Maybe it’s because it’s officially Summer Movie Season and, regardless of what’s actually coming out in theatres in the next few months, I just always expect that when the weather turns warm that I will be seeing commercials for films that involve characters who have some key kind of superpower like the ability to fly or to morph into another object entirely or who can outrun a genetically-engineered dinosaur who has got human spleen on his genetically-engineered brain. Maybe it’s because I’ve been exercising a lot and I actually feel physically stronger these days. Maybe it’s that I actually feel pretty okay in my own mind about the actions that I did and didn’t allow myself to take and that I’ve learned that smiling with a shrug is actually a somewhat effective way to move on. But whatever has caused the thought process – Wonder Twins or running barefoot on a trampoline or the way my shoulders have finally loosened up from all the shrugging I’ve been doing – I do know that recently I have been thinking a great deal about power.
When it’s time to explore something in my own mind, I rarely start on the subject entirely literally. I’m more a move-to-the-metaphorical kind of girl. But when I think about power now, I think of what it feels like to lose power and that brings me instantly to the three times in the last two years or so when the actual power went out in my home and it turned out that, summer camp experiences aside, I am not all that adept at emergency preparedness. It was my choice to move a few years ago to a town with scenic hills and views of the water and a fine candy store within walking distance, but I never really considered that all those hills would complicate my winters and it’s something I should have known. I grew up in a town similar to where I live now and there were a lot of people from my school who lived along the shoreline and what that basically meant was they paid a fortune for their homes and that, when it snowed, school buses would never be able to make it down those narrow beach roads and that meant that none of us would have school if it so much as flurried. It was kind of awesome. I would wake up in the middle of the night then just as I do now and I would look out the window of my bedroom and I would see the snow starting to fall against the brightness of the streetlights and I would smile and then slip back into the comfort of my bed and I would actually say out loud, “I’m not having school tomorrow,” and maybe I said it to myself and fine, maybe I was saying it to my stuffed animals who I slept with until after college, but all that matters is that I didn’t have school and that meant I could wake up whenever I wanted the next day and then lazily drink a mug of cocoa loaded down with mini marshmallows while watching some game shows and really, what more does one need to be happy?
Turns out that most of the things that make me happy involve electricity. When I moved a few years ago to the town I live now, it never occurred to me that the hills and the harsher weather would lead to things like power outages, but there have been at least three since I arrived and I handled none of them all that well. Seems a sharp wintery breeze is all that’s necessary to snap elderly power lines like an elderly person’s clavicle and the first time it happened, I was not ready to live in my house like it was the wilderness.
In some ways I was lucky. I still had hot water and, since there was nothing else to do and I was freezing because I didn’t have heat, I spent a lot of time in a bubble bath. I would all but freeze into a prune, but bubble baths are nice – until you have to get out of one. I also have a gas stove so I figured out how to light it with a match and the kind of wooden skewer I usually use to cook vegetables on a grill and I was able to do shit like boil water so I could drink hot tea but it had never occurred to me to buy instant coffee and I had more than one fantasy of cutting open a k-cup filled with coffee and shoving some of the granules underneath my bottom lip like I was a baseball player with some chew but I somehow managed to refrain from doing so. But the rest of the experience felt terrible. It was winter and it got dark so early and I would light candles and I’d go out to my car that was completely submerged in the snow but I’d turn it on and blast the heat and plug in my phone and text people who cared to let them know I was alive and to make sure that they were too and then I’d go back inside and there was no television to turn on and I was nervous to waste the power on my phone because that would mean heading back through the snowy tundra to recharge it, but I’d always break just a little and I’d watch an episode or two of The Office on Netflix and then I would take out my flashlight and read a few chapters of a book while lying in bed.
I slept a lot that week when I had no power and I kept trying to put my dog underneath the covers because I thought that she was probably cold after three days with no heat, but she would always crawl back out and plop herself at my side on top of the blankets. But on day four, when I was bored beyond comprehension and I’d taken four Benadryl so that maybe I could sleep away some time, I woke up to Wookie’s breath hitting my face. Not only had she climbed underneath the blankets while I was asleep, but she had also settled her head on the pillow next to me and slept facing me and I’m not sure how long she was lying there like that, but when I woke up from the air from her doggie nostrils hitting my face, she was fast asleep and she looked happy and warm and I tried not to move because I didn’t want to disturb her.
When the power first came back on, it went off again just a moment later and I figured that maybe I’d hallucinated the entire thing. I was starting to feel really stir-crazy and my neighbors told me that, even if we could plow ourselves out, the roads beyond our street were all but closed down and I began to try to make my peace with the fact that it was possible I might never be able to do happy things like scroll through my DVR ever again. What really started to get to me, though, were three key things:
1. I had to have some coffee. I dreamed about coffee. What kind of fucking moron doesn’t have instant coffee in her house, I would rail at myself for hours – and it turns out that hot cocoa just is not nearly as fun to drink as it is when you’re a kid and your cable hasn’t been out for days, though part of that might be the fact that the hot cocoa I had in my house as an adult was that twenty-five calorie shit that stays both watery and clumpy at the same time because some things are just not meant to be absent calories.
