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Lisa K. Friedman

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Living Powerless

Posted: 07/17/2012 1:26 pm

The power is out. I can't help but think: Now would be a good time for a Fig Newton. This may seem like a senseless nonsequitor, but really, it's a philosophy. Fig Newtons are not like regular cookies. You can't throw them into your mouth in haste; that would be worse than having too much peanut butter at the back of your throat. Fig Newtons are slow consumption cookies, enjoyed when one has an abundance of time. Thanks to the power outage, I have a lot of time.

The year we moved to this house, the electricity went out leaving the entire town dark for ten days. At first, it was fun. We propped all the doors of the house open. Neighbors collected in the street where the adults complained while the kids rode their bikes up and down the driveways. We emptied the freezer and consumed all the ice cream at once, eating straight out of the containers. At night, we showered under cold water and tried to fall asleep fast, while our skin was still wet.

It took a while to relax into powerless living. At the start, we wandered like zombies from The Walking Dead, aimless and without energy. What can we do without electricity?

My cousin got married during one long power outage. Three days before the wedding, the catering facility reported they had no electricity so the bride, my cousin, scrambled around to find a suitable, powered venue for her large wedding party. We ended up in a Fire and Rescue Station; the sliding fireman pole greeted guests at the entrance, gleaming like a lure. "What happens if there's an alarm?" people around our table buzzed. My Aunt, a feisty seventy-something year old from Florida in a velvet pantsuit, turned to me and nodded with absolute determination. "If the alarm goes off," she said, "I'm going down that pole!"

We bought a full emergency kit complete with transistor radio, fluorescent lanterns, a compass, an emergency siren and a mosquito repeller that we are unlikely to use unless of course our house is invaded by insects. So far, we've figured out how to use the radio, which is the only useful feature in the kit in my opinion. For a while my husband stalked around the front hall with the compass, intent on finding "true north," but he gave up quickly. We have a Coleman propane lantern and headlamps that strap onto your head with what looks like a seatbelt. I was halfway convinced that buying all this gear would prevent another power outage altogether, banking on the "taking an umbrella on vacation" hypothesis but that didn't work. Soon enough, we were in the dark, reading by headlamps like a bunch of studious miners.

I learned to upload my work to the cloud, whatever that is, and have yet to access any stored material despite assurances from techno-teenagers that the cloud is "intuitive and simple." Instead, after each outage I retype whatever I think I may have lost, which is exactly what I was doing when the power resurged. I was on the couch with a miner's hat strapped to my head, pounding away on the laptop that I'd charged in the car, when I heard the familiar "pop." I knew better than to get excited.

Two hours have passed with the power surging: On, off. On, off. There is nothing I can do. I might as well have another Fig Newton.

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  • Watch A Natural Phenomenon

    A sunset, a sunrise, the rain, a thunderstorm... all under-appreciated ways to unplug. Realizing we are tiny specks in the universal scheme of things is a great way to regain perspective -- and let go of our problems.

  • Knit/Do Something Repetitive

    There's a reason prayer involves repeatedly saying a word or a phrase -- repetition is known to <a href="http://jhn.sagepub.com/content/23/4/395.short" target="_hplink">effectively reduce stress</a>. But if praying or word meditation isn't your thing, just spend time doing a repetitive activity -- like knitting, washing the dishes or folding clothes.

  • Punch A Pillow -- And Then Relax

    Catharsis -- in the form of punching a pillow or yelling in the privacy of your room -- can feel great. It helps release frustration and pent-up emotions. But venting alone can be unproductive -- and <a href="https://illinois.edu/lb/files/2009/03/26/9293.pdf" target="_hplink">increase aggressive behavior</a>. So follow up your 10 minutes of venting with a few minutes of quiet contemplation. You'll find that when your mind is free of all that anger, you'll think more clearly and be able to see the situation with greater perspective.

  • Have Your Own 10-Minute Dance Party

    What could be better than dancing with abandon? Dancing with abandon when no one's watching. Dancing has been shown to <a href="http://www.springerlink.com/content/98877g38834h7m36/" target="_hplink">reduce stress</a> and increase feelings of calm and well-being. It's also a great way to sneak some exercise into your day, while spending time away from your TV, computer or Blackberry.

  • Declutter

    Look around you -- at your desk or your bedroom -- and get rid of all the things you don't need. And this includes temporarily shelving your electronics. Organize everything you <em>do</em> need and and then sit back and enjoy. Big open spaces can create a sense of relaxation and peace that's difficult to achieve when you're surrounded by chaos, organized or otherwise.

  • Massage Your Eyes And Ears

    Sounds goofy, but spending a few minutes massaging your eyes and ears can quickly perk you up. Eyes: Move your thumbs in a circular fashion over your upper and lower lids and then gently pinch your eyebrows. Ears: massage your earlobes with your thumb and forefinger and slowly move up to the bony cartilage behind your ear.

 

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