• One Minnesota Writer

52 Ways to Shift Your Focus: Off-the-Grid Creative Retreat

Shift #28: Off-the-Grid Creative Retreat

In the wake of Frankenstorm Sandy, discussions at our house this week have swirled around preparedness. Never mind that we don’t live on the East Coast, nor are we in the inland path of the storm. We are lucky right now. But, still, my husband and I have chatted about how to survive when the power is out, when there’s no mass transit available, when roads are impassable. We’ve marveled at how much of our daily routine depends on electricity, how our digital lifestyle makes it easy to forget any other ways of getting things done.

As a Minnesota girl, I grew up with an awareness of the need to be prepared. Minnesota brews tornadoes and blizzards and spring floods. The idea that the power might go out or the house might be damaged was (and is) always something to consider. My father insisted my car always have jumper cables in the trunk, that I carry boots in the winter if they’re not already on my feet, that I know how to help myself if I get stranded. I’ve grown into the kind of parent who never lets the family medicine cabinet go empty or runs out of batteries for essential items. When we got a Costco membership, the idea was not merely to save money. It was also to be able to have food in the pantry no matter what.

As Sandy bore down on the East Coast, I thought about all that I had been taught as I listened to the inevitable news stories urging people to heed the storm warnings. I wondered why some people think they will be spared from an event of that magnitude in spite of their presence in its path. I suppose that’s a rhetorical question, really; human capacity for denial is, well, undeniable.

Anyway. Survival and preparedness are huge questions a bit beyond the scope of this blog. But this whole swirling discussion with my family did make me consider the way I also depend on electricity and digital media to do my work. I create, edit, share, reach out, get feedback in an instant thanks to our power grid. Everything can happen between one breath and the next. It’s sometimes hard to resist moving on to the next thing before fully digesting the current work simply because I can. Or because of some idea that it’s expected.

When I was a kid who daydreamed about what a writer’s life looked like, there was no digital media. There were typewriters. There was an expectation of a slower-paced life, one in which there was plenty of room for contemplation. For delving into ideas and being able to extract the best bits without a lot of outside noise. But that is not what a writer’s life looks like in 2012.

There’s often chatter from various quarters about taking days off from the computer, ignoring Facebook or Twitter for a day or two or three for mental health. But I’ve been wondering, as I’ve looked at the recent photos of a darkened Manhattan, about creating work in that kind of power outage, about being pushed into a time without computer, cell phone, television, radio. About working without any of our customary conveniences not for general mental health renewal, but for a space to be more reflective than usual about the creative process itself.

Not that I’m suggesting someone in the wake of a storm sit back and make art. What I’m wondering about is a self-imposed power outage. Not camping; I know that’s also supposed to be off the grid. I’m talking about a deliberate unplugging in your own space, a blackout of tiny proportion, just big enough to discover the silence within your own walls. No computer. No phone. No e-reader. No use of anything that requires electricity (except the refrigerator – you might want to leave that plugged in). The slowness that emerges with the silence might be the salve that heals the constant feeling of go-go-go-hurry-up that accompanies a plugged-in life.

The East Coast has a lot of clean-up to do, a lot of looming hard work that will exhaust many resources. Amidst the aftermath, there may be an opportunity to reconnect with skills that linger in the quiet, unplugged spaces. For the rest of us, we have a chance to find those spaces without having to survive a disaster.


As I’ve been watching television storm coverage these past few days, I’ve noticed a plea from our local television stations for blood donations. Not a bad idea, as there is a lot of potential for need looming in the storm’s aftermath. Thus, here’s the link to the Red Cross site for more information.

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