Amanda Kovattana

Middle-aged musings in interesting times

Monday, January 09, 2012

Happy Paradigm Shift

In which I enter the auspicious year of 2012 through various avenues of my subconscious from shopping cart to under the house storage to apocalyptic revelations.

Let There Be Little Lights

At breakfast I rarely pass up looking at the newspaper shopping ads to see what trendy new stuff people are tempted to buy that I might later have to persuade them to give away. Plus I like camping items, my category of shopping vice. Thus I found myself perusing the doorbuster ads for Black Friday; the deals were particularly vehement. Possibly the impact of Buy Nothing Day, combined as it was with the Occupy movement, had spooked the retail sector. (Buy Nothing Day is timed to coincide with Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, said to put the retail sector into the black as we go into the Christmas shopping season. This is partly because it is a holiday falling as it does on the day after Thanksgiving and family members communicate what they might want for Christmas by going to the mall together.) In recent years the retail sector has fought back such anti-consumerist notions with more and more breathtaking deals on their most popular items guaranteed to lure shoppers into the mall on the day and make the evening news with some mob incidence of bad behavior. 

I eyeballed the Home Depot ad. The store is so close to my house it has become a part of my route. My eye was caught by a modest offering of LED Christmas lights priced at $2.95, a quarter of what they would normally go for. Festooning the outside of the house with strings of light to create a winter wonderland (and add to the utility bill by hundreds of dollars) was a feat we enjoyed vicariously courtesy of our neighbor across the street. But we did have a string of lights outlining the perimeter of a room inside the house. They created a lovely festive atmosphere for parties and were bright enough that we didn't need any other lighting for our dining purposes. LED lights required so little electricity that it occurred to me that I could power the entire room with a car battery that could then be recharged with a solar panel. I had seen a truck battery put to domestic use powering a TV at a cafe in the outbacks of Brazil. When I asked how the battery was recharged I learned that it was put back into a truck every so often. These simple technological work arounds devised by the developing world have always had enormous appeal to me because they sip, from the first world, cogent bits of technology while preserving the magnificence of the surrounding landscape and the timeless lifestyle. Such timelessness was perhaps a fantasy associated in my memory with exotic travel, but I still longed for it.

In order to get this string of lights hooked up to a car battery I would need an inverter to convert the 110 voltage and accommodate the conventional two prong plug. Traveling consultants have been using such inverters for years to power laptops from their cigarette lighter outlet while working in their car. It so happened that Pep Boys, the automotive big box store next door to Home Depot, was offering doorbuster sales of inverters. And jumpstarters. A jumpstarter is simply a mini car battery inside a portable box. It is usually used to jumpstart a dead car, but also comes with a cigarette lighter outlet. Now I was really excited.

In complete violation of my long time covenant with Buy Nothing Day, I found myself at the above big box stores at 7:30 a.m. filling a shopping cart. My guilt was somewhat mollified by another idea. I could now take this show on the road. Because all of the components for my third world workaround were available at such chain stores it could be easily replicated by others who were more mainstream than me and not quite so geeky. And by combining the festive notion of Christmas lights with the back up components normally associated with an emergency I could introduce a new paradigm. A power outage was no longer about fumbling with a flashlight waiting for a utility company to restore power; it was a festive holiday liberating the house from an unreliable centralized system. It was this kind of paradigm shift that really excited me.

The solar panel is a little pricey at  close to $90, but the point was anybody could create a mini off grid system with these off the shelf components. My solar panel was also bought, several summers ago, from an auto supply store; Frye's has them too. It comes with all the bits to connect it to a battery. No additional wiring is needed. It would recharge the jumpstarter battery in a day. Thus the whole system was self-supporting. I was able to keep my kitchen lit with a string of 200 LED lights for 3 1/2 hours before the battery needed recharging. (The lights drew 7 watts from the 8 amp hour battery.)

I took my road show to my neighborhood networking meeting and in five minutes persuaded six women of the beauty of this system. Being organizers they were already well schooled in the virtues of emergency preparation and as traveling consultants were familiar with inverters and car chargers for their mobile devices. My colleagues immediately recognized the usefulness of the jumpstarter. But I was also gratified that they made the connection with how easy it was to create and use an off grid system. 

Of course there is a bit more to a kitchen than just lights. I had my propane camp stove, barbecue and solar oven, but the achilles heel was the fridge. This led to a little side trip underground.

