Elevator of Providence

ElevatorDoorPlacing the razor to my face, which was lathered with shaving cream, became difficult when the lights flickered. I had skipped shaving yesterday, so it was important to finish. After a few strokes, the lights went out and I faced the dilemma of going to work with a partially shaved face or hunting for a flashlight in the dark.

I banged my hand into the door as I reached for the doorknob. The handle was not where I had imagined. Once found, I opened the door to a window-lit bedroom and spotted my cell phone laying on the desk. After swiping up for the flashlight, I moved into the bathroom and positioned the light on the right side of my face. There was enough bounce light coming off of the glass shower door to illuminate my left side. Within a few minutes I was clean shaven and curious.

There was a rythmic thumping noise coming from outside my unit near the hallway. Faint voices bantered back and forth, so I figured they spoke on the topic of the day—the electrical outage. Choosing to take a very short shower, I jumped in and lathered up in record time, but I hesitated to rinse when I heard a plea for help. I stood motionless trying to hear the words being uttered.

My shower backs up to the elevator and I realized someone was trapped inside. I scrambled to dry off and get dressed with the understanding that taking time to help the woman would make me late for work. I chuckled as my mind flashed back to the end of work yesterday. In that moment I thought about providence.

Circumstances caused me to work an additional hour past my normal quitting time. One of the owners told me to come in later the next day to avoid overtime. So here I was staring providence in the face with an hour given me in advance to help calm the woman and her anxious dog. I was amazed and immediately focused on making sure the woman was okay.

She and her dog had been trapped in the pitch black box suspended around the third floor for 10-15 minutes. The woman’s voice trembled with fear as she responded to someone a floor lower shouting about the phone in the elevator. The backup battery had failed and the phone line was dead.

I looked for the elevator key, but there was not a breakable glass case that held the key. “I’m going down to the first floor to get the elevator key,” I said.

“Thank you,” she responded with a tone of relief in her voice. Her confidence level was boosted.

I moved swiftly down the hallway lit by a couple fading emergency lights and was thankful that the staircase was still lit. On the first floor I bumped into the building manager who providentially arrived seconds earlier for a planned meeting. “The fire department is on the way,” she said.

“I’d rather the woman trapped in the elevator not have to wait any longer,” I said. “Let’s grab the elevator key and I’ll head upstairs and speed her escape.”

The building manager moved quickly to the glass case and noticed it was cracked open. The key was gone. “I’m not surprised,” she said. “The new laws only allow police and firemen to open an elevator door in emergencies.”

“Today would be a good day for an exception, is there another key somewhere else?” I asked.

She took me into the elevator room where the equipment is stored. As we entered, she threw the light switch to the “on” position and nothing happened. Then she laughed.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “You did it out of habit.”

She nodded and scanned the room for a backup key, but couldn’t find one. Then the thought hit her. “There’s probably one in the Knox-Box,” she said. We headed toward the one hanging in the foyer. After struggling to get into it, she remembered the one at the backdoor.

I watched her struggle with it. “Don’t worry about it, the firemen are here,” I said when I noticed the reflection of red lights flashing on a pane of glass.

The building manager walked out to the Fire Chief car, but no one was there. I circled back to the front door and went outside to see if he was doing a quick inspection of the surroundings.

“There’s a woman trapped in the elevator on the third floor,” I said.

“Is the electricity out?” he asked.

“Yes.”

The Chief got on his radio and instructed his team of the situation. He entered the foyer and met with the building manager. They went to the Knox-Box at the front door and found no elevator key. She took him next to the one at the back door, which was also void of an elevator key.

“I have a universal key in my car,” he said. “I’ll get it.”

“Shouldn’t one of the smaller keys open the elevator box next to the elevator? Won’t there be an elevator key there?” asked the building manager.

“Yes, but it’ll be faster to grab my keys.”

Soon a fireman dressed in full gear carrying an axe entered the foyer with keys in hand.
“Oh, don’t bring that axe in here,” said the building manager. “We don’t want anything destroyed. There is a key.”

The fireman held up a metal loop of a dozen different elevator keys. “I’ve got the key right here. Where is the woman?”

“I think she’s stuck between the third and fourth floor,” said the building manager.

“She’s on the third floor,” I clarified. I’ve already talked to her and she’s expecting me to come back up with the key. I can take you there.”

The fireman signaled for me to lead the way. I was being followed by two male firefighters, a female firefighter, and the building manager. When we got to the elevator door the fireman started working his loop of keys, but couldn’t find one that seemed to engage the mechanism needed to open the door.

