I took a good chunk of the past two weeks off from trading and writing. Because financial markets operate almost round-the-clock, it can be hard to really disconnect from them if you are active in them. Added to that is the fact that the world of economic and financial events does not give you the luxury of stopping just because people are tired or the planet is in a particular season. Also, news interest in financial markets and events that could have significant impact on them is high. I pick up the newspaper or listen to the radio and get more views on the issues and developments of the moment–Europe’s debt crisis; the US budget crisis; the Chinese currency problem; the recession; the daily gyrations of stock markets; US monetary policies; and so on. So, trying to avoid allusions to things trading-related can be nigh impossible. To top it off, I am married to an economist whose interest in world finance could spill over into any conversation. But, I thought I would give it a try. Like making Lent a time to do something different, it was likely that the only person who might really notice a difference would be me. So, I turned off my trading platform before the end of August and I tried to stay away from the Twitter feeds I usually read. Unfortunately, that feed also gives me a good round-up of daily news so I had to somehow glance past the financial market-related contributors whom I follow. I thought that this decision would set my mind into a position to really focus on something that should prevent my trading–namely, a week of watching tennis at the US Open, at Flushing Meadows.
To keep my mind focused on doing nothing much but watch tennis matches, I also decided that I would not try to write, but would do a lot of observing. I’ve found in recent weeks that subjects to write about are not in short supply, but as always, the issue for a writer is what can one bring to the portrayal that is interesting and different. That was actually a bit tougher than I expected at the time as we were just about to go into a weekend that promised a hurricane of possibly historical proportions. The penultimate week of August had already given us one encounter with the power of nature when we had the 5.8 magnitude earthquake. Now, Hurricane Irene was about to come blowing at our doors and windows, with the prospect of major flooding and power outages. We did not want to take that possibility lightly because we remember all to well the last big hurricane that hit this area–Hurricane Isabel–in 2003. It started just about the time my wife was going into labour, and the severity of the storm and our lack of electricity for three days meant that she and the new-born baby had to stay several extra days in the hospital.
So, we did not fool with Hurricane Irene: New York, Maryland and New Jersey had issued states of emergency. We rescheduled our bus ride to New York City for Monday, not Sunday. However, we doggedly kept plans for a small dinner we had scheduled for the Saturday evening that Irene was due to hit, as it was in part to celebrate my wife’s birthday. Most people came, and those who did not had good concerns about travelling on roads where trees were falling. In the end, the brunt of the hurricane came well after the guests had gone home, during late Saturday night and early Sunday morning. Our house is surrounded by some large trees and I thought several times during the night about how that nice feature of our location could suddenly be our biggest threat. We heard the heavy rain and howling winds most of the night, and though they were not as bad as some predictions had suggested, we saw several fallen tree limbs and had no power from about 4am. I went out in search of ice to try to hold better some perishable foods and found most local stores in our section of Maryland were closed and without power. I went into DC and found that power was still up in the areas near us and that a few small coffee shops that also sell food were open. I eventually found some bags of ice, which would last longer than the cup of ice I had been offered in one coffee shop :-). I saw several fallen trees, including one that was resting on the roof of a house. I gave thanks that we had been spared any damage.
We were without power most of the Sunday after Irene passed through. Fortunately, it was a nice, fresh day, made to be spent outdoors. So, we lounged and cleared up debris. We enjoyed the Sunday papers without other distractions and I read a book. I checked what news I could on my mobile phone, thanks to Twitter. Though NYC had a good encounter with Irene, it seemed that we would be able to travel on Monday without problems. Fittingly, the power came back just as it was getting dark, about 7pm. We were relieved to not have to plan a hasty eat-up-the-contents-of-our-fridge-and-freezer lunch for the next day.
As the last of the day’s light passed, I looked forward to the week ahead. The past week, with an earthquake and a hurricane–though neither caused extensive damage of any major kind or took many lives–seemed to have set the stage well to take time off and get away from it all.