So, today is the Autumnal Equinox, the official beginning of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere.
Which usually feels much more momentous to me, but time has become a fog since the pandemic. I’ve been working from home full time since mid-February, and I have a very difficult time remembering what day of the week it is. The year seems to be whizzing by at breakneck speed, while individual workweeks drag like molasses in a Winnipeg winter storm.
Seriously, every Tuesday or Wednesday by midday I feel mentally exhausted as if I’d enduring ten days of overtime with no days off. It’s just weird.
Autumn (also known as Fall) has long been my favorite time of year. The coming of Autumn always makes me think of new projects or breathing new life into old projects. I assume the pattern was set by my years as a kid where Autumn meant the beginning of a new school year. But it might also be the fact that I have never been comfortable in warm weather, and the coming of cooler (but not yet cold) days after a sometimes grueling summer felt like another kind of renewal.
I had Monday off again (work has made changes to vacation policy forcing many of us to use some of it up or lose it). I had intended to use the day to sweep and tidy up the veranda, finally plant the spot color flowers I picked up just as the air quality was taking a turn for the worse, and try to get some writing done. I did basic sweeping, got the flowers planted, and working on this blog post. Only a subset of the goals, but progress is progress, right?
Now the smoke has cleared and it is raining again, I hope that it will start feeling like Autumn to me and will trigger some creative energy, because it’s been very difficult to muster any for some time now.
As autumn settles in, I’ve been taking care of winterizing tasks, which included transplanting some thing from our planters to other locations. Living in an apartment, we don’t have quite as much winterizing to do as some people, but there is still work to do. Fans and the a/c unit get taken down and put away, for instance. I put away some of the summer clothes and pull out warmer clothes. Our wooden folding table out on the veranda (our third-story deck) needs to be rubbed down with oil (I used butcher block oil and butcher block conditioner) to keep it waterproof for another year. The grill needs to be cleaned and covered. Things like that.
This year that also meant that a tree need to be transported. Not long after we moved to this place last year, I noticed an unfamiliar plant growing in the very smallest of the flower pots that used to sit on our porch at the old place. Once the leaves reached full size, I identified it as a Turkish Filbert (also know as a Eurasian Hazel), which is a relative of the American Hazel from which we get hazelnuts. In our old neighborhood one house up the street from us had a Turkish Filbert in the front yard, and I was used to seeing the distinctive filbert seed pods on the sidewalk each fall. I realized that the neighborhood squirrel had buried one of those seeds in my flowerpot.
Over the years we’d lived there, I was used to finding rotted peanuts and the occasional chestnut in the flowerpots whenever I put in new spot color flowers. This was the first time, as far as I know, that the squirrel gave us a filbert. And it was the first time one of the nuts buried in our flowerpots sprouted.
I took it as a sign that a squirrel god wanted us to grow the tree, and had thought I might be able to keep it going in a planter for a few years before needing to find it a forever home. It only grew to about 8 inches tall during our first summer, after all. Of course, it was also in the tiniest flowerpot I owned at the time.
After it’s 9 leaves turned yellow and fell off last year, I transplanted the entire contents of the pot into a larger planter–one of four large ones I got to grow the irises I had salvaged from the flower bed we’d been allowed to use at the old place. I should have realized that the bigger planter, having a lot more room for roots, would mean that the tree would grow a lot faster in its second summer.
Fortunately, our friend Jeri Lynn was amenable to trying the filbert in her new yard, so we had planned this fall to move it.
Before we got to that point, I had other work to do with the planters. Another of the pots that had come with us from the old place was this very cute terra cotta planter int he shape of a sea otter. I’d been growing pansies and violas and dianthus and similar annual flowers in it for years sitting either on our concrete porch at the old place, or sometimes on the concrete walkway or sitting in one of the flower beds.
