Lights Out

The most frustrating thing about my writing situation — or, rather, my Writing Situation — is that I find it easier to think of something to write when I’m already working, when I’m coding or in a meeting or talking or taking notes. Then I go home and my brain relaxes a little, switches off. My productive output grinds to a halt.

But then again I can’t sit around forever waiting for inspiration to strike. So I’m imposing a schedule on myself, corralling my creativity into a one hour time slot. In the meantime, while I wait for people to get back to me so I can continue doing work, I’ve decided I shall tackle the Writing Situation.

Last night, for instance, that’s something to be written about. The wind was already picking up speed when I left work, and by the time I got back home and ensconced myself safely in a comforter it was blowing a gale outside. That — and the general unpreparedness of the apartment management — are the only reasons I can think of for the power going out.

Which, of course, happened while I was in the shower.

I stood there for a second, feeling thoroughly exasperated. I couldn’t remember which parts of myself I’d soaped, because showering is an entirely unconscious process. Also, for not being underground in a cavern, which is something I’ve actually experienced, this was remarkably close to being pitch-black.

Eventually I extricated myself from the water and soap and got myself dressed, shivering. Thanks to daylight savings and the advent of Spring, there were still some last vestiges of light outside at 7.45 pm. Every other apartment I could see had lost power as well. Not just a matter of checking the circuit breakers, then.

The last time this happened, power had been restored in about 15 minutes. I decided to wait; my phone could access the internet, I was Whatsapping my best friend, it wasn’t too cold.

After ten minutes of YouTubing songs (if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s silence while I’m not coding) and texting friends, I realized it had grown completely dark outside. Still no sign of power. I wandered around the apartment for a bit. It’s not as if I couldn’t entertain myself, but I was hoping at some point to make dinner. I texted my room mate to ask if she had a torch; she called back to give me detailed instructions as I trekked through her extremely well-equipped room. In the end, I emerged with a sort of hurricane lamp and set it on the table.

Then I had a brainwave: I’d finish Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, which is a genre-defying, mind-bending, wryly hilarious novel that scorns all attempt at description. Calvino by torchlight — I could salvage something from this power outage after all.

Except I was restless. Every ten minutes I’d answer a text or try to get back online on my phone and fail. The unrelenting darkness outside got to be a bit much, after a while. I opened the front door, holding the lamp in my hand, looking like the illicit child of Florence Nightingale and a shipwreck looter.

It was still blowing a gale outside. When the wind found cracks, the noises were at once familiar and eerie. I could make out lit houses and glowing streetlamps just beyond our apartment complex, but within it, everything looked like a B grade horror movie set.

I plodded a little way along the path towards the leasing office and immediately gave it up as a bad job. It was cold and windy, and therefore there was no other human being in sight, and finally  the entire thing was far too creepy. I ran up to my apartment and shut the door behind me with a certain measure of relief.

Calvino was to be my salvation, then. Not at all a bad thing.

Reading If on a winter’s night a traveler in the encroaching darkness is a singular experience. Calvino’s storytelling is really sorcery, the threads of his narrative — if narrative it can indeed be called — winding around and about each other until the reader is enchanted and bewildered. Just when the threads begin to coalesce into a semblance of a story, they are exposed as stories themselves, or as part of another tapestry altogether. Reading the last few chapters by a hurricane lamp was lovely and surreal.

I’d just reached the last page of the book, and had sat there contemplating it for a while, when the apartment exploded into light.

And then I went to document the entire experience on Facebook because, well, if it’s not on FB, it didn’t happen.

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One thought on “Lights Out

  1. Lovely, Sumi 🙂 My writing teacher reads a bunch of Calvino’s non-fiction in class. I’m now convinced I should read ‘If on a winter’s night a traveler’.

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