When the days are really hot and the air conditioning units and high-powered ceiling fans get tired, the power company flips the electricity off for a number of healthy minutes.
The power shut-off occurs, when it does, usually between 2am and 3am and without apology, because one would be hard-pressed to pick a time when everyone's asleep here, especially on the weekends. On my first night in Corrientes I woke up at 2:30am to the strange silence of no electricity; the hum of the trusty air conditioning unit (my first friend) had ceased and to my accustomed ear it was almost brutally quiet. I tried flipping a light switch -- nothing. For a brief moment I convinced myself that I had somehow blown a fuse by sleepwalking into the kitchen and doing something crazy with the power outlets. I looked out the window and saw that within my gaze everything everywhere else was completely dark, save for the flashing red and yellow of passing cars. The temperature without the air conditioning only very gently rose until the AC unit cranked back on about 20 minutes later. The light that I had tried to properly "turn on," having not been properly "turned off," blared on exactly at the same time the air conditioning unit resumed its steady hiss and outside, scattered streetlights and windows were aglow again. As it was a hot week with highs in the upper 90's, this off-and-on business happened almost every night for the next several nights, and I grew rather fond of it.
I was still awake and drinking tea on one instance at 1:30am and I swear I could hear it coming. It was as if every air conditioner in the entire city let out one giant belly-breath: the kind they make you do in yoga or at a doctor's appointment. But I was awake and alert, and every sound in the moments before everything turned off seemed to swell in my memory: the noise of the air conditioner but also of the white noise of everything else plugged in around me. The city without its electricity was breathing a sigh of either relief or fatigue, but for me it was a forcedly meditative moment (and was perhaps shamefully easy to turn something good for the environment like preserving energy into something self-serving and character-building in my own mind's eye). So I sat and tried to listen to myself, to the weird thoughts, allusive phrases and ditties that drift into your head when all about you is calm.
The weather eventually got cooler and breezier. If these minutes of no electricity continued to happen at night, I didn't notice them. I've started teaching and found a place that serves thick yogurt. I measure my daily successes by the students who I reach and the number of people I assure that Donald Trump does not represent -- can't possibly represent -- all of America.
But last night, after an unusually hot day, the power went out again and I noticed. On my taxi ride home, everything around me was dark. Streetlights weren't on, and my kind taxi driver shone his headlights in my path as I found my way to the front door. Falling asleep without the ceiling fan was warm and quiet. I woke up early in the morning to the sound of rain and to recall the poem "The Inner Ear" (about just that) by the Scottish poet John Burnside:
It's rude to be on time here, a phenomenon which has led me to taking an extra walk around the block on a number of occasions. On one of these meandering diversions I found my own inner ear joyfully half-humming, half-chanting to the tune of "Sippin' Cider through a Straw," a beloved Shirley-Temple era campfire song. While I was not "sippin' cider," I was sipping a Diet Coke out of a straw. And so since I cannot myself summon power outages for forced meditation and introspection, I've decided to turn to such walks as substitute for honoring the inner ear that never switches off. They are the walks I walk when I am by myself and when all I hear is my very own inner monologue, which usually derails into something like a musical rehearsal of the Preamble to the US Constitution to the rhythm of my own step.
Such Inner Ear walks are very useful for working out all sorts of physical and mental kinks. Often they're dreamlike. Whoa, you might find yourself thinking on an Inner Ear walk, I just thought WHAT? These walks are not just the belly-sigh but the belly-laugh of the brain: the thing you didn't know you needed to keep on keepin' on. The magic is that you don't need to turn to Netflix or Drunk History on YouTube but instead into your own ears. I'll still do both of those things, but it pleases me to have discovered it only takes a power outage or a walk alone to remember how funny it can be to listen to the you of you.