Written on a plane from Chicago to Orange County
It is night, and the city lights that come into view from time to time are a comfort. On my flight out of DC earlier, it was the open expanses that calmed me — the perfectly etched farm land, the snow capped mountains. Those remote landscapes were the only ones to help quiet that flying panic that takes hold when we hit some bad turbulence. Or hell, any real turbulence. I don’t know where this feeling came from – I used to love flying (as much as anyone can love being confined to a small, cramped seat for six hours straight.) And then, one day, it hit me:
We are flying in a giant tube of toothpaste through the sky. Why are we even remotely okay with this?
I do it anyway. The summer before last I flew eleven different times – most of it on dodgy Indonesian aircraft that has been banned from the EU. Because what is life without chances? It would not include seventy degree weather, a two minute walk to the beach, and one of my best friends – which is precisely where, after a day and a half of snow storm-induced delays, I am finally headed.
I grew up in San Francisco, so the snow is still a marvel to me. And this storm did not disappoint. But the charm, at least for this winter, has worn off a little. It could be the bad bout of pnuemonia I dealt with (whose effects just seem to linger), or it could simply be the sheer weight of it, the relentless wind, the lack of sunlight, the tension you tend to hold in your body from bracing it against the cold day in and day out. It brings to mind those awful days in New York City, when the wind tunnels are so harsh and swift you feel as if the world is hitting you. People are rushing, pushing against each other, everyone’s brow set in a hard, straight line. The train floors are covered in dirt and melted ice, and everyone is packed together, scowling. These are the moments I’d look around and think: A city of beautiful people? I better get out of here before I start looking like this.
Winter is hard on people. And so, in the depths of it, I wonder now, just fleetingly, what it would be like to live in a place where the temperature rarely drops below 60 degrees. Would I be happier? More functional? Life would certainly have a greater ease. And, I think, in a way I’d be more apt to live in the present, never longing for the seasons of the future or the past.
But what has tied me to the east coast of the United States for so long is the seasons, their inevitable coming and going. They are incredibly defining, and definition, for me, is what gives life color – brings it alive and into focus. So many of my memories – many of them solitary – are inextricably bound to the seasons: leaving a strange apartment in Brooklyn, only to find the first, soft snow that won’t stick, emerging into the lush Blue Ridge Mountains on the first true spring day, lazily moving along DC’s Tidal Basin, watching the cherry blossoms fall delicately on a little girl’s head. All of these imprinted, because they are the first vivid sights. And they are so vivid because seasons come so suddenly.
Perhaps that is what my writer friend who I am going to see means when she talks about the amnesia of living in Southern California – everything is so languidly the same. It has a fogging effect. Even growing up in San Francisco, I recall that strange, unnamable feeling – a lack of defintion. No newness to startle you. Like we were all living in maple syrup.
As Bill Hicks said: “What are you, a fucking lizard? Only reptiles feel that way about this kind of weather. I’m a mammal, I can afford coats, scarves, cappuccino and rosy cheeked women.”
Seasons are their own kind of travel – they keep you moving, sharp, and awake. And I think that is why I have held so fast to them. Interestingly enough, though, the more I travel, the less I seem to need these powerful, defining seaons. So one day, I may just make my base a hot, sunny place. Because god, these next few days are going to feel good.