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Rain, rain, don’t go away

Pluviophile. It’s a word of Latin origin meaning fondness for rain, where “pluvia” means rain and “phile” is a person who has fondness for a specific thing. There are lots of philes in this world, but none are as special to me as a fellow lover of rain.

I function best when the light doesn’t saw on the edges of raw nerves. Rain brings a sort of quiet to the house and the neighborhood, a hush that contrasts sharply with the noise of everyday life. The dogs lay about and have nothing to bark at or about. The wife sleeps and the kid is away at school or other activities. I have the house to myself and, thus, have room to expand, become intellectually flabby, and diffuse in my powers and personality.

My affection or weakness for rainy days has a couple of origins. Rain generally means dark or gray. I work best, feel best when the day is overcast. The dimmer the day, the better. Like others, I am lethargic, but a rainy day is also a time when my mind turns toward contemplation. What has life wrought? What activities do I indulge that are not good for me? What would I most like to do with my life?

As a 55-year-old American male, many of these issues should be settled. I have lived long enough to know certain things. If nothing else, I should understand the inside of myself. But as I look inward, I’m still the young, pie-eyed seeker looking for redemption. From what sins, you might ask. Mostly, I’m seeking salvation from the sin of being me.

On rainy days, my self comes to the fore and I think of sin. While I no longer accept as true there is such a thing as sin in terms of what might affect my immortal soul, which I no longer believe have, I do think that certain faults and foibles cut me off from the communion among living and inanimate beings. We are of the same universe, born of the same chaos and order. My faults and foibles and fears and worries keep me from enjoying oneness with my world. I must atone for my shortcomings if I am to live a life of love and happiness. Atonement means more than just removing the offending shortcoming but doing penance for having tolerated my failings for so long.

This kind of deep contemplation leads me to poems and poetry. There’s nothing like a book of Sandburg or Frost poems when the day dims and lightning flashes. The roll and rumble of thunder teases poems out of me. They are little things, little outbursts of emotion, nostalgic memories of simpler times—which I know never existed but which my euphoric recall can conjure up in quiet moments.

I can’t live through a rainy, quiet day without thinking of the time when, at age 27, I first came to my senses. I rived myself from the world of drink and found that I was unready for the adult issues life would present me. The time was tumult and a roller coaster of emotion. The mental illness that alcoholism kept at bay—the steep declines and heady heights—began to manifest themselves without buffer.

Still, there were moments. I used to sit at the back window of my second-story apartment and stare down the line of fences that cut through the center of the block to the south. Dark and green dominated that scene even on the sunniest of days—trees and brush broken in places by well-tended yards.

I used to sit there in the early evening with a cup of coffee on the sill and watch the day turn to dusk. When it was raining, dark came early. People began to turn the lights on in their houses. I watched people go about their lives. They washed dishes and cooked dinner in their kitchens. The read or watched television in their living rooms. Regardless of curtains and drapes, I could see them moving from room to room.

I was less a voyeur than a person trying to see what normal life looked like. I had nothing to compare it to. My drunken child- and young adulthood, as well as my adult years, prepared little for living mainstream existence. I sat there at the window and watched other people live conventional lives and wondered if that was possible for me.

I also remember back farther to Boy Scout overnights when rain confined us to tents. Being away from home and stuck in small spaces, I often shooed other kids from my tent and contemplated the rain—the smell of wet earth, green smells of walnut leaves and fug of fallen leaves, the odor of waxed and waterproofed canvas, and the remnants of wood smoke from fires the rain quenched.

Even father back are memories of not being able to play outside. In some of these instances, and there were not many, my mom would shuffle a deck of cards and we spent a gentle, untrammeled moment. In these, I recall her gentleness and soft touch. The cards kept anger and frustration at empty middle-class existence at bay.

There are other memories of dark, rainy days. One is a time when I was caught in a violent thunderstorm on the way home from the golf course when I was 14. It was a four-mile walk from home. I found myself isolated on the side of the road when the rain started to fall. Then came the lightning striking so near the thunderclap came with the flash. I’d never been so scared in my life, and never more exhilarated.

Then, there was Monika. She was a working-class woman who spoke German with a heavy dialect. I have never known a more gentle and innocent soul. We spent one whole day, from just after breakfast to when night fell in my little 10’ by 12’ room high above a quiet neighborhood in Trier. It rained and was dark the whole time. We talked and read together, did nothing exciting, just sat listening to the rain on the slate roof outside my window. It was fine and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a more peaceful day. I love Monika for that.

It rained all day yesterday. Virginia and I spent the day inside. The dogs were quiet. We didn’t have the television on. I wrote and she read and we were happy with one another. My thoughts turned to poetry and sin, but I felt no quilt or shame about anything. I worked out my thoughts on the computer while Virginia read. When the time came, I took a long nap. I went to sleep to the soft rumblings of thunder in the distance. And it was dark as only a rainy day can invoke.

As I said, I have an affinity for those who have a fondness for the rain. My wife and children have either inherited or learned to love a dark day from me. We look forward to the cold and wet, me more than anyone else. But they are people who love the rain, and because of it, in part, I love them.

While friends and acquaintances ached for a return of sun and warmth, I knew that rain and gray are finite. The day would soon pass and I couldn’t miss any of it. I reveled in it. I wrote a poem. I thought of doing penance and connecting more closely with the world around me. When I went to bed last night, I desired to wake up to another dim, overcast day. But it didn’t happen. I think maybe I would be happier where rain is a daily fact of life, a rainforest in New Zealand, perhaps, or the Amazon or Tierra del Fuego. But the Midwest is my home. I wait in anxious anticipation of my next opportunity to sit with Virginia quietly and listen to the rain.

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  1. I bought “Nonconformity”.
    All is not yet read, but it’s hard book.
    Thanx for the tip!

    He has lost all illusions when he wrote this.

    I often wonder
    How it’s possible such terrorist
    as USA has been as country
    for the rest of world
    Can product such fine individuals
    painters like John Wachtman, Joan Mitchell, Milton Resnick…
    Writers as Mark Twain, Jack London, Nelson Algren, Patrick Dobson…

  2. I read his Golden arm in 2004
    when it was translated and published in Finnish.
    It was an experience:
    had to read from first to last word in one night.
    As i had to read your books too.

    Now I try to read his books in original language –
    slowly and patiently which is difficult for me.

    He is a great pessimist of the dark world.
    Your books i see as to try see light of sky from bottom of cellar.
    But the worlds of both of you i feel similar.

    Never heard about “Nonconformity”.
    Must read some day.

  3. Also here it’s raining…
    No more snow.
    But i want to ask you:
    What you think about Nelson Algren?

    • Nelson Algren is one of my favorite authors, Ilmari. His short stories are amazing, and though I haven’t read all his novels, they are on my reading list. Gritty, real. Some of this I knew first-hand before I ever read an Algren novel or story. His book Nonconformity happens to be one of the must-reads about writing. Good stuff all the way around.

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