(posted by Corinne)
Before I left Spartanburg, Betsy asked me what I was going to miss about the South. We were floating down the Pacolet in kayaks and it was one of those late April days that was foreshadowing summer—the air slightly thick but not yet stifling. We had just floated by a group of men panning for gold and with whom we had a really funny, joyous interaction.
I wasn’t sure how to answer the question then. I said that I knew it was something about the people, but I wasn’t sure what that meant. Fast forward eleven weeks.
It was my second week in Seattle and we went out to listen to music. Summer was late to come this year, but on this particular evening it had arrived, and I thought it was totally spectacular: No hotter than 70 degrees, mountains in every direction. The friends who had been living in Seattle, though, were not nearly as charmed.
“It should have been like this since the beginning of July.”
“This is when we are supposed to have good weather.”
“I just can’t—this is when I need the sun!”
On the night we went to see music. The performer was from another rainy town in the Northwest and before playing she squinted out at the sun, which was still shining hard and hot at 9 pm, and she said, “This is my second time performing in Seattle.”
In response to this was a weak, “yay.”
She looked down at her pale legs and smirked.
“This is my first time in Seattle wearing shorts.”
Then she played some of the saddest hymns I’d ever heard. I’m not kidding–very beautiful–but the kind of sad hymns that make you want to just lie down and think about your grandma.
Outside the sky was indigo. The sun was so spectacular. What was happening inside the venue did not match what was going on outside. That was when I knew what I missed about the south. The willingness to express joy despite the odds.
I forget sometimes that I literally moved from one coast to the other. This manifests in directions. When someone says go towards the water, I instinctively think East and have to realign myself every time. West is where the Ocean is. West is where the sun sets. It’s disorienting to see the sun setting over water.
I grew up on the Jersey shore and there we woke up early (if we could bear too) and watched the sun ooze its way up out of the water and at night the pink sky was just something that happened. The sun went away somewhere “other there.”
Now I live in a place where the sun goes away. Literally. When it comes out (sometimes in the morning, it rises with me, sometimes it decides to join us later in the day) it arrives from somewhere else—over there— it comes out of nothing and is just there and everyone around me is grateful and also afraid. It’s a desperate relationship with the sun out here, one that I don’t feel yet because I am not [yet] “Vitamin D deficient” as a potential friend recently said. People lay down on the sidewalk when the sun is out. Their skin burns immediately and they gawk at the light and the response is both gratitude and resentment. It’s the way one might respond to a flighty non-monogamous lover with whom an arrangement has been made. For some reason I picture Neal Cassidy (that lover-boy muse of the beats) as the sun out here—always out seeing other regions, but when he’s with you he means it. In the same way, the event out here is not the sun’s arrival. When it’s here it acts as if it has always been here. The production lies in its leaving.
We rarely celebrate someone, or something, leaving. My friends in the south did not, and though in the past it’s always been fun for me to leave one place and go to another this time that hasn’t been the case. We’ll still see each other, I pleaded. We can keep this friendship going. But many of them responded vaguely to this. One friend, on the day we pulled out of town sent a text: “I feel as if y’all have been erased.” This made me sad, but it also made me really appreciate the way the people around me felt things. This means that yes, they mourned hard but it also meant that they were capable of profound expressions of joy—totally at random. Something I took for granted was walking up to a microphone and simply saying “hey y’all,” and I could say it shyly and no matter what I got the loud whoop in reply—an expression of the soul so joyful and amazing as if in every chest in every person the spirit leapt and demanded, “let them know I’m here let them know we’re all here.”
And here where the sun is always leaving and it isn’t always known when it’s going to come back, folks learn to subdue their emotions. They are sensitive and kind but also a little bit hurt at all times. In this new landscape I crave the people of the south. I want a whoop and arms thrown in the air and a “hell yes!” and “can you believe this?” and “woooo is it hot? Damn if it’s not hot.”
At the end of the film, during the final dance scene, people jumped to their feet and the whole crowd, of at least a few hundred people, started dancing, wiggling, shaking their money makers, hooting. A woman was running around clapping her hands and shouting “If you’ve been looking for the time to dance, the time is now!” and as she walked by more people got to their feet. It was so beautiful, watching this pure gleeful expression of joy.
So it wasn’t that the northwest wasn’t capable. They were willing, they just needed a little coaxing. This willingness was a comfort—a reminder that I could live here.
This willingness towards joy was the greatest gift I received from the south and I’m determined to keep it, even as we approach the rainy season here. Hell yes, it’s raining! Damn if it’s not rainy. Wooooooo-eeey! Do you feel that mist?