Weathering Hoaxes

What weather writing too often ignores.

Deep summer. Sun angle hoax. The ‘face’ of Hurricane Irma in Florida. Sharks on the highway. Sharks in the mall. Sharks in the subway. Hurricane Harvey rescue efforts blocked by Black Lives Matter. Fake Buffalo snow. Below-normal snowfall in Florida.

I’ve been keeping a running list of weather hoaxes, but I’m not sure why yet. It may be because we fear what the weather will bring. Not in terms of wind speeds or wildfires (though those will come soon), but because of how much we want to be out in it, en masse, enjoying the sun on smiling, unmasked faces. For most of June we had an unexpected turn to rain here in Portland, and this spring I became better acquainted with hail. It seemed like every few days there was another hail storm. I find them a little bit charming, the metallic ticking sound they make on the roofs of cars, how they accumulate in unlikely piles on the slope of our basement windows. 

But that’s not the only kind of weather I’m interested in. I was reading Lauren Michelle Alexander on the insufficiency of the viral anti-racist reading lists. It is one of the best pieces of book criticism published in recent memory, as far as I’m concerned: critical not of a single book or point of view, but leveling a laser-eyed criticism at the way books are read and consumed in support of an industry more intent on moving units than shaping culture. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but one line stuck out to me:

In The Bluest Eye racism is the environment—the weather, the climate—and it makes the seasons turn, which is to say that it is happening all the time and therefore no more remarkable than March snowflakes in the Midwest.

Racism as environment, as the ever constant weather. Modern humans have become accustomed to mostly ignoring the weather, despite the fact that it shapes our lives, and that our willingness to look past its short term effects will shape the future of the planet. And then, a new poem from Claudia Rankine on the cover of yesterday’s NYT book review:

There’s an umbrella

by the door, not for yesterday but for the weather

that’s here. I say weather but I mean

a form of governing that deals out death

and names it living. I say weather but I mean 

a November that won’t be held off. This time

nothing, no one forgotten. We are here for the storm

that’s storming because what’s taken matters.

Overt racism and systemic violence have been overwhelmingly present and obvious to Black communities for centuries; those who tend to the land are more aware of both short and long-term changes in the weather. At the intersection, there are those who map and explain the ways in which changes in climate have more severe impacts to the health and well-being of Black communities. Given all of this, weather hoaxes take on an even more sinister tint. Outlandish weather news gets attention by pointing a finger at the almost-true, the make-believe of weather, so as to obscure the harm that weather distributes unevenly across the most vulnerable populations. A sideshow of spectacularly shareable weather stories in place of complex weather truths. 

A lot of writing that takes the weather as its focus ends up tunnel-visioned: in gazing up at the atmosphere, the relevance of weather in the lives of people on the ground gets lost. I hope the writing I share in Sex Weather Climate Death will not fall into this trap, but stay trained on what weather stands for and how its constant change gives shape and slipperiness to our stories. 

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What I’m reading (watching, listening to etc.):

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C. Pam Zhang. One of the more narratively interesting, yet still propulsive, novels I’ve read in a bit, and I’m very excited about it. It’s also very queer. If you’re reading this, you’d probably enjoy it!

Also, for my museum pals, “Racism, Unrest, and the Role of the Museum Field” is an excellent recorded panel from the American Alliance of Museums

What I wish I was reading: 

This space is where I shout into the void for things to fill a reading gap in my life. Something I want to learn or read about that I haven’t yet found the right source for.

It probably doesn't take a genius to realize that Nazi antagonists in post-WWII American films make the threat of fascism seem abstract and foreign, ignoring the ways in which its ideas regenerated on the home front. On top of that, we just finished HBO’s Watchmen, which I liked for many reasons, one of which is how explicit they are in critiquing different forms of white supremacy in a super hero story. I'd really love to read a history or deep critique of how portrayals of fascism/white spuremacists on film has changed over time, and what the cultural significance of that may be. 

Know of something that sounds like this? Writing something like this yourself? Let me know!

Publishing opportunities:

I hope as more publications and workplaces open back up, this section will grow considerably.

Electric Literature is hiring an Assistant Editor for Recommended Reading and The Commuter. Remote OK, deadline to apply is June 28.

The Offing, various genres. Pays $25-$100. Their section “Back of the Envelope” features outsider takes on science and natural history.

Critical Read, writing about art. They pay very well, < $$$$