I have to say that I am so very, very, very sick of blogging about dead children. This world.
This time last year, I did a series of memoir posts about my home state, Oklahoma, a land of contradictions so huge they make your heart burst. It started with a post about living in tornado alley, “Stormchaser:”
In Oklahoma, you lose those touchstones. Everything sort of runs together in “coldish and brown” or “greenish and fucking hot” with no transition. Leaves go from green straight to dead: sometime in late October a switch flips. Similarly, it feels springish about half the time in February (the other half it’s just nasty) and by April the sirens are being tested and you’re making sure the batteries in your weather radio are still working.
Severe weather terrified me: things could turn on a dime and a day could go from bright and pleasant to a boiling green sky and fearing for your life. Live in Oklahoma long enough and you become resistant to weather scares, even though every other night from mid-April to late September, So You Think You Can Dance is pre-empted so Gary England can make sure you don’t die. My husband’s first instinct is still to walk outside and take a look when a siren goes off: he’s a millionth generation Oklahoman. My instinct is to carry everyone and everything we love into the basement and hide under a mattress for four hours. (OK: experience has mitigated that somewhat, but I’m still edgy until things clear up.)
I fell in love with Oklahoma while attending college in Norman, OK, which is about 10 miles south of Moore. (Our relatives live in northeast Oklahoma, which dodged the bullet, at least for now.) An infamously bad tornado struck Moore just the year before I started college, and you could still see the path of destruction crossing the highway for the next several years as I took I-35 north and south and north again to go home for weekends.
I can smell the heat, the humidity.
Yesterday’s storm was far worse. Far far worse. The funnel was so broad that chasers couldn’t fit it in their viewfinders. It decimated two elementary schools, killing many many babies. It sucked up a town and spit it out. These good people need our help. Throw some money and help down south and help this town rise like a phoenix again, and not for the last time. My friends, my former rugby teammates, my teachers and neighbors — they’re already there passing out blankets and water. Pitch in.
I signed up to coach pre-k soccer this April. I don’t know how to play soccer, but it seems like when you’re coaching 5 year olds, the only rule is HAVE FUN!!11!!!!1 We won’t keep score or have goalies.
We signed Robin up for soccer because she’ll be attending school in our farm town this fall and we don’t know many kids around here yet. I wanted her to have some familiar faces in her kindergarten class. Plus, sports are a huge deal here, for better or worse: I think about 1/5 of the town’s population is signed up for summer rec teams. Seriously.
Maybe I’m nuts but I think it will be fun. I can think of some silly games we can do, and it’s only for 5 weeks. Just one more hat I’ll be wearing, I guess!
We’re still waiting for my niece/nephew to come into the world, still waiting for spring, too. But life is good in Iowa! How about you?
I love this time of year. I can’t wait for the snow from our 3rd storm in as many weeks to melt away and we can start smelling fresh rain and opening the car windows. I always want to listen to Guided by Voices at this time of year; and “The Rain Song” by Led Zeppelin. I fell in love with our house in late spring. We had just started looking in March and I hated all the options in the bedroom community we were in at the time. I found a listing for a place in farm town and one day after teaching, I drove to it before I picked up the girls. I remember pulling up and getting goosebumps, thinking to myself, “So this is what it feels like to drive up to the house that will become your home.” We bought it. I’m going to plant flowers this year, for sure.
Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.
I’m waiting for my sister to have her first baby. The little one was due about a week ago and my sister is being a very patient and loving Mom. I can’t wait to drive south and help my sis, squeeze a baby, and write and read.
Were you aware that it is fucking hot?
I’m not one to complain about heat (other things, we’ve established, I’m happy to complain about). I lived in Oklahoma for 12 years, where heat indices of 103 are de rigeuer (check it and see). When my Iowa friends start sweating bullets as the thermometer pulses past 85, I sorta smile. It’s a real privilege to complain about a 94 degree day with a cool breeze, in my opinion.
And yet, I have to acknowledge: it is really hot. My facebook feed teems with updates that:
- describe what people are doing to beat the heat
- complain about the heat
- complain about people complaining about the heat
- fret over global warming
I’m no fool; global warming is for real. But I find it amusing that people think we are witnessing the end times because of a few hot days in July. Check this, for example:
While setting hundreds of new heat records, the most notable aspect of the current heat wave gripping the central U.S. and spreading east is the associated humidity. In the upper Midwest Monday, the combination of heat and humidity brought widespread heat index values of 110+, with numerous 120 degree readings. The peak heat index occurred in Knoxville, Iowa, which reached a suffocating 131 degrees.
