Reflections from the process of making the performance Talking in the rain
The small talk about the weather and the big talk about the climate
Talking about the weather is #1 on the list of topics for small talk. It´s so safe it is considered boring. You will never get into an argument about the weather. You can meet a stranger, one you disagree with on most issues: religion or politics or whatever, and the two of you can talk about the weather. You will accept each other’s views without question. You don´t need knowledge or analytic skills to talk about the weather. You need to have experienced it, that is all.
Talking about the weather is for everybody, anytime.
When talking about climate change, the opposite is the case. You´d better watch your words carefully. It´s on the bottom list of topics suitable for small talk. It´s one for the big talks. The fact is that we often end up discussing the theme with people that share our views.
Talking about climate change is for the few.
Yet the weather and climate can be quite hard to separate in everyday life and everyday language. And as human beings, sharing this little planet, having no Plan(et) B, we definitely have to deal with both topics, regardless of what our beliefs and opinions are.
These paradoxes interest me.
The body as our common ground
The very common and boring theme of weather, and the highly politicized theme of climate change – how can that be treated in the same performance? And how can performing artists and scientific researchers work together? Not by illustrating or giving background to each other, but in a form that merges the different perspectives, puts them side by side. On what grounds do we meet? And where do we meet the audience?
The very base of what we – artists, scientific researchers, the audience – have in common is:
1: We have a body
2: We experience both weather and climate through these bodies of ours.·
The fascinating clichés
The clichés of these themes interest me. Talking about the weather is in itself a cliché. The metaphors we have made connecting weather experiences with embodied, emotional, and relational experiences, are clichés.
The weather – and the climate – are not just around us as physical conditions for our bodies. The relationship with the weather is in the way we speak and think. It is deeply rooted in our language. It is closely connected to how we express our feelings. We use patterns from our experiences with weather to describe or interpret other people.
The connection between what the weather makes us feel and what we feel towards other people is so obvious that we forget it is real. I find a person cool, or hot, or cold. The look in their eyes is hazy or shining or fierce. A love affair can be stormy. A child can be our sunshine.
As Johnny Cash puts it:
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away
And we learn from the weather, create words of wisdom from it. Sayings like “Long foretold, long last, short notice, soon passed” exist in all languages. The climate changes are exactly that: Long foretold, long last.
What we talk about when we talk about the weather in Tromsø – and in Gaza
Where I come from, in Tromsø in Northern Norway, we talk about the weather a lot. It`s a way to tell a story, to listen to what is going on in the other person´s life, and to find out how they handle it. It´s a way of revealing something about yourself, but not too much, and not forcingly. It is a way to meet, to open up.
We also talk about the wind. When my father, who is 82, has met a friend on the street, and I ask what they talked about, the answer is “weather and wind”. That means they have talked about everything and nothing in particular. To him, it is a very positive thing. It´s actually something that makes living worthwhile.
I friend of mine who moved to my hometown Tromsø from Gaza, quickly learned to be good at talking about the weather. We never do that in Gaza, he says. It is considered rude. Like you question the intelligence of the person you are talking to. The weather hardly ever changes in Gaza, so it´s nothing to talk about. And If it rains, he added, people stay indoors, and then they don´t meet and talk anyway.
In Tromsø, you need skills to handle the weather, he says. It changes all the time. Two months of cold and darkness in the winter, and two months of bright daylight twenty-four seven in the summer. That adds up to an awful lot of different weather conditions. The weather makes things happen to you all the time. Just being alive and going outside is enough. And you people are outside all the time, he says. You are so proud of it. When I talk to you about the weather, you smile and seem so pleased. Why is it so? I think it is because you feel the weather is yours, in a way, something you are proud of, whether it’s cold, dark and stormy, or beautiful and sunny. And you get happy when I join you in this relationship with the weather.
In Gaza, he says, we have a saying: “Living is resisting”. Merely by living we resist the shitload of it all: the occupation, the circumstances, the war, the local regime. We are making it an act of resilience just to stay alive.
