The power has gone out before.
It’s just a matter of time and the diligent workers at the utilities company will make the repairs necessary for enabling the first world comforts to which I have become accustomed.
The power always comes back.
It was Saturday morning and another working day. The night before I played a four hour gig in Tacoma and hadn’t gotten home until after 3am. Since of of my bands was hired to play the Marysville farmer’s market, I had gotten about four hours of sleep before getting up and getting started all over again.
Rain had teased us from the sky but the wind had gone beyond flirting by blowing against the tents that had been set up for shelter. I joked that after our set we would be going parasailing. A few friends local to Marysville stopped by and as they listened to the music, they held down the corners of the tents to keep them from lifting off of the ground. It was an exercise in rolling with the inclement weather and keeping giggles ready to relieve the tension that comes with a potentially dangerous situation.
As I drove back to my house with a vehicle full of musicians, the gusts of wind began pushing my car sideways on the freeway. I knew from the nature of the dry, still summer I would be coming home to debris on the roads near my house and some potentially fallen branches. I didn’t expect to see downed trees and a quarter of my neighbor’s roof blown away. After surveying the scene of the quiet cul de sac I wasn’t surprised to learn that the power had gone out as well. My roommate, Scott, was new to the area and asked me how long we should expect the electricity to be gone. I told him in the past it was never more than a couple hours. It turned out I was a little off on my estimate.
A few hours turned into a larger handful of hours and the sun began creeping on its downward slope towards the horizon. After a brief nap to catch up on lost sleep, I started gathering candles and flashlights as all the available data seemed to tell us that the power was likely to stay out all evening. I passed some time by checking updates on my phone and playing games on it. As the battery moved towards the 33% full mark, I realized that I was draining the power on the primary tool that kept me connected and in touch with the outside world. I couldn’t charge it and I was still trying to coordinate meeting up with the date I had that night. How could I have been so careless with my resources? I locked in my plans for the evening and then turned off my phone.
There was something freeing in the absence of the obligation to check in with the world electronically. The messages that needed to be returned, the calls that needed to be made, the words that needed to be written, gear that needed to be purchased, and the pictures that needed to be taken. I laid back on the couch to stare out at the trees being buffeted by the wind while I contemplated my inability to say no. Forced into electronic silence, I was acutely aware of the mountain of things I had allowed to accumulate on my shoulders. It was no wonder that my body had started to communicate to me through pain and stiffness in my neck and shoulders. It knew the problem before my mind ever stopped to acknowledge it.
I realized that just last week was my first day off in three months. It was a day still sandwiched between music gigs and spent in a foreign town, but I took the day to go for a long walk and read a book among the apple trees in the middle of a peaceful farm. I had left my job at the office to allow more time for me to breathe and to allow more time for creative efforts. Somehow I had backed myself right back into the corner I thought I had been escaping. In my effort to fulfill obligations and try and keep peace with the people around me, I was draining my own battery and not giving myself the opportunity to recharge. I was lining up gigs and odd jobs to pay the bills but I realized that I was not being efficient with my time, nor was I asking the right amount for what my time was worth given the energy I was expending. If I had a display screen and a notification alert, I wondered if I even had 2% left of my reserves.
To my dismay, I also realized that this was a symptom of me. Although it also dawned on me that it was something I had the complete ability to change because it had everything to do with me. Even the date that I had committed to felt more like an obligation and I wondered at my lack of enthusiasm. After meeting up for drinks and having an inordinate amount of small talk, I felt a little relief at being able to go home even though I knew it would be a dark house. I couldn’t blame the man for that. I only had me to blame.
I got home to find Scott sitting in the dark and I decided it was time to light up some candles and pull out an old fashioned board game. “Let’s play Sorry!” I told him. It would have been just as easy for me to go to sleep and I wondered if I was again wasting away my precious time and energy playing games that didn’t matter. Then I realized that I wasn’t wasting any energy playing this game, I was feeling surprisingly energized. This wasn’t obligation; it was freedom to laugh, yell, and be engaged over something with silly rules.
The next morning I woke up before 9am without an alarm and found myself turning on my phone to use the last bits of energy to coordinate busking down at Pike Place Market with one of my musician friends. I could have even counted the day as a working day because some money was earned, but I was collecting my energy back. I was filling up my reserves hanging out my friend and singing to indifferent, interested, and enthusiastic people passing by at the market. I didn’t feel any regret at having to keep my phone turned off. It was just an exercise in cutting the tether I had placed upon myself. I finished the morning off and headed home in the early afternoon feeling unfettered.
Even though I had made some money that morning, I thought about all the other bills that would be coming and how expensive unplanned expenses like bras can be. I got myself and my car cleaned up to work that afternoon but stopped short at the aches in my body. My shoulders were still stabbing at me, my head was aching dully, and even my gut had begun its own rumbling. Maybe it was actually okay to take the rest of the day off. Maybe I even had the ability to give myself that permission.
Taking the time off meant that I drained the rest of my phone battery, dusted surfaces, and organized some closet and cabinet space. The power finally came back at 5:30pm, heralded by the illumination of lights and the sudden hum of the refrigerator kicking back on. I heard my whoops of joy echoed by Scott upstairs and then I continued some cleaning that involved laundry, vacuuming, and bathrooms. I felt accomplished with my “day off.”
I thought back to my leave of absence from work last fall and thought about how even though I wasn’t working I was vey busy with my time. I spent a month traveling across the US. I went on two musical tours, including Europe, and I still managed to write a 400 page book while raising the funds for it and getting it printed in those three months. I know I’m not the kind of person that can sit still for very long, but if I’m not careful I’ll drain my battery. What was it about those three months that were so much different from now?
I didn’t have nearly as much fear then. I wasn’t stressing nearly as much about money, and I was spending my time doing the things that charged my reserves because I had suffered another huge loss. I was in the middle of a personal power loss and I was being more selfish. I was taking care of me.
The metaphor stopped me.
I didn’t want to have to wait for another personal power outage for me to spend time recharging. Another complete break of psyche shouldn’t me necessary for me to take control. I had the ability to create a sustainable grid for myself. Reinforced, powerful, and with multiple fail-safe backup systems and alarms to alert me of long before I reached critical levels. All I had to do was give myself permission instead of waiting for permission or approval from anyone else.
Six months into the Geli Happiness Project and I feel like I’m finally starting to get the swing of things. Come September, it will be time for the release of GHP 2.0 and I know I’m going to like some of the new features.