Posted by: seanmalstrom | September 21, 2009

Get Better or Get Bitter


If you put cameras in any location, strange things tend to happen in reaction to the presence of cameras. Even things such as hurricanes washing up bears.

A year ago, my little abode was pounded by a real life maelstrom of swirling disc of clouds skipping across the ocean. I learned much from the hurricane.

The bear was talked about everywhere as everyone waited for the lights to go out. News media probably hated that guy, but he made everyone else laugh. I love how the bear waves his arms around as he walks around.

Hurricanes are bad, but they are far better than tornadoes or earthquakes of which both cannot be predicted. Anywhere on Earth has some sort of disastrous risk. But I prefer the hurricane as I know it is coming and can prepare. You can’t really prepare against a tornado.

To those who have not been through a hurricane, here is how the experience tends to be. The grocery store and home depot stores are raided bare. Hell, even the ice cream was all bought out. It is eerie to go to a Wal-Mart and find that there is no food, whatsoever, in the entire store. Everything is picked clean. Everything. Some gas stations can even run out of gas (though not in my situation, this is less common).

Most things like grocery stores rely on a reliable network of trade to bring in their flow of perishable goods (like milk and all). The biggest thing is how a hurricane destroys this network not just prior and during the storm, but weeks afterward.

Neighbors rush to cover up their windows with plywood. It is so depressing being in a house covered with plywood. All the windows are boarded, you can’t see out. That natural instinct for light or for the sky itself makes you feel caged and trapped just by the windows being boarded. While this all happens, the sky is green and the wind is blowing at a pace of a thunderstorm. It feels strange because you normally associate such strong wind with thunderstorm rain. Yet, the rain hasn’t fallen.

Everyone is doing something with electricity before the power goes out. And the power doesn’t go out in a flash. Think of something like the Titanic where the lights flicker and flicker until, eventually, they go out. This is what it is like.

When you do look outside, the sky is an alien green. It feels wrong. With all electricity off and windows boarded, it becomes very stale and very stuffy in the home. Your ears are where you gain any information due to the blackness. It sounds like you are in a washingmachine with the sky swirling around you. Trains rush on all sides of your house. The rain doesn’t really fall, it just shoots sideways.

After the hurricane passes is most interesting. You open your front door, and it looks like Armageddon, as if a bomb has blown up in your yard and all yards. Some of your trees have fallen over, some you expected and are not surprised. Others you are shocked that fell over. Brush is spread out everywhere and litters everything. It took me days, days, to just remove the brush from my yard.

Grocery stores still don’t have any food. They won’t be back to normal until at least two weeks later. And once they do, people from other counties come to your store to get the food since their area hasn’t recovered yet.

What I was surprised about is that while the lack of electricity was annoying, the lack of Internet was blissful. Instead of finding out what the ‘latest news’ is, which is mostly just blathering, I found myself reading Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, which I had been putting off, in an oak tree surrounded by water. This was only when resting. Every other time, I was gathering brush, taking the damn plywood from the windows (first thing I did, you can’t stand the boxed in effect and no light in the home), and just repairing damage. I went to bed with rugged muscles tired, but it felt good. It felt good to go limp and tired after spending all day doing manual labor. The generators were too busy powering the refrigerators to keep food from spoiling. I didn’t get a shower in until a week or two (which is likely not new to the ‘hardcore gamer’.)

The problem with a hurricane isn’t so much damage it causes in one spot but how widespread of low level damage it causes. While the cameras focus on the beaches and peninsulas, imagine how long it would take to get electricity back if every home, in a vast area, lost it. It doesn’t take long to repair one group of houses, but all of them? The repair crews worked from inner and moved out, starting with the least damage and moving out to the hardest hit places last.

Being offline is such a joy, and brought so much productivity, that I realized how much time I waste in life on a stupid computer. It brought frustrations that I didn’t believe it would. Now that online is going portable, with the iPhone and all, I expect the frustration to grow. Want to be happy? Turn it all off. At least, for a little amount of time. I look forward to the end of the site as I decrease my use of online and computers. “Isn’t that going backwards, Malstrom? The future is clearly online and computers everywhere.” I don’t know about that. I remember getting rid of my TV before it became fashionable to do so. The idea of *programming* controlling my lifestyle was absurd. Now everyone knows it is absurd. But the idea of always being connected for the most trivial thing… Back in the day, the only people who were constantly connected to anything were people who had to be. They were people like doctors, firemen, policemen. Being connected was soon as a downside. Now, it is the reverse. At least, it is for now. I expect in the future that a “surprise trend” will occur when people begin disconnecting themselves from always being connected. They will say “screw it” because, like those currently flocking away from TV, they feel they are being controlled rather than being in control. Soon, that day will come for me here.

This is why you are seeing my online time here decrease more and more. I haven’t even checked my email in days and now it is like 100 new emails. Good God.

I felt sorry about those who did have major damage or a lost home due to the hurricane. But there is a lesson here. They said, “Are we going to become bitter, or are we going to become better?” Many chose to become better. They are now better off today than they were before the hurricane hit. They are in new homes. Places that were squashed by the hurricane are now quite prosperous. So with any downside, I try to think of those that did lose all their *stuff*: “Are you going to get bitter or get better?”

I saw on the news of a middle age woman who just moved from New England excitedly talking about a house she is buying on Galveston. “I have always wanted to live on the beach,” she said. “And the prices are SO reasonable!” Does she not wonder why the locals are not buying that house? This is the meaning behind the phrase down here of “dumb yankee”.

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