October 1*

The smoke haze is back.

In so many ways, October feels like a new beginning. The light changes. The air changes. Kids are back at school, and even here in California, it’s pretty definitely no longer summer.

I grew up with an even stronger school-schedule vibe than most people: both my parents worked as teachers. When school began in the fall, it didn’t begin just for me, but for all of us. Now an adult by any measure, that sense of beginning as the days shorten and the mornings chill stays with me.

Beginning too means looking back, reflecting. Where is the world? Where am I? How am I doing? 2020 has been so strange. After all the early months’ chaos, in the past few weeks I think some of the changes have settled in. I’m in a different place, I think, than I have previously been.

1. The seven months since this began – March to now – is the longest period of time I’ve spent without jetlag in over ten years (or maybe fifteen).

2. These seven months also include the most total hours I’ve spent at home at least since high school summer vacations.

3. Ten years after everybody else, I’ve gotten into Spotify. Lately I’m retro in my music tastes: country, electronic dance music, and Prozzak’s album Forever 1999 (which doesn’t sound like 1999, but does sound like today through the lens of someone who came of age in 1999. It’s silly and funny and heart-melting and I love it.)

4. I’ve let go of long lists of plans and dreams and ambitions and next steps and someday-I’d-like-tos. Too many were starting to feel like shoulds, like weights or clutter rather than freedoms.

5. Instead, I’ve got three things I’d like to do over the next six months, one more I’d like to do over the next two years, and one more for the next five years. This feels simpler. It fits on a sticky note.

6. I’m reading a lot, and I have conversations going with two separate friends about books.

7. One of my oldest friends, who I became friends with mostly through letters(!) during summer vacations back in high school, sent me a long chatty birthday card; today I sent her a card back. Texts with other friends feel like a modern version of the one-day letters I imagine Victorians sent to each other. “What kind of flower is this?” “Have you read that?” “Is the smoke okay where you are?” “I can’t believe your daughter is four years old already!” “You have chickens now?!” “Here’s what it looks like where I am.” “I don’t know when I’ll see you, but I miss you.”

8. At work, I’m in the middle of shifting from a management role to an individual contributor path. This, too, feels simpler, and I think more in line with the self I most think of as me.

After two weeks of clearer air, the smoke is back today, blowing in (the news tells me) from the Glass fire, miles north. The hills across the bay and the hills across the highway are both invisible. The air smells again of campfire. The temperature is over ninety degrees, but there is little value to shade, because the sun itself is shaded by the smoke.

If you’re reading this, I hope you’re finding value in your own new beginning – or if fall doesn’t feel like a beginning-time to you, to your own keeping on.

Stay safe, and breathe deep when you can.

—-

* I wrote this yesterday, posting today.

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