This was written in July 2011. Yes: it has been hot in July in years past. Wikipedia teaches us that it has been hot in July many times in the past
. My friends, it gets hot in the summer. So I just don’t see a purpose in getting angry about it, or trying to avoid it. Yes, all right, FINE: my kids and I spent 8 hours inside yesterday watching She-Ra and eating no-bake cookies. But really, the best thing to do is go into it. As with many things — swimming in a cold lake, childbirth, writing an essay that feels like it’s going nowhere — the way out is the way through.
We may grit our teeth at the prospect of two more weeks of this heat. We may despise how trapped we feel and how annoying our kids are becoming. We are angry and want to run away. But that shit will not change the weather. This is the absurdity of our summer condition. We must imagine ourselves happy in the heat.
In The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus uses mythology to deal with man’s existential crisis. Sisyphus’s story is simple: he did some bad thing and pissed off a God, and his punishment is to roll a boulder up a hill. When the boulder reaches the top, it rolls back down, and he has to start all over again. Camus likens this to the human experience: condemned to repeat the same things day after day; and, if you follow the existentialist philosophy that there is no God and therefore absolutely no larger point or payoff to life, it can feel pretty fucking bleak. Camus asks the simple question: Must we commit suicide in the face of this pointlessness? NO, he concludes. He writes:
What counts is not the best living but the most living… The struggle itself [...] is enough to fill a man’s heart. We must imagine Sisyphus happy.
Camus asks us to embrace all that the unreasonable world has to offer. So, be like Sisyphus and imagine yourself happy in the heat. After all, we can’t change the weather.
10 Ways To Embrace the Heat:
- Wear less clothing. “No shit, Sherlock!” you’re saying, but seriously, this is a common mistake. When I lived in Oklahoma, I packed away everything that went past my knee or elbows. I lived in skirts, shorts, and tank tops. Are you wearing jeans right now? Did you layer your shirts? Were you foolish enough to put on close-toed shoes? Amateurs! Change into something else and see what a difference it makes.
- Put a fan on your porch. Moving air makes all the difference, even if you’re in direct sun. If you have a covered porch with an outlet, plug in an industrial fan and sit outside. You’ll get used to the heat. I’m outside right now, on a covered porch with ceiling fans, and it’s 90 degrees. I feel completely comfortable.
- Get up earlier. During my last summer in Oklahoma, I got up at 6 every day and immediately went for a walk (this is back when fitness was a priority for me). Play before breakfast instead of after breakfast. Get your outdoors fix in before Ellen (or, if you’re a hipster nerd like myself, before On Point). (I love you, Tom Ashbrook!)
- Get wet. I bought a swimsuit last week for the first time in 6 years and it’s amazing how much cooler you feel when you’re actually playing in the fountain or swimming in the pool instead of sweltering alongside it. Get your suit on, set up your hose or sprinkler or mister or sink sprayer, and get wet. Suddenly 95 feels comfy.
- Listen to music really loud. It feels more like an awesome montage in a summer camp movie if you are blasting “Panama” by Van Halen then if you’re listening to NPR.
- Drive faster, with the windows open. Create a breeze. According to the Car Talk guys, the drag created by open windows is probably as energy inefficient as using your AC, anyway. Combine #5 and #6 and you’re halfway to a brilliant and beautiful summer memory.
- Nap in the sun. Lather up with sunscreen and try do this off peak hours. Then you’ll see why cats like it so much, and, bonus, you’ll feel absolutely frigid when you go in the shade or AC.
- Get yourself on a boat. How long has it been since you went on a boat ride? Did you forget that boats are fucking awesome? I don’t care how much of a city mouse you are, flying across any lake — even a dirty, syringe-filled lake — feels incredible.
- Two words: ICED. TEA. It doesn’t even have to be sun tea, although that is obviously the best kind. We get cold brew bags and stuff our mason jars full of chipped ice and mint leaves or lemon wedges.
- Fruit. It’s on sale. Buy as much of it as you can fit in your trunk and eat it all, tonight. Make your whole meal out of fruit. Bonus points for super cold and refreshing citrus fruits like grapefruit and oranges. I rarely bought fresh fruit when I was a swinging young working single non-parent, but this is the time to take a gamble on a flat of strawberries and challenge yourself to use it all up.
There you go. I bet you are feeling better already.
