Extreme weather is nothing new to me.
Not only did California teach me how to survive earthquakes, but I also learned inventive ways to fasten my seatbelt during the summer lest I brand my fingers with the logo on the buckle. I distinctly remember that my mother put down newspapers on the faux-leather seats of her Volvo station wagon so that my tender haunches wouldn’t be permanently welded in place during the afternoon commute.
This also led to me spending many adolescent afternoons with that day’s headlines from the Fresno Bee temporarily transferred to the back of my legs. I gained a fresh appreciation of cold when I moved just south of the Canadian border and forged my hatred of snow and ice that lasts to this day.
Living in Texas showed me a different version of heat and also introduced me to a new wrinkle in fearsome weather that I had yet to experience – the hurricane.
If I had not had the fear of God put into me by nature during my time on the West Coast, two temperamental visitors with the names of Katrina and Ike showed me differently. During those storms I lost power to my apartment and got to stay home to wait out the rain, a minor inconvenience compared to the damages suffered in New Orleans and Houston respectively. I also was reminded that even if they are given warning for weeks beforehand, people who have the chance to adequately prepare for disaster will more than likely waste that chance.
With these experiences under my belt, I was unfazed when my part of the East Coast was rattled by an earthquake in August of last year. Hurricane Irene made landfall less than a week later and after making sure that I had my emergency supplies in place, I hunkered down and waited for the storm to pass. The power flickered a few times, but other than that I was safe. My friends later joked that I’d brought the weather with me from Texas.
I had another chance to witness the strength of nature recently when a record heat wave combined with other factors to summon a spectacularly powerful chain of thunderstorms that took out a hefty portion of the power grid across the eastern seaboard. After the lights went dark in my house, I stood at the window and gazed across the sky to where lightning split the clouds with the power of a million flash bulbs. It looked like nothing I’d ever seen before.
My first thought was that we were under attack from extraterrestrial forces, and I half expected Tom Cruise to come running down my street under hot pursuit from an alien death tripod. After the more sensible part of my subconscious assured me that the aliens weren’t after us, I took shelter and waited for this storm to pass just like I had all of the others. Yet part of me wished that I could ride the wind unafraid, that I could bottle some of that lightning to use for inspiration later on.
Experience teaches us to stay indoors when it’s too hot, to brace in a doorway when the earth starts to shake, and to seek shelter when thunder rolls. Survival is a natural human instinct and a valuable one at that.
The same applies to our creative lives also – we tend to stick to what is familiar. We’re conditioned to work with what we know because to step too far beyond risks failure and ridicule.
As I watched the storms strike just miles away from my house, I tried to remember when the last time was that I’d stepped beyond the bounds of what I knew and flew a kite up into the unknown skies in search of creative lightning. I’d sought new experiences to prime my engine, but they were nothing beyond the genres and topics in which I’d safely entrenched myself. When was the last time I’d tried something completely different and braved the metaphorical wild?
I couldn’t remember, and that was the worst shame of all.