beautiful blue skies and golden sunshine all along the way

For the past few months, I’ve been relying on David Lynch’s Los Angeles weather reports to help organize my days.[1] I tune in every morning even though I live over a thousand miles away in Vancouver, Canada, which is even farther north than Snoqualmie, Washington, the film site of the Great Northern Hotel and the adjacent powerful water falls from the opening scenes of Twin Peaks.[2]

What I’m after is less restraint, and more of an active slowness, a feeling of alternating hereness and thereness. Lynch’s reports help me to find this zone. What works for me is how he relays the L.A. weather in nearly the same way every day; there is a rhythm to the performance that heightens the slight changes in atmosphere and mood. The shifts give me something to grasp from the air and hang onto throughout the day. In this way, he helps my work as a writer and sociologist: noticing small differences, training myself to read the room, and becoming aware of feelings pivoting from one thing into another.

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Lynch’s weather reports are short, almost always less than a minute, but they have an elastic feeling to them that seems to stretch out. Each one begins with a good morning, the date and the day of the week, followed by the current temperature in Fahrenheit and Celsius and what it will “get up to” later in the afternoon. In Lynch’s world 60’s are “chilly” and 90’s are “toasty.” (Where I live, 60’s are typical and 90’s are nearly unheard of.) We are never shown L.A. during the brief recordings, but it’s not hard for me to imagine the weather described in the sprawling, palm-tree laden, glitzy California metropolis: I draw on memories of past visits and the abundance of images of the city I’ve consumed throughout my life. I feel emplaced each time he begins with: “Here in L.A.,” which he always says in the same tone, with a slight lifting of his voice, as his head turns upward to assess the sky in order to give an account of its color, and the presence or absence of clouds (which are usually only plentiful during “June gloom,” but this year crept into July).

Somedays the famous director sounds like a coworker who greats you at the water cooler, and like a common 9-5er, he comments most frequently on the start and end to the typical working week: “It’s Monday, already” and “It’s a Friday, if you can believe it”. I often need these reminders because I keep losing track of where we are in this summer that somehow turned fall, which is unlike any other summer or autumn I have experienced.

Lynch ends each report with a “Have a Great Day, Everyone!” This closing sentiment never fails to elevate my spirits. Both the optimism and the recognition that I’m having an experience with others touch me. Lynch’s presentation of self is comforting too, his aesthetic consistency is something that can be relied on, like Mr. Rogers, but with more savoir faire. He is dressed each day in a black shirt buttoned all the way up, his hair tall and white, like an ocean wave breaking. The cadence of his voice, the way his syllables are rounded off by the lathe of his accent creates a feeling of tenderness. The light in the room is usually slate blue, but some days it is a golden yellow, which lifts the mood of the space, spinning its atoms into something that feels gentle and capacious. Various objects fill out the scene: a blue vice affixed to the desk, a light bulb on top of a telephone, a paint roller with lambskin covering, squeezed paint tubes, sharpened pencils, and a black matte coffee mug with wisps of steam appearing and disappearing. Like the objects on my own desk, these things help me to remember a sense of possibility, of the ability to make things, and to fix projects and plans.

The weather forecasts can usually be counted on to offer soft prophesies for a near future full of warmth, but the dispatches are not divorced from the overall temperature of American culture or Lynch’s own unique uncanniness. On a few occasions, the director has deviated from his normal pattern to address larger contemporary issues and historical imaginaries. For example, on June 2, Lynch is absent, and we see only his ergonomic chair and the familiar objects of his space. Instead of the weather, there was a moment of silence for George Floyd and so many other Black American citizens murdered by the police. The moment had its own weather, of rawness, sadness, and awkward, but earnest white allyship. The director was back the next day to tell us how high the mercury would rise, but after he finished, he left his chair and kept the camera rolling. There was a sharp sound of a drill starting up and a hand-painted sign that his body had been partially obscuring came into full view: “BLACK LIVES MATTER / PEACE   JUSTICE / NO FEAR.” Then a sound like sweeping, followed by bird song. In this subtle way, Lynch’s weather reports echoed the cultural shift from the silent spring of the pandemic to an unquiet summer of protest.

On June 6th, the anniversary of D-Day, when Lynch recorded his strangest segment yet: He relayed a nightmare where he was a young German infantryman in World War Two killed on a “very very foggy and cloudy and gray” day by an American soldier with a machine gun. Lynch took us through the tears of his mother as he headed off to war, the geography of Normandy, the shock of being shot, the warm blood, and falling to his knees. The story of the dream unfolds slowly until he says: “And then lights out.” And with those words the day’s report abruptly ends. This dreamy intrusion is a classic example of the weirdness of Lynch, and it reminded me that I’d been seduced into a situation that seems ultra-normal, although it is not. The next day, Lynch was back to his regular performance, the rhythm, the assurance that the clouds will burn off, and that L.A. will be graced with lots of “beautiful blue skies and golden sunshine all along the way.”

As the sun continued to shine into August, Lynch added a new element to his reporting, by including what he is “thinking about,” the list is eclectic: “cotton and glue,” “true happiness,” “trees and how beautiful they are and how important they are,” “Burt Bacharach and Dianne Warwick and what the world needs now,” are but a few examples. The variations on a theme remind me of the TV shows I found comforting to watch as a child, like Sesame Street with its number and letter of the day and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, with its a secret word, which granted permission to scream whenever it was spoken.[3] Lynch’s ‘thinking about’ moments are also hints of his internal weather. When the wildfires raged in California in September, he was thinking about rain, firefighters, and solutions. Then on September 13th, in dramatic fashion Lynch said: “Today, I’m making a list of all the good things that are happening in the word. [He picks up a pencil and a pad of paper. The page is blank.] I’m still thinking.”

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It’s hard to be optimistic somedays. I felt this too, when Vancouver, like California, and the Pacific Northwest was covered in smoke. With all my windows closed it was uncomfortably warm and stuffy, and my apartment felt like a bell jar. I had a headache for four days and sweated through my clothes. And I thought in a different way about how, from the safety of my apartment in a Canadian city, I’ve given myself over to the routine of listening to the L.A. weather, not as an escape from the things that are happening, but as a way to help me tune in to shifts in feelings and atmosphere, both my own and those around me. The forecasts have helped me to focus, by providing a model of marking time and change in one place, even if it is not my own.

Although, as in the case of the fires — and perhaps, underneath, this is the case with all reports of weather — sometimes I am reminded how my place is connected to other places, even in this time of isolation.   

Lindsey Freeman is a writer and sociologist. Their most recent book is This Atom Bomb in Me.

Notes


[1]. I should say began the practice anew. Lynch has delivered the weather periodically in the past. This iteration of the daily weather reports beginning with May 11, 2020 can be found on the YouTube channel David Lynch Theater.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDLD_zxiuyh1IMasq9nbjrA

[2]. The Great Northern Hotel of TV fame is in real life the Salish Lodge and Spa, where they have amazing bathrobes, including ones for your dogs. https://www.salishlodge.com/

[3]. In another rhyme to Sesame Street, Lynch has a recurring segment on his YouTube channel David Lynch Theater where he chooses a number of the day.