Talking about the weather

It’s getting us down, but we’re pretty lucky in Pittsburgh

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The idea of “talking about the weather” usually suggests an avoidance tactic, such as, instead of talking about the difficult thing, you talk about the weather. Or, as the Band put it, in “Rag Mama Rag,” “I ask about your turtle, and you ask about the weather.” We don’t always enjoy getting to the heart of the matter.

As a therapist, I can say without hesitation that people literally do sometimes talk about the weather when they wish to avoid discussing their important issues. Since it is more helpful and, therefore, more relevant, to talk about their inner life than about the outer world, such as the news, sports and weather, many therapists might see this as the employment of a psychological defense.

So why does it seem this year that something’s different in talking about the weather? In the office or not, the weather seems to be having a huge pull, much like a “polar vortex” (a new malignant force if I ever heard of one), a drag on our outlook, on our attitude toward the day ahead, a source of great inconvenience. The weather is getting us down. Lately, it doesn’t seem so much that this is mere avoidance.

We learn on the news that climate change is thought of by experts as a part of what we are experiencing. I don’t mean the hysterical version, but more the simple fact that due to snow melt in Antarctica, less light and heat are reflected back from the Earth into the atmosphere, resulting in a warmer Earth. Do these conditions bear any relation to polar vortexes (or vortices)? I do not know. And is the Gulf Stream getting struck in a crazy S-shape that is drowning England, baking California, creating the “conveyor belt” of storms affecting the East Coast more than us? The jury is out on the causes, but you must agree that it has been one heck of a winter.

Come to think of it, when you talk about Pittsburgh weather, are you talking about cloudy and generally bad, or are you talking about the fact that it is almost always true that we are lucky enough to avoid the worst of all weathers to talk about?

Having lived here for 40 years, I can count on one hand any truly major weather events. Sure, some memorable snowstorms, Hugo and other storms that hit the whole eastern half of the country, but we seem always to be spared huge droughts, tornados, earthquakes, massive flooding and repeated conveyor-belt storms.

It has been cold, for sure, but it will end one day soon for us, while for many others around the world, a variety of hardships will drag on into the summer and beyond. As is often the case when we accept that life has its imperfections and compromises, I ask myself, can I live with Pittsburgh weather? I think I can.

David Orbison is a psychologist practicing in Lawrenceville.

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