icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle


What We Talk About When We Talk About the Weather

Photo of the Ashokan Reservoir © Carol Bergman 2024



Pray don't talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing. Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me quite nervous.


 Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest



I called my friend Barbara who lives in Bath, UK, for a catch-up chat the other day, and without missing a beat we began to talk about the weather. It had been a sunny day after too much rain, she told me, and she'd been working in her allotment getting it ready for planting. When she circled back later in the afternoon to admire what she'd done and decided to dig a bit more, she cut her finger which was bleeding profusely as we were talking. But the weather was more important. "How has it been there? " she asked, meaning where I am in the Mid-Hudson Valley. "No blossoms as yet, grey and wet today, more like English weather," I said. And though, like everywhere else, even English weather is changing, chatting about it has remained a constant, for which I am grateful. It's the perfect lubricant and warm-up after a hiatus in communication, and it's safe: no domestic politics or Middle-East wars, for example. We need to feel safe with one another to get into all that, and there's a lot to get into these days. Even old friends and relations are cautious with one another, I find, in an effort not to harm, to remain respectful, and to maintain a friendship. Israel-Palestine has been particularly challenging for me. Thus am I thankful for the decade I spent in London learning how to sustain a conversation about the weather before embarking on in-depth "serious" conversation. It's a skill I still find useful before an interview with a stranger as my directness often pierces privacy too quickly. Warm-ups are essential.


But what happens when all we talk about is the weather, when the conversation remains insipid and shallow? When we surmise, or even know, that something remains unspoken, hidden, and inaccessible? When there's no there there as Gertrude Stein once said? What then? Do we continue talking, stop talking, walk away, ask even more confrontational questions to "get the story?" It's a hard call for a journalist, an easier one for a friend, I'd say.


Once upon a time, I was ghosting a memoir for a once-married celebrity and had found out that he'd had an affair with his assistant when he was still married. I'd been tasked with doing a lot of background reporting to develop the content for the book, and corroborated my findings before broaching the subject. The celebrity in question was shocked by my suggestion that the "episode," as he called it, when he finally began talking about it, should become a chapter in his book. "It will sell the book," I said. But he refused. I'd pierced his privacy, or was it secrecy—the line is thin—and he had crawled back into his shell. Next time we met for our interview session, I began our conversation with the weather.


Post a comment