Lauren’s severe weather post reminded me immediately of my own inner struggles with Iowa weather and meteorology. I can definitively second her description of the weather maps as an endless sea of undifferentiated potentially severe but maybe it’ll be just fine and the soccer game won’t be cancelled weather. One of my favorite features of the forecast was the weekly weather coaster, which featured an animated graphic of a roller coaster car with a local celebrity’s head photoshopped in riding the bumps of the 7 day forecast. Like Lauren says: weather does not appear to be particularly serious business in Iowa.
I spent most of my grad student years living in what can only be described as a shack. I say that lovingly: it was a tiny house at the end of a driveway/alley in a neighborhood of large older homes. and when I say tiny, I don’t mean cute 1 bedroom bungalow: I mean, the only door was a pocket door to the bathroom. It might have been 20 feet by 20 feet on the outside. It was the perfect space for a single grad student: walking distance from campus, cute little deck to read/drink wine in the evening, fireflies. It made no sense for us to stay there after T moved in but we did anyway, because I loved it so much, and so the shack eventually held not just the two of us but also a cat and a dog. Continue reading
Between the early spring and a few severe storms lately, but I’ve been thinking a lot about and missing my home state of Oklahoma. We’ve been watching Stormchasers with the girls, one of the few shows they’ll watch that we all enjoy – and I mostly enjoy it for the scenery. I’ve been calling it “Norman Porn” because one of the chasing teams is based out of Norman OK, where we attended college. It’s weird how the wide, wild skies, that red dirt, and the scrubby grass in highway ditches gets me feeling all nostalgic.
Oklahoma: Land of Perpetual Road Work
There was a time in my life when I’d have recoiled in horror at a description of the Sooner state as my home or a place I’d consider myself “from,” but since moving to Iowa eight years ago, that’s how I’ve ended up responding to any question about my origins. I wasn’t born in Oklahoma, and I lived in several Midwestern states before we moved to Tulsa, a large city in the northwestern corner of the state, when I was 11 years old. I never loved it; I never felt like I belonged there. I moved away from Oklahoma when I was 23, just months after getting married, in August 2004. What is home, anyway? When I’ve lived less than 12 years in any given state in my short life, is it where I was born? Where my family originated? Where I became myself? I don’t know. But Oklahoma became a part of me. Continue reading
Posted in Memoir, Pop Culture, TV & Film, Uncategorized
Tagged Gary England, home, identity, Iowa, iowa city, Life, meterology, Midwestern United States, National Weather Service, Oklahoma, seasons, severe weather, spring, Storm Chasers (TV series), tornadoes, tulsa, weather, winter
1. I got an email from the faceless bureaucracy of my institution that I’ve been listed for “termination” from my TAship starting May 11, so unless I email them and change everything, my university life will end in six weeks. And obviously I knew that would happen, but seeing it in black and white felt strange and sad. I feel like my departure is an unremarkable event: my students don’t understand that I won’t be back in their program next year, that a new teacher will teach their future teammates and friends. Every summer means a shuffle in the TA offices, so who knows if my officemates will realize or care that I’m gone (except R, my office BFF. Shout out!). The regular rhythm of school life means people won’t notice I’m gone until next year. But for me? This is it, and it’s big, and it’s scary. Lately, I feel like I’m in the middle of a dream and I’m about to wake up to some brutal reality.
2. That would be true if I had a chance to dream, but sleep has been a precious commodity in our house. My kids have never been good sleepers. They both nightwake long past whatever fool age bullshit websites say they should, no matter what advice book we follow, and my 2yo is an early bird (which is why MN is often updated at 6 am). After our 2nd was born, we did a divide and conquer thing that has been mostly good, but lately we’ve had a hankering to sleep in the same bed at the same time, so we launched a big “YAY LET’S SLEEP IN YOUR BIG GIRL BUNKBEDS PLEASE GOD” campaign and it went fine until it did not go fine and the past four nights I can’t sleep away from them because I’m not used to it, and I can’t sleep with them. I end up on the bottom bunk with my 2yo, then my 4yo starts crying and leaves to find her Dad. So we essentially end up in the same configuration we have been all along, in different, smaller, shittier beds. Please don’t offer me advice or admonish me for our choices: I am so beyond the capacity for polite disagreement right now. Continue reading
Posted in Books, Grad School Quittas, Mothering, Pop Culture
Tagged apocalypse, Ariel Gore, Armageddon, end times, family, gardening, Graduate school, history channel, Iowa, mothering, peak oil, Quitting, sleep, weather