“Shouldn’t we get the key from the Knox-Box to open the elevator lock box and get the key we know works with this elevator?” asked the building manager.

“I have every known elevator key right here,” the fireman said as he lifted the loop of keys.

“Okay,” said the building manager with a huff.

The fireman worked a key, then another and another. Then he pulled the loop back and the keys slipped, forcing him to start the search over.

I thought about providence and wondered if it was about to show itself once again. Just then the lights in the hallway came on. The building power had been restored.

“Should I turn the elevator back on?” said the voice over the fireman’s radio.

“Yes, turn it on,” he responded.

The sound of power surging was heard. “The lights came on,” shouted the woman trapped in the elevator.”

I leaned toward the door and said, “Push the door open button.” The door opened and her shaking dog charged into the hallway. The woman followed with a broad smile on her face. Everyone was relieved.

Realizing her predicament the woman asked, “Is the elevator working now?”

“Yes,” answered the fireman.

“Well I need to take the dog downstairs then,” said the woman. She stepped back in the elevator, but her dog fought to stay out.

“It’s good to get back on the horse after a fall,” I said. “The dog will need to rebuild his confidence.”

The woman looked at me and nodded. Then she gave the dog a big yank and his little feet slid across the carpet and entered the elevator. She pushed the first floor button and the door closed. She was back on schedule to letting her dog outside.

I stood in awe of the team of people who gathered to help the woman. After watching everyone head toward the staircase, I turned toward the opposite staircase and passed by many congregating in the stairwell with questions and stories to share.

One man who followed me asked, “What happened?”

“Providence was able to save the woman before any of us could,” I said.

I opened the stairwell door and we were met by a lady with lots on her mind. “I just got off the phone with the power company,” said the lady. “They said there was an accident and they lost power to 155,000 buildings in the area. They also said the power will be on in about two hours.”

I smiled and quietly stepped away from the group. I glanced back and saw the man who had followed me step away from the group. He seemed to be in a daze. As I entered the garage I heard him mutter, “He knew something happened. I want that ability.”

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers
Advertisements

I’m Not Lost!

Scarf1I walked downtown this morning to make a bank deposit, return a book to the library, and send a Christmas package to a dear friend. The walk was lovely with old lampposts decorated in garland and red ribbons. But something was a bit different on the next lamppost I approached.

A scarf was wrapped around it with a note attached that read: “I’m not lost! If you find yourself in the cold, take this to keep yourself warm!”

I witnessed Christmas in action. The brand new, warm scarf being made available for someone in need was a great demonstration of unconditional love. The recipient’s finances or lack thereof wouldn’t be judged, nor would the gift leverage a lesson to illuminate their poor choices or lifestyle. The gift was given out of grace alone with no strings attached.

The kind donor deserved to be blessed for such an act of kindness, but the generous gift was anonymous. Joy filled my soul as I thought how fun it would be to determine what I could provide. A spark of imagination flooded my thoughts as I walked further down the street.

Scarf2Then I spotted another scarf, and another. Glancing across the street I noticed others scattered among various lampposts. The Christmas cheer was plentiful and I wondered how long it would be until those in need received comfort and warmth. I turned back to my path and continued toward the library.

A man huddled in the small alley between buildings acknowledged me. He was wearing old, dirty clothes that were dark blue and charcoal in color. His hat looked well worn and grungy, but the bright yellow and green scarf wrapped around his neck was brand new. He had watched me take pictures of the scarfs around the lampposts and smiled as he nodded with his hand patting the new scarf.

Next to the library sat another homeless man. His dark brown clothes were as dirty as one might expect, with the exception of the bright red scarf around his neck. I smiled at him and wished him a Merry Christmas. He returned the greeting as he adjusted his scarf to reveal his huge smile.

I had seen Christmas this morning and I felt compelled to share the experience. While you might not have homeless people in your town, I’m sure there is someone in need this winter that would love to smile from a demonstration of unconditional love. Maybe an elderly woman needs an errand done, or a sick child needs a new stuffed animal for play.

The answers are as numerous as the needs that rise out of the blue. Taking action to demonstrate love not only helps the recipient, but also encourages others to act in a similar manner. This is the season of compassion and only you can do your part in turning someone’s holiday sorrows into a beaming smile.

Let me know what you decide to do to help others this season. I’d love to hear that there are lots of people who care enough to participate in being someone’s Christmas wish.

