Day 1. I’m typing this on my computer which is depending on battery power to record what I am writing. I am doing this because my power provider (Pacific Gas & Electric) unplugged me from their power grid because we are experiencing high fire danger. According to PG&E, this is a preventative measure. If the power is out and a power line breaks, then there is a lower likelihood of a spark and a fire starting. (New York Times).
To put this into perspective, two years ago this very week, parts of my County were experiencing high winds, low humidity, and high fire danger. Two years ago there was a break in one of these power lines. It sparked, and one thing led to another, and a lot of people lost a lot of things including their lives, their livelihood, and their possessions. This tragedy resulted in this decision to turn the power off.
So what is the consequence? Powerlessness.
Well, on a personal level, aside from having to change some habits (turning light switches on and off), I am relatively unaffected. I credit this with having been a volunteer with American Red Cross Disaster Response services and having been married to a Red Cross professional. I also credit this with having lived through the great Earthquake of 1989, and the fires two years ago.
I have cash on hand. I make sure my car has gas in it. I have lots and lots of batteries. I have a generator. I have a gas stove. These elements are alternatives to the immediate and unquestioned delivery of power by PG&E on a regular basis. These are my strategies for managing powerlessness.
Psychologically, I miss my mindless television watching, but find I enjoy the pleasant shift in pacing that is more in alignment with the sun than the program scheduling on TV. I need more time to prepare food, but have pleasant memories of double-boilers and stove-top warming of meals and making drip coffee. I do go to bed much earlier. These things do not make me feel powerless.
Day 2. I am irritated that I can’t have what I want on my own terms. What has changed is my dependence on information being provided electronically – everything seems to be on the web. I cannot access the web at the moment. My phone only works sporadically. My cell service is spotty at best. I don’t like doing everything on my cell phone. I am disconnected and this makes me afraid.
One benefit of this outage is that neighbors and friends seem to be reaching out to one another. Conversations happen face-to-face instead of via text. This is good! Based on my experience, however, this will revert quickly once power is restored. That is sad.
One down side of the outage is the cumulative outrage at having my habitual way of being disturbed. Blame is everywhere. Radio talk shows are filled with newly-appointed experts spouting theories of who is responsible and how things should have been done. I am amazed how many people continue to use web-based communications, posting questions like, “Why is a helicopter circling around the area?” as if there is someone who can answer that question and would have a rational explanation! I do not understand the motivation of such a question, or the expectation of response.
Day 3. There is an arc to how these events unfold. We have all seen it on TV with coverage of the early drama and then post-event follow-up of heroic actions or indictment of government or persons unknown for not anticipating consequences adequately. It is as if we are reduced to infantile responses requiring someone to diaper, feed, and hold us until we feel comforted.
This belays both our history and how quickly we have become dependent on an underlying structure of services that we really have no knowledge of or influence over. I have a friend who has recently gone off grid. She is now completely independent from PG&E and has done very well in this event. She appears very powerful to me. But I am not sure this is the answer for everyone.
At a policy level, we are stuck back in the 1900’s. Support the entrepreneur in developing and providing power, then structure it as if it is a government-supplied right. This public-private partnership exists in some smaller communities, but it typically is resisted by the larger corporations in urban areas. These are complicated conversations that may be beyond the capacity of local government to even contemplate much less control.
At some level this is a conversation that requires us to act cooperatively as a community. To gather and explore the needs of those within the community instead of meeting the needs of the business. This also requires a better understanding of how nature dictates that our lives be run. This, in spite of our delusion that we are in charge.
Day 4. I am now four days into this event. Night has fallen. Power has been restored to folks no more than two miles from me. I can see the lights in town, but I remain powerless. There are many lessons here. By staying in my home, I have tacitly accepted my imprisonment. I could get in my car and go into town. That would change my experience.
Instead, I am resting between the demands that the return of power will force upon me. I will have to catch up with email. I will have to attend to banking. I will need to complete charting and billing and make sure that all my records are correct. I won’t be able to just enjoy the immensity of the night. Having lights and power lets me believe that I have control over the darkness. I choose when to turn off the light. But that is nothing more than delusion.
My irritation and anger at having my sense of control taken from me without my consent is more telling than my rejoicing at restoration of power. For when the power comes back on, I will quickly return to old ways of being.
But now I know that I am powerless. And I welcome that vulnerability.