Essays on Technology and Culture

Recovering From Disruption

To call Hurricane Sandy a disruption is much like saying there’s a bit of water in the subway tunnels—accurate, but selling the event far, far too short. When you consider the lives that have been not so much disrupted as destroyed by the storm, the people even now, a week later, homeless, powerless, and cold, the amount of disruption I took would not even register on any calibrated scale. Namely, I lost Internet for a few hours, had to work from home one day, and face crowded and delayed subway trains for a few more days. By every measure, I got lucky. [1]

Disruption happens, willfully, and otherwise. When I moved to New York, I willfully disrupted my own life. When I took my new job, I willfully disrupted the routines I’d set up for myself. Trying to put these things to rights has been a challenge, and it has been, all my life. Why, then, should this be any different?

The ability to recover from disruption gracefully, as well as having restraint, focus, and the need to succeed can be summarized, neatly, in one simple term: grit. Those who are grittier [2] are far better at keeping themselves on the narrow path that goes between themselves and where they want to be, than those who are not. I’m not going to give a complete overview of grit, and how to cultivate it, or the benefits of it, when others have done it much better. I’m simply making a point.

Even as I write this, after missing a week of posting on this site due to the dual disruptions of Sandy and my new job, I’m facing another external disruption to my daily life in the form of another severe storm, dumping a load of wet snow on top of an already battered metropolis. This isn’t anything I’m not prepared for, having lived in this climate, just a hundred or so miles to the southeast, all my life. I’ll make it to work, and back, without any problems.

However, as I write this, I’ve got another thing gnawing at the back of me, with regards to the nature of commitment and what I should be doing. The brilliant Patrick Rhone made a guest post on A Better Mess on doing less with your day, or to put it better, cutting down what you have to do during the day so you can maximize the time you spend actually living your life. This was followed by a related episode of the Enough podcast. There may be another essay in here, on my end, but with regards to disruption…

When you’re trying to recover, you step back and look at what you’re putting back together, and in the process, one simply can’t help noticing ways to put it together in a different way. The things that make up a day are like LEGO bricks—a set that’s not just boring rectangular prism blocks, but also those crazy pieces that let you put stuff at odd angles, weirdly shaped plates, and weird specialty pieces from the really awesome spaceship set you got for your birthday. Without the manual, how you put them together is up to you, though of course you have to work within the constraints of what’s available to you. [3] This leaves you with a mathematically ridiculous amount of options, though.

I’m recovering and rebuilding after this disruption in my life. It’s not physical rebuilding, like so many less fortunate people have to do now, and if I dared to call it just as taxing, I would be insulting those who got the worst of it. In doing so, however, there’s the silver lining in seeing how I can change things to improve, and maybe even mitigate the effects of the next big disruption in my life. Fingers crossed, and toes crossed there. The first step is to know what my priorities are. One is, of course, to get the words out of my head, and on to the page. Another is to take care of myself, physically and financially. The third is to live my life.

The rest is implementation. That’s the hard part.

  1. I am grateful to the friends and family members who were worried about me. The scale of New York City is, I think, hard to grasp unless you live here. The devastation, fires, and flooding occurred in parts of the city that are miles from me. The fires in the Breezy Point section of Queens are further from me than I am from Manhattan, yet they are still in New York City.  ↩

  2. Have a lot of grit? Are very gritty? It’s an odd term to use like this, I admit.  ↩

  3. LEGO sets used to come with pictures on the box showing alternate ways to put the set together, leaving up to you to figure out how. Supposedly, this practice stopped around the time LEGO started doing licensed sets, which is depressing.  ↩