If I’ve spoken into your life, would you…

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Copyright 2017 by CJ Powers

NaNoWriMo Turns Crazies into Winners

NaNo-2017-Winner-BadgeNational Novel Writing Month is about a half a million authors writing novels during the month of November worldwide. The organization provided numerous “write-in” locations for the competition. Some provided incentives, while others provided food and caffeine.

To cross the finish line each author had to write 50,000 words in 30 days, which takes a lot of encouragement from others. A little over 4,000 people in my general area attempted the daunting task. In my specific local area 440 writers went after the win. With only a day or so left to go, only 15 writers have crossed the finish line so far with about 20 positioned to do so if all continues as planned.

Right now I have the third highest number of words completed at 56,352 with hopes of crossing the 60,000 mark on Thursday. The first highest has 120,144 words and the second highest has 76,285 words. Or, a better way to view the stats is to consider the number of total words written by local authors in this area, which are 7,846,619 words written so far—The equivalent of 100 novels.

I remember back to November 6th, the day I started. I was six days behind schedule and that white sheet of blank paper was looking up at me wondering if I had enough creativity to toss 50,000 words onto the page in the remaining 24 days. The sensation I felt when I made that mental leap to move forward was intoxicating and a bit foolish.

Once reduced enough ideas to writing and the numbers got up to around 18,000 words, I wanted to quit. There was no reason to continue the exercise since I had no way of finishing, let alone find an audience to buy my finished book. But, I received encouragement from strangers who were also participating. To honor their words of encouragement, I put one foot in front of the other and pushed through.

When I hit around 24,000 words life was pressing against me and everything was falling apart. I had to quit, but my new friends cheered me on and I broke through the 25,000 word barrier. By the time I hit 26,000 words, I found myself captivated by the story and had to continue writing to see what happened next.

I received a winner’s t-shirt after hitting 50,000 words (Yes, I had won!) and found myself compelled to forgo my breaks and keep writing. I had to tweak the words and polish the story. Everything was working in the plot points and the character development was far better than I had expected. The adventure was exciting and the romance … let’s just say women are going to love it.

NaNoWriMoCoverBOOM! The explosion and raging flames licked up toward the crashed Cessna dangling in the tall trees over the level six rapids … A few guys might enjoy the action scenes. Oops, am I saying too much?

Hmm, do I share which of the two men win Brianna’s heart? Nah.

I couldn’t have written an entire novel in one month (first draft only—lots of rewrites ahead) without the encouragement of my new friends. Thank you! And, for those of you who might be interested in reading The Tree Jumper, I’ll have more details in a future post.

In the meantime, if you see an author who wrote a novel in November, do take time to congratulate them on a job well done. It’s an impossible task for normal people, but us crazy creatives are foolish enough to entertain the masses. Oh, and for those of you who think it’s easy, I’ll see you next November.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Cruising the Severn River in Maryland

OspreyPostMagic happens whenever I’m cruising on water in new places. This morning I launched from historic Annapolis Harbor, located next to the U.S. Naval Academy. The ship’s captain was friendly and took time to point out several noteworthy sights.

There was a post in the water of historic significance. It marks the very place where, after returning from victory, General George Washington’s boat was grounded on a sandbar and he waited until the morning tide came in to get home.

Today, that post is home to fish eagles, better known as Osprey.

Osprey

The heritage of Annapolis, MD is rich with Navy stories going back to the Revolutionary War. Commodore John Barry first went to sea from his homeland of Ireland at age 9. During the Revolution, on March 14, 1776, he accepted a captain’s commission in the Continental Navy under General George Washington.

CJatSeaA month later he won one of the first battles at sea when he captured the English tender Edward. He had captured 20 ships by the end of the war, the contents of which were sold for $3 million at auction for the Continental Congress. Soon after, Barry became the first commissioned to the United States Navy.

Barry then trained the first officers of the United States Navy including heroes of the War of 1812. He also directed the construction of the first frigate: USS United States. Barry was the uniformed head of the Navy under Washington, Adams and Jefferson.

With this newly gained knowledge, we cruised past the U.S. Naval Academy and watched several sailboats and patrol crafts maneuver the river and bay areas. Training on one boat included “man overboard” techniques with several drenched officers.

SailboatWe later headed toward Chesapeake Bay and enjoyed a little sightseeing of civilian sailboats. But we couldn’t get away from the area’s rich history as the captain pointed out the steak house with a wooden domed roof. In its earlier life, the building housed congress for several months before moving to Washington D.C..

