Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Every Fall, I read a Dickens novel. Been doing it my whole adult life and never get tired of them. I love the guy! Sure, his sentences are absurdly long by today’s standards and his women heroines just a bit too goody-goody, but he has a perfect blend of intricate plot that resolves with no threads left dangling, exceedingly memorable characters and a humanitarianism that inspires. He wrote about 14 full novels, which means I’m on my third pass through with some. It’s always an exciting moment trying to decide which one this Fall and yesterday I settled on Bleak House.

And so I snuggled down under the blankets, eager to begin the adventure and got as far as…paragraph three. What stopped me? Paragraph two. It begins:

"Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadow; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping, and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex Marshes, fog on the Kentish heights.…"

And so it continues, naming all the nooks and crannies where the fog had rolled. In another mood, I might have found it cozy and charming. But I have just spent five days more or less trapped indoors and outside my San Francisco window? Fog. Fog out the back door, fog out the front door. Fog following me to the corner store, fog wrapping its cold arms around me on my little walk to Haight Street. Desparate for a taste of outdoor air, I go out to the back deck to eat lunch in the…fog. I take a short drive to check in on my Mom, with headlights on piercing the…fog. I curse Tony Bennet, pretending that when “the morning fog chills the air, he doesn’t care.” From the hills of Berkeley, fog in San Francisco is beautiful, alluring, charming. Straight in the heart of the beast in the Inner Sunset, it is…. well, as Dickens might have said, “bleak.”

So no Bleak House for me— at least, not now. It’s not what I need. Maybe I’ll read James Michener’s Hawaii instead. Better location.

But speaking of which, that book probably deals with colonialism and trapped in Fogtown, I came up with a new Theory of the British Empire. For years, I’ve struggled to understand how a culture could develop such a ravenous appetite for colonization, exploitation, enslavement, genocide, not in just one place, but all throughout the world. And now it’s clear to me. They simply went mad from too many days in a row in foggy London. They just had to get out of town. And when they arrived in a place like India or Africa and saw folks hanging out in the heat, eating better food and having way more fun singing, playing and dancing than the kids trapped in British boarding schools, they went yet crazier. “Hey, no fog here! Score! But too much trouble to look for a hotel. I got the British flag. All I have do is put it in the ground and —Ha ha! Now we own it!! Hey natives, put on some more clothes and serve me some tea!! And I know you have sugar here!”

I think it was probably as simple as that. Fog—the real story behind hundreds of years of The British Empire. Though Dickens and Sherlock Holmes to the contrary, some sources say that London never really had genuine fog like San Francisco. It was just the smoke and soot and such from the Industrial Revolution. In fact, Dickens writes in the first paragraph:

"Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle with flakes of soot in it as big as snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun."

“Mourning the death of the sun.” That has been the story of my recovery at home. The sun appeared for one brief moment today and what a glorious two minutes that was! Let’s face it—weather matters.
It breeds a national temperament, can drive us to drink or suicidal thoughts or depression or writing dark Russian novels. It can make a ball game the perfect cap to a warm summer night or have us freezing in the bleachers pretending enthusiasm while trying to endure it. (I’m going to a Giants game tonight and am prepared for the latter.) It can…

Hey! I see the sun out the window! Bye!!!!!!!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Doug!
    I've been on the East Coast this summer after 8 years of living in Eugene, OR. I realized that there is no season here I dread, unlike the ten months of grey in Eugene. While living in the Northwest, my mindfulness practice many times yielded an awareness of my thoughts turning more optimistic and, lo and behold!, the sun had come out mere minutes before!

    Good to read your writing again! I recommend your work to all new music educators I meet.

    Lisa Mischke


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