Jan 12, 2011

A few years ago Portland had a pretty bad ice storm. Well...bad for Portland.
And much like the varying and various snowstorms we have had, it shut down the city. People stopped driving. Stores closed. Schools shut down.
And with good reason. Everything was slippery. Sidewalks, driveways, even grass... a virtual skating rink that made taking out the trash precarious.

One thing the ice storm did not have in common with our snowstorms, though, was that it was virtually invisible. No piles of bright and cheerful snow, no snowmen built on corners, no week old dirty sludge or even piles of melting mystery crap. Just a paper thin, almost imperceptible, layer of ice over everything. A transparent, but just as threatening coat that could really only be seen in direct sunlight or in flashes of a headlight, when the ice would suddenly sparkle, revealing a clean and shiny beacon of danger in every nook and cranny.

And that was weird. I remember looking out the window, and everything looked perfectly normal. It appeared to be a perfectly normal day. Even, really, a nice day for Portland....fairly clear, no real rain or wind on the horizon. And yet the streets were deserted. Every once in a while a car would slowly roll by but that just punctuated its lack of companions. Small groups of people would be walking down the middle of the street on occasion, slipping and lurching. I pretended they were zombies for a while.

And then I very quickly began to go stir crazy.

It is interesting, during a snowstorm I often find myself with the opposite of cabin fever. Presented with the unique guilt free license to cuddle up all day and do nothing, I settle in, occasionally look outside at the white fluff, and am perfectly content to enjoy a movie or a book. I enjoy the silence. The break from the norm.

But there was something about this ice storm that produced the opposite effect. Cheerless and creepy, it stalked like an anonymous foe, the appearance of normality outside a mocking reminder that you could try to touch your normal life, but you would probably end up on your ass if you tried.

I found myself counting the steps to bar across the street. Made a dozen phone calls. Everyone was grounded. Frustrated. Lonely.

There is something comforting about a notable and clearly present obstacle. A problem you can see, a foe you can trust to be bad, and in just that way, may be challenging, but there is also a reassuring quality in that known quantity. And conquering that known problem creates a sense of accomplishment, a new level of achievement.

It is the sleepers that are scary. The lurkers that serve to haunt. A foe just below the surface that never presents a face as real as it's evil. These are the things nightmares are made of. And even if you emerge unscathed there is a haunting sense of insecurity: was there a threat? did that threat secretly assert itself like a cancer, only to pop up later at the finish line and show you that you lost? Or was it still out there. Was it bright and sunny with a big icy patch on the hill you did not take today, but would have to take tomorrow.

Anxiety. That question if you just dodged a bullet or is still heading quietly towards you, so stealth you do not even know it is there. That sense that you did not so much escape, as get a temporary pass.

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