Friday, July 01, 2016

Summer and Uncertainty

Donis's post yesterday about Arizona in the summer made me grateful to live in upstate New York. Given a choice between heat and cold, I say, "Somewhat on the cool side, please. The way autumn used to feel when we had an autumn." Now, even winter in upstate New York is unpredictable. A winter of massive snowfall, followed this past winter by less snow then my relatives in Virginia were complaining about.

But getting back to summer. I've always had mixed feelings about summer. As a child, I liked school. But three months of vacation and the freedom that went along with it appealed to me. What didn't appeal was the heat and the storms -- well, I could deal with the heat but I hated the storms. I still feel the same way. During the summer, I can tell you the weather forecast for the next forty-eight hours. I plan my commitments by whether it might mean driving in a storm. Except some events must be planned months in advance. Then I cross my fingers and hope -- as in the case of a recent trip to western New York. For those folks who don't know upstate New York, Albany is north of New York City, about two and half hours "upstate". We're about five hours west of Buffalo on the other side of the state.

I had committed to driving out to Fulton, only about half the distance to Buffalo, but heading west. Our stormy weather upstate usually comes out of the west and blows through as it heads into Massachusetts. A week or so before the event, I saw that I might be in trouble. The night before the event, I checked the hour by hour weather report and saw that I had a small "window of opportunity". I might be able to leave Albany at around 9:30 am and arrive in Fulton before the storms started.

I set my clock, got up early, fed my cat, and dashed out the door. I drove much of the way, watching the horizon, and let out a (cliched) sigh of relief when I rolled into Fulton as clouds were beginning to gather. The rain had started, but nothing heavy. The cultural center where the event was being held was not open yet, so I stopped for a fast food salad. Then found my way back to the center. About ten minutes after I walked in, the cloudburst that had been symbolized by all that yellow and red on the map came. Rivers of water. So much that the people who arrived a little later reported they had been forced to pull over to the side of the road. 

Before leaving, I looked at the weather map and saw flares of yellow and red in the west. I decided to try to get out ahead of it. It rained all the way home. Pouring now and then, but no thunder or lightning. 

Why am I telling you about the weather instead of my book event in Fulton (small group but fun discussion and interesting fellow author)? I'm acknowledging my fear of storms and my related summer blues because of an observation I've made about how this affects my imagination. I don't like the heat. I don't like the storms. But my summer anxiety -- and my ability to imagine all kinds of scenarios at the first rumble of thunder -- means that I always keep a notebook handy. When it's storming, I find my corner and distract myself by working on plot outlines. Instead of wondering if I really should teach my cat Harry to come when he's called or at least get him used to walking on his leash in case we have to get out of the house quickly, I think about my suspects and their motives. I imagine myself in my fictional world. I make notes to myself about research I still need to do.

I have to confess that my overactive imagination cranks up in response to other real life events. For example, this morning I woke up and discovered that the power had gone off and come on again sometime during the night. That also happened one night a few weeks ago. I might have assumed it had been a neighborhood power surge of some kind. Except it was a cool night and most people probably didn't have their air conditioners on. Still perhaps nothing to worry about, but because I had a scary experience not long after I bought my house (several years ago), my imagination went into overdrive. I called the power company, discovered the power had not gone off in my neighborhood, and asked to have the wire leading to my roof checked. I called my contractor and left a message saying I might need someone to go up on the roof and make sure everything was okay. I called the fire department and left a query about the "pet in the house" logo I had seen that some fire departments provide. Next on my list, an electrician.

And this brings me to my point about something that I suspect I share with most writers, particularly mystery writers -- an imagination that constantly generates multiple scenarios of things that could go wrong. This is good if it leads to checking weather reports, planning ahead for getting the cat out of the door in the event of emergency, and having wires and wiring checked. It's bad, if it increases anxiety -- particularly if one tends to be a worrier. On the other hand, uncertainty and anxiety can be put to use. A "dark and stormy night" outside sets the mood for imagining the internal turmoil that might lead someone to contemplate murder.

Come to think of it, I probably did some of my earliest youthful mystery reading on stormy nights in Virginia when I was looking for a distraction. Not that I wouldn't be perfectly happy to plot my book without the storms that are predicted this evening.

But that's summer . . . and life.


Donis Casey said...

I have the same fear of storms, Frankie. I grew up in Tornado Alley and believe me, I'd rather have the heat than live through another tornado. I like what you said about "cool please." I'll take cool any time!

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

After six years in Kentucky where sirens sometimes went off in the middle of the night, I think I'd take the heat, too.

But cool is always first preference.

Aline Templeton said...

So interesting to read about such extreme aand scary weather. Yes, we get big storms in the UK and sometimes flooding when it's been a wet winter, but normally a storm to me means a sort of dramatic, usually very brief, firework show that you aren't privileged to see very often. On our summer holidays in France where 'orages' are much more frequent in hot weather, I feel positively cheated if there isn't one!