On the fall blues

There’s a slice of time every year in adult life—after Labor Day and before Halloween, when that back-to-school spirit has waned and the reality of the continued grind digs deep under the skin—that you get the blues.

Yes, you shop for denim. (TIP: seventies-inspired lighter washes are in!)

But this time, I mean a deeper, darker wash. You feel it in the sigh that settles in, cozy as a scarf in the crisp fall, and then slowly, sweetly, starts to strangle while you sip your pumpkin spice whatever. It’s a sense of something ending, of bright summer nights all played out, of sameness making itself at home in your small apartment. I’m no stranger to these blues; they sneak up on me every season, like clockwork. I dread the coming hibernation of winter. In an attempt to recapture some magic, I re-read Harry Potter and buy books of poetry. I think maybe copious amounts of hot yoga and hot water with lemon will flush out the toxic feeling. (They don’t.)

Nothing seems all that fresh. Fall fashion is recycled, a simple repeat of suede and old silhouettes. The news is in turns tragicomic… and just tragic. Pop culture feels circular, self-indulgent and self-referential to a point of near-collapse (and the NYT agrees; say hello to the “year we obsessed over identity”). The passage of time hits hard, bringing with it the truths of the smallness of our trajectories, the limits of our personal legends.

statue of liberty in blue copy

Just me? I don’t think so. Maybe I’m more prone to the blues than most; maybe I’m more sensitive to these frustrations that bubble up each fall. But we all get hit with something, right about now. A twinge at the chill of twilight. A lump in the throat before bed. Where are we going? Why are we running so hard and so fast? And how did we get on this treadmill, anyway?

It’s a sharply Millennial thing, of course: from the unsettled feeling itself (so entitled!) to the fact that I’m indulging it in a blog post (so self-centered!). I know. I’m—we’re—not to be pitied. I’m—we’re—not supposed to be happy. We’re young, and if we aren’t hungry and scared then we’re wasting our youths binging at feasts we can’t really enjoy and don’t really deserve.

But I’m a Taurus, and I like the feast; call me a hedonist, sue me, it’s written in my stars. And my blues? My blues remind me that pumpkin juice and pork chops do not appear, magically, on a sparkling golden plate. That’s the work of house elves in Harry Potter, but I don’t have one in my fourth-floor walk-up. (Nor, I might add, would I collude in the practice of enslaving house elves, were I to live in our Hogwartsian parallel universe.) My blues nudge me to seek something that looks like purpose, to take a second look at the shape of my life and apply some tough-love corrections. The feast, I remind myself, will have to wait.

Soon I’ll snap out of it. Go apple-picking, be grateful, enjoy that PSL in all its basic, beautiful glory. But in this middle-time, just for a moment, I’ll recognize this feeling for what it is: an acknowledgement of time ticking, of growing and aching and letting go. There’s a pain in all that. The body—and the soul—have to be taught to stretch. They have to be taught to fit contentedly into the boxes we’ve built for ourselves—for now!—whether we meant to or not.

More yoga, I guess.


On fresh starts & fall holidays

I’ve always loved that the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the following Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) fall, on the lunar calendar, right as autumn kicks into high gear. There’s a bite to the air that lazy September didn’t bother with, and there’s a feeling of time speeding up, coldness encroaching, skies darkening and leaves disappearing with a quickness that felt distant just a few short weeks ago.

Sun sets on another summer.
Sun sets on another summer.

Last year, in late August, I wrote a post about not going back to school for the first time. I said:

“It’s hard to remember that not going back to school doesn’t mean nothing has to change. It’s hard to feel the fizzy butterflies of a fresh start without everyone around me doing the same thing. On the flip side, though, there’s a dark glamour in now feeling personally responsible for any changes I might want to make to my life. If this is the empowerment of adulthood, it’s scary but encouraging.”

It still rings true. But for this, my second not-back-to-school, I ignored my own advice. I spent September largely as I had spent August: work, play, work, play. Yes, I moved into a new apartment in a new neighborhood with new roommates. Other than that, the continuity from summer was seamless. Work carried on. I didn’t buy fresh boots to kick off the season. My AC buzzed on in my window.

From the East River...
From the East River…
... to the Hudson.
… to the Hudson.

Making a radical shift is, it’s clear now, not easy. When we were still students and the school year started up, we could pull on our casual blazers and button up our blouses and present ourselves in class—then go right back to t-shirts in our downtime. There’s no obvious line like that, in this grown-up world: we are always in blazers and blouses. Every person we meet is a potential connection, and the lines between professional and personal lives blur ever closer, as work emails pile in on Sundays even as we’re sipping weak mimosas at boozy brunches with our coworkers.

So the timing for the Jewish New Year is, for me, a nice check-in; a reminder that we don’t have to let the fall (and the year) get away from us. We can take the time to celebrate, to reflect, to set new standards – or perhaps just remind ourselves of the standards we had hoped to live up to, which get ragged as we wear at them all year.

At the Yom Kippur services I attended this year, the rabbi spoke about our truths: the stories we tell about ourselves, and the stories other people remember. He said we should seek to be, as an old metaphor has it, like iron sticks: the friction of two different perspectives striking against each other sharpens us. In the indefinite space between the stories, between the sticks, might burn an objective truth. But it’s the lived experience — what we believe about ourselves — that shapes our reality. The challenge we must accept is incorporating the other stories, other perspectives, other pieces of truth. Then, we grow.

It’s a challenge that resonates. As the days grow cooler and my life here flattens into an unremarkable routine, I’ll make a New Years’ resolution of my own, no matter how cheesy: to seek out sparks of debate, to question what I know about myself and my world, to take criticism seriously, to embrace the different stories that will force me to sharpen my thoughts, that will help me see this city anew even as the streets become familiar things.

Always chase the golden hour.
Always chase the golden hour.

(I also resolve to drink more champagne. Rosé season may be over, but champagne is a timeless restorative for the tired soul.)

Here’s to 5775; may it be full of health.