Since the structure I call our veranda is a deck sticking out the side of an apartment building, and there are neighbors with their own decks below us, all of my flower pots and such are either completely contained, or they have catch basins under them, to prevent overflow from watering sending muddy water down on the neighbors. I’d found a gorgeous, ocean-colored glazed dish that was big enough for the otter and left the otter in the dish over the winter. I didn’t think about how, during the rainiest part of the winter, this meant that the otter was sitting in at least an inch of water. Which means that the potting soil inside the otter was constantly 100% waterlogged. So when temperatures dropped below freezing, the otter was broken. Badly broken. So broken that in the spring I couldn’t get water to stay in the potting soil long enough to sustain the flowers.
My husband found me a new otter planter, which I have now placed in the glazed dish on little lifts that keep the pot above any water in the dish.
But what to do with the old otter? I couldn’t bring myself to putting it in the trash. So I suggested to my husband (who is slightly less sentimental than me) that he should wait until sometime I was gone, and he could dispose of the otter, and I could pretend she has swum away.
When I mentioned this on line, our friend Katrina asked why I couldn’t transform the otter into art by burying it in a large planter, so the otters head and forepaws (which are still mostly intact) was visible above the soil, and plant a bunch more of the irises around it, so it looked like the otter was in a bed of seaweed.
Which was absolutely brilliant.
I finally found a planter that would work, and I did exactly that a couple of weeks ago. The irises you can see in the photo above came out of the planter with the filbert. I planted 9 iris rhizomes in that planter with the tree, and by the end of summer I had 18 iris plants in the planter (the other three planters didn’t double, but all of the planters had at least some new irises by the fall). So I dug up about of third of them from the end furthest from the tree (figuring their roots were less likely to be tangled with the tree’s root), and put them in the new planter.
Saturday night, after our monthly writers’ meeting, we carried the planter down to our friend Matt’s truck, and he transported it to Jeri Lynn’s. Then on Sunday I drove up, helped them transplant the filbert and the remaining irises, then took the planter back home.
There, I filled the planter with all the remaining unplanted rhizomes (there were a lot of irises at the old place), and covered them with potting soil. It’s a lot denser that I’d packed them in any of the planters last year, but I figure they’ve been sitting in a box for two growing seasons, and a lot of them probably aren’t viable.
Don’t get me wrong, every one of them might sprout and I have dozens of irises coming up in that planter next year. And I won’t mind a bit!
I just hope that some of the irises in the other planters actually bloom next year. I assumed that this year they were in a recovery mode from being dug up in the spring, rather than fall as you’re supposed to, and so on.
Last Sunday I needed to run to the grocery store for a couple of things before my football game, which was earlier this week than it usually is. I started the car, flipping on the wipers to clear the heavy layer of dew off the windshield, and lowered and raised the side windows for the same thing. I started to put the car in gear when I realized that my music wasn’t playing. I looked at the stereo in the dash and the main screen said “No Device.” We have a small collection of old iPods loaded with various subsets of my music library that I rotate through the car. So there’s always an iPod plugged into the stereo, and the stereo is set to automatically start playing music from the iPod on shuffle when it starts up.
There was no sign that the car had been broken into (one of the reason we have several iPods salvaged from the junk pile at my husband’s workplace is that we have had about four previous iPods stolen from over the last ten years and two cars), so I knew the most likely cause was that the iPod was too cold. I opened up the console, dug the iPod out while trying not to disconnect its cable and it was definitely ice cold. Electronic devices with internal rechargeable batteries have temperature sensors that deactivate the system if the device is either too cold and too hot, because the chemical processes inside the rechargeable batteries don’t operate as efficiently (and safely) outside certain ranges.
This made me realize that the overnight low temps are cold enough that I probably should sit in the car letting the engine idle for a couple of minutes before driving. And this is yet another sign of the changing of the seasons: sometimes it’s cold enough to disable the iPod. That probably means I should bring swap out the iPod in the car to change out the music a bit.
And that reminded me that while I have been thinking about a new Halloween playlist, all I have actually been doing is listening to all my old ones (I usually make a new one each year). Combine that with a conversation between two friends on social media about playlists for NaNoWriMo, and I spent more than a bit of my free time this week setting up a new Halloween playlist and a possible NaNoWriMo playlist.
