Late summer is an impatient time of year in Tennessee. The hot and sticky summer, once such a relief after a chilly damp winter, is now tiresome. We strain for the warm, gentle fall days and crisp fall nights. I stood outside recently, late during a night just barely hinting at autumn, keeping a friend company while he smoked a cigarette. He said he'd never actually had a classic summer fling, that actually it seems like it's winter that always makes him want someone to curl up with. He theorized that it's a hibernation thing.
T.S. Eliot agreed. He wrote, "We have seen so much beauty spilled on the open street/Or wasted in stately marriages, or stained in railway carriages/Or left untasted in villages or stifled in darkened chambers/That if we are restless on winter nights, who can blame us?" I have to say that I agree, too. Summer is a singular time. When the air starts getting chilly, it's easier to feel the fever, whether it's for romance or some other longing. When fall comes, you know that winter restlessness is coming. It's the season of anticipation.
You see, it's also the back-to-school time of year. Even long after graduation, it's hard not to feel that ingrained annual sense of returning to the grindstone, of starting a new leaf with new shoes and a fresh lunchbox. It's been three years since I graduated college, but this is the time of year that my summers of Springsteen-ish "praying in vain" start to formulate into a concrete taking stock. It's not only taking stock, it's also like making stock—soup stock. You have these odds and ends that have been rattling around in your pantry or your heart, and if you stew them together long enough, you get something rich and magical and healing, something that adds a richness to whatever else you might make.
Fall is a time for taking and making stock of our lives for the time to come from all the remnants of the previous season. It's a time for inventory. Even when there's no crops to bring in, no last layer of hibernation fat to put on, there's something about that seasonal change that makes us have to evaluate our odds. It's instinctive. I catch myself cleaning the house. I make jam. I remember that I mean to someday go to grad school. I wonder where I'm headed. I make a new budget. I write letters to friends. I lay awake at night wondering what success really means to me and how I really want to spend my time and if there will ever be someone to lay there in bed next to me while I inevitably worry on some other late summer evening a long time from now.
A friend of mine wrote recently about an existential moment on a train to Boston, rereading the Eliot poem that the quote above comes from. It's from one of his early journals, "the one that has been the most doggedly dog-eared by me over the past decade," as she put it. She described rereading it on her trip and testing her present self against all the other selves she's been since she first read this poem—"seeing artists in their rough and early stages, thinking of myself perusing those works at decade intervals, and I can’t say that I have figured anything out since then."
Having such a moment, whatever the result, is what fall is all about. Like Eliot said later in the poem, "Do I know how I feel?/Do I know how I think?/There is something which should be firm but slips just at my fingertips." This autumn, be easy on yourself. Let these ruminations glide over you. Stand outside and breath in, and take in the harvest moon. Compare friendly notes with friends over pumpkin-flavored drinks, and see if between you all you've learned something new since last fall. Give in to ritual, for this is the most ceremonial season.
There are the common rites—to don tights and boots and scarves and line up for pumpkin-spiced lattes or bake pies. There are the personal rites—one of my best friends and I get witchy feelings in October and inevitably drink whiskey and absinthe and light candles perched in empty wine bottles and watch terrifying art films. Whatever it is that you do, slow down and honor this time. Find someone to curl up with, whether it's a winter romance or a trusted friend or your past and future selves. Savor your summer fever, take and make stock of all that has happened since last year, since last decade. Reap all those feelings fresh from your overheated August heart and save them up for restless winter nights.
Meghan O'Dea is a 20-something writer, pop culture critic and social media fanatic. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter if you have questions, comments or stories on being a young adult in the workforce. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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