Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Power OutageIt's been hot.
Cripplingly, mind-deadeningly hot.
The heat is bringing LA's infrastructure to its knees. There are rolling blackouts and accidental blackouts. Dogs and cats are dying. Old people. It's armageddon. End times. My brain reverts to prehistoric fear and shuts down.
Even when inside and cool, it seems as though I just can't think anymore. The sporadic firings of my brain are sluggish and stupid; my actions stumble through the day with Frankenstein feet, clueless.
The kids stayed home from camp yesterday and called me around 4:30. The power is out at home. Everything off.
I drive home wondering what I'm going to do and cursing, as I do in times like this, the absence of a man in my life. Yes, this is when I want to be the girl and hand over all control to someone else. Just fix it for me, I want to scream. Make it better. I want a lemonade.
I also completely rag on myself for wanting a "man." Like, what kind of throwback concept is THAT? I do most things better than most men (this is the rant talking), why do I need a MAN to help me with a power outage? I can fix this.
In defiance, I call my friend Cindy. Not only is she good at stuff like this, she's a GIRL. HAH. Her return voice mail is simple and reassuring: check the circuit breakers. Make sure they're all on.
Well, yeah. I knew that. But it's good to be told to do it again, with a voice of reason.
By phone, I talk the kids through looking at the circuit breaker box. They say everything is still pointed the right way. They don't know what to do with themeselves without all the electronic equipment on. Chris is practicing drums but Jack is at a loss. I suggest he can do something that doesn't require pixillated screens, like reading a book or drawing on a piece of paper. He respects my input for about a quarter of a second. "Or I could use something with batteries," he states with obvious relief.
When I get home, it's a little eerie. Two kids in the house and no electronics on. I check for toads raining down from the sky, then I check the circuit breakers visually; they all look fine. And since everything is off, it seems unlikely that they all would pop simultaneously. I see no master switch and again curse the fact that there is no one around to just take this off my hands. In almost no other situation do I wail inside that I'm a girl and this shouldn't be my problem, but when it comes to broken trees and electrical boxes and crawling under crawl spaces, boy, I just lose every bit of moxie and revert.
I don't get it. The house is hot. The food is melting. Neanderthal brain takes over: Must eat. Must eat in air conditioning. Must eat red meat.
On the way out, I see my Chinese neighbor, who speaks almost no English, and stop the car.
"Hi!' I call out.
"My power is off. Is your power off, too?" I mime disasterous overhead lighting, shake my head, wave my hands around wildly and point to my house, as if to fully encompass how much nothing electrical is happening in there.
"Yes!!!" she smiles at me.
It's obvious she has no clue what I just said. I try a different tack.
"Is your power on??" I make wild hand signals, like flipping off and on light switches and shining light down with my hand.
"Yes!!!" she smiles at me.
"OK...!!! Thank you!!! Hot, isn't it?"
"Yes!!!" she smiles at me.
We drive away.
From our local diner, I call the power company. The automated system informs me that there are massive outages in the neighborhood. Crews are working around the clock. Estimated time for restoration: 11:45 P.M. , the following night.
Well, I think. At least we're out of milk. That's one thing I won't have to throw away.
The question is whether we should stay at home or not. Home is kind of a creepy wasteland right now. We'd be down to candle power and open windows. The kids would kind of freak out. As, come to think of it, would I.
I call my friend Carol. She has a house, a husband, a son, a pool and air conditioning. What else could one possibly want in a friend? Oh... and a completely open heart that immediately says Absolutely, come on up, bring your suits.
We pack up by the ending light of day, like evacuees. For awhile I wonder if I should wait until after Spencer's drum lesson to pack up. And then, while we're packing, it strikes me how completely out of touch I, as a modern urbanite, am with all things natural. If I waited an hour, the sun would be down. Packing now, we have light.
Light: now. Dark: later. It's so ridiculously simple. But in my daily life the sun could come and go at random intervals and, truthfully, it wouldn't affect much. I am so insulated from nature that the only time I really notice it is when my technological coccoon starts to rip. Then, suddenly, all my brain power, all the things I'm good at, mean absolutely nothing.