I love making playlists. Given that there are literally thousands in my library, I probably love it just a bit much. Writing playlist are assembled in several different ways. Some songs I associate with certain characters. Lots of songs simply evoke moods. A good friend always remarks on how many of the songs in my writing playlists have lyrics. He says he can’t write while listening to people talking or singing words. I get that, and I have a few writing lists that are entirely instrumental. The key, of me, is that the songs that have lyrics can only go into a writing list if I know the song well enough that I don’t have to actively process the words to follow the song.
Many of my writing playlists are intended to help me think about writing while doing other things. Listening to my playlist, “A Dark Lord’s Lady” during my evening walk, or while riding the bus, or walking from the bus to the office, or while working on certain tasks at work make keeps me in the mood to write scenes related to one certain characters and subplots in a couple of the books in my fantasy series, for example. Whereas the playlist, “Devil in the Trickster Details” has me thinking about a completely different set of characters and their subplots across….. many more of the books in the series.
To make a new list for this year’s NaNoWriMo requires me to decide which of many projects to actually work on this November. And that’s a problem, because I’ve been running the Red Queen’s Race in regards to a bunch of writing projects for the last few years, and can’t quite manage to actually finish anything. Which is frustrating, but also entirely my fault.
I think I know what I’m going to do. And I have assembled a new NaNoWriMo playlist (currently titled “A Heart Rattling World Ending”) with 55 songs that focus on characters in a couple of the stalled projects. But I might change me mind by the time November 1 rolls around. If you happen to be doing NaNoWriMo this year, and want a writing buddy, I’m Fontfolly over there, so say “hi.”
Compounding the problem for many of us it the grinding compassion fatigue/outrage fatigue/existential fear fatigue that world events have been inflicting on so many of us. There were literal mobs roving streets of cities this weekend looking for liberals and queers and anyone else the alt-right thinks of as enemies. They beat a bunch of people up, and in at least three cases the cops arrested the victims. It should be no surprise, then, that many of us are having trouble getting into the mood for holidays, no matter how much we may love Halloween. Let alone getting in the mood to write a novel.
But I refuse to give up.
In this kind of social/political atmosphere, creating is an act of rebellion. Having fun that doesn’t come at someone else’s expense is an act of rebellion. I’m trying to remember that. Let’s all try to accomplish some creativity and celebration together, shall we?
Once again as autumn settles in I find myself feeling like a new door has opened. I mostly blame school. Between grammar school, middle school, high school, five years attending community college part time while working, then three years at university, for 21 years the end of summer meant a new year beginning. And then I had a few years where I was just working full time without that fall reset until I joined the newly formed Seattle Lesbian and Gay Chorus, and for the next eight years fall meant the beginning of a new chorus season. It was a lot like school: we’d have our Pride concerts and march in the Pride Parade in June, then have a couple months off until rehearsals resumed at the end of August/beginning of September.
So, while Spring may be what most people think of as the time of renewal for the natural world, for me it’s autumn.
For various reasons, for the last 20 years, the day after my birthday (which is in the last week of September) feels like the big turning point. I start thinking of it as being October on the day after my birthday, which is kind of funny.
I had hoped that this weekend would be a nice, relaxing time when I could finish some chores related to getting the plants in my huge collection of pots and planters on the veranda ready for winter, re-assess my goals, and maybe make some progress on long lingering projects. But I wound up working until almost midnight Friday, and still had to put in a few more hours during the weekend. Then there was some construction happening on our building: some work on the roof, and because one of the access points to the roof is a hatch right outside out door, for a big chunk of the weekend there was a ladder braced out there. It didn’t technically block us in, but it was awkward getting in and out of the house. So the weekend was a lot less relaxing than I would have liked.
And I missed two tasks that I’d really meant to get done during the weekend.
