Going Powerless

by Kaitlyn Dunnett 

I started to write a blog by hand on Tuesday, August 30th, the second morning we were without electricity during Hurricane (by then Tropical Storm) Irene. At that point, I didn’t know how much longer we would be without power, nor did I have a very clear idea of how widespread outages were or what damage had been done to other parts of the Northeast. I did know that we were very lucky. We didn’t flood, except for a little water in the basement . . . but that’s what the dirt floor is for. The house and barn were undamaged. We’d had high winds, but we’d taken all the precautions we were advised to as far as putting away lawn ornaments

what? you expected a garden gnome?

and taking in anything that could come loose and cause damage. There are an amazing number of such things to think about ahead of a potentially deadly storm. Having plenty of advance warning is a huge help, and we certainly did in the case of Irene.

heavy flying object

Anyway, I was puttering along with pad and pen, not really writing anything brilliant, when the lights came back on. We’d been without power for only thirty-six hours. Heck, most of the food in the freezer was still solid. So much for writing about my personal “ordeal” during the storm.

I’m grateful, mind you, especially when I was able to access news channels again. Our neighbors in Vermont are still suffering. Residents of New Jersey had a rough go of it, too. There was even a lot of storm damage in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where I have family. Here in Frankliln County. The worst of it was the loss of two bridges on the road leading to Sugarloaf, one of our major ski areas. Rebuilding is already under way.

We dodged a bullet here in Maine. But the experience of going powerless for an extended period of time, as it always does, makes me acutely aware of how dependent I have become on instant access to electric light, heat, air conditioning, refrigerators, stoves, microwaves, television, computers, email, and the Internet. Neither WiFi nor Roadrunner work when there’s no electricity. We can’t even get cell phone service here in our valley. We’re in a “dead zone.”

What was the first thing I did when the power came back on? I stuck my coffee mug in the microwave and zapped it. I’d made a pot of coffee on a propane-powered camp stove and poured the extra into a thermos, but what was in my mug cooled off mighty fast. The second thing I did was turn on the Today Show to make sure the rest of the world was still there. We have an old reliable battery powered radio. It even has TV bands. But guess what? When the government decided we all had to go to digital, those stopped working. The few AM and FM stations we could get seemed to run nothing but commercials and music. The weather reports we heard just told us what we already knew, that the sun was shining again and the wind had died down. Reports on how bad the damage was? How widespread the power outages were statewide? When we might get power back? Nothing. Of course, I have a low tolerance for channel surfing, so I may just have missed those reports.

All these things started me thinking that the more gadgets we acquire, the more dependent most people, writers in particular, become on devices that require a power source. I’m more low-tech than most, but I do write on a computer and check email a half dozen times a day. I don’t do Facebook or Twitter, but I do belong to several online discussion groups. And, of course, I read the Maine Crime Writers blog every day. With the approach of Irene, I was prepared to spend some time without using my computer. Truth be told, I normally do revisions by hand, scribbling all over a printout of the text. But I usually transfer those changes to the electronic file later the same day. (It’s a good idea to do this while I can still decipher my handwriting!)

typical page after revision

Power outages, even brief ones, always make me reconsider my decision not to buy a laptop. I’m still standing firm on that one. But maybe an I-pad?

I’m grateful we weren’t powerless for long, but we could have managed a week or more if we’d had to. We survived the Great Ice Storm of ’98, which was a far harder slog due to the fact that it was early January and darned cold outside. At least we didn’t need to fire up the woodstove this time around. From past experience we also knew to stock up on drinking water and batteries and charge up the cell phones and the Nook. If we’d lost the land line we could have climbed up the hill until we were clear of the “dead zone” to get a signal. And we filled the bathtub with water to use to flush the toilet. It’s amazing how important that little detail becomes if you lose power for more than a day.

With three cats in the house, I insisted we keep the bathroom door closed at all times. My husband thought this was unnecessary, until we received an email from a friend shortly after power came back on. It seems that her daughter also took the precaution of filling a bathtub with water. She was awakened in the middle of the night by a horrible screech, followed by the arrival on her bed of one soaking wet cat!

This entry was posted in Kaitlyn's Posts and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Going Powerless

  1. Gerry Boyle says:

    All of this raises a question, Kaitlyn. Without electricity, would we adjust to writing longhand? Could we sit down with a legal pad and a pencil and kerosene lamp and keep on going with that next chapter, that outline?

    I’ve started to do most of my pre-actually-writing notes and sketches longhand. And there really is something different about it. A different vein of creativity, maybe? It’s ALMOST worth trying. I’m very interested in hearing what other writers think of writing off the grid.

  2. Barb Ross says:

    I agree, Gerry. There is something kinetically different about longhand that inspires creativity. I tend to revert to it whenever I am stuck. Often, if I get a scene started in longhand I can finish it online.

    Like Kaitlyn, I tend to do my revisions on the page and then type them in the same day. I wish I could do them on the computer, because I often say that next to healthcare, the second greatest cost of being self-employed is toner.

    There’s something also about space. Sometimes the little window on my computer just feels too small. I need to spread out on the dining room table.

    Of course, I assume all this is generational. My daughter leaves next week for London where she’ll be studying for a masters in creative writing. I imagine she can write a short story on her iphone.

  3. Pj Schott says:

    We need to be ready for more off-the-grid writing. The next couple of years are going ot be dicey.

  4. Lea Wait says:

    Since I saved up my allowance and chore money and bought an Olympia portable typewriter when I was in 7th grade, writing in long hand has been very difficult for me. I can do it, of course. I outline by hand, and my research notes are in long hand. But somehow along the way I’ve trained my fingers and my brain to work at the same speed. I find it incredibly frustrating to slowing my brain down to the speed of writing long hand for more than a paragraph or two. I often wonder how writers did it when writing meant literally WRITING thousands of pages. I edit both on the screen and then, as you do, Kaitlyn, on printed pages. But if we were to have a prolonged power outage? I suspect I’d do research .. or a lot of reading!

  5. If I’d lived in the 18th century, I doubt I would ever have become a writer. Can’t stand writing longhand. At twelve I learned how to type (on a manual typewriter) and never looked back. I could go back to a typewriter if I had to, but probably never to quill, ink, paper, and writer’s cramp. Kudos to the inventor of the word processor–no matter how dependent we may be on our powered gadgets!

  6. MCWriTers says:

    It appears that no one can read my writing anymore, (including me) though a good pen helps. On the other hand…I tell my students, and try to practice myself, writing out passages in other works that are particularly striking to me. There is something about the process of filtering through eye and brain and hand that is different.

    We were lucky on Bailey Island…I just have to finish scraping the salt spray off the windows…and the best thing was that the hideos 55-ton boat that’s been parked almost in front of the house the past few summers broke loose, smashed up some lobsterboats, and has now disappeared from the cove. Clearly a cloud with a silver lining.

Leave a Reply