In Tromsø you may say: “Living is experiencing”. Just by being alive, you experience a lot. Go outside your door, or stand on your balcony, and you´ll have a story.
You are so lucky.
The body and mind stuff…
Both in performing arts and in science we often act like the idea of reason and feelings being separated, never has been proven wrong. Feelings are still connected to our “unreasonable” bodies, while reason belongs to our “logical” brains.
This division between body and mind, feelings and intellect, has been proven wrong many times. Our logical thinking is quite often very irrational. Our feelings are often the opposite.
We feel hunger (to make us find food), we feel thirst (to makes us drink), we feel anger from injustice (to makes us fight), of pain (remove the hand from the oven!), we feel coldness and heat (to adjust our surroundings, or move away from them, in order stay comfortable), the feeling of happiness (to make us do the same thing more) the feeling of empathy (to make us keep our herd together), the feeling of guilt (to adjust our behavior so we don´t harm others and trouble our heard), etc etc.
To quote a professor of neurology, Antonio Damasio: “Rather than being a luxury, emotions are a very intelligent way of driving an organism toward certain outcomes.”
It is when we don´t feel anything we really are in trouble.
The logical reason for our feelings can be messed up, though. Our surroundings; society or family or whatever, can make certain feelings legitimate or illegitimate, based on very poor logic. We share this little planet of ours, I wrote in the first paragraph. That is a truth with great modifications.
In what way do we share our goods? Definitely not in the way we teach our kids to share stuff.
In 2019 the 61 richest people on earth owned as much as half of the rest av the population. 61 individuals “equal” 3 billion and 700 million people. And do the leaders of our international community tell these 61 individuals to feel shame or guilt for taking too big a bite? Or does society approve them, giving them the best possible position to get an even bigger part?
Rich or poor, educated or uneducated – the weather isn´t known to treat people differently. The weather is supposed to be democratic. Or, that was the way it used to be. Or maybe it is just my romantic idea about how it used to be? Haven´t rich people always lived in nicer weather than the rest? The young ladies strolling along under their umbrellas. The men sitting on the patios drinking gin´n´tonic while their workers were out in the sun working their tales off.
Still, it was different a hundred years ago, I believe, because at that time the rich at least knew what weather their workers lived in.
Now, people actually don´t experience the same weather anymore, within the same city. Poor people around the globe experience more extreme weather conditions than the rich. In Sydney, the temperature on the streets of the poorer neighborhoods are on average 10 degrees higher than in the rich areas. The rich live in areas with trees that give shelter. They have parks and open spaces that allow the cooling wind to reach them. The poor live in areas with a lot of black asphalt and concrete that sucks up and stores the heat and increases the effect of the sun.
I am a biological machine that doesn´t handle heat very well
I am afraid of heat. I have lived most of my life north of the arctic circle, I guess that is why heat scares me so much. I don´t know how to handle it. I don´t have it in my vocabulary. I know all kinds of scary metaphors related to wind and snow and cold and rain, but when it comes to heat? Heat in my north Norwegian language is precious, sweet, cozy, warming, sexy…
High temperature and high humidity scare the shit out of me. In Malaysia, the humidity is always 80-90%, and the temperature is close to 40 degrees Celsius. 100% humidity means that the air contains all the water it can hold. Being outside in 100% humidity feels like being wrapped in wet, warm cotton. Humans are sweating in warm temperatures to cool off, but when the air has no room for more water, then the water has to remain in the body. It becomes impossible to sweat, impossible to cool down. Eventually, you become the same temperature as the cottonlike air around you. A temperature above 42 degrees in our bodies can be deadly.
Humans are vulnerable creatures, our bodies being fragile biological machines. There are so many living creatures on this planet that can handle tough weather conditions better than us.
I normally think of my body as some kind of a portable storage room for feelings and memories. Memories of thoughts, experiences, smells, sights, and sounds. I also think of my body as a vehicle under my control, a vehicle that is full of skills –some are gifts received when I was born, and some I have worked really hard to acquire.
My body is me.
But I am also a biological machine. A machine that stops when it gets overheated.