How to Welcome Bad Weather
Don't let your fear dampen this adventure.
Storm Cloud, Lake George (1923) by Georgia O’Keeffe
Today I woke up to the sound of heavy rain, wind, and thunder, and I lay in bed feeling grateful for bad weather. After 24 years of LA sunshine, nothing is better than this. I couldn’t resist pulling up the radar app on my phone – green blobs, red blobs, a severe thunderstorm approaching from the southwest, lightning just across the freeway (cloud to ground), snow dipping down from Virginia, getting closer by the minute. Bill’s phone started buzzing because he had his alerts set on vibrate: Flash Flood! Snow begins at 10 am! Schools are closed!
I wanted to get out of bed but I twisted my ankle on New Year’s Day trying to walk in very tall vintage boots on some slippery stairs. It was not pragmatic to wear the boots to a new friend’s outdoor party, but I’ve been wearing them a lot lately. They’re actually very comfortable and they remind me of 2001, when I wore them around the clock. They also make me a solid three inches taller.
I need to feel tall right now. Instead, I slipped and my three-inch-thick wooden heel kicked a pot on the stairs and it shattered, scattering dirt and assassinating an innocent plant in the process.
This is suboptimal guest behavior. I am new to town. I felt embarrassed. And by the time I got home, my ankle was killing me. So yesterday I lay in bed, feeling like a jackass. I doomscrolled. I perused some hate mail from people whose marriages are amazing and perfect, all they do is roll around in the waves together, half naked, laughing out loud. Their marriages are a music video that never ends.
I understand that it’s hard to welcome bad weather. We’re trained to hate surprises and shitty news and ambivalence and mixed feelings. People hate the word “hate” and they hate women who admit to feeling anger and they definitely for sure don’t want some angry bitch summing up the way it feels inside their sexy-music-video marriages.
“Those who talk most about the blessings of marriage and the constancy of its vows are the very people who declare that if the chain were broken and the prisoners left free to choose, the whole social fabric would fly asunder. You cannot have the argument both ways. If the prisoner is happy, why lock him in? If he is not, why pretend that he is?” – George Bernard Shaw
“By the time you swear you’re his/ Shivering and sighing /and he vows his passion is / infinite undying / lady make note of this – one of you is lying.” – Dorothy Parker
What do we want writing to be? Should we all repeat the same safe things in safe ways? Is it okay to feel dyspeptic and express it? Can you sum up what you’ve observed? Can a person have a personality, or are all strong personalities just a constellation of diagnosable disorders?
I’m here to defend flinty personalities and bad days and marriages that aren’t music videos, that’s all. That’s not the same thing as promoting resignation and contempt. The New York Times excerpt of my book isn’t about how terrible my husband is, it’s about how hard it is to be a conflicted mortal chained to another mortal. If you can’t tell that I’m the irascible nightmare in that picture, just keep reading! Trust me, it’s crystal clear by the end of my book. I’m not promoting hatred, I’m promoting acceptance of your flawed self, which makes it possible to accept other people’s flaws and the deeply flawed universe outside your door. I’m here to make space for human beings to be stubborn and repetitive and impossible. Reckoning with the shit that drives you mad, making fun of it and yourself, ripping it all into little shreds and then piecing it together again – this is how you survive the perils of being a jittery, ferocious animal born into a militantly cheery, denial-fueled world that wants you to play along and pretend until you can’t feel anything at all.
The idea that I’m miserable and I’m promoting resignation and contempt is a hilarious side effect of how moralistic and reductive our culture is about marriage and writing and personality and opinions and everything else under the sun. But motherfucker, you don’t have to become the living embodiment of a Live, Laugh, Love sign to stand up for joy. Defending your right to feel irritation and impatience and random bouts of misdirected lust is the same thing as defending your right to feel joy. We are big, complicated animals with hurricanes of emotion racing through our microbiomes. It’s fine to feel all of the fucking things. It’s fine to step outside the weird little corrals our culture built for us and say, “Uh, this feels wrong to me, I have mixed feelings, maybe that means I’m a total dick, but I feel weird.”
Trying to engage with people online can be tricky. Sometimes you start out happy and open and then you slowly crumple and retreat. It can wear on you. I wrote an incredibly personal book that I filled with PURE MADNESS, and talking about it is fun because marriage and anger and infidelity and trust and longing are all exciting subjects. But it also feels unnatural, to be seen clearly and also sometimes misunderstood by strangers. Even after years of writing online, it can get under my skin.
I have to remind myself that I’m insanely lucky that people are talking about my book at all. I have to welcome bad weather.
I also have to crawl down the stairs on my ass with my sprained ankle in the air. I have to ask my husband if he still feels okay about everything, as he makes my tea and feeds the dogs and maintains a firm stance of DUDE, WHO CARES WHAT PEOPLE THINK? I have to look at my tall boots without feeling like a dumbass. I have to accept that I’m not as tall as I want to be.
The last time I was on a plane that hit turbulence, I kept saying to myself: “I am having an adventure! I will greet this as a good kind of excitement!” Bad weather can be fun, but terror can put you in a defensive stance. Then you’re just fighting what’s real. Every bump is unwelcome, a sign of impending doom. You’re angry at the clouds, like Grandpa Simpson. You can’t see how beautiful they are.
Noticing that you feel rage and hatred and longing and love, giving a name to those emotions, welcoming them in without blaming yourself for them: that’s what makes you feel more alive and also prevents you from blaming someone else for what’s living inside your cells, not theirs. That’s what allows you to not just tolerate but enjoy bumps and falls and snow and flooding and cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. This world might always stigmatize what’s natural and normal but it’s important not to do it to yourself. Don’t sum yourself up as a tangle of pathologies. Because sometimes at the exact moment that you feel the most discouraged and humiliated and lost, these emotions are just a sign that you’re finally letting the world in, you’re finally showing up for your feelings, you’re finally ready to say, “This scares me, but it’s okay. I’m having an adventure.”
There are stars still twinkling, behind the clouds. You’ll walk again, and feel tall again, and fall again, too. You’re in the right place.
Today I’ll be sitting with my ankle on ice, loitering in the comments below, ready to hear about your latest bouts of bad weather. What are the reminders you use when you’re angry at yourself but you’re still trying to embrace your conflicted soul? Testify! Happy new year, and sincere thanks for reading Ask Polly!