I. Florida has better clouds than any other place I have ever visited. Due to its role as a peninsula, it divides the Gulf of Mexico from the Atlantic Ocean, allowing warm and cold air to converge over its land, creating beautiful, billowy clouds that look like they are the work of fairy tales.
II. Many of the buildings and homes are shades of pastel: pale pink, light blue, sea foam green, or the occasional salmon. I like this color palette because it feels like everything is worn out, weary from living, or just exhausted from sunlight.
III. There are a lot of old people. This ties into number two. I like it when the landscape reflects the people and the people reflect the landscape. It is both comforting and predictable. There is a pattern; something to hold on to.
IV. My parents were both raised in Florida: my mother in Miami and my father in St. Petersburg. Although they did not know each other growing up, they still managed to meet in Florida. In which case, when I go to Florida, it not only feels like I am returning to the beginning of my parents’ lives, enabling me to imagine them as kids, carefree and confused, but I also get to return to the synthesis of my existence.
V. There are too many people at a lot of the beaches that I have been to in Florida. It is crowded, uncomfortable, sticky, palpable, I can feel people encroaching on my space. I smell someone smoking a cigar, a scent that I hate, and I also hear a group of people playing music, a sound that I dislike in public spaces. There are children who know no sense of space, so they come very close to me. I see an old man gazing at me. The water is rough and the sand sticks to me afterwards. I cannot look at the pages of my book because the sunlight is too bright. I always forget my sunglasses. In the end, I lie there with my eyes closed knowing that I am literally in the process of burning my body, but I do not care. It is an escape from the horror of my surroundings: I am alone and content, lost in the red glow behind my eyelids; and because of this, I am grateful for the chaos of Florida—it teaches me how to be closer to myself.
VI. There is a trail called the Pinellas County Bike Trail that goes from St. Petersburg to some town north of there, I think it’s called Tarpon Springs. The trail is very flat and there are not many people on it. When I lived in Florida for a summer, I would ride it back and forth from Clearwater to St. Petersburg. While in St. Petersburg, I used to visit the Salvador Dalí museum where there were too many people and I felt stressed, but where I also found a painting—called Daddy Longlegs of the Evening-Hope!—that explained Florida to me: everything is melting, desperate, confused, and dark.
VII. I like the beach and the setting sun when no one else is there. I like the nighttime ocean.
VIII. Hot pink and white are two of the most popular colors in Florida: hot pink bikinis, hot pink sweatsuits, white cars, white-rimmed sunglasses, white sneakers. They are oftentimes paired with very tan skin. I always thought that they accomplished their tans by sitting underneath the glaring Florida sky, but then one day I saw a tanning salon in a strip mall, and I understood that there must be a substratum of Floridians who are not only curious but disciplined about what they want.
IX. When my family visited Florida one year, my brother and I made a sand castle. We spent over an hour shaping and perfecting it, but then we realized that the tide was coming in and the water was encroaching on our creation. In response, we built a moat around it. In response, the water got closer, filling the moat. In response, we dug the moat deeper. In response, the water kept coming, eroding the sand on the outer walls. That was one of the first times in my life that I remember experiencing the flow state. The water proved to be such a slow and consistent enemy that my brother, the sand castle, and I all believed that we could actually defeat the entire ocean if we just worked hard enough. In the end, the sand castle got washed away, but I have never felt so close to hope.
X. There is a strong energy in Florida. I think the heat carries it. It is pervasive and invisible and so bright that it has always reminded me of darkness.
XI. The air feels like warm velvet at night. What I like is how it surrounds me. It is soft and liquidy and gentle. It is in no rush. It has been in the same place forever and it is everyone else who changes. I enter it, it welcomes me. I swim through it; it adjusts for content. But it is only like this at night. During the day, the air is oppressive and suffocating, an inescapable torment.
XII. There are so many orange trees and grapefruit trees and other citrus-y fruit trees. My brother and I used to climb the grapefruit tree in my grandparent’s yard. At that age, freedom could be found up in a tree, hidden from the gaze of a careless observer.
XIII. When I visit the homes of Floridians, I oftentimes feel lost, like I have been pushed back in time to a place that evolved to be one way and then never changed again. At times, I have thought that Florida is trapped there: my parents are still children, my grandparents are still alive, I am a little girl in a black and white polka dot dress, my dad has thick curly hair, my mom is eagerly searching for answers outside of herself, and my brother and I are still sitting on a beach making a sand castle that never gets washed away.