Molly Fisk: Folklore & Mythology

It is very very hot in our town. Over at my house, with the new wider road giving us more asphalt to absorb heat and the chopped-down trees no longer providing shade, it’s running ten degrees hotter than the announced high for the area. Today it was 106. If you think I’m complaining, you have read me right. I am definitely complaining. And I’m probably going to keep complaining, because I have well-developed tenacity and stamina in this department.

However, since I was not born yesterday, I know complaining is fruitless. The gods of heat waves, climate change, and road-widening projects are turning, as usual, a deaf ear. If they exist at all. It rarely matters that my college major was Folklore & Mythology, but I have actually studied the way human populations create stories to explain the world to themselves and their children. Almost all the stories include a larger force who could be helpful but at the last minute is not. Make of that what you will. I think it indicates in humans a deep desire to be saved, even though we always end up having to save ourselves and usually each other.

I’m saving myself with a small window air conditioner next to my desk, and a large lake, 20 minutes away. I feel guilty about using electricity to power the air conditioner, and gas to power the car to get to the lake. This is First World, middle-class, Baby Boomer guilt, with some coastal-California-native thrown in. It’s not usually so hot that coastal Californians need air conditioning, so a measure of disdain for the stuff has developed over time. This is a mix of real concern for ecology and an egotistical Boomer feeling that we must lead the way to change. Sprinkle in nostalgia for a particular kind of Western-pioneer suffering, and you have the perfect formula for regional guilt. Plus my parents were Yankees, so add a dash of righteous Puritanism and there you have it: my psyche, in a heat wave.

Luckily, cooler heads prevail around here: I have friends and mentors to turn to, who say, kindly, “Turn on the a/c and go take a swim for God’s sake, before you lose your mind. And while you’re at it, try to accept the unacceptable.” Have you heard this horrible phrase before? I think it’s originally a tenet of Buddhism that weaseled its way into the larger American culture, especially in California, where it admonishes us all for complaining.

I dislike being reprimanded, even gently, by ancient religions, but I see the point. By complaining, I waste my breath, a finite resource. Breath I could use to pull myself past the beautiful pines and maples on the shores of the lake. Breath for laughing at the goofy things my friends say while we’re swimming.

If I stopped complaining, I might, in fact, be able to cheer up and not be quite so cranky even though it’s 106 in the shade!


I’ll think about it. I hate to let go of something when, through years of practice, I’ve gotten so exquisitely good at it.

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  • Shirley September 2, 2017 at 11:58 am

    In the South, we call it a “hissy fit.” Usually performed by a female; but lately I’ve noticed males doing it, too. Always makes you feel a little better, no matter what you call it.

  • WENDL in Manhattan September 2, 2017 at 7:15 am

    In NYC we call it “kvetching” and it’s an acceptable–if not bonding–thing, because one might speak for all. Kvetching is less pretentious than venting, less irritating than complaining, and less useless than griping. And it’s a funny word, so we usually laugh afterwards, which is never a waste of breath.

    • Molly Fisk September 2, 2017 at 10:32 am

      There are so many fabulous words in Yiddish, which I think is responsible for kvetching… Sometimes I hear it out here, but definitely not often enough. And thank you for the sliding scale!

      • Melanie September 3, 2017 at 2:54 pm

        I love kvetching. Very homey. One reason I loved Nicole Krauss’ Yhe History of Love was the main character’s Yiddish momentum. He only sort of kvetched, in a sorrowful, brave, heartbreakingly “realistic” way. I don’t hear enough Yiddish English anymore. The kvetch usually has a lot of wisdom.