Weather extremes make the middle a happy place

POCAHONTAS (not her real name) told me that "How many coats do you own?" is how you remind a Californian that she lives on the East Cost now. She's right. I used to need a glorified sweater jacket and my hooded raincoat, period. Now a spiraling coat rack near my front door bulges and topples like a tippling Santa.

"Have you had your first nor'easter yet?" she giggled.

"Well yeah, last year, we had the Blizzard of Ought-Six, where they were skiing down Broadway," I reminded her. "I don't know if any of the storms this year have been big enough. How do they even know whether something's a nor'easter?" I wondered. "Maybe they just go north to New England and find the Yankee-est looking guy they can find, and ask him. And he either says 'Ayup' or 'Nope.' It's like 'Groundhog Day.'"

I paced around the office while chatting with Pocahontas on my cell phone. My boss had set me a few technical domains to "swot up," as the British say, and so I was putting in a few off-hours learning the fundamentals of VBScript and Active Server Pages. Given I'd never quite programmed before, I'm glad my first assignment was VBScript, which my boss has called "sort of like a version of Visual Basic dumbed down for people with severe brain trauma." Even so, it took a perspective shift to get a grip on it.

After I failed one quiz and squeaked by another, he gave me advice on how to study.

Studying computer programming is more like math and less like history. It's a skill, not a bunch of facts and ideas to learn and rearrange in one's head and synthesize into models of how the world works. So, every time the book introduces a new concept or function, I have to try it out and practice it and feel out its limits and appreciate how the contours of the problem space have subtly altered.

Now that I think about it, this also sounds like an excellent way to learn history. But you need a certain base level of knowledge to apply such rigorous critical thinking to the arguments in history books. We only learn skills — singing, cooking, coding — with this kind of practice.

Deliberate practice really does make a difference. Only once I buckled down to studying VBScript, spending a few hours at a time reading and debugging, did my understanding expand. I couldn't use what researcher Linda Stone called "continuous partial attention."

I can't learn a new skill while multitasking; I have to concentrate.

I can't just give it a constant slow drizzle.

Which brings me back to the weather.

Spring is different here. After months and months of snow and slush and sleet and hail and other totally unsuitable things falling from the sky, the sunlight can get to the street uninterrupted. I am drunk with spring. My blood feels warmer, like wild magic. I've been smiling on the street, which you Just Don't Do.

It feels terribly cliched to love spring as much as I'm loving it. And what do I have but cliches to praise it? In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. Spring forward, fall back. I'm a spring chicken, running around with my head cut off, basking in the sudden sunshine that bathes every street and avenue.

The change in the weather coincides with a change in my work. Instead of doing front-line sales and tech support stuff, I've started working on longer-range projects. The never-ending queue has ended. Suddenly I don't have to answer the phone or e-mail every 20 minutes, and the tasks I do stay done.

I spent years multitasking, and looking back, they seem like six years of cloudy Bay Area weather: 55 to 73, no need for sunglasses or long underwear. I ached for the rhythm of strong, ephemeral seasons and I craved tasks with finish lines.

I'm switching coats, by the way. I had a down-stuffed monstrosity that kept me alive on the below-freezing days this winter, along with a scarf and gloves. (In the Bay Area, scarves are an excuse to buy sustainably-manufactured batik products from women-owned co-ops.) Now a little red corduroy number wards off stray breezes, that's all.

I'm appreciating the nuances of windbreakers, blazers, hoodies, peacoats and trenches. I'm trying them out, and feeling out the contours of the climate and my adaptations to it.

I had to feel the extremes to enjoy the middle, which I am, immeasurably.

Sumana Harihareswara writes for Bay Area Living each week. Write her at