IT TOOK A WEIRD BOUT of synchronistic weather to illustrate for me how our species loves to tell stories.
First, you need to know about Mugwort Manor. It was a Victorian apartment near the corner of San Francisco’s Fulton and McAllister streets where all the best 1980s’ “major ragers” took place, roughly according to the neo-Pagan calendar, for a specific group of Renaissance Pleasure and Dickens Christmas Fair(e) habitues, occasional bike messengers, poets, musicians, theater folk, and other outliers: social circles mostly (though not exclusively) centering on secretly famous Mugwort resident John Wheeler a”h . The morning after one such celebration, the hard core of a dozen or so hardy couch- and floor-surfers — suitably fortified with bananas and cheap cinnamon buns (“Cinnamon was the sovereign cure in the Middle Ages,” John said, “and bananas will restore the potassium we lost last night”) — made our precarious way to Golden Gate Park for some cool late October fresh air and sunshine.
Our beards bedecked with small flowers, we wandered the park for a while by roads not usually taken. In the bushes behind the Asian Art Museum we encountered what John told us was a disassembled Greek (Roman?) temple that William Randolph Hearst had had shipped to San Francisco but never reassembled. It was a perfect impromptu obstacle course, so we climbed all over it for a while, sanctified it with the appropriate (to us) offerings, then decided to call it a morning and head back to Mugwort.
We were ambling through The Panhandle when strangeness struck — a serial visitation of successive bands of rain, hail, black clouds, wind, and sunshine, in that order, repeated for about a 15 minute interval. Due to our frame of mind, we interpreted this as some errant godling’s payback for what he or she considered our merry disrespect of his or her sanctuary; as the weather abated, we began to talk to each other.
“It was so weird, the way the weather just came out of nowhere,” one said.
“First came the rain, then the hail,” recounted another. “Then those horrifically dark clouds!”
“That wind was awe-inspiring,” quoth a third.
“The sunshine felt great,” offered a fourth.
“And then it happened all over again!” chimed a fifth.
What struck me about the whole affair was that we had all experienced the same thing. We weren’t relating to each other anything the others didn’t know; there was no new information being expressed by or to anyone. But we all seemed to feel the need to relate it anyway.
This is not an unknown phenomenon. According to encyclopedia.com, in group communication dynamics, such conversations “… whether verbal or nonverbal, are important to groups because it is through the exchange of messages that group members participate, maintain the group identity, determine goals, motivate participation, and do the many things that keep the group intact.”
I have witnessed the same thing after concerts or theatrical performances, on seeing meteors, sharing a telescope, or co-experiencing other alone-together events. It always makes me think of the Golden Gate Park incident. We are a storytelling folk; we seem to need to speak our minds in order to cement into shared reality the things we’ve seen.
One piece at a time, our social universe is built. I wonder what the final version will look like.