5.27.2014

Finding Your Weather

Robert Bechtle paints that hard, sharp San Francisco light so well. I literally squint and cringe looking at this image — and, yes, that is the so called proper use of "literal."
There are these days in San Francisco that are so impossibly crystalline — the sun sharp and bright, the air light and clean — that I fear I'll become untethered from the earth and float unencumbered into the ether.  It's not a pleasant feeling.

Some people, I realize, thrive on such a day, in such weather. Not me. I can't focus or think straight. The light of the sun is so piercing, it makes my head ache. I bump into things, nearly get in car accidents. The air is too light, my thoughts drifting into chaos before dissipating all together.

And then there are these other days in this city that, thankfully, are more common. The city becomes blanketed in a thick, grey coat, a monochromatic shield from the sun. Everything becomes quite still, moving more slowly, more concertedly. There is a weight to the atmosphere that I find comforting, gentle. On days like this, I am focused, sure, with just the right amount of melancholy.


Needless to say, how we go with this or that weather depends on our constitution. There's nothing like being in San Francisco to make this clear. On the same day, you'll find someone in a beanie and parka standing next to a dude in shorts and a t-shirt. I can see both interpretations but only abstractly. As this body with this constitution, I experience it as me: usually cold as I'm a skinny ass dude who burns cool.

But what makes these radically discrepant interpretations of the same weather possible is more than just our individual differences. It's that weather is so much more than temperature. It's wind, light, humidity, barometric pressure all working together in an elaborate calculus of mood and activity. Sixty-three degrees can be warm or cold depending the play of wind and water.

As related aside, I fucking hate the wind. I get mad — which I realize is absurd. But, man, that fucking wind won't stop blowing and fucking my shit up and it never stops or says sorry or excuse me it juts keeps pushing and blowing and getting all up in my shit and I want to punch it in the face but it doesn't have a face so I'm frustrated as well as angry and, well, it's just better I stay inside on windy days. 

But, for me, I think it's mostly the pressure that shapes my mood. I can feel the atmosphere pushing down upon me (or not). If it pushes too much, I feel as though I can't get up; if it doesn't push hard enough, my mind and mood dissipate like so many particles of water sprayed from an ocean wave. There's this perfect atmospheric weight that suits me well — like a cosmic hug, it embraces me, reassures me, prods me, incites me.

My parents sell antique scientific instruments (I didn't make that up). As a kid, my father put this barometer in the living room where it sat for years. I still remember so clearly watching this weighted arm ever so slightly rise and fall, all the while recording the ebb of the atmosphere. To this day, I feel like that arm, my body that recording device marking the atmosphere's push.


Finding your weather is not so obvious. It's a learning curve that itself curves as you change. On sunny days, there's a general cultural assumption that we should be outside doing something. People say things like, I feel like I'm wasting the day! It therefore took me a while to realize that I don't really like going out on sunny days — at least not in San Francisco.

But this is not say that I don't like sunny days. It's only to say that I don't like being outside on sunny days. I do, however, like being inside on sunny days. I like the way the sun is refracted through my drawn blinds.

Which is to say, weather is not only outside. Weather is all pervasive; it is the mood and activity of the air itself. If there air is heavy, you feel this inside as well as out. I believe this is not appreciated enough: being inside on a sunny day is glorious and oft overlooked by the general assumption that a sunny day only happens outside. That's just not true: sunny days, like all days, happen inside, too.

Some people have allergies on certain kinds of days. This is one aspect of weather and constitution that, as a culture, we talk about. But we see these allergies as a problem to be overcome. Pop a Claritin and get yourself outside, silly person! But I can't help but see allergies as continuous with the entire body's way of going with the atmosphere. Isn't my lack of focus on crystal clear San Francisco days a kind of allergy? Just as my eyes might itch or my nose run, my thoughts might dissipate — or cohere.  In fact, that seems like a worse symptom than itchy eyes.

The weather is a complex system just as you and me are complex systems. The way we go in and with the weather is itself a complex system, ever moving, ever morphing, and ever mediated by medicines, moods, needs, desires, and window blinds. Thank goodness for window blinds.

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