Friday, December 31, 2010

It's December 30. We have not had phone service since before my birthday, on December 22. Because of that our access to television and the Internet has been sporadic, a few hours each day during business hours. They say we'll get our service back some time in January, maybe the second week.

We do not live in the backwoods. We live in downtown Los Angeles. We did not have an earthquake - it rained. We are not contracted with an obscure, fly-by-night provider, but with AT&T. And it is not just us. Many families in our area are also affected, though how many, is anybody's guess.

It took five days before news of this failure made it into the LA Times. I cannot imagine this kind of failure being taken so sanguinely, so matter-of-factly, ten years ago. As a nation, our expectations have been lowered. As I watched my government bungle Hurricane Katrina years ago, watched bodies bloating and floating in the streets, I had the feeling that something was being demonstrated to us - a break in the contract between the people and the government. We were being presented with a black bordered letter that said, "You are on your own."

I have not missed the phone service much, to tell you the truth. We have cell phone and though we live in a canyon and have to walk outside into the middle of the street to make or take a call, we have been able to do so. The television and Internet have been replaced with reading and knitting.

Two nights ago we had a wind storm and the electricity went off. I'd already been to bed but was awakened by my husband and son. I listened to the wind whip from beneath the cozy covers, in the inky darkness. I pulled up the covers and returned to sleep. In the morning I awoke to the blinking constellation of appliances needlessly sucking electricity just to tell me they are there and ready to be used. Many of them tell me the time, a task once reserved for clocks.
I've been reading about the peak oil crisis. That will happen when just more than half the oil on earth has been accessed and used. It's downhill from there. Though our lust for oil, as a population, will continue to grow, our supplies will dwindle, leading to sporadic, and then lengthening shortages of oil, spikes in the price, and other instabilities.

At first I was alarmed, and my mind raced through scenario after scenario, all doom and gloom. Then I tried to figure out how to survive. For instance, our greatest oil requirement goes to the getting of food, so we will need to grow more food locally, to shift our tastes from expensive imports - sugar, coffee, and chocolate (three entire food groups!), to more sustainable fare - beans and greens. We will need community, we will need to work together and help each other, as it looks as if our governments have excused themselves.

Then, as I moved from alarm, through every-man-for-himself survivalism, I realized that peak oil may be the thing to bring the corporate plutocracy to its knees and allow us to toy with another way of life. Progress may slow and even halt as we look backwards and once again daily wind a clock, or perhaps listen to distant church bells toll the hours. We may once again see the bright swath of stars across our night sky, unimpeded by light pollution. We might once again grapple with our small size and significance in the face of a vast universe and unforgiving Nature that still does not bow to our designs. We might go to sleep when it's dark and rise with the Dawn. As the treadmills and eliptical devices gather dust we might learn to walk or ride bikes. We will need to learn to turn to each other, and indeed, expect less and less from those who have taught us that food comes packaged in plastic and life without shiny things is not worth living.

This last week I have gone to bed earlier, and slept later. I've knitted. I've cooked. I've gardened. I've read - picking up books here and there at random - the anatomy of insects, the early pioneer days of America, Amy Sedaris's Crafts for Poor People. We've almost finished the pot of beans I cooked the day after Christmas. Today I'll catalog my seeds and calendar their planting. This weekend we'll prune the apple trees, saving the small limbs to feed the rabbits we plan to begin raising in the Spring.

What if, instead of meeting these breakdowns with fear and anger, we greeted them with gusto - with a renewed sense of community? What if we recreated ourselves in the image of mere man? What if we gave up the ideas of imaginary friends, government authorities, and corporate spooks, and learned to take care of ourselves and each other? What if the phones and the lights were turned off and instead of panicking, we created a new world blended from the past - which is no longer past - and the best of our present lives?

What if we started now and had the candles and ghost stories ready for the next time this happens?

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