Notes & Stories: Blackout

My favorite thing about blackouts is the total silence. (Why doesn’t anyone say “blackout” anymore? It’s so much more evocative than “power outage.”) There’s no refrigerator hum, no clicking whir from the wifi router, no stove fan, no buzz from dimmable bulbs. Also no meows coming from Minecraft kittens or dance music from a Bluetooth speaker. It’s so peaceful—and so rare. There’s nothing like a power outage to make us realize how much our modern society depends on electricity. Without electricity, we wouldn’t have gas stations, or grocery stores, or be able to pay for anything except with cash.

I appreciate the enforced break of a blackout, the rest from commerce and capitalist busy-ness. I wonder if the new society, the hoped-for Green New Deal, that emerges out of these years will include a return to the idea of Sabbath. Not as a day devoted to religion, but that same idea of a day to rest from the normal everyday world, a respite from the commonplace. Think how much carbon we must have saved by having all the electricity off at once. Not just a family or a person here or there trying to remember to turn off lights when they leave a room—five days of every room in every house, every business, all the schools and police stations and libraries, all at one with all the lights out—think of the energy savings! What if this happened once a week, every week? An energy Sabbath instead of a religious one.

What would happen in terms of community, though? In places where Sabbaths are religious, the community comes together for church, gathered together for a reason that’s not about commerce. During this last power outage, we all came together at temporary charging stations. The cynical part of me thinks that if this happened once a week, people would probably hold onto their electricity habit by purchasing generators and high-capacity batteries and life would go one as before.

But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we embraced the lack of power, and came together for afternoon readings or music, or stayed at home to spend time with our families? We’d have to make sure that anyone who lived alone was included. People who still attend church have that weekly day of rest built into their lives, but how much better it would be if the energy Sabbath were community-wide, state-wide, nation-wide. All of us, together, experiencing the same thing at the same time—a radical change, taking meaningful action to slow climate change and help the planet.

(Actually, the energy Sabbath would be helping the human race. We’re the ones that are in trouble. The planet will be fine once she exterminates us pesky humans. Nature is stronger than us.)


Even though our days have been so warm, we’ve had a few frosty nights. I harvested the rest of the tomatoes, and made shakshuka. Thank goodness I have a gas stove!

The blackout was a tiny taste of living in a post-apocalyptic world. One of my favorite genres to read is post-apocalyptic fiction, although I prefer (rather more difficult to find) books with a utopian/hopeful view of the future. My two favorite series are from S.M. Stirling. First, the Nantucket Trilogy: Island in the Sea of TimeOceans of Eternity, and Against the Tide of Years. These are followed by the Emberverse books, fifteen in all.

Five days of living in candlelight was lovely—cold, but lovely. Since the power came back on, I’ve been starting my day by lighting a candle instead of flipping a light switch. It’s a gentle, reflective beginning to the morning. Related to that, I quite like Joy the Baker’s idea for starting a kitchen altar.

One more silver lining to a five-day power outage: My fridge hasn’t been this clean since I got it.

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