Tuesday, July 17, 2012
The stillness of this green, wet summer
Tonight as Bill and I drove back from the gym, we caught a glimpse across Wascana Lake of the highrises downtown shrouded in mist. The leaves on the trees hung still and seemed to have lost their individuality, their particularity. In the misty light we didn't see individual leaves fluttering or turning in the breeze, the texture of each tree's foliage clear in the sharp evening prairie light. We saw stasis: tree. Simple, green, of a slightly particular shape, but around its edges simply blurring into the other trees. The deck in my shady back yard has begun to turn green with moss. The usually crisp white sheets on our bed feel damp and cloying at bedtime. The cats are lethargic.
As am I. I feel burdened by this weather, weighted down by the humid air and the lack of a breeze. And I feel cheated. Every day we have less light. Normally we can expect the clear light to hang in the air for a while after sunset, but the humidity seems to shroud it as early as possible, to steal its ability to create the long definite shadows that show up the detail in the world around us.
But I am not a plant, and the dry Saskatchewan summer I can usually count on has always been the excuse, the prompt for long productive days, for going to bed early, watching the sun slowly set out my western window, and reading or musing.
But instead of thinking about Woolf's aesthetics or about Lee's pottery or about Chris's work on bird language or about Dana's enthusiasm for political demonstrations, particularly those of the young, I'm thinking about stasis, about balance points, about the irresolvable paradoxes of being human.
I met my first powerful human paradox hanging out a window with a high school friend, Henry Bracey, who was telling me that black blood flowed in his veins while I, wanting to erase all difference, told him no, it was just the same as mine. Aside from the important racial politics of that moment, we were asserting two contradictory human desires: the wish to be just like everyone else, as good as, as beautiful or rich as everyone else, and the desire to be ineluctably ourselves. We veer from side to side, some days wanting to assert our difference, some days struggling to assert our place in the human community. Seldom do we find the comfortable/uncomfortable balance point between the two.
I met my second paradox teaching Jane Austen who, in Sense and Sensibility, shows us better than any other writer and in the clearest possible terms that we need to balance "duty to oneself" with "duty to others." The self-sacrificing ways of Elinor are not without their dangers for herself as well as for the man who loves her. The self-preoccupied emotional dramas of Marianne present, if possible, even more dangers. If you have been a parent, or have taken care of someone who was quite ill, or helped a friend or partner in mental or emotional distress, you know how uncomfortable, how effacing it is to focus on one's necessary duty to others. At some point you feel you will disappear, like the Cheshire Cat, leaving behind only a grimace. But you have also doubtless found yourself--I hope you have found yourself--riding the other swing of the pendulum, preoccupied by your own aches, pains, losses, griefs, only to be horrifically embarrassed at some point by your own self-absorption while the world has quietly gone on with or without you. How humiliating, and, if we are wise, humbling.
But mostly I have told myself this is the perfect summer to work very hard, and then stared out my office window at the rain or the unmoving leaves and thought about how we balance hope with resignation and even rebellion. For it's impossible for us to ignore mudslides in B.C. and an active tornado season in our own province, as well as record-breaking temperatures across Canada. England got an entire month's worth of rain in a single day. We know that something is awry, and we're pretty sure what it is. Ultimately, there's no point in my grousing about the weather. We're not going to get a clear, dry north wind just because I'm sick of humidity. At the same time, though, I have to believe that there's hope, that a break in the weather will come, that we're not the reverse side of Doris Lessing's remarkable Making of a Representative for Planet 8, in which an ice age is destroying life on the planet and the powerful forces in the universe will let a single one of them leave, taking with them lore, history, humanity, grief. Because without hope I can't find the energy to be rebellious. Unless we're lilies or clematis, unless we just love humidity and heat, we're going to have to start rebelling by changing our own behaviour and by finding ways of forcing politicians to change theirs.
at 9:51 PM