February 2011 Archives

Weather, Death, and Denial: my 60th birthday insight

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This morning I stumbled onto a major insight, which forced me to reassess my relationship with every state and climate in which I've ever lived. As well as my relationships with my neighbors, myself, death, and denial.

I grew up in Texas, where people like to brag about the sulfurous summer heat. Down there, it is okay to fry an egg on the sidewalk and ask, on a regular basis, "Hot enough for you?" It is not okay to answer, "In fact, it is way too f*&^ing hot for me and I have decided to get a job in a meat-locker." The appropriate answer is a wry chuckle and something along the lines of, "Nope. I was hoping for a real summer this year."

For reasons I have never figured out, I've also lived a good portion of my life in the San Francisco Bay area. I am one of the few people I know who does not like the San Francisco Bay area, but I spent my undergraduate years there, then later got a teaching job there, then many years later watched my oldest child head off to graduate school there.

When I taught in California twenty-six years ago, this same child was an infant. I have a vivid memory of bracing myself in a doorway, my baby in my arms, while the earth turned to viscous liquid beneath my feet. I had never before experienced an earthquake, and after it was over I knew one thing--I never wanted to experience another one. Actually, I sort of enjoyed the physical sensation. What I didn't like was the fear of dying in a doorway. But when I tried talking with Bay area residents about this concern, I got blank stares.

"Don't you worry about another earthquake?" I would ask a group of mothers in the nearby kiddy park.

Wan smiles, averted glances. It was as if I had started sharing some of my favorite sexual positions.

Plus, there is no summer in San Francisco. The instant the air retains a hint of warmth, a dense blanket of cold fog rolls in from the bay. This does not stop hard-core San Franciscans from wearing shorts and tank-tops on mid-July evenings, when the temperature is hovering in the fifties--a topic also not up for discussion with the natives.

Eventually, my husband and daughter and I escaped back to the East Coast, to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Because Cambridge is such a hodge-podge of drifters, professors, and quacks, I never located any uniform topic on which everyone seemed to be in denial--at least in terms of weather and natural disaster. I did regularly have moments in the aisles of Whole Foods during which I rethought my position on gun control; I wouldn't have wanted to hurt anyone, but it would have been satisfying to fire off a few rounds in the air and remind folks that they were in a public place where many people other than themselves and their precocious children were trying to shop for food.

But, in general, complaining counted as a competitive sport in Cambridge, and I never lacked for an attentive audience when mouthing off about what wasn't working for me. There was not a lot of loyalty to the land there, or to the climate, and few had staked fierce claims on local identity.

angie's house winter

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