The idea started when I had a hankerin’ to google that show, “1900 House.” It aired on PBS some time around the turn of the century. I mean, the 21st century. It’s a reality show where a family in London is selected and put into a period house where they must live for 3 months without modern technology; the house is completely set-up with antiques, including the wall paper and gas lights; they send and receive mail 3 times a day; the women wear corsets, even to do house work; they have a budget and must buy only locally produced food from the butcher (who makes house calls), and they have to use a cook stove to make their food. I think I saw the show originally when I was living in a basement apartment in Houston, making grilled cheese in a toaster and eating angel hair pasta with butter. What I liked about the show is the challenge. And. How much it reminds me of the stories I hear from both sides of my family. Mom grew up without running water on a farm far away from town. Dad didn’t have running water until, well, I can’t remember, maybe they got it when he was in his early teens. They both grew up with an outhouse. They both grew up killing their own animals and helping out around the farm or house.
I suppose I’ve lived back in time already, in ways some people my age have not. I have helped hunt and process the carcasses of animals my family would come to eat. I grew up with just one television station (until Dad bought a satellite dish). I used a rotary phone and had to make sure our neighbors weren’t on the party line before I dialed out. And, in a move which horrified my parents, I lived in small cabin in Fairbanks with no running water and an outhouse for several years.
I don’t have some romanticized idea about “country living” or “living off the land.” I know it’s hard. I know it sucks. I’ve seen the look in my mom’s eyes when she is asked about her childhood. I moved to Fairbanks to get away from what I knew, that’s true, but it wasn’t with the same stars in my eyes that some others had there. One woman, someone with money from a large city, thought this was how she was going to commune with nature or have some more authentic human experience than what she’d had growing up. When I lived in Houston and worked at an upscale camping store, my coworkers were shocked I didn’t hike or camp much, seeing as how I was from the country. All I could say was, you know, when you’re from the middle of nowhere, you don’t really feel a need to get more into the middle of nowhere. I walked through the woods all the time. It wasn’t until I lived in such a huge city for a few years that I understood the urge to run screaming from the concrete and into the woods where no one could see me.
Did I mention there are other shows? Like, Frontier House, Colonial House, Plymouth House, Texas Ranch House, and there’s a newer one on PBS, called, like, Victorian Slum House. I have no idea who would sign up to be a part of that experiment.
I’m telling you all of this because, while I was watching, I was wondering if I could live without modern advances. I mean. Of course I could. I have. I’m capable of doing a lot. But the more important question is, can I live without some of them in a world where everyone uses them? Gaby and I discussed all of this (she was stoked about the idea), shared a google doc, and made a plan. Will eliminating the internet from our house help with Cyrus’s video game addiction or Erika’s need to have Netflix playing at all times? Will I read more or play the guitar? What will Gaby do without the video calls with her family? Will our family become closer or just ignore each other while reading books? We’re going to test it. I should mention, though, that Gaby and I are the only ones excited about it. Erika, who is 13, is certainly opposed.
In preparation for our 30 days of darkness, I’ve purchased an 8 dollar phone and added a landline. I wanted to get a rotary phone, but Mom didn’t have one lying around, and they cost about 60 dollars now. So far, Erika has screamed from upstairs, “How do you even dial a number?” and “How do you hang up?” HAHAHAHAHAHA. (Still taking donations for a rotary phone if you have one). How am I supposed to text my friends about sleepovers!? she shouts. Pick up the phone, we say, and make a call.
I bought jacks, marbles, pick up sticks, and a new family board game called Karuba.
The rules are this:
-no cell phones used in the house (Gaby needs hers for clients. I need mine for Chef Gaby)
-no internet (except when I get to blog to you about our experiences and Erika for homework which will be monitored at the kitchen table.)
-no tv. (I’m changing the netflix password, too. eeeeevvvvviiillll)
-no video games (basically, no screens)
-We can listen to the radio, but no streaming music. We have a record player and cd player.
-We will write letters. (This is how I corresponded with my first girlfriend; there was no internet. This is how Gaby grew up in the Andes. There was only one phone in her neighborhood that everyone had to share)
-We will talk on the phone.
-Our diet will focus on eating locally raised meats and veggies as much as possible and whole grains. Any breads, pastas, or snacks will be made from scratch. (like cheez-its, fig bars, cereal)
-Make an effort to minimize the stuff we have. We already kind of hate stuff, but we’ll keep donating.
All of this begins tomorrow. It’s no 1900 House, but maybe more like…1949 house.
What am I hoping to experience, you might ask. I want Cyrus to learn to play independently; he has wonderful toys and books that he won’t touch unless someone is engaged with him. For myself, I need to learn how to be quiet and still. I don’t do that very well. Maybe I’ll listen to music I forgot I had. Maybe I’ll read a book because all of the children will be reading, too.
Maybe we’ll all lose our minds. Maybe we’ll all find ourselves.