Yesterday, my work on the computer was interrupted by a sustained thunder storm. The storm lasted for hours, so I lost an opportunity to work, but, in doing so, I rediscovered my former pleasure in reading as my dominant leisure activity and in writing by hand.
When the first of the thunder rolled out above me, I was about ten minutes from finishing an article. The sound was distant, but I know how quickly a storm can cross the sky. With memories stirring uneasily about how I had lost a couple of chapters of my thesis to lightning directly overhead, I shut down the computer without waiting for a proper shutdown, and finished the article as best I could by hand. Then I started looking for ways to amuse myself, only to realize that I couldn’t do much of what I wanted to do because of the storm.
I couldn’t go for my daily swim, because a pool is high on the list of places you should avoid during a thunder storm. I did a few chores around the house, but most of what I wanted to do required electricity, so they didn’t seem like sensible ideas, either.
As for leisure activities – well, I didn’t think the stories I heard in childhood about lightning leaping through the screen of a TV were likely, especially these days when cable is more common than an antenna, but I didn’t want to take the chance of being wrong. So, no watching the news or a DVD. No music either, except in the portable player.
I did think of working on the laptop, but the battery was low. Besides, to continue my work, I needed an Internet connection, which would expose the laptop to the same risk as any appliance I might use. I hadn’t felt so out of sorts since the power went down a couple of years ago.
Vaguely, I felt ridiculous. After all, I hadn’t had a computer for much of my life. How had I amused myself before? I imagined myself camping, moping around and complaining about the lack of a wireless access point. How, I wondered, had I become so dependent on electronic devices that I had no personal resources to keep myself busy?
Maybe if I went for a run? But that didn’t seem something I should do in a thunder storm, either.
The trouble was, I hadn’t expected to be interrupted. Listlessly, I put a few DVDs away, and did a bit of tidying her and there, still hoping that the storm would pass and I would get my swim after all.
After three hours, I gave up that idea. From the darkness outside, you might have guessed that sunset had arrived, even though it was still two hours away. Lightning kept catching my eyes whenever my head swung towards the window, and on the porch the rain was rattling against the floor like an animal against the bars of its cage.
Reluctantly, I settled down with a light book. When that paled, I started some writing by hand – the old-fashioned way, the way that I preferred before the pressure of deadlines forced me to learn to compose on a computer. Everything was magnificent, but also a bit frightning.
Both activities felt surprisingly comfortable. How long had it been, I wondered, since I read as my dominant leisure activity, instead of reading a few pages here and there on breaks during my day? Probably not since the last time I was sick in bed, when I couldn’t really appreciate it. As for writing, it had been years since I had scrawled more than a paragraph that arrived in my head in the middle of the night. Yet both were surprisingly pleasant activities – productive, but somehow less rushed than reading or writing on the computer.
Naturally, I logged on to the computer as soon as the storm seemed safely past. Nor do I regret doing so. For efficiency and ease of use, computers are impossible to beat, and in most ways I don’t regret my dependency on them.
Still, there is something to be said for the total relaxation of reading a paperback sprawled back on a couch, and words written by hand somehow seem to express thoughts more accurately than a keyboard could ever hope to.
I doubt that I’ll do either as much as I did in my pre-computer days, but both are sufficiently satisfying that I think I’ll make more time for them. In some ways, I’ve missed them.