Musings From The Man-da Cave

I was feeling so geeky with my obsession with LED lights, that when I came across an interior design book at the library about Man Caves I realized that a piece of me had been waiting to be identified and named. I laughed with recognition at sentiments expressed in the introduction. Wives taking over the house and rendering husbands uncomfortable in their own home. College trophies, sports paraphernalia, outdoor signs, Christmas lights and beer bottle collections exiled to the basement or garage. 

I wanted a man cave of my own or perhaps more to the point, a Man-da Cave.

The real stories behind these thematically male spaces revealed a devotion to civility and a responsibility to wives and family that was quite endearing. The man of such integrity needs a man cave to get away from his responsibilities. I recognized this to be exactly why I cultivated my obsessions with expedition camping gear, alternative vehicles, off grid systems and tiny houses. These obsessions gave me a place to go to get away from an increasingly complex world. 

I did in fact already have such a space. One that wasn't considered an actual part of the house. It was already cave like. You had to be stooped over to walk around in it like cro magnon man or like the office space between floors in the movie Being John Malcovich. It was the space under the house, which being on the side of a hill, afforded more height in parts of it than the usual crawl space. 

I started taking it over when I moved in 17 years ago, because with four adults in residence at the time, we were very short on storage space. The man of the house had already stashed stuff on the shelves that had been affixed to the supporting pillars of the house. So I put in more shelves, lots more, for my boxes of love letters, and newspaper clippings from when I had my ten minutes of fame riding my unicycle to work. And collection of early hand drawn Banana Republic catalogs from when they were cool and had an old jeep in the store and actually sold vintage stuff. And stamp albums, Pride day button collection, vacation slides, a manual Olivetti typewriter, karate trophy, rolled up posters, a hood ornament I meant to make into a lamp, art projects and materials for art projects.

The floor, like most crawl spaces, was originally bare earth and got quite damp in the winter and muddy in parts. In fact I kept my worm bin down there and the worms were so happy they reproduced in amazing quantities and looked like flowing lava when I piled them up to collect the vermicompost. But I decided that the damp made the house cold, so I painstakingly leveled the dirt, laid sand over the damp part and covered it with very wide thick sheets of plastic. To protect the plastic, I lay tarpaper over it. I cut both right up to the footing for the posts using a stencil so there would be no gaps. When we got new vinyl flooring in the kitchen, I put the leftovers over the tarpaper. The white vinyl transformed the space into an actual room. Unfortunately the worms died from dehydration since I didn't realize the climate had changed so radically and didn't water their bedding enough. After that I didn't come down so often since there were no living beings to bring food to and take care of. Then it just became a storage space.

After reading the man cave book I went down to the space. I unfolded a camp chair to sit in because, in the bent over position needed to navigate this catacomb, frequent rest was warranted. I took a picture of myself in the chair sitting next to shelves of old paint and the chainsaw resting on a milk crate. Posted to flickr with the above description, it soon became my most popular shot of the quarter. Apparently others found the idea of a woman creating a man cave just as endearing.

I didn't put up any Christmas lights but I did cover the pink insulation overhead with flattened cardboard from empty boxes of Cheerios, stapled to the joists; (a client liked to save the boxes for me to recycle). It gave the place a cheery op art feel. I found pictures of Queen Elizabeth the First from a presentation I had given at a class on cultivating peace and put one up on the hatch that was the entrance to the cave. The space was already well lit with bare bulbs in old lamps. 

At Home Depot, looking at lights again, I discovered LED light bulbs. I brought one home to test in the Man-da cave. The new technology was a fine improvement over compact fluorescents. Better color, more solidly built, lasts 23 years and leaves no hazardous waste to dispose of. Also dimmable and uses less energy. I gave one to a client as a gift and she was enthralled by it.

Into my freshly swept out and spruced up Man-da Cave, I surreptitiously dragged in my latest object of interest—a diminutive chest freezer. I got it off Craigslist for $50. I wanted to see if I could make it into a low energy fridge like the guy in Australia living on the side of a mountain powered by a few solar panels. Such a workaround wouldn't suck up more power than a 100 watt bulb, he promised in his online report. You do it by plugging the freezer into an external thermometer that keeps it from turning on so much thus raising the temperature to fridge like conditions and cutting the energy used. Beer makers had discovered the same thing since chest freezers were the ideal size and shape for a beer keg. Beer making was a very man cave thing to do. This kept me from feeling too much like a survivalist nut job outfitting my bunker. 