2. I needed a fucking vegetable. Before the storm came, I’d gone out and gotten what I saw then as fun snacks that I could happily eat while watching bad television for hours, but what I’d neglected to buy was anything that was even slightly green and by day three, I realized something very true: there is only so much crap you can ingest and I was quite willing to fight Hunger Games-style for a stalk of broccoli or a fistful of kale and I would happily murder somebody and bury the body in a snow bank for a stalk or two of asparagus.
3. I have always said that I would much rather be too cold rather than too hot, and I stand by that decision, but after four and a half days with no heat, it was starting to get really cold and I was wearing layer after layer and buried underneath several down comforters but it was hard to develop a baseline temperature that was comfortable. Plus, I hadn’t washed my hair for four days because I wouldn’t have been able to dry it since I couldn’t plug in a hairdryer and it was bunched atop my head in a ball that looked like it was ready to unravel, and I could not stand how awful I looked and I realized for the first time that there were maybe too many mirrors in my house.
So when the lights finally flickered back on and then stayed on, I did what any normal person would do who fears that the electricity might not stay on forever: I made myself a cup of coffee and then showered and flat-ironed my hair. You know, normal stuff.
Eventually the roads cleared and I drove like a madwoman towards Trader Joe’s and loaded my cart with vegetables and fruits and already sliced mango, which I actually ate as I drove home and I felt like I returned to my old self. I learned from that experience. As soon as I heard that there could be a storm, I would charge my phone and my iPad and my computer so that I could watch things if I lost power again. I made sure to buy a canister of instant coffee. I kept my flashlight in one spot so I always knew where to find it, even in the dark. I made sure to have fresh vegetables and even some frozen green beans and edamame in my house so I would never contemplate a snowy murder again because I was pretty sure that a body would never stay buried beneath the snow and the blood from the crime would be rather evident against the stark white of a blizzard.
But the last time I lost power, I couldn’t have anticipated it at all. The weather and the sky were clear and it was a Tuesday night and I felt very tired. I was writing then for the Reality Steve website and I’d been up late the night before writing about the morons on Vanderpump Rules – and, just so you know, it takes a lot out of you to make comparisons between the vapid monsters on that show with the creatures Odysseus met along his journey, but if I can make my recaps in any way literary, I’m going to fucking do it – and that night I had to watch and write about the Beverly Hills Housewives and I decided to take a shower to maybe wake myself up. I was standing underneath the water and it was streaming through my hair as I washed the conditioner out and I closed my eyes and then I had an odd observation: when I close my eyes in the shower, I feel like I am in a pitch-black darkness! But when I opened my eyes, I saw that what had actually just happened was that my power went out and all the lights had gone off instantly and, puzzled, I pulled a towel around me and walked into the kitchen and peeked out the large window and saw that my entire neighborhood was dark.
Still in my towel, I found my flashlight and lit some candles and explained what was happening to Wookie, who I believed looked rather perplexed, and then I texted my friend who lives a few blocks away and found out that the power in the entire vicinity was out due to some issue that had nothing to do with the weather and nobody knew when it was coming back on and all I could think was that my hair was wet and I couldn’t dry it and how could I get ready for work in the morning with no lights and would I even manage to wake up to the alarm from my phone and how could I write a recap of a show if I couldn’t even turn on my television? Annoyed and freezing, I towel-dried my hair and threw it on top of my head in a clip and pulled on some sweatpants and decided to just go to sleep and text after text kept coming in from my friend and I didn’t have it in me to tell her that I was trying to conserve the battery on my phone since apparently I would need it to wake me and I’d need to use the light from it to put on my mascara the next day and the loss of power made me feel all kinds of powerless and then I started to think about all the things in my life that I couldn’t fully control and each thing hit me like a sucker-punch and my eyes started to fill with tears and I turned over to clutch my pillow and that’s when the lights came back on in a blast.
A thousand clichés and sayings about darkness and light rushed into my head with much the same speed that I rushed inside to dry my hair and then straighten it just in case the power went away again:
It’s always darkest before the dawn.
Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.
Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too was a gift.
Once there was light and I could see again, so many things became clear and I began to recognize how important something like power can be. For a long time, I never particularly thought about having power and I certainly never often thought about losing power, but in the last couple of years or so I’ve been continually challenged by the complicated things and the even more complicated people I have chosen to welcome into my life, and I’ve come to consider power in a way differently than I did before.
