By Tabitha Bozeman
January is always chilly and usually rainy around here, but I always forget from year to year how windy it is.
The other day, the wind was so strong it knocked the power out at our house when a tree fell over and made a transformer explode. It was like watching fireworks all over again – only at 2 a.m. from the bed. By the time we were up for work the next morning, the power was back on and we’d hardly noticed.We have several gas heaters in our home, so outages in the winter don’t bother me much because I can still keep warm. It is easy to just roll with it.
Last summer, though, our power went out several times due to severe weather, and I thought I might keel over. Summertime in Alabama is bad enough. But, summertime in Alabama, in the middle of the night with no air-conditioning and oppressive humidity? No. Thank. You.
The first time it happened, we just waited it out, sweating. The second time, which occured a few weeks later, one of the girls had a friend over to spend the night so I was compelled to get creative. Once it became apparent that the power was not going to be back on for a while, I loaded the girls up and we drove to that bastion of commerce and cool air, Walmart, for a (nearly) midnight scavenger hunt. I downloaded a checklist to my phone, sent screenshots to my oldest daughter’s phone and we split up into teams.
For the next hour and a half, we speed-walked all over Walmart while laughing, taking photos, trying on hats, introducing ourselves to strangers and asking for selfies and generally having a great time. I wasn’t suffocating in our dark, humid and powerless house, and the girls were entertained.
This past week, I told a class about this experience while we discussed the concept of “agency.” Sometimes, the power goes out in the middle of a summer heat wave. When that happens, you can sit in the dark and sweat or you can find something to do somewhere else. My girls still talk about how much fun they had that night, and my students often need a reminder that they have agency in less than ideal circumstances.
At work, we just had our first week back for spring semester, which means figuring out what is going to work and what isn’t. Students are swapping schedules, taking care of last-minute purchases, making transportation arrangements while I’m printing and editing and planning. Sometimes, though, technology doesn’t do what it is supposed to, and we have to roll with it.
For one class, I’d planned to print a checklist and some readings to review. I was looking forward to the activity, but my printer wouldn’t cooperate. I found myself getting really irritated and grumpy until I remembered the Walmart scavenger hunt. I took a deep breath and rolled with it. I had no agency regarding my technology cooperating, but I did have agency in how I responded. I’ll go back to that assignment once things are fixed, but in the meantime, we had a great time in class discussing writer’s block while crafting our own “writer’s blocks” out of cardstock and collaged pics ripped from magazines.
A few weeks ago, I was checking out at Walmart and noticed an older gentleman sitting on the bench up front. As I walked by, he smiled and said hello. When I paused to respond, he offered me a bracelet made from strips of red socks. I don’t know what his story is, but of all the things he could have done, he chose to craft something and give it away to others in a gesture of friendship. He took agency over his circumstances and rolled with it. I thanked him and accepted the bracelet. The next time I saw him, I had one of my daughters with me, and he gave us each another bracelet. These are my favorite go-to hair ties, now: they are machine washable, stretchy, don’t pull my hair and remind me of the giver every time I use one.
We have more crazy January weather ahead of us, and I am sure my power will go out again sometime and my work computer will refuse to cooperate soon. Our family was gifted some fun new games for Christmas, so I’m planning to just light some candles and play Poetry for Neanderthals in the dark next time the power goes out. For class, I’m compiling a list of “emergency” lessons for the next time technology lets me down. Meanwhile, I have a red-sock-hair-tie where I can see it on my desk because it reminds me to be creative and roll with it – I have more agency than I think I do most of the time.
Tabitha Bozeman lives in Gadsden with her family and teaches English at Gadsden State Community College, where she is the editor-in-chief of the Cardinal Arts Journal. The opinions expressed in this column are her own. Tabitha may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.