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Jennifer Wilson

What Does It Mean To Be Moved?

A Dutch Ship, a Yacht and Smaller Vessels in a Breeze, c. 1660, Willem van de Velde the Younger. Found in the collection of the National Gallery, London. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Jennifer Wilson | Longreads | August 2019 | 10 minutes (2,734 words)


“Why does a ripe apple fall?” Tolstoy asks in War and Peace. “Because the wind shakes it…or because the boy standing below wants to eat it?” Technically, the wind is the movement of air across space; but in our poetry, myths, and moving pictures, wind is something else entirely. For Tolstoy, it was the forces of nature tilting downward to meet man’s desire. For others, the wind is something that gives us permission, permission to move off course, to be blown away, to be held back longer from our destination, to act wild. In Homer’s The Odyssey, Aeolus, the divine keeper of the winds, hands Odysseus a bag containing all the winds of the earth. Aeolus conjures the west wind to send the men home. But just when they have Ithaca in their sights, Odysseus’s men, convinced the bag has gold inside, open it up. The winds escape and transform into a storm that sends their ship all the way back to Aeolus. However, this time he refuses to help them, certain Odysseus has been cursed by the gods.

We have rendered wind a metaphor for anger, passion, unreason; we use it as an excuse when we want permission to lose our minds. It is that extra push to be the person you really want to be, or to explain who we already in fact are. As Wallace Stevens put it “The wind shifts like this/ Like a human without illusions/Who still feels irrational things within her.” In Joan Didion’s Los Angeles Notebook, she writes about the strong, dry Santa Ana winds that leave coastal California in disarray, sometimes on fire. But for Didion, the Santa Anas are something else too; their arrival allows for a certain relinquishing of control. “We know it [is coming] because we feel it. The baby frets. The maid sulks. I rekindle a waning argument with the telephone company, then cut my losses and lie down, given over to whatever it is in the air.” I remember reading these lines for the first time and wishing for a wind like that, something that I could surrender to. Read more…