For the month of February I am using only candles for light at night.
I wanted a glimpse of what was once regular life for everyone before electricity: a true dark night at the end of each day. Has an important place been lost by extending the day, and could I explore it?
Receptors in the eyes were recently discovered that take in no visual info, only signals of day and night. Electric light gives them a daylight signal, but candlelight doesn’t. I blacked out my windows to eliminate light from outside, removed the refrigerator light, and swore off computers and all other artificial light during the evening hours.
This is my dispatch from the first week.
I had no idea how bright my nights had been
It struck me immediately that I had no idea how bright my indoor night had been all these years. I live on the ground floor of a duplex between two small parking lots. Both lots are brightly lit from dusk to dawn.
With the blackout curtains, it’s a totally different world. I can’t believe how unaware I was of the light pollution in my nightly life.
Wait for the Blackout
Every night at dusk, I play the opening song to the Damned’s Black Album, the song Wait for the Blackout * on the record player, repeating the song a few times while I cover every window. (*Brian is a lifelong fan of The Damned, and thought of it right away.)
It comes on like a TV theme song to introduce the night. I put up the curtains with two squares of Velcro above each window, light a candle, and let the night begin.
The difference in the house with these curtains up is literally night and day. After only a week, I learned a lot.
It seems much later
It is so dark that the pilot light in the stove and heater cast a blue-purple glow, and always seems like it’s almost time to go to bed.
I take a candle lamp to the fridge and to the bathroom. I’m surprised how easy it is to feel around in the fridge and find things. It is actually fun. And bringing a candle into the bathroom is so natural, as if my body remembers it from ancient times.
Candles in Total Darkness are Always Beautiful
I had never quite figured out night lighting in my house. Most night lighting is a pale imitation of daylight. But total darkness plus candles is a simple yet effective recipe for a beautiful sensory experience. Like counting on a morning cup of coffee, I now looked forward to a nightly abyss of darkness with three or four twinkling candle flames.
Without the clutter of cords, rooms are also more relaxing. It’s like how historic kitchens set up in a museum, like from the pioneer days, are always so simple and rustic. The nightstand is now just a candle lantern, a book, a lighter, and glass of water.
Candles Vary Widely in Brightness
Once one’s eyes are adjusted to the dark, it’s pretty easy to read by the light of a candle or two. Sometimes. Other times, I crowd three or four around my book and it’s still too dark, even after my eyes had adjusted.
It’s an Incidental Rest from the Digital World.
With so much time at night away from screens, I often miss the distraction and connection. But the night and candles create such a totally different world that it never feels like a deprivation.
The contact I do have is a throwback in that my ringer is now on, and if someone calls I have no idea who it will be. But occasionally it’s futuristic, like using voice activated commands or having the phone read out loud by swiping two fingers down the screen.
I re-discovered that’s there’s a lot you can do without a computer. Typing up a messy longhand draft and letting it naturally improve like a finer round of sandpaper is much more fun than opening the computer to disjointed notes on an electronic document. Plus, a shorter available time on the computer means less wasted time during the day as I do my best to fit all necessary computer work into daylight hours.
I’m not that important
I occasionally must work late at my job, so if I think I’ll be super busy, I can come in early to get everything done. So far, it hasn’t been very hard to come home before sunset. I don’t have night classes, events to put on or attend, or anything totally mandatory.
After not using screens all night, I’ll check my email or notifications in the morning and there’s like nothing. Partly this is because I’m a little less active online, but partly it’s because there isn’t much substantive activity taking place around the clock in my life, and it’s a good thing to admit to oneself.
Time Slows Down
You know how time sometimes flies by when you have free time? This is the opposite. Time is as slow as I can ever remember it as an adult. Sometimes the day flies by and it’s suddenly night, and then it slows down. It’s February, so at about 6:30, it’s like a whole four hours stretches before me, sometimes luxuriously, sometimes unsettlingly.
Plus, I don’t know what time it is at night. Without digital displays or lights on, there is no way to know whether it’s 3AM or a minute before the alarm rings. I’ve had a few very boring nights where I had to think about all my problems instead of look at my phone, and one night where I resorted to turning the candle back on to read.
Dawn feels like a miracle
Brian takes down the blackout curtains in non-bedroom areas before coming to bed. When it starts getting light at sunrise, I get up to pull off the bedroom curtain too. Watching it get light is like feeling the world transform into a totally different place.