Welcoming Fall

Things have been quiet in the office lately. I’m finally caught up, press date has passed. This is the month of the year when I can take a few days off, even a week, and not have a single email in my inbox when I return. I love this time of year. But this month is especially quiet because two coworkers in my department have left in the past two weeks, three in the past two months. And none of them have been replaced yet. We aren’t sure when they might be. 

I feel myself drawing inward. I lean into the quiet, wrap myself in the soft sunshine and hush as I plod along at my work, struggling to motivate myself. I know that any day we could learn there will be a new coworker joining us, and we will gasp into urgent preparations for their arrival, but for now we have no news and no known timeline. 

In fall and winter, I make fewer plans, spend more time reading and crocheting and writing. I emphasize coziness. I light candles. I’ve talked about this before and I don’t want to harp, but I don’t remember my tendency toward drawing inward starting quite this early before. I assume it’s the silence. Like when an unseasonal cold snap sends the trees into color early, though temperatures rise again. 

I spent a little time going through out holiday decoration boxes last week to pull out our fall decorations. I wanted my parent, who visited last weekend, to see them. I’m also just ready for that change. I’m ready for my favorite season. 

I kneeled in the closet under the stairs, opening boxes, listening to Tara scrabble at the underside of the door to try to get to me. I found and stacked the Halloween-specific decorations for Oct. 1 but went ahead and set up the more general fall decorations: ceramic and crocheted pumpkins, the wreath, the welcome mat, a painting. I’ve also bought a few more decorative pumpkins, including one for my desk at work. I recently painted a somewhat Dali-esque pumpkin scene at a local art studio, which leans against the wall on the breakfast bar. I placed the fall decorations around the house and continued to wonder what I should do with all my candles. 

Yesterday, I took the day off and planned to do nothing but put books on my new shelves, bought and brought by my beloved parents. However, I had a headache most of the day, so lay on the sofa and watched Moana. I didn’t even feel up to pulling up Netflix until well into the afternoon. I played with the cat and let her sleep on me. I ate very, very badly. I didn’t read, didn’t plan, and would maybe put two or three handfuls of books on a shelf before I retreated back to the sofa. 

I’m looking forward to experiencing a new season in our new house. I’m excited to continue to decorate for the season, we’ve now officially entered. But I’m also down this year. Not sad exactly. Not depressed. Maybe my headaches are because of an allergen or the seasons changing. I do feel withdrawn, especially at work. Until things get better, so I’m going to enjoy some sunshine. 

Reflecting on Autumn

On the Fall Equinox, I shared some of the things I was most looking forward to this season: hot chocolate, bonfires, holidays, NaNo, crisp skies, candles, chili, peace on Earth and goodwill toward one another.

Well, things haven’t really gone that way. This autumn was dominated by:
-the election of Trump;
-the bombardment of Aleppo;
-the stand against the North Dakota Pipeline;
-a bout of mild depression;
-a lack of enthusiasm about my NaNo project, catching up with friends, cleaning, cooking, or almost anything (see “depression”);
-a vicious cold that sequestered me in bed for 3 straight days and a string of migraines; 
-over 70 days without rain, necessitating a burn ban (no bonfires) and shriveling leaves, making them drop sooner;
-wildfires that destroyed thousands of acres and hundreds of homes, killed countless animals and half a dozen people, and clogged the sky with smoke;
-very warm weather marked by cold fronts that dropped the temperature by 20-40 degrees in a single day;
-porch renovations I’m excited about but that make the backyard look and smell like a construction site;
-the dog’s thievery and shedding, which have made me unwilling to crochet.

As a result, I haven’t spent my time in the ways I expected. I can’t fully explained why the election bottomed out my personal motivation or if that mild bout of depression was a coincidence. But my autumn has largely consisted of reading, donating money, writing letters to my congressmen, calling those congressmen, signing petitions, debriefing with friends, and creating talking points in case an argument breaks out at a family gathering. I’ve been inside more than normal, from smoke to construction to illness. I’ve had almost no motivation to publish, even as a long-term goal. I’ve struggled to pray. I traveled every weekend of November and most of them in December, only attending church twice.

For comfort, I started listening to Christmas music two days before the election and started watching Christmas movies one day before (which was also my birthday). I mostly listened to unusual holiday songs so that, when I grew tired of them, I could move to the more traditional songs and carols. With 4 days left, I’m still happily singing along in the car.

I didn’t finish decorating until the 15th because of low energy, but I did almost all my Christmas shopping online for the same reason, so I was done earlier than ever, with ten days left until Christmas. (Though so far I’ve only wrapped the dog’s present.) 

I’ve seen my family much more often than usual, which is a definite bonus. My parents bought me a new laptop I’ve yet to transfer my files to and assembled new bookshelves for me, opening a host of new organization possibilities. I took a fantastic vacation in October with my best friend and read some excellent books.

I am still deeply afraid of what will happen next month, next year, and the years to come. I know that, being pretty neurotypical and very privileged, I have hardly suffered. But on this, the shortest day of 2016, I am hoping this is the turning point for more light and better health. This is my wish and prayer for the world, as well as for myself.

4 Favorite Things: Fall Equinox

When I woke this morning, I plodded through the chilly house with my hair draped over my shoulders like a blanket, a sure indication that the world is winding down for the year. The first leaves are suggesting a yellow hue, the days are shortening, Orion is creeping near the horizon, and I see that the world is beginning to draw into itself.

I could make a good argument that I love every season, but I am especially partial to autumn. And Thursday is the fall equinox.