Having power can be a very good thing. It gets you a table at a restaurant that is already booked up. It gets you good seats at a concert so you can actually see the person onstage without looking up at a screen. Power gives you options and options allow you some freedom and I’m not sure that there’s anything that we all crave more than freedom.
But now that I consider it, I know many people who crave contentment as their ultimate goal, and I respect that as a goal, but I do not share it. Being content is not enough for me and I know that it never will be. My life would be far easier if I wanted only the typical things that lead many to a genuine feeling of happiness, and I suppose I want those things too – but I also want more. And it’s not easy to want more.
As far as I see it, I need to access and harness power so that I can ultimately become independently powerful. I want to bury any and all doubt and instead spend my days considering all of my options. I want my name to allow me access to speak to anybody I wish to contact and I want my professional reputation to be seen as both daring and flawless, though if it could only be one of those things, I’ll go with daring. I want to always take chances and to never arrive at a destination by taking the easy route. I want to take advantage of every connection I have to get inside of any door I want to throw open and then manage to remain inside that inner sanctum due to my own talents and ideas.
I want to never ever – not even on a snowy night when all of the lights have gone out – think that I can’t accomplish what I want, that I am too weak to do so.
I think about how I am maybe just naturally strong-willed and how that quality can sometimes be inconvenient or even potentially offensive to other people. I just kind of simply refuse to head down the gravelly path towards a conflict I can already see glowing in the distance underneath the light of a bug zapper and I’m also not willing to open myself up all that often to very many people and I know that it can be difficult for them and that some of them truly care, but I think I already share enough and then I feel done and just because some people I know would like some answers or some clarification, that doesn’t mean they will get any.
“Who did you write that about?” my mother asked me over the phone just the other day after scrolling through some pieces she hadn’t yet read on my blog.
“Yeah, I’m not talking about that,” I said back to her – and my response was immediate. But though I felt fine feeling that way and allowing my own feelings about refusing to discuss something stand, I knew it also probably sounded cold to her, and that part didn’t really strike me as fair. So I told her that once I’d written about something, I liked to put the event somewhat behind me and I really wanted to be the only one able to take that event out and look at it again from all sides or to decide to never actually even think about it again.
Plus, it’s not like I was stopping her from discussing the event. She could talk about it all she wanted – just not to me.
But not being able to fully stop herself because she’s pretty powerful and assertive too, she told me who she thought I’d written about and I guess it was really a pretty good guess, but she was actually wrong and I told her that and then I changed the subject and she knew that’s what I was doing but that’s how I’d decided this little interaction between us was going to go and so that was that. But I guess the reason that discussion so strongly spoke to me is because I have struggled with wrapping my arms and my head around being so private and keeping my emotions contained while continuing to publicize them through my writing, but I decided long ago that I would only write if I felt as though doing so empowered me – and it has. I have learned to understand my actions and my reactions better than I did before. I have learned to come to terms with things more quickly because writing allows me to deal with incidents immediately. I don’t let resentment fester anymore. I understand the people around me with a little bit more clarity. I feel a weight lifted when I expose what is my truth and my fear and my confusion to the whatever part of the world chooses to read about it and I guess I feel a real sense of power because I’m choosing not to hide.
And look, some days I’m not really in the mood to share and so I write about something like layer cake or maybe I don’t write at all. And other days, I can’t seem to stop myself from writing or typing ideas into my phone and if you scroll through the Notes app, you’d see random things like “Sentences I’ve actually said this week” and “I’ve been thinking a great deal about murder…” and maybe those ideas will turn into full-fledged pieces of writing and maybe they never will, but there’s this constant engagement with my life and this new level of ambition I have that I can’t ever imagine turning off now and I’m wondering if maybe that is a form of power because I kind of feel like nobody can stop me besides myself and I like that.
The day after my power went out while I was in the shower, I went to school and was teaching one class something about darkness and shadows and I told them the story about what happened just the night before and that’s when one of my girls jumped in and cut me off mid-sentence.
“Ms. Kalter, are you seriously telling us that you walked around your house in just a towel to investigate why the lights went out? How could you do something like that?”
“What else was I supposed to do?” I asked her. “Stand there naked in the shower until the lights magically came back on?”
“But walking around with hardly anything on,” she said in what I can only describe as a judgment-filled and horrified whisper. “You’ve seen horror movies. You’ve shown us horror movies! If your life was a movie, you’d have wound up dead!”
And that’s when every member of my class turned to one another and began to discuss in small groups what I should have done in that blackout moment and finally I just told them that we officially needed to change the subject away from anything that involved me in a towel and they laughed, but later on I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about my choices in the moment, and I decided that I actually stood by them and besides – only those without any kind of power die in something like a slasher movie.
I’d definitely make it to the sequel.