I am suddenly in emergency mode, looking at life with a logic that only comes into play during times of physical anomaly, like when the car breaks down. Because we're taking the dog and the alarm system is down, I take the laptop and hide the cameras behind the cereal boxes. The external hard drive goes in the linen closet. I hide Chris' Nano under his pillow. I am an expert on burglaries now and know what to do.
A last minute flash of brilliance sends me in to rescue the Klondikes from the dark, warming freezer. I pack them up with foil. If all else fails, we can eat them before they melt and raise our fists in defiance to the malicious gods.
We grab the dog and pick up Chris from his drum lesson and then head up to Carol's. En route, the wife of my gardener calls. They had stopped by my house expecting us to have a meeting about some landscape improvements (which I'd cancelled but they headed down there anyway after hearing about the power outage.) Ruben, the husband, went in and flipped the circuit breakers and suddenly I had power again. The man fixed it. He was brave enough to actually touch the circuit breakers (actually, he knew where to find the master one, which is a useful thing to know) and he fixed it. I had my power back on, and life was back on track again.
We went to Carol's anyway, had a delicious swim in her pool under the stars; the dog came in as well; it was a sweet and lovely evening with good friends who were willing to give us refuge from the storm.
This morning I wake up and power up the laptop as usual. And old friend has been going through a nasty breakup and, much to my dismay, I've learned a lot about such things in my lifetime. So I've been coaching him through it.
The email I receive this morning says that he is refusing to believe that the person who broke up with him is the same sweet person he knew and loved and trusted just a month ago. Here is what I replied:
Here's the words of wisdom that your head can ingest and chew on, if not your heart: People are people and things happen. (That was from an acid trip with Brian about 30 years ago and still one of the most profoundly stupid, or stupidly profound statements ever.)
Pulled apart it goes something like this. People change. People's truths change from moment to moment, week to week, age to age. As you know, little switches can click on and off without warning. Someone you thought was just a friend suddenly becomes an aching obsession. Someone you've vowed to spend your life with suddenly becomes an unknowable void.
It's not linear. It's deep. It's multifaceted. It's fractally complex. And at the same time it's pretty simple and pure. We have contracts with people -- sometimes they are in our lives in a profound and resonant way, and at some point that usually ends. The psychics would say these people are our loving guides, sent here to help us learn and evolve, in a loving way, even as they hurt us. What is the message, what is the lesson, what is the essay's point?
And as I wrote him I realized what this essay's point was going to be:
They happen in our electrical systems in our homes and in our hearts. Sometimes you just lose your power. You lose your power to cope in a situation, you lose your power to keep someone in your life.
When it happens you are stumped, dumbfounded, and at a complete loss. The switch that was on, is now off. How do you turn it back on? How do you get back to a place where you can function normally? How do you get out of the dark?
When the power is out it gets really primitive. You're down to one light source, battery powered appliances, living by your wits. It becomes simpler: eat, breathe, survive. Until your power comes back online, you are suddenly in a world where survival takes thought and cunning and energy.
I lost my power when I started thinking I needed a man to help me. I got my power back when my friends took care of me. I was assisted by unexpected allies. They were the ones who turned me back on. Karma worked.
Similarly, when your heart is broken, you lose your ability to function well. You lose your motive force. You must go back to the basics: eat, breathe, survive. And allies will sometimes appear for these situations as well. There are internal allies such as a sense of humor, creative passions, a resilience you didn't know you had. And external allies, like your dog, or your best friend, or just a funny movie.
Eventually power is restored. If not by artificial means, then by natural ones. The sun always rises in the morning. Light always shines back on the world for its appointed time. Yes, if your lights are out, you have to weather the darkness of the night unaided. And even if your heart is quivering and your will has failed, you can still know that the earth still turns, the light is coming, and the shadows will again recede.
In the meantime, try to stay calm, trust in destiny, and eat the ice cream before it melts.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 8:15 AM
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