Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Shaken, Not Stirred


It was still dark when I woke. 4.30 Saturday morning, and someone was shaking my bed.

Except: My bed's enormous and I live alone. Shreds of sleep were still falling away when I knew the truth. I was in an earthquake.

More than one ex-girlfriend has compared me to stone, to wood, to a machine. I've been called cold-blooded, soulless and untouched by human emotion, usually when the women in question were trying to draw me into a shouting match.

Fact is, I'm just not that emotional in a crisis. Clear and decisive, yes, but not in the least emotional.

My bed thumped and jumped across the floor. Furniture rattled. The house shook but did not screech, creak or groan. I thought about the plate glass window behind my head and decided the curtains were protection enough. The power died. In the front of the house, something crashed.

I stayed calm enough not to wake Butler, sleeping beside me.

After the tremor stopped, I got up to check on Midge and Buddy. There were books all over the floor, but nothing major was broken and the cats were well.

I went back to sleep.

Unfortunately I didn't get the rest I needed. There were aftershocks to endure, texts and calls on my cell to send and receive, a bright spring sunrise and yet more aftershocks.

That morning I had coffee with some elderly neighbours. With no power, they boiled water and made toast on a barbeque grill. By then I knew my friends were safe, and vice versa. My neighbours and I had a lovely chat, and it was off to work.

The tattoo shop looked a wreck. Once the lighting fixtures were back in place and a tipped-over sculpture set back upright, it wasn't that bad. Frankie showed up, and together we cleaned up the spilled ink and broken potted plants, set the jewelry cabinet to rights and got the place back together. The room shook and jumped, stopped, shook again. We set the shop up so any further shocks wouldn't break anything and locked up again. That night I went to a friend's birthday party.

We've had over a hundred earthquakes in the last few days. Some of them rattled no more than a large truck passing in the street outside. Others had me scrambling to keep palette, painting and brushes from juddering to the floor. Buildings are falling around town, and some of my favourite restaurants and businesses are gone. We have power back, but will need to boil our water for some time to come.

Meanwhile I've kept the tattoo shop open and running, got the shop's bookkeeping sorted out, done my workouts at the gym (a building too old and tough to crumble) and navigated the rubble downturn to make it to the NZSA's monthly writer's lunch.

I also kept writing. Through all this, I keep drawing, painting, tattooing and piling up pages on my novel.

Way I look at it, life is just as fragile in good times and bad. Love is just as precious. Every life has disasters and crises.

None of that is any excuse. Every single one of us tap dances under a dangling sword. One day the blade will fall, and the only thing that matters worth a damn is the manner of your dance.

Or, as James Lee Burke is so fond of putting it, sometimes you just have to smile and walk through the smoke. :-)

16 comments:

ANNA-LYS said...

I can't explain the warmth I felt when I saw a post coming up from Your blog. Your description of that we all live our lives under a dangling sword is exactly right.
I am happy that You took Yourself through yet an other crisis in life, and crises are the processes behind development. I look forward to the foot-prints of what this process will mean for Your future ;-))

(( warm hug ))

Sidney said...

Glad you are OK. I thought of you as soon as I heard the news, and Wayne let me know he'd checked in with you.

Charles Gramlich said...

Glad you and the pets came through all right. I've never been through an earthquake. I'm alright with not having that experience.

cs harris said...

I can't believe you went back to sleep. Talk about coolheaded.

I've been following this online in the the NZ papers because no deaths=no coverage in the US. Amazing no one died--good building and good timing. But so many lovely old historic buildings lost. The city will look very different at the end of this.

I, too, like your description of dancing under a sword. Reminds of the old Cat Stevens' line, "We're only dancing on this earth for a short time," except your version is, well, pointier and more dangerous!

Oh, and I'm very happily married to a man I have never known to shout or get emotional. I like it. It means I get to be the emotional one.

Steve Malley said...

Anna-Lys, you are *so* sweet! Thank you for the hug!! :-D

Sidney, thank you. Wayne's a good sort, ain't he? :)

Charles, so far I've had earthquakes, hurricanes (or cyclones they call them here), tornadoes, blizzards, sandstorms and the odd plague of locusts.
I figure I just need a forest fire and a tsunami to collect the whole set! ;-p

Candy, I was really impressed by how prepared NZ was: It wasn't even light outside when Army transport planes were flying plumbers, pipefitters and cable-joiners in from around the country to get the lights and water back. Everything's just gone as smooth as can be, considering the ground under our feet is no longer solid!

And by the time we get to the calling-me-a-robot phase, things are already pretty broken...

liz fenwick said...

Pleased to read you are ok and still working. Lived through a few small tremours when we lived jakarta - don't know how you could have gone back to sleep!
lx

Shauna Roberts said...

Interesting to read about the earthquake and what did and didn't happen. Useful, too, given I'm now in southern California.

I'm glad you and the cats are still doing okay.

AvDeeBee said...

Went back to sleep! Hell, if I didn't think you were a badass before, I certainly do now. I wanna be you when I grow up.

I tend to be calm in a crisis--but bossy. No one is left to waste from mob mentality neglect when I'm around. It's only when someone more qualified takes over and I have nothing left to do that I start shaking.

Holly said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steve Malley said...

Liz, it just didn't seem like that big a deal. I mean, the house wasn't falling down or anything...

Shauna, quakes are weird, but not really all that bad. :)

Avery, not badass. Some even call me dithering and overly emotional. *Or* (depending on the day) a cold emotionless robot, a golem of wood and stone... ;-)

Sphinx Ink said...

I thought of you when I heard about the earthquakes. So glad to know you are all right. (And glad the building in the photo at top of your blog is not your home!) Best wishes to all in NZ for speedy recovery.

Lana Gramlich said...

I'd heard of the earthquake and hoped that you were well. Glad to hear that you are!

Melanie Webster said...

I am pleased your cats are alright must have been a horrible shock for them! Unless they are as cool headed as you! Pleased you are alright and that the Inkspot is staying open! x

Angie said...

Steve -- I'm glad you, your stuff and your pets all survived intact. :) The aftershock thing can be a hassle, but eventually you just get used to it. Glad you're keeping on keeping on -- luck with the art and the writing!

Angie

Erik Donald France said...

"Every single one of us tap dances under a dangling sword. One day the blade will fall, and the only thing that matters worth a damn is the manner of your dance."

Amen, brother.

Kate Sterling said...

I'm so glad you're as ok as you can be under the circumstances, Steve. Immediately thought of you when I heard the news, and was so relieved to hear there were no casualties.

Caught a glimpse of something else I hadn't realized in this post, too - I hope you're well as can be around that also. And glad you got to keep the kitties. ;)

Find it hard to believe anyone could accuse you of being unfeeling, though. (But do please try to avoid tempting fate re: the forest fires and tsunamis!) :)