I spent time recently thinking about some things I wanted to change about my life. I even made one of those lists that Virgos are famous for making with bullet points written in different colored markers. I named it My Wish List, kept it in a notebook, and showed it to no one. Very close to the top were items related to working on deepening the human connections I already have and not being afraid to create some that would be new. In particular, I had the thought that I wanted to organize a book group and have wonderfully profound discussions with like-minded readers and thinkers. I floated the idea out to some of my significant people, who reached out to some of their significant people, and after a flurry of excited emailing, the book group I’d wished for materialized right before my eyes. This past Wednesday night was our first meeting, and I had very high hopes that it was going to be a great success. I’m so happy to report that the outcome far exceeded any and every expectation I could possibly have had. The discussion was intelligent and thoughtful. The company was supportive and caring. I felt as though we arrived at the meeting as fourteen separate individuals brought together by a mutual love of reading and a desire for connection, and we ended the night as a newly cohesive whole. I woke up the next morning feeling truly grateful.
For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, yesterday brought the autumnal equinox, or the beginning of the fall season. The literal translation of the word equinox comes from the Latin aequi, which means equal, and nox, which means night. During the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, there are as many hours of light as there are of darkness. One of the great gifts of the summer season is the how long the days feel, despite the fact that they actually begin shortening right after the summer solstice in the third week in June. That never seems to register with us, or if it does, we pretend that it doesn’t matter. We begin mourning the shortening days right around now, at the calendar start of fall, when we perceive that it’s finally time to let go of the light. And yet, there is some cause for celebration as well. We look forward to cooler temperatures that call for boots and sweaters. We anticipate the leaves changing in their spectacular display, and we’re ready for the first smell of woodsmoke in the air. We try not to think about the darkness of the months ahead, but we feel a certain heaviness coming for us, and maybe something else that’s akin to fear. It’s possible that some of this stems from our collective remembrance of earlier times when we had no electricity, heat, or grocery stores, and the darkness and cold that arrived with fall were reasons to be afraid indeed. Winter was just around the corner, and although it’s hard to imagine from our comfortable place in this modern world of warmth, light, and Netflix, survival wasn’t always guaranteed. In any case, the rhythm of this seasonal change still resonates deep inside us, and the official turn from summer to fall can definitely invoke a sense of sadness or apprehension.
For the past few weeks I have been reading Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland at the recommendation of my daughter, Wendy. If you’ve ever read any Pynchon, you know that he can be quite the challenge, but many of the websites that offer advice on how best to read him say we should simply accept that we’re in it for the ride, much like cruising along with Haruki Murakami or David Mitchell. Anything and everything is fair game for Pynchon, and although we may feel at times as though we’re navigating an impossible labyrinth, there are instances of clarity that are amazing in their brilliance. I recently had a moment just like that. One of the characters in Vineland wants to learn more about her mother and is engaged in some online sleuthing late one night on a library computer. She comes across a particular photograph of her mom and a very close friend taken in a rare moment of tranquility on a college campus during the tumultuous 1960s when both women were fairly extreme activists. Realizing the lateness of the hour, the daughter powers down the computer and heads off to bed. Pynchon continues:
Back in September of 2018, I wrote a post about my birthday in which I quoted William Shakespeare: “There was a star [that] danced, and on that day I was born.” Since that star kicked up its heels again this past Wednesday, I decided to reread what I wrote four years ago and consider how much of it still held true for me and how much had changed. I’m finding that birthdays become a funny thing as time goes on. I’ve always loved celebrating mine, and I still do, although the number has become surprising, and I find myself wondering where all the years have gone. What did I spend my time doing? What did I accomplish? Did I live my life well? Yet in those moments of questioning, I realize that I most definitely know the answers. I’ve also noticed that life begins to feel as though it can be divided into three distinct parts. In the first one, we look ahead in excited anticipation, waiting for and wanting what’s next. The days can’t end and begin fast enough. In the middle, we focus on assessing progress and meeting deadlines whether related to kids, or work, or both. The days begin to blur, one into the next. And finally, in later years, we find ourselves wishing for more time and worrying that we won’t have enough. We begin looking backwards on some days and hesitantly forward on others.
The movie You’ve Got Mail is one of my all time favorites. I’m fairly certain that I’m not the only one who feels that way. It is, after all, the quintessential rom-com starring the unbeatable combination of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, and it’s literally overflowing with quotable lines. The one I find myself saying the most is “Patricia makes COFFEE nervous,” in reference to people who are just a little bit on the jumpy side. When my son Connor reads this, he will laugh, because it’s his favorite too. I also love the famous moment when we hear the voiceover of Joe Fox reading his autumn in New York email to Kathleen Kelly: “Don’t you just love New York in the Fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” It never, ever gets old, and I know, without a doubt, that this particular line is the reason why I get the urge to settle in on my couch every September for a re-watch. It is true, isn’t it, that this time of year really does make us want to go out and buy school supplies. We suddenly need an empty notebook to fill with journal entries or a brand new set of Le Pen markers to color code our grocery lists. We find ourselves shopping for school clothes even though there’s no classroom assignment coming our way. We imagine that we’re writing on a blank slate from a new box of chalk with the smell of pencil shavings and fresh looseleaf pages in the air.