A week ago today, the power went out in my neighborhood. This happens far more often than should be warranted and often without any discernible cause. But last Friday, there was a brief but powerful storm that downed countless trees, and thus the power failure resulted. The power company advised repeatedly, since I was calling their automated info line every hour, that the expected restore time was Monday morning.
While our power failures occur year round, they tend to occur with greatest frequency in the summer months. Thus when summer was approaching, I decided it was time to buy a laptop so that when a power failure did occur, I could still be productive in the writing side of my life. I had never used a laptop before and after two months of typing on it, I’m still adjusting to its flat keyboard which just feels wrong to me, although I did become instantly smitten with the laptop’s portability. I could take it to the library to use their internet (I have a really crappy connection at home) and no longer had to sit in the lab with the regulars like Hooty Boy (who hoots constantly), the Giggler (who giggles constantly), Chip Man (who brings in a gigantic bag of potato chips and eats it messily while surfing the web), and more (Crabby Girl, the Sigher, the Pounder — I guess you get the picture as to what they’re like, as well as see I’m not very original in giving names to annoying people). While I liked the portable aspect of the laptop, Windows 8.1 I could live without, and MS Office 2013 is a giant step backwards, if you ask me. (Where’s the Windows Picture Manager? Where’s the draft mode for Word that lets you see the styles on the side of the screen? Really, what were they thinking, deleting some of the best features?)
As these things usually happen, because I bought a laptop, we didn’t have our usual number of power failures this summer. Last week’s power failure was my first test of using the laptop in what turned out to be almost pitch-dark conditions. It wasn’t a resounding failure but it wasn’t that much of a success. I had never noticed when the lights were on that the little bumps on the letters F and J to indicate hand placement were so minute they were almost indistinguishable from the other keys, so I kept putting my fingers on the wrong keys. You can imagine what that looked like when I started typing. Plus I couldn’t find the backspace key in the dark. I had to keep stopping typing to shine a flashlight on the keyboard to find it. When looking at the bright screen in the dark room started to bring on an ocular migraine, I gave up. It looked like I was going to waste two days because of the power failure; I couldn’t even bring my laptop to the library and use it (and recharge it) there, as the library was also closed due to a loss of power.
Fortunately, instead of the power being out for 72+ hours, it came back after only 27 hours. But that’s not why I titled this post ‘Lucky Us.’ It doesn’t refer to my family regaining power sooner than expected, but to the ‘us’ who write in this era.
I briefly considered writing by hand while the power was out. The trouble with that is, by handwriting alone, I could qualify to be a doctor. My handwriting is illegible even to me. Within seconds of having written something down, I can’t tell what it says. I am the Fran Drescher of handwriting. She wrote in one of her memoirs that she can control her nasal, annoying voice only if she speaks extremely slowly. I can write neatly only if I write very slowly, and there’s no way I can keep up with my own thoughts.
Living without power for just over a day made me reflect on what it had been like for people, or more specifically, writers, who lived before electricity. Of course they were better prepared for nightfall than we who are accustomed to having electricity are. They had candles and lanterns and oil-burning lamps so they could see in the darkness. But even with that part of the problem solved, they actually had to write, by hand, not on a computer, not even on a typewriter. A few years ago I was at the British Museum and they had a display of some original manuscript pages from Jane Eyre. First of all, Charlotte Bronte had lovely, legible, handwriting, and hardly any cross-outs or corrections. (Maybe when you had to do all the writing by hand, you were very careful about what you actually put down on the page.) They also had on display a few pages written by Shakespeare. I still have his complete works from a college course many years ago. It’s about two inches thick with microscopic print on tissue-thin paper. I wouldn’t want to be the one who had to simply photocopy all of that, let alone be the one who actually physically wrote it. Just think, he had to dip a pen or a quill in ink and write down all of those words. The prospect is daunting. Did he have time for anything else in his life?
So we are lucky to live now, not just because we have computers that allow us to not only type quickly but to make corrections easily and to print out what we’ve written with just a few clicks or taps on keys. We’re also lucky because with the advent of KDP and other e-publishing ventures, we’re not at the mercy of editors and publishers when we want to release our works into the world and see what happens to them. And, except for occasional power failures, we have light.