17 May 2015

Games for One Player: Rainstorm

Headache weather came and found me this weekend for the first time since I've moved to Minneapolis. This is a meteorological phenomenon and a psychoemotional one, usually common to my climate. The headache is not acute, but harder to shake for being so hazily dispersed. It disguises itself as a part of one's personality, as if it had always been there and planned to always be.

The novelty of a new city and the funny little life I've established in the apartment I've rented but not yet filled with my furniture or household—a sort of treehouse life, a child-hiding-in-the-backyard-bushes-with-things-pilfered-from-the-attic life—have kept my spirits high for weeks. But today, the last warm one before a predicted cold snap, some gray humidity crept in so gradually that I didn't think to pin my lethargy on the weather; indeed I often don't notice the connection until afterward.

One could argue that this attitude shirks responsibility anyhow, although it is true that low-pressure fronts have not only physical effects such as joint pain but demonstrable neurochemical ones: for one thing, they cause the adrenal gland to slow down its production of cortisone. For me, though, it's helpful when I can convince myself with a glance at the forecast that neither the world nor I are likely to be stuck in featureless gloom forever. 

I couldn't muster up that argument this afternoon. I wasted hours of time on nothing in particular, supposing that two events I was planning to attend later would serve to make me feel I'd made some use of the day. Then both were canceled, and I chanced a reprieve in the drizzle to get out and try to save the evening and myself.

When I don't know what to do with myself on days like this—when I am profoundly bored not by the world but by the irritating fact that I am the filter through which it must pass—I try to put myself into a book, or into the sound of my guitar, and when those things don't help, I often go and put myself into a movie theater. 

A movie in a theater can serve as an excellent reset button for the soul. You are dispersed into the big dark among a small crowd of people who ask nothing at all of you in exchange for their presence, their benign population of this soft realm. The relationship among you all is almost that of children at a slumber party, in the moments when everyone is finally too tired to talk but hasn't yet fallen asleep. 

For two hours, your mind is overtaken by images and sounds for which you can in no way be held responsible. It is a nap without the risk of oversleep or bad dreams, provided you choose a film correctly; besides, it is more restorative and makes for better conversation when someone asks about your weekend. The movie needs to not be bad in an upsetting way—for me, that means no gratuitous bloodshed—but it does not especially need to be good. Its only job is to absorb whatever you would like to have leached out of you.

I saw While We're Young, Noah Baumbach's newest, and liked it as much as I was expecting to, which was a small to medium amount. (I would prefer he never make a film without Greta Gerwig, and I am by this point in life fairly bored in all mediums by male leads with grand and grandly frustrated artistic ambitions; this man always has a more practical and/or less artistic female partner, and I always wish that for once she were to be allowed to be the impractical but artistically pure one in this eternally recurring relationship.) But it didn't push the reset button for me; when the lights went up I still felt that I had done nothing with my day or with life, and I decided to walk the four miles back from the theater in the hopes of seeing more of the city and becoming tired enough to sleep.

The road was nearly suburban, a long straight ribbon laid over sedate hills. I felt the presence of lakes somewhere in the blocks beyond—the sky seems to sprawl and deepen over them—but wasn't sure how close. (I'd taken a bus down.) After a mile or two the idea of this walk started to seem as boring as any other idea I'd ever had, but I let a bus pass me by anyhow, planning to wring a little deliberate suffering out of the evening if nothing else.

Then my mood shifted and the rain started at once. It is sometimes delightful to realize one has been tricked by the brain, as much as a magician revealing his secret or a mystery author her red herring. Ah yes—of course it was the low front all along

I would have been happy to be soaked through for a block, a little less so for two miles—but just as the drops approached maximum size and velocity, I spotted a house in the process of being built and tucked myself up under its unfinished porch. 

This was an excellent way to spend 20 minutes: sitting in the soft dirt, watching rain hang in curtains from the raw eaves and form rivulets in the rocky soil underneath them. There was nothing definably useful in the pastime, but I felt I had very elegantly solved the problem of how to spend the day well—that somehow I could share in the credit for engineering such a neat match between my sudden need for shelter and this unbuilt house. I worried a little about someone sending a squad car by to investigate my trespassing, but I already tend to feel innately suspicious going on foot through leafy suburban neighborhoods, so my probable illegality didn't trouble me much. 

When the rain let up a little I crept back out and headed on toward home. I played a little hide and seek with the storm clouds, tracking my speed and direction against theirs: of course, a cloud can move at the same speed as a person, if it wants. This realization seemed nearly wondrous to me. 

Feeling favored by the heavens, I went out of my way a little to walk along the curve of Lake Calhoun before going home. The sky above it seemed to be expanding rapidly, pushed apart by novel cloud forms. The water and every manmade surface shone lavender. 

When I reached the lip of the lake I was surprised to find that the soaking rain hadn't much impressed the earth: with every step my boots left white footprints, dry sand under the thinnest shell of wet.