As is typical of Minnesota, it releases us from winter’s snow and ice only to plunge us into summer’s wrath, as if the place is irritated it has to warm up for any portion of the year and makes us suffer for it. Tuesday a huge storm cell rolled through the Twin Cities and, naturally, as I left work that day the thing was just making its debut. Timing is ALWAYS perfect for me when it comes to these things. There I am, driving home, obsessively looking in my rearview mirror, watching as this mass of roiling black clouds chases me down the highway.
The sky turned green. Streets flooded with torrential rain. Howling winds ripped trees from their roots. Thunder and lightning crashed hard enough to rattle the windows and make me wonder if Thor could be something more than mythological. Of course, if he looks like Chris Hemsworth I might be willing to convert.
Then BOOM! The nearby transformer explodes and everything goes dark. Thus began our two-day stint without power. This was made all the more awesome by the fact that my daycare is closed for the week (where they didn’t lose power), the air temperature the following days was 90 degrees without a breeze and two out of my three kids had a fever. I shuffled us over to my mother’s house but my mom has this aversion to using air conditioning, thus keeping her house at a balmy 84 degrees (still cooler than my house).
When the Xcel Energy truck showed up at last to repair our transformer, people came out of their houses in droves. We sat on the curb watching the guys work on it, our stares fixed on their movements, hopes and prayers thick in the air. Then someone yelled from a kitchen window that the lights came on and a cheer went up. A block party almost broke out except we all ran home to huddle around the cool air coming out of our vents.
Yes, I’m being dramatic here but it was a tough couple of days. And I did feel a little guilty about my internal (and external) complaining as I remembered other places that had storms in the past which knocked out power for weeks, sometimes months at a time. I can’t even imagine it.
But something interesting arose from all this chaos…the complete lack of it at night. When the kids were in bed, the coolers of food squared away, and the paper plates disposed of (don’t hate me for using them), I sat down at my table to write. By candlelight.
I may or may not admit to feeling a tad Jane Austin as I did this. I had taper candles too. There I was, scribbling along the page, adjusting the angle of the light as the wax burned down, the flame flickering when my breath swished past it. Writing in such an environment, surrounded by shadow beyond the candle’s corona, narrows one’s focus to what’s in right front of you: the page.
This is what it was like every day for writers of the past (except maybe for the full belly, ball point pen, and superior state of health). There’s a silence to the night when the world is that quiet, when the house is soundless but for the scratch of your pen and the thoughts in your head. I experienced an odd contradiction of emotion as the hours rolled by. I felt both more connected to my work and more isolated. Fulfilled and empty. Satisfied and yearning. I attribute this a bit to distraction withdrawal, but also I think it’s because the night has two faces when distilled to its primary essence of silence and darkness. It embraces and it smothers. Soothes and frightens. The intensity of the atmosphere takes creativity to amazing places. There are only the words and the page. It was “A lonely impulse of delight.” to quote Yeats. Beautiful and strange.
Have you ever written by candlelight? What was it like for you?