My time on the water was fantastic and I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d return to the area to make a movie about the first person commissioned in the United States Navy, Commodore John Barry. He was a man known for his Christian piety, outstanding work in freeing our country from England, and training some of the greatest heroes our country ever placed on the seas.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

 

The Library of Focus

LibraryThe Art Institute of Chicago is a wonderful place to explore painting styles that have brought pleasure throughout the centuries. Some of the great classics are on display including works from Winslow Homer, Grant Wood, and Edward Hopper. Each piece of great art can capture your attention and maintain your focus for several minutes, unless you’ve experienced what I call “artistry overload.”

The last time I visited the museum, I felt the effects of artistry overload after attempting to pause at each of the 1,000 plus paintings and appreciate what the artist was attempting to communicate. My time dwindled quickly and I never got to the works of art that I appreciate most.

I did, however, learn to appreciate several new artists that most people raced past on their way to more familiar corridors. My observation that day helped me to realize that knowing when to pass or pause was essential to understanding and appreciating great art.

I first became aware of artistry overload when I visited the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Prior to attending, I had watched two documentaries on the making of the park and read a couple of behind the scenes books regarding the details missed by most vacationers. I was ready to experience the park through the eyes of the artists who created the venue.

The turnstiles spun as a large crowd moved into the park. I tried to avoid bumping into too many people as we funneled toward the entrance. I was ready to see the park with new eyes. Everything I had learned popped into my mind as I saw the very things I read about.

Glancing around, I realized that I was one of the few appreciating the full artistry of the show (“Show” being one of Disney’s four keys to a great guest experience). Most hurried past on the way to their favorite rides.

The layout of the Magic Kingdom was designed to be a show, similar to watching a movie. The first things you see are the trailers or coming attractions. When you enter through the tunnel that resides under the train tracks, you see posters on the walls featuring the coming attractions from inside the park.

Once you enter Main Street Square, it’s like watching the opening credits. The signs and windows are covered with the names of people who made the Magic Kingdom possible. For instance, above the Main Street Athletic Club are the words, “Big Top Theatrical – Claude Coats, Marc Davis, John DeCuir, Bill Justice.”

The sign honors the four men listed, three of which are Disney Legends, although they had nothing to do with any make-believe Big Top Theatrical company. Claude Coats painted all the sets for Disney’s first animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and he also worked with Imagineering to design numerous rides including Pirates of the Caribbean. Marc Davis was one of the Nine Old Men, core animators during Disney’s life.

John DeCuir was a production designer and art director who not only won three Oscars for his work on The King and I (1956), Cleopatra (1963), and Hello, Dolly! (1969), but also illustrated in watercolors numerous theme park ideas that Disney dreamt up for the Magic Kingdom. Bill Justice, who painted many of Disney’s ideas, also animated characters in Disney’s classics, but is most known for animating Thumper from Bambi (1942).

There are dozens of credits throughout Main Street that pay tribute to the park’s artists, but are only appreciated by the discerning eye. I had fun scanning Main Street’s heritage, but soon tired from all the visuals bombarding me. I was experiencing artistry overload. The more I knew and could appreciate, the slower my trek down the boulevard.

I shared what little I had accumulated concerning artistry overload to a friend, who happily suggested that I shift my focus to what I use in a library. He said, “Picture shelves upon shelves of books expanding across aisles and aisles of floor space. All of which are due appreciation at some point, but not today.”

My mind jumped to my last library visit. I headed straight for my two favorite stacks of books. One held the books on entertainment and the other on movies and filmmaking. The carpet was well worn from my many visits and the nearby table was comfortably familiar. It was a place that never overwhelmed me, as I had already perused every book on the shelves.

That was my answer. I had to return to the Art Institute of Chicago multiple times. Once to see the traveling Monet exhibit, another time to study the miniatures, which I’m so very fond of, and another time to explore one new artist. Maybe during another month I’d visit my favorite artists and then plan future explorations to improve my discerning tastes and expand my horizons.

Heading back to the Magic Kingdom with a plan created great relief. I spent three entire days exploring things that most people miss. In fact, after a discussion with a cast member, I soon found myself behind the scenes and appreciating the artistry of show far more than I could ever have imagined.