I sat in my camp chair admiring the still unplugged freezer. Maybe next month I would buy the $60 thermometer thingie. It was time to join the family above for the holidays. (Family having now comfortably integrated Catherine's middle brother Steven as a member of the household. This would be our second Christmas together.)

Discovering Pluto

On Christmas day, during a rare period of blissful inactivity, I lay on the couch reading a book, by an astrologer, that I had requested as a gift. I discovered that my astrological chart revealed a voracious and irrational interest in acquiring knowledge. This was driven by subconscious forces on account of Pluto being so dominant in the 8th house of my chart. I was struck by this explanation. I had believed my pursuit of information was driven by feelings of inadequacy, but this explained why I never got around to actually becoming an overwhelming success. Success apparently wasn't my goal. In fact there was no actual point to my reading so much at all. I was just addicted to those ah ha moments of understanding. What a revelation. 

The author, Jessica Murray a San Francisco based astrologist, advised the mature reader to embrace the dark obsessive side of Pluto's influence, in order to transcend it and transform it. Having recently brought to light the mementos of my past, hidden in the subconscious underground of the house, I figured that, metaphorically speaking, I was getting a good start. Especially since I was augmenting the space with innovative attempts to live lightly on the planet.

The actual point of her self-published book Soul-Sick Nation: An Astrologer's View of America, was to invite readers to help transform the subconscious dark side of America's obsession with power in order to save this materialistic, over-militarized and self centered nation from destroying the planet. Her analysis of the political landscape of said nation was so right on that I fully accepted her advice and found her astrological analysis of recent U.S. history fascinating. The book had been written in 2006, but it was absolutely fitting for the portentous upcoming year of 2012. 

The End Of The World

On New Year's Eve Catherine, Steven and I watched the hollywood disaster movie 2012, just for kicks, and found it rather exhilarating to see the entire planet break up into disaster movie compendium of earthquake, flood, hurricane and what all, as the self appointed survivors (an obscure American writer and a Russian millionaire and their respective families, plus token minorities) competed with each other to board secret government arks built to weather the flood Noah style. 

The next day as the new year pealed out on a clear sunny day, it did feel different. 2012 was not so much pregnant with promise which implies certainty, but strangely giddy with the uncertainty of it; the hope and expectation that dramatic change is afoot. After all we have already ended 2011 with Occupy and the clamor for change in the United States which had for so long preferred business as usual. While on the other side of the world a mega flood had threatened my relatives in Bangkok in a year notable for excessive catastrophic climate events and earthquakes. The new year seemed positively brimming with end of the world material. 

Of course the world is not ending on the winter solstice of this year, per the predictions of the Mayan calendar (misinterpreted by an apocalypse obsessed culture), any more than Santa Claus is expected down the chimney every Christmas. But that doesn't mean we're ready to give up Santa Claus. An opportunity for cataclysmic change, especially within our collective psyche, is too good to pass up. The anticipation of it is potent with power as we climb on board the appointed year. For apocalypse or not I still believed in the potential for events of cultural consciousness to shift quite suddenly just as all those ah ha moments had flooded my mind with new, liberating, understanding. The stars were aligned for it.

Meanwhile on the other side of the earth the Buddhist calendar brings us the year 2555. This, to a Thai, must seem to be mocking them with laughter because 555 is Thai internet slang for LOL. When you say the number 5 repeatedly in Thai it sounds as if you are laughing cartoon style—ha, ha, ha.  Given all that my Thai contacts have put up with, of late, with the flood and crazy making incompetent politics, there hasn't been a lot to laugh about save for the cartoons and photos of escaped crocodiles my contacts posted of their shared dilemma. To laugh, I realized when I put the year 2555 together with 2012, was an appropriate response given the irony of governments attempting to dominate nature by investing so heavily in manmade systems only to smother the natural systems that ultimately supported life. (The Thai flood was not only caused by climate change, but made worse by deforestation and the paving over of swamp land, with industrial parks, that would have absorbed much of the water as it flowed to the sea; so much like Katrina.) Laughing was a response that affirmed my non-complicity with the craziness of it.

The world as we know it—especially the world as Americans know it and that everyone else is trying to copy—should come to an end. And if we can't wrestle our deluded leaders into addressing the situation at hand, we will just have to laugh at the absurdity of it and do what we can to wrestle free and find sanity.

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At 10:52 AM, Anonymous Claire said...

I like putting up single strands of LED lights, it is efficient and pretty! Sometimes I leave them up for months!

It was difficult not to buy stuff during Black Friday with all the great deals, but I held on! :)


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