Fall is here. Decorating season has begun. We don’t have much in the way of Halloween or Harvest decorations up, yet, but we’ve made a start. And once again I’m re-assessing goals. One thing that has become clear this year is that I have to stop thinking of the long work hours and associated stress as a temporary thing. It’s just a reality of our economy, now. I need to find a new way to keep making progress on personal projects including by not limited to writing, without feeling resentment when I don’t have the energy and time that I used to. That includes both attitude adjustment for me, at the least.
But this is the perfect time of year for me to do that, because it’s my personal time of renewal.
Some people will be surprised that I’m writing about hay fever when it is practically autumn. Well, this is one of the reasons my hay fever is so annoying. I have a moderate-to-severe allergic reaction to every pollen, spore, and mold that the allergists test for, and in the mild climate west of the Cascade Mountains, that means hay fever season runs from about mid-Febbruary to approximately mid-December every year.
We’ve had a significant shift in the weather this weekend. In the middle of last week we had one day where the temperature creeped above 80º in some places. All this week, the daily highs are forecast to be in the lower to mid-60s, plus rain every day.
I absolutely love this kind of weather.
Unfortunately, one of the “features” of my hay fever is that my sinuses react most harshly to changes. If a new species that hasn’t been the predominant pollen-contributor in a while ramps up production, my sinuses go bananas. If the weather changes, whether from damp and cool to dry and hot or the other direction, then it’s all congestion and running nose and red itchy eyes for a couple of days.
So, while I should be ecstatic that I had to pull the lightweight jacket out of the backpack (where it gets carried most of the summer in case we have rain) to wear for the trip in to work, I am instead sniffly and sneezing and miserable.
I’ve written a few times before about my love of Halloween and my fondness for a certain type of spooky movie. Some years I have done elaborate decorating for the holiday. I often spend time planning a costume to wear to any Halloween party we might be attending. I always spend at least part of the month of October listening to what I consider Halloween music while planning what kind of movies I might watch on the actual night. And then, of course, there is trying to decide how much candy we will need to hand out that night1.
My love for Halloween began long before I knew that it used to be considered the high holy days of queers everywhere. Which was true at least since the 1920s until the straights co-opted it for Heteroween2. But I recognize that at least some of the reasons I loved Halloween back then are the same reason the holiday appealed to queer people for so long:
it was a day I could dress up as silly or weird as I wished without getting strange looks from people;
it was a day where other people would show off bits of their personality that weren’t obvious the rest of the year;
being closeted cultivated an ability to find humor in the absurdities and misfortunes of life;
trying to get along as a queer child in a straight world means that embracing make-believe and pretending to be what we aren’t a survival trait;
…which fits right in with Halloween!
Of course, when I say I could dress as silly as I wished, that wasn’t entirely true. I remember, for instance, the year that I really wanted to dress up as the character of Witchie-Poo from the Saturday morning live action show, H.R. Pufnstuf. Mom didn’t act appalled, but she argued with me until I gave in and let her buy me the really tacky H.R. Pufnstuf costume. Pufnstuf was supposed to be a dragon who was the Mayor of the enchanted island where the show’s action took place, but the store-bought costume was just a weird shaped green mask and a generic green onesie that had a picture of the character printed on the chest. My sister mentioned that I had wanted to dress up as Witchie-Poo within earshot of my dad and I got yelled at quite seriously about how boys don’t dress up as witches!
It wasn’t even that the character of Witchie-Poo appealed to me that much3. My recollection is that the store-bought costume for her had a magic wand prop, and I really wanted the magic wand. Of course, she was the villain of the show and I quite frequently find myself sympathizing with the villains.
Our friends that have been hosting a Halloween party almost every year for about 30 years are skipping this year. So I don’t think either of us will be making a costume. And although they gave us plenty of warning that we could have opted to host our own party, all of the years of going to their themed and wonderfully decorated parties casts a more-than-slightly intimidating shadow over the notion.
Maybe we’ll just try to get together with some people on the Saturday before.
