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 0 comments
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Moon Dance37 years ago today, we were all mesmerized by what was happening on our small, grainy black and white television screens.
Three men. Walking. On the moon.
It was fantastic.
It was straight out of science fiction.
It let us know, without a doubt, that the future would hold glorious, unimaginable things.
We were married, on this day in 1969, to technology. It seduced us completely, by proving once and for all that the cold linearity of science could actually be used to conquer something as unattainable and romantic as the moon.
The marriage, as is usually the case, both held up its end of the bargain, and let us down completely.
We could not imagine, 37 years ago, the ways that technology would evolve. We all know what we have -- I don't have to list it all out -- and we all know how it both liberates and encumbers us. A day without email for me feels both like a stint in a sensory deprivation chamber and, simultaneously, the first day of a long summer vacation. Turning the phone off in a movie is a bold claim to being completely focussed and present, for two whole hours straight. (It's also absolutely imperative, if you want to claim yourself a member of civilized society.)
So we know where technology went. But what happened to the romantic moon? She was left there and remains celibate and remote, up there in the sky. Technology harnessed her beauty for a few short years, then turned its attention to more worldly things. After the ultimate seduction, it seems, there's been almost 40 years of post-coital ennui.
Technology and romance. Of course we use our electronics in a thousand ways to help enhance the romance in our lives. That is why technology turned its attentions away from the sky, of course, at least one of the reasons. Hooking people up down here on planet earth is far more lucrative than throwing a lassoo around the moon. Yes, it's nice to say we've been there and done that, but meanwhile how can we cross-hatch our ability to fuck with each other (in both ways) with even more granularity?
I guess I want the moon back. I don't want MacDonald's franchises and Starbucks up there, which was the big fear 37 years ago (or would be if we'd known about Starbucks yet). I want the IM'ing and the texting and the emailing and the cell phones to be quiet long enough for us to find the wonder of space, both out in the cosmos and inside our own bodies and lives. I want us to see each other again with a shimmer of mysticism and wonder. I want that moment in front of the TV, watching as romance unfolds, jaw agape and heart fluttering.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 7:16 AM 0 comments
Monday, July 10, 2006
The MunchiesA post-yoga endorphin rush is better than any drug I've ever experienced.
A good yoga class leaves my mind scrubbed so free of lint and clutter that I literally do not see the world in the same way. It's like the first time I tried on prescription glasses and couldn't get enough of looking at the lacy filigree of tree leaves. When I come out of class it feels like my lenses have been reformed and made of glass that is so much clearer than before that I am now able to see things as they really are, without prejudgment, without static, without noise.
Tonight after one such class I decided to take Sam on a walk. It was about 9:30 and we poured out of the front door into the summer night. I love these nights, the heat of the house wafting out of the open windows, floor fans perched in front doors while the TV flickers inside.
I listen to the lights... the garden lights softly illuminating the underbellies of tree branches and little amber lights perched on brick steps. The luminous red of a closed curtain with a living room light glowing behind it. Cars swish by, urban jazz pulsing out through open windows, sound systems of power and clarity, music of seduction and speed.
A truck starts up next to me. I see a hand turning on the radio. The deep thrum of the engine shoots me back to Oakland, maybe thirty years ago, when my first truly adult boyfriend would start his car in the black early morning hours, leaving me warm and aching for him in his big foreign bed.
A house with no lights on intriques me. I sense that it is not empty. Maybe there is an older couple inside, already deep into sleep. They may be entertwined somewhere in the back, so used to each other that they feel as comfortable together in sleep as I feel alone with my dog. How many years? Fifty? Maybe sixty?
A couple sits on a front porch behind a wide lawn and a hedge. They seem like they've just finished dinner. She may be sitting on his lap, I can't tell. But I see his hand on her arm, encircling her waist.
It strikes me that these houses are not the houses of romance or sex. These are the homes that people buy after they've been married for awhile, not the college shoebox apartments that make you want to wear a condom to even open a door, nor the little cottages of the newly married, pre-baby set.
So it seems odd and marvelous to see a touch of romance in there beyond the hedge. Are they children of the owners? Housesitters? Or even maybe the owners, married, still friends and still happy to sit in the warm summer evening together, breathing in the cooling air with mutual compatibility.
I hear Tom Petty as I near the corner coming from a tiny Spanish style bungalow, squeezed into the corner of the lot. Stucco walls, tile roof, vintage 1930's LA. In ways I cannot explain, this house smells like college life.
The kitchen window above the sink is open, without a screen, and I can hear the on/off of water as the dishes are being done. Some spiciness is still in the air and as the dog stops to investigate the ivy, I casually turn my head and take a good look. A hispanic man, maybe in his late 20's, is framed in the window, intent on washing the dishes. Above the house arch several tall pines, opening up into a square of deep blue night. In the center of that is the full moon, bright as a newly minted nickle. The square of the window, the moon overhead. "And I'll feel a whole lot better when you're gone..." in the background.
I cross the street, looking back on that scene one more time. I wished I had my camera. I wished Edward Hopper could've caught it. But it's not Edward Hopper that is necessary, I suddenly think, and it's not imperative to capture it. All that's needed is to keep discharging the internal clutter so the images can flow in, pure and achingly beautiful. There are more out there.
Walking up the hill to my house I realize that this is how I used to feel about freshly baked chocolate chip cookies; I am ravenous and insatiable to consume all of this. The summer evening, the man in the window, the bright moon, the promise to come.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:23 PM 2 comments