What a great word: equinox. The word makes me think of both breaking and linking. According to the rules of Harry Potter spells, it sounds like it should mean “equal night,” or “equal put-out-your-wand-Harry-Snape’s-coming”, which isn’t too far from the truth. (Okay, the first one isn’t too far from the truth.) Equinoxes occur, spring and fall, when the day and night are approximately equal to one another. It’s a division of the 24 hour day into approximately 12 hours of light and 12 of dark, and of the year into 6 months of more daylight than night and 6 months of more darkness than day. This is true all over the world. Breaking, and linking.

To celebrate the fall equinox, I’m talking about a few of my favorite fall and winter things. Despite my excitement, though, I recognize that the next six months will be very difficult for many people, and I’m going to try to acknowledge that as I go.

1. Coziness. Let’s be clear, I am absolutely a sun baby. I need sunlight to be well. If I had magic, I’d absorb it from the sun’s rays. Superman and I don’t get along (let’s not get into that right now), but you may well know that the source of his strength is our yellow sun. And on this point, at least, I relate. I have repeatedly forgone moving into my own office at work in order to stay in a communal room that boasts a wall of windows. But I love peppermint hot chocolate, bright stars, crisp air, hearty soups, piles of blankets, softly glowing embers, and the shedding of layers to signal you’re staying. I enjoy nothing more than crocheting by firelight, reading beneath a blanket, ladling a bowl of chili for the person hanging her coat and scarf by the door.

I’m pretty neurotypical, so the lack of sunlight and increase in darkness affects me on a fairly typical spectrum. I more often feel down. I’m more lethargic. I’m prone to walking outside and just standing there, eyes shut, face turned up like a sunflower. However, for many of my friends with depression and anxiety and other mental illnesses, winter is hellacious. For them, the fall equinox heralds the galloping approach of winter’s hot-breathed beasts. Plus, I hear the white walkers are coming.

2. Holidays. This one is about time, rest, and (re)connection. The next few months are stacked with my favorite holidays. The normal ones, but also my birthday and Guy Fawkes Day and Twelfth Night. Until the spring equinox, I get to spend a few days off of work here and there with the people I love the most, but who I maybe have neglected to call as often as I should have. Traditions reemerge from the woodwork and we all act as silly as we did two decades ago. New traditions and new family members get folded into these. I’m able to sit and look out the window. I’m able to read, nap, and daydream. Yes, the flurry of present-buying is ridiculous and harrowing and stressful. Yes, the stores decorate far too early. But the holidays themselves are awash in peace for me (as long as everyone ignores to my grandfather’s political statements).

For me as a Christian, the fall and winter are incredibly important renewal times for my faith. Maybe Lent and Easter should be, theologically speaking, but my childhood mentors and teachers and churches barely mentioned Lent. I’m still a bit iffy on what it’s supposed to be doing to me or I in it. But Advent, though far more complex than I learned of in childhood, is my time to evaluate my relationship status with God. And, as cliché as that sounds, I often move from “it’s complicated” or “mute” to unironic heart emojis or a gif of shaking hands. Not every year. And honest change is so much harder as an adult than it was as a kid, but it’s a chance to try. It’s a reminder to stop, to lay down, to wonder, to ask God questions.

I’m blessed with a wonderful home and family life. I have no large traumas or deaths in my past which make the span of time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s dreaded and endured rather than anticipated and enjoyed. However, I know so many people who just want to survive these holidays. Which is why I don’t accuse people of hating happiness if they don’t like snow-laden music or the plethora of holiday-themed movies and greetings. I have friends who feel attacked every holiday spent with family and can’t wait to get away again. I have friends for whom this optimism-heavy and Christian-centric season is annoying at best and oppressive at worst.

3. Nostalgia. Yes, the holidays are full of nostalgia thanks to traditions and films and once-a-year cookie recipes, but each day where I’m crunching leaves underfoot or wearing my favorite pair of tights is a call back to times that were meaningful or formative to me. Or just fun.

When was the last time the sky was this blue?

I remember that time I wore my mom’s old Dingo boots and my favorite leather jacket to stomp leaves in the back yard.

I used to sit on a stool in front of the stove and watch these cookies bake.

One year when my choir sang at a Christmas festival, it was so cold that our collective frozen breath made it hard to see the crowd.

I remember the New Year’s Eve bonfire two years ago when someone decided the first song of the year should be “Danger Zone.”

For the same reasons as with number 2, I know that many people struggle to enjoy, or just endure, the coming season. It will be hard for many people to remember happier times, either because they occurred before a deeply painful event or because they didn’t have many happy times. For my friends who aren’t Christians, it will be hard to hear “Merry Christmas” multiple times a day, and many will face hostility if they don’t say it back.

4. Darkness. I don’t like that the entirety of my sunlit hours are spent at work or that, on my lunch break, I must decide whether to sit inside where it’s warm or in my sunlit, but frigid, car. I don’t like that I don’t feel safe running after work because the world closes in on night so quickly. I rail about waking up in the dark and racing to do my errands and get home before the sun sets. And yet, candles. And yet, s’mores in the fireplace. And yet, twinkle lights. And yet, fireworks. And yet, bonfires. And yet, hours of stillness in which to write. NaNoWriMo is when I set my big project aside, whatever it is and whatever I’ve been doing to it, and throw myself into something new. I spend November, my favorite month of the year, engaged in my favorite part of the writing process: drafting. I create something new. I get up in the darkness, wrap myself in a blanket, and write until I absolutely, no really, have to get up and get dressed for work. The darkness cocoons, though it limits, and the lights are more profound in its midst.

I hope the lights ahead will be plentiful enough and bright enough to help you endure the coming darkness. Plus pumpkin spice everything. I bequeath you my share. I’ll keep to the peppermint syrup and my hot chocolate.