The key was seeing things from a library of focus. No longer would I see the entire library as I entered, but instead I’d focus on only the things I was ready to explore. Just as a great movie can be watched numerous times to pick up on all the director’s hidden Easter eggs, how I enter new locations with a sense of appreciation changed to only take in what I could manage on any given day.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

SaveSave

Beauty in Motion Speaks Louder than Words

Cycle_1

Yesterday I found myself photographing beauty in motion. The picturesque quality of my surroundings revealed an underlying splendor that only surfaced in the heat of the moment. The cycling races I shot revealed much about the character and determination of each competitor.

The motion also revealed the desperation and sadness of those lagging behind. Whether they were bent on being more competitive or were rookies realizing the strain of their first heat, each cyclist faced internal struggles on top of the external ones provided by the terrain.

cycle_4

I shot over 1,000 pictures in my attempt to capture this beauty. My passion for capturing a segment of life was amplified as my skills were reenergized. I found myself secluded in a closed course where fans cheered and racers exerted everything they had for the win. The focus was intense.

When I snapped off an array of pictures at the finish line I recalled a phrase from the Apostle Paul, “…Let us throw off everything that hinders … And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” My mind spun to another one of his quotes, “…I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race…”

cycle_2

I finally understood that it was all about the movement. There was a level of beauty in life that couldn’t be seen without some form of action taking place. Being passive or reserved hid the treasures of beauty that can only resound when turned into a deed.

Van Gogh wrote a letter to his brother about talking versus doing. He wrote:

“Principles are good and worth the effort only when they develop into deeds.”

When my father passed away a couple thousand people came out to pay him tribute. I saw a sea of faces and heard hundreds of stories that dissipated within my sorrows. Years later, the only people I remembered were those who took some form of loving action on my family’s behalf. All the rest were forgotten.

A friend of mine took it upon himself to help any family that suffered loss. He would go to the family’s house two days before the funeral and collect up the shoes they planned to wear. A few hours later, he’d return with every shoe polished and looking brand new. It was his way of demonstrating what love looked like in action.

cycle_3

Seeing victory smiles on the winners of yesterday’s races were energizing. Not because of the win, but because of their inner beauty being released through the actions they took. That intangible quality that becomes apparent was more powerful than what any of them tried to put into words during their after race interviews.

Only their actions would be remembered and cherished for years to come.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Dialog must be Relational

Conversation is about Relationship, Not Information.

pexels-photo-89873There are talkers and there are listeners that will hopefully never meet. They’re missing the chief cornerstone of relationship when only focused on half of the equation. Talking and listening actively is relationship.

Talkers can never learn or be satisfied until they listen equally as well. The listeners will bust at the seams until they share the valuable information stored within their heart. Communication is the only relational tool that unites the human race and forms culture.

During one film shoot, I directed a group of actors who were very different from their characters. The joy on set was high, as the talent played with roles that stretched their imagination beyond the stereotypical. After great contemplation they delivered heartfelt performances that opened our eyes to new perspectives.

One woman, who was an intellectual, played a ditzy blonde type that had a heart for kids. Her research brought the perception that “ditzy” was based on circumstances of how the person addressed the unknown. Curtailing the stereotype, she resisted playing the person that when jolted by a comment would say the first words that came to her.

She entered the scene as a brunette who led with undefined empathy, which became clear by the end of the scene. The actor’s choice gave the feeling of “ditzy,” but without showing a lack of intelligence. This resulted in the character coming across as empathetic and what I called squishy-warmhearted.

This empathetic quality came out because of the conversation between her and another leader. The dialog revealed the heart of both people and their relationship. It was more than just an exchange of information. The expressions of each character’s souls were on the line, demonstrating their courage in conversing.

Ursula K. Le Guin in her essay titled “Telling is Listening” published in The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination, shared the following complexities of human communication:

“In most cases of people actually talking to one another, human communication cannot be reduced to information. The message not only involves, it is, a relationship between speaker and hearer. The medium in which the message is embedded is immensely complex, infinitely more than a code: it is a language, a function of a society, a culture, in which the language, the speaker, and the hearer are all embedded.”

The film was powerful because each character did more than communicate information. Their expressions and backstory came through in how they presented each comment. Even their reaction shots revealed how they were impacted through the courageous interchange.

The audience was mesmerized and fascinated by the dialog, not because it was written well, but because of how it was crafted using the embedded elements of each character within the exchange. The dialog was far more than words or information. It was real in everyway.

I made an interesting note the night after the shoot that read, “Dialog is about relationship, not information.” Whether a discussion occurs in real life or on screen, it is only of value if it develops the relationship. Talkers who talk without listening and listeners who listen without sharing are not interesting because they are only focused on themselves.

© 2017 by CJ Powers