Oh September, September. I enjoyed you so much that I could scarcely bring myself to come indoors. At times crisp as a golden apple, at times sweet as peach juice dribbling down the chin. Now it’s October, soon to be November. And my cider is gone but there is more at the farms, there’s the orange dots of pumpkins in fields. There’s fog in the morning, and the leaves at long last are beginning to shift into their golden splendor.
There’s a line from The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe that really says it best about how I feel this time of year. How lots of people probably feel.
Girls like Caroline, who have just finished fifteen uninterrupted years of educational routine, find themselves still dividing the year into seasons the way they are used to, rather than by the calendar. January the first is not the birth of the new year; September is.”
When I became cynical and jaded about school I began to look forward to its end. I looked forward to having my own life and routine back. It’s a double sided coin. I don’t miss the squeeze of many neglected deadlines, nor do I miss the arbitrary assignments that were disconnected from my other lessons, because it made it hard to concentrate. But I do miss the thrill of new beginnings, the promise of new things to learn, of maps and animals and new words, new books to read, familiar faces to see. Construction paper decorations on the wall.
In short, I miss the idea of school. Of packed lunches and the School Shopping, the smell of thrift stores, fresh crayons, pencils, and that wide-eyed stack of empty notebooks all waiting there in the shopping cart. I miss the long hours I spent in college in that window-nook behind the stacks, looking out the window at people walking to their classes.
But then again, I incorporate so many of these elements into my life now. Coloring, cutting things out, exploring the world earnestly. And taking my sack lunch wherever I go.
The happy memories eclipse the jaded and cynical feelings. I am left with a complex impression of what was and what will be all at once in the present. How life was then, how it is now, how it might be later. I never delve too deeply in that how it might be later -- that’s a good way to get disappointed -- so instead of specifics my brain toys lazily with general things. Feelings. Past impressions. I compare ideas I've had to how they turned out.
There’s a neighborhood in Denver, near and around the Esquire theatre, that used to beguile me when I was in college. Many weekends would find us driving down from the tiny college-farm-town we lived in walking the streets of this neighborhood as if they were our own. and We would park in neighborhoods and walk to our destinations -- all good simple things that we always did -- but to do these things in a city seemed unspeakably thrilling. I would consider the little houses -- urban houses! -- all standing close to one another like old friends. If I lived there, I would think to myself, this wouldn’t be just a once in a while thing. This would be my life and I could live it every day outside in this city, on these streets.
What would my life be like in this place?
I would WALK to the library -- go as often as I could. I would drink wine outside on those cool summer evenings with my comrade, and under a quilt on cold winter nights. Cheese, coffee, shopping more sustainably. Maybe I would even be lucky enough to have a plot in the community garden, where nameless things curled up and around the chain link fence. Kids would run around and yell during school recess and after school. The colors of the houses, the colors of the faces, the colors of the songs. Important people would come to town, then leave, the city would think about things together and have opinions about what happened to it, and I could be there absorbing it all and thinking about it all with everyone. Trips to the museum, to new restaurants. Stumbling across little city parks on accident. Picnic lunches. Music. Life.
It’s weird to get all this from a neighborhood. By just lurking outside and gently peeping into windows of people.
The beauty of it is that this is basically what my life is now. The truth is you don’t need a certain zip code to treasure your life and the people around you. All you need is that awareness, that appreciation for your surroundings, that hunger to live fully and openly. Denver appealed to me because it had an energy that I badly needed at that time. And I lived off of that energy vicariously -- by seeing and feeling -- until I was able to move to a city of my very own. I chose Portland, but you could choose just about anywhere. Wherever the bricks speak to you.
As I watch the tides moving in, all this uncertainty (economic and political) washes over and it makes one think. I worry sometimes about What Happens Next, what does life look like for people like us. I also find I admire different ways of living, living further apart, living lighter on the earth, living with more mobility. I know that this charmed life in the city may not last long for us. My life is simple and I try to live humbly. So much depends on so much that we have no control over. But in the meantime I reflect -- especially this time of year -- on how lucky I am to have my dreams of gardens and libraries come true.