Today, for the first time in 12 months, I went to my local library, which only reopened last week. It’s the branch featured in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and I love it so much that I’ve run a free cinema club in its basement for local retirees. (Lots of Fred and Ginger.) The setup is still bare bones–you can only return books and pick up ones that you’ve reserved in advance–but just stepping into its atrium was so joyful that I burst into tears as soon as I sniffed its familiar scent of paste and paper. “Our favorite patron returns!” sang one librarian as I took a masked bow. But besides bragging about my library celeb status (arguably the highest status of them all), the reason I am sharing this story is because I wanted to confess I pulled a total Grace Paley. Which is to say: dropped off Reckless Daughter, David Yaffe’s biography of Joni Michell–and then immediately checked it back out. Apparently a year is not long enough to absorb the beautiful mystery that is Joni. Hello, my life.
It’s 740pm and I’m calling it. The electricity went out in the early hours of this morning after the big storm, and it never got fixed so my apartment is unheated unlit un-networked. A part of me–the part that obsessively reread Little House in the Big Woods (and not just as a child)–appreciates the challenge of being stripped of power. Of laying blankets over everything and setting up candles and heating water over my stove, which still works with a match. But as night has fallen, an unaccustomed darkness has blanketed my neighborhood and it is eerily silent. The outage stems from a manhole fire four blocks over and so my entire region of East Williamsburg is un-juiced. It’s like the 2003 blackout or the 2012 hurricane–only for my tiny little corner of Brooklyn. There’s no coffee shop noise, no infuriating neighbor music or loud Zoom calls hurtling through the walls. No blather on the street. No streetlights. Not even any running cars since they’ve blocked off the streets (and there are no traffic lights). There’s just the drills of Con Ed guys outside my window, grinding grinding like gritted teeth.
I know these guys are trying their best–have been since before dawn–and that so far they simply can’t locate the electrical short to fix. I know because I brought them mugs of my Laura Ingalls Wilder coffee earlier and peppered them with questions. So it’s like camping—only in a subfreezing night in which Covid keeps us from cowering together.
I keep thinking about what this corner of land was like 10 years ago, 100 years ago, 1000 years ago. I keep thinking about that last chapter of Cloud Atlas, when the grid and governments crashed and everyone in the future was living prehistorically and no one had record of prior generations because they had been uploaded to the cloud which disappeared with the electrical grid. And I keep thinking: Is this how dystopias really happen? Step by step, so that we adjust so incrementally to the degeneration that one day it seems perfectly natural that we can’t leave our houses without masks lest we infect each other with a deadly plague that has already killed 500,000 of us, perfectly natural that we’re stumbling around in the unheated unlit un-networked dark, perfectly natural that hot regions are freezing and polar caps are melting, perfectly natural that there’s mass shootings every month, perfectly natural that we have elected officials who casually uphold white patriarchal supremacy and insist Jews use space lasers to fuck up a coastal state and . Don’t answer that. Really, don’t. I know I’m being catastrophic but it’s been that kind of day week (retrograde). The point is: There’s a fur hat on my head, a fur blanket on my bed, a fur permakitten in my arms. And I’m going to bed. Scarlet O’Hara always said I”ll worry about it tomorrow. Tonight I’m taking a page from her book.
Note: My power was out for 48 hours. When it came back on, I posted what I’d written to comfort myself.