on my battery powered radio—since there is no way I am going to walk up and down more than 500 stairs unless absolutely forced to do so.
And who knows how much creative thinking and work we all could get done by candlelight in absolute quiet in 3-4 days? It might be an experiment worth trying, even without an apocalypse.