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One of my personal holidays is tonight, December 18th. I call it Electric Eve. This is the thirty-second anniversary of the original Electric Eve.
I spent five years of my young adulthood living close to the land, on a dirt road, with my first wife in a cabin south of Bath, New York, with no electricity. The nearest power line was a quarter mile away. We could have paid a few hundred dollars to get it to our house, but other expenses were a priority and we soon became adept at living without electricity.
It wasn’t really that hard. We had kerosene lamps and young eyes for light, and a wood stove for heat. I built the cabin with a chain saw. Refrigeration was provided by the great outdoors most of the year and a propane powered refrigerator in the summer. I drew water by rope and bucket. When we needed to wash clothes, we filled a tub with hot, soapy water, put them in, and agitated them as we drove to town with the tub in the back of a pickup truck. There, we dumped out the water, refilled, and drove home while they rinsed. In place of a dryer, we had a clothesline.
If all this sounds like a lot of work; well, it was. But, being largely self-sufficient, we had little need for money and didn’t have to go to work for the Man. We had time.
It wasn’t till my wife became pregnant with twins, our third and fourth children, that we got electricity. The neighbors had secretly taken up a collection to run the lines to our house. We set aside our pride to accept what they thought was a necessity. Then, on December 18, 1985, I wired up a bare bulb over the table and ignited our first electric light. Every December 18th since then, I turn off the lights and remember what it was like to be without.
The feelings I have every December 18th are complex, to say the least. On the one hand, I like to recall how easily we adapted. We didn’t really need electricity, I say, and it was true. But, on the other hand, I’m now glad I have it. Today, at my age, it’s harder to read by kerosene lamp than it was when I was in my twenties. I’m far more productive in my writing on an Apple laptop, connected to the Cloud, and communicating with you via the net, than I ever was with paper, pen, snail mail, trying to get a publisher to print my books. On one hand, I still am grateful and astounded by the generosity of my former neighbors; on the other, I still nurse my injured pride.
You, too, should have a December 18th, or some day out of the year, to live a different way. You, too, can turn off the lights and stumble around by candlelight to recreate the way it was up until a hundred years ago and still is for many today. If you spent time with children and got down with them on the floor to play, you’d reconnect with your own childhood. If you’re an observant Jew, every year you’d celebrate Sukkoth by constructing a flimsy outdoor structure and live in it for a few days to remind you of wandering in the desert for forty years. It might teach you what it’s like to be homeless. If you took a sensitivity class, you’d stuff cotton in one of your nostrils, put on dark glasses, and candy corn in your shoes so you’d know what it’s like to be old. If you attended Alcoholics Anonymous, you’d periodically tell the story of how you hit bottom and found hope.
In most of these Shrink’s Links entries, I like to give you a hyperlink to some other part of the web. I don’t have a hyperlink for you to get in touch with the past. You already have that link; you just need to be periodically reminded to use it.