Friday, January 03, 2014

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

Day 2 of our first winter blizzard of the New Year. Here in Albany, we started early, on New Year's Eve. I had gone into my office at school to pick up some books and ended up lingering. I looked out of the window and saw the snow coming down. Was this that little snow shower that they had mentioned in the weather report? I rushed out to my car to drive home, only to realize the snow was blowing and the streets were unplowed. Although I've lived in the Northeast more than half my adult life, I'm still a Southerner when it comes to driving. I turned on a side street and circled back around to the school parking lot. Back inside, I decided to wait until the rush hour drivers had finished sliding into each other and the snow plows had done their work.

That should have been my lesson about keeping my eye on both the clock and the weather report. But on New Year's Day, when I suspected the supermarkets were due to close early, I spent most of the day working at home. And then I dashed out, with little thought about the kind of food that makes being snowbound a happy experience for the stomach. Instead of buying the makings for a hearty soup or stew, salads, and bread, I bought dinner for the evening – fish – and "healthy, gourmet" frozen meals (so that I would be able to keep writing rather than stopping to cook).

I also didn't prepare myself mentally for what I experience each time I am home-bound for more than a day. Even though I love my little house and enjoy working at home, I need to go out at some point during the day. Looking out and seeing the snow and realizing it's too cold to even step outside for more than a few minutes, gives me cabin fever. Cabin fever is, of course, a form of claustrophobia. Proving that writers tend to generously burden their characters with their own quirks, in my next book, a blizzard makes its way up the coast, and my victim-to-be has a serious case of cabin fever.

Writing about a blizzard sent me back to read about the devastating blizzards of the past, including the Great Blizzard of 1888. (See the photo above of the streets of  NYC). As in this storm and other such events, the people who died were without adequate shelter, caught unprepared, and/or ventured out when they shouldn't have, but thought they must. Those who lived in rural or sparsely settled areas had to fend for themselves. Before a modern weather service, before towns and cities had the equipment for snow removal, blizzards were life-threatening events for the masses rather than the few. My character in the year 2020 is in no danger of dying from the storm. He is tucked away in his warm, comfortable home with his wife and son. But he is suffering from cabin fever. During the storm, he keeps going outside to look. When the snow finally stops, he tells his wife that he needs to go check on his funeral home, and off he goes on his snowmobile. He would have done better to stay at home. He might have been prepared for the storm, but he wasn't prepared for an encounter with his killer.

This blizzard here in the real world also reminded me about the flaw in my plan for being more productive in 2014. I am now three days into 2014, and I have yet to buy the supplies that I need to execute my plan. I did pick up a new day book while I was in D.C. for a few days. But I have yet to enter my scheduled appointments and travel into that book and into my computer. As of this morning, I'm still staring at circled days on the 2014 calendar in my 2013 day book. I have yet to buy the master calendar that I intended to prepare and put on my wall so that I could see my year at a glance. I have yet to do a calendar for each writing project. This lack of preparation is distressing because what I had concluded a couple of weeks ago – back in 2013 – was that the key to being more productive in 2014 was to have a plan.

My only excuse is that the blizzard threw me off my game. I didn't have a chance to go out yesterday and work through my to-do-list. My sense of early defeat could be remedied by simply sitting down and working on my system. After all, the sun is out today. I could go out there if I were willing to brave the cold. I should be grateful to have a warm house and a warm bed. And I am. The irony is that I actually prefer cold weather to hot – but there's something about a blizzard… Next time, I will at least remember that a hearty soup and good bread and cheese are necessary during a blizzard. Never again, frozen meals.

Whether a blizzard or a brand new year, preparation is essential.


Hannah Dennison said...

Frankie - I felt so comforted by reading your post! First of all, I have been watching the news on the weather and you have my sympathies. Secondly, I am completely in the same place as you with my calendars! I haven't begun to write in my writing calendar either. Now I've read your post, I'm going off to make a cup of coffee and get cracking on that right now!

Frankie Y. Bailey said...


I'm glad I'm not alone in getting off to a shaky start in 2014. I filled in my 2014 day book calendar after writing the post. But it's so cold out, I put off shopping for the wall calendar and other supplies until tomorrow. But I'm going to get cracking, too.