Circuit breakers

It is a typical morning. Jiab is going between writing, doing dishes, and managing cat food intake, while I am shuffling between writing, doing laundry, and scooping cat post food-intake outflow.  We move around each other in a Fandango of precision productivity, rehearsed almost daily as a common morning ritual.

And then the power goes out.

This is not unusual in Spain, as many residents will warn you about this country having the most sensitive circuit breakers.  We calmly turn a few things off, then I go to the fuse box and reset the breaker. Mostly the electricity is back to normal (though it will probably kick off a few more times), until we realize the internet won’t restart.

No internet means no writing, which means no work.

Back in the States, this would have drawn curses thrown at the Gods, angry phone calls to the utility companies, and possibly even heated bickering over who is most screwed over by the interruption.

But this is Spain, and everything here often seems geared towards a single, unified message: don’t try to do too much.

A circuit breaker is naturally designed to shut the system down if one tries to overload the wires’ capacity by turning on too many appliances at once. Too many demands at once, the breaker says stop.

It can be annoyingly disruptive, especially when one had a plan for how it all should go, but the stoppage can also force one to prioritize which should be done in what order, and maybe give a little extra care and attention to each task.

I have also come to see that kind of reminder is a good one, and that there are other such breakers throughout Granadan life.

I walk fast when I have someplace to go (usually a few feet ahead of Jiab, hoping my tacit tug will speed her steps), at least until l I walk up behind an elderly couple, her arm through his, taking up the narrow sidewalk as they casually stroll. It makes me catch myself, wait for Jiab, and then we follow in suit, appreciating each other and maybe even taking in an interesting building façade we never noticed before.

The same thing with having no car. Like most Granadinos, we travel by bus, and while we have to adjust for the bus schedule (which is pretty good, actually), we also det to take in the view, exchanging smiles and greetings with other passengers, and, best of all, I get to face Jiab and speak with her rather than sit parallel in a car with eyes forward.

We are getting used to the overall Spanish pace, where one to two things accomplished in the commercial world is a good day, to then retire for the afternoon. Later, we leisurely come out for dinner, which one accepts will be prepared and served in no hurry. Tourists either complain or use the delay time to drink heavily, but we have learned to use the time to talk about the day, or exchange conversation with friends; the drinking is still there, but at a pace that savors, not pacifies.

Spanish life has a lot of circuit breakers, and even though I am still adjusting, I am coming to love them all.

In fact, it’s made me reexamine life back in the States where there are few systematic breakers, and I see how that makes everyone’s wires fried.

In the US, we live like proverbial sharks, having to constantly move forward lest we die. “Good enough” doesn’t exist; “what is the next goal?” is the carrot we all must chase, all in hopes of some “dream life” that we will never approach and frankly, wouldn’t know what to do with if we got it except to then work more to make it even better.

Jiab and I used to live like that. How many conversations were about coordinating schedules to get the next thing done, rather than about simply being in the present with each other? As the geography-skilled person, my pride was turning Jiab’s Saturday to do list into a planned route around town that got the most done in the most efficient way, even while we couldn’t be bothered to remember the names of our next-door neighbors.

We would tell ourselves “We had to do it,” but in looking back, the worst thing of not doing it all would have been… that not everything got done. We would get angry if someone suggested slowing down, justifying our frazzled pace by saying “Well, should we just sit around and do nothing while it all falls apart?” as if our only choices were nothing or everything.

I now see this life we had, and it scares me. Not any more for us, but for my friends who still live this way back home, and even more, for our sons whom we hope didn’t take to heart the life we modeled even while we gave hypocritical lectures about healthy balance.

Isolated in America, we think that is “the way it is,” and we justify it by the fact that “everyone’s doing it” and we don’t want to miss out on opportunities for success, wealth, houses, cars, vacations, and Face Book worthy achievements that will surely make us happy, so we make sure every outlet in our lives has something plugged in.

Meanwhile, all the signs of systematic circuit overload are wafting up like the smell of burnt electronics:

  • People with little to no social lives, leisure or downtime.
  • Less feeling of community as everyone struggles to personally keep up.
  • More stress-related health problems.
  • Students and other young people told they MUST be leaders, must excel, must standout, because if they don’t, someone else will and will take their place at the next level of competition, pressuring those young people into living unhealthy, improperly balanced lives.
  • More people expressing anger, even “snapping” to the point of self-harm and harming of others (and it doesn’t help to have so many guns around).

America, for the “better life,” you’re killing yourselves, and you’re killing your children. Study after study is showing this.  Even more, as other countries find ways to live longer, the US lifestyle, including the stress and the negative behaviors Americans engage in to mask that stress, are making the US tumble in life expectancy.

There used to be more systematic breakers in the American system. Even as a non-Christian, I appreciated when I was younger that many stores were closed on Sundays, as it meant some things just had to wait. Pre-internet and texting, sometimes nothing could be done, and we’d just have to talk and sort it all out after a good night’s sleep on it.

Those days are gone now, so we have to install circuit breakers into our own personal systems. Maybe it’s turning off the phone at night, maybe it’s actually modelling for your children when something is “good enough” instead of the cognitive dissonance they see between personal reassurances and the “…but you could also…” that follows.

Oh, and for our day with the internet and power glitchy? We took a walk around the city, up to the Alhambra, walked around the city cemetery admiring the flowers and other traces of día de Muertos the day before, and then came home to unwashed dishes, dirty laundry, and cats, who all still seemed to do just fine without us.


4 thoughts on “Circuit breakers”

  1. I recently discovered your blog and enjoy hearing about your experiences. I especially appreciate your openness about the challenges of living in a foreign country and adapting and seeing the benefits of those challenges. I look forward to all of your posts. Thank you for sharing!

    • Thank you, Laurel. We appreciate the feedback and we would love to hear about you and where you are in your journey. If you have any questions, please let us know.

  2. Well, you just solved the mystery of why our internet (and the live cam in our piso) stopped working right around the beginning of November! We usually love to check in every couple of days when in the US. We love to just look at our place, in the Cervantes neighborhood of Granada, and be momentarily right there, albeit through technology.

    It’s an old cam and does not reset itself automatically so we currently have no way to look at our place until we are back in a couple of weeks from now. So, my husband just bought a new one that will turn back by itself. But, just like you mentioned above, if our internet or power went out while we were there, we would just take a walk and enjoy our beautiful second home…Granada!

    Thanks again Jim for bringing us back home, even if from afar.

    Patty and Scott Lawrence

    • Thanks again, Patty (You are definitely in contention for reader of the month!). Yes, the power off/kick it back on dance has become a regular thing here. Funny how something starts as a “What the heck was that?” to “Again?” to my not even stopping my phone conversation as I casually walk over to the circuit box and re-flip the switch. That’s acclimating. Looking forward to us being in the same city/country/continent at some point!


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