But I have been working on my new Halloween playlist. I spent a lot of the last week listening to every single Halloween playlist I have made in the past4 as I decide what kind of list to put together this year. I have one assembled, I just haven’t decided if it is finished or still needs some tweaking.
Whether there is a party of not, or any dressing up, I still intend to enjoy myself, getting my spook on in various ways for the rest of the month.
Let’s have fun!
1. My husband and I don’t believe in handing out so-called “fun size” candy. We usually get a few cases of full sized bars in hopes that we will get lots of kids.
2. But that’s okay. Straights need a socially sanctioned night to dress up as sexy nurses or sexy firemen. They’re so reppressed the rest of the year!
3. I mean, I thought she was hilarious, but…
4. Fifteen such lists in my iTunes library, by the way.
I got to spend some quality time each day of the weekend sitting out on the veranda with a mug of either coffee or tea, and it was glorious. On Saturday afternoon I was out there with the laptop and a pile of marked up pages an got some good editing time in. The sky suddenly got dark as the clouds thickened, and I decided to take the paper and laptop inside before it started raining. And I barely made it. It started raining as I was carrying things through the door. And then, I grabbed a new mug of hot tea and the iPad and went back out to do some other writing while the rain splattered on the edge of the deck. There is an eave over the deck. If the rain is light, only the edge of the deck where my flowers in pots are gets wet. But if it’s raining hard, a bit more water splatters a further in.
Anyway, I love the rain. I love autumn. I love the trees changing color. I really like being able to go out on the veranda.
I haven’t posted a goal update since the first of August, for a couple of reasons. One, I was still reassessing some of the goals, as the move was such a big disruption. Another reason was related to the move, and I’ve felt both frustrated and embarrassed about it. Several things went missing during the move.
Some of the missing things were trivial: a silly hat that often call my writing hat, a couple of books purchased just before we started the move, and a set of old stories and art discovered during the packing that I thought would make a fun submission to one of the APAzines I participate in. But other things weren’t: the galley proof of my novel with all my copy editor’s comments, a notebook with all of my notes for one of the roleplaying games I run, another notebook with notes of the other roleplaying game I run, a pile of editing comments on new scenes I had written for the novel in galley proof, and the file with my notes on places to submit short stories.
While we were still unpacking boxes, we just assumed they were in a box we hadn’t gotten to. The fact that I thought I had put most of those things in the same box and one of the boxes I marked as needing to be unpacked early made me a little extra crazy, because we had opened all the boxes with that sort of marking. After we got the last box unpacked, both my husband and I searched through closets and so forth, but no luck.
Then last weekend, literally a few minutes before midnight on my birthday, I pulled a plastic file box off a shelf to file a new insurance policy (that had been sitting on the coffee table since I opened the mail a week or so before). And when I opened this plastic box which I thought was full of legal documents and such, I found all the missing things: my silly fez, the edits, the gaming notebooks, the old art and stories, the books, the other files… it was all there. All the legal documents that I thought were in the plastic box were in a banker’s box on the next shelf over.
The embarrassing part is that during all of my searching for the missing things, I kept not opening the plastic file box because I was sure it was full of legal documents. And the fact that when I looked in the banker’s box and saw that it was full of file folders full of various documents never made me twig to the possibility that there weren’t legal documents in the plastic box is where the embarrassment comes in.
Anyway, since two of my big goals for the year required me finding a couple of those missing things, it was hampering my progress. Now that the missing things have been found, I’ve been busy all week working on edits. There’s a lot still to go, but I’m in a much better position, now.
I’m still reassessing the goals, particularly as I work on a new, um, project that I hope will help me finish more of the writing related tasks faster. But I’m not ready to talk about that other than to a few others just yet.
So, I am still working on my goals for the year. I’ve mentioned before how much I love autumn. I’ve also mentioned that autumn often feels more like a new year to me than New Year’s Day. So maybe it’s a good thing I’m still reassessing. New season means new beginnings.