In Defence of the Weather

“Nobody wants to talk about the weather,” declares a flashing blurb for a TED talk online. I love TED talks or at least some of the less technical talks (which do not include the words mathematics, satellites, or brain tissue). If you do not know what a TED talk is, here is a definition from WhatIs.com derived from the TEDx website: “A TED talk is a video created from a presentation at the main TED (technology, entertainment, design) conference or one of its many satellite events around the world.” The first TED talk was held in 1984 and it became an annual event in 1990. I discovered TED a couple of years ago. No one can ever fault me for being on the cutting edge.

TED talks usually range from about two minutes to twenty and can be on any topic under the sun (or moon depending on the time of day you tune in). How are the talks selected? According to WhatIs.com, “TED looks for engaging, charismatic speakers whose talks expose new ideas that are supported by concrete evidence and are relevant to a broad, international audience.” Some of the talks have included such diverse topics as the anatomy of a New Yorker cartoon, why we should build wooden skyscrapers, and why we sleep.

The talks that I find most fascinating usually deal with the human psyche in all its convoluted glory and the quirks of the human condition. But I must admit I have never run across a TED talk that dwells on the mundane everyday event of the weather. Sure, hurricanes and tornadoes and floods are great food for talk, but never the everyday weather that affects our everyday routines.

I think the assessment that people do not really want to talk about the weather is wrong. Asserting that “nobody really wants to talk about the weather” is meant to draw us in to talks that are deemed more interesting—but if you get to the root of the matter, weather is really one of the most interesting phenomena we have to deal with on a day to day basis.

Talking about the weather can be a warm-up for a more in-depth conversation. But on its own it is something we all have in common. If it rains, we get wet. If it is humid, our hair goes frizzy. If it is cold, we all sport coats and hats and boots. And if the weather is perfect then we love to comment on it. If it is not, then we get to complain about it. It is a common element in all our lives. So, to say that people do not really want to talk about the weather is just wrong-headed on so many different levels.

Often, the weather dictates our activities. Too much rain and the farmers cannot get their fields planted. Too little rain and our green earth turns brown. We invite snow into our lives happily for the first, and maybe the second snowfall. Then we are tired of it. And we do not like too much cold, especially in this area as it affects our grapes and fruit trees and all manner of horticultural activity.

We all have our own opinion as to what makes up the perfect weather. I particularly enjoy the fall when it is at first still warm and sunny, then cool and crisp. But the weather I love the most is when you cannot really feel it. You are neither too warm nor too cold. You can go outside in shirt sleeves and be perfectly comfortable. You need neither to shed your garments nor shield yourself from the elements.

I have often wondered what it would be like to live in a climate that does not change significantly from season to season. Would it become boring? Would I miss the snow and the cold? Would I miss seeing the bare branches of the trees flourish again in the spring? Would I miss the fall colours? Would I miss snow? I have always lived in a climate that changes sometimes on a daily basis, but more radically on a seasonal basis, and I love the variation our climate affords us.

Weather is our common language. And as such, it opens the doors to further conversation, or just the important acknowledgment that “we are all in this together”.

Published in: on July 21, 2015 at 5:43 pm  Comments (16)  
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The Silence of Listening

    “The word ‘listen’ has the same letters as the word ‘silent’.”  ~  Alfred Brendel

         

          How many times have we barked the word “Listen!” in a plea to be heard, silencing the chaos that supposedly serves as conversation, but is really a soliloquy?  And how many times have we delivered our own monologues with little thought of the person listening?

          Austrian pianist, poet, and author, Alfred Brendel’s observation that the word ‘listen’ has the same letters as the word ‘silent’” says volumes. In order to listen we have to be silent. Not waiting our turn to talk and take centre stage but giving the rostrum to another, and actually hearing what they have to say. In silence we can hear, but the silence has to be one that not only silences the tongue but quiets the mind.

          I practice listening. It is not easy.  Ernest Hemmingway’s advice to “listen completely when people talk” sounds simple—but his addition that “most people never listen” is unfortunately not merely the surveillance of a curmudgeon, but the truth of a scribe. Practicing listening takes patience but it is rewarded ten-fold. I am starting to get beyond just practicing and incorporating “listening” as a something that comes naturally, something I do not have to think about, and something that adds to  my body of knowledge.

          As a writer, I have at my fingertips (quite literally) the ability to be heard, and that is why I write. I am not a particularly effective speaker—one liners are my speciality, but scratch the surface and you will find a tongue-tied scribbler. I have on occasion tried and failed to enter conversations—perhaps my entry into the fray is not passionate enough, loud enough, or, and this could be the whole crux of the problem, interesting enough.

          Writing gives one the chance to silent conversation and finally be heard (to an extent—I realize you can always stop reading me in mid-sentence, mid-paragraph, or even after the very first sentence—but I try not to think about that).  I can focus when I write about a topic—my mind is organized in such a way that saying what I mean, sharing what I know, and sharing the knowledge of others is not difficult when I put words on a page.  But when I open my mouth, many times my brain shuts down—it seems to me I have a flap that opens when I write and closes when I talk. So it behooves me to be a good listener as I am not a good verbal storyteller.

          Silence is also something I cherish. I have never been able to understand news writers who work in a noisy environment—the few times I have worked at the newspaper office have been enlightening but certainly not my creative best. Even when I worked as a full time reporter, I wrote my articles in a corner of my home office (also known as my dining room), sometimes with a toddler at my side—but mostly when the rest of the household was asleep or out. As I write this, my youngest son is asleep upstairs and my husband is out—there is no radio or television on, and all I hear is the reassuring hum of my refrigerator (reassuring, because if there is no hum, it is not working—and that is not conducive to writing).

          Chaos reigns in all of our lives. Silence is the cure. Listening is also an antidote to chaos, because by listening, you are silencing your demons and opening yourself up to something new, something worthwhile, and something you might not have discovered with your mouth open.

          Listen. Silent. They both have the same letters. Listening to silence, a/k/a meditation is another way to “get in touch with ourselves”—certainly a mantra of the 21st century. But think about it—in silence you get to listen to yourself, and though sometimes I bore myself silly—other times I figure out a new way of looking at things.  A way I would not have discovered if I had not stopped to listen in silence.

          I will end with this quote attributed to that sage of all wisdom, wearer of red suspenders, and really old guy, Larry King: “I’ve never learned a thing while my mouth was moving.”

Published in: on January 20, 2014 at 1:47 pm  Comments (47)  
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