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The Death Of Something
Summer has come to a standstill once again
The month of August has always felt to me like the death of something. In the air, even on hot days, is the suggestion of fall, of September, of summer’s end. Plans and promises made, kept, broken. Loves gained, lost, tangled. This air is what Faulkner called augusttremulous. It seems full of memory, of secrets. Of hope and sadness.
Even now, a few years into my thirties, that first crisp bite of air, taking me by surprise as it always does, transports me back to my nerve-wracked teenage years. The air that brought soccer tryouts and back-to-school shopping and the charge of terror and excitement promised by a new school year. Maybe I never lost it because I work in education, and all my adult years have still revolved around the school calendar; maybe I never lost it because it’s something inherent to the season.
I suspect it’s the latter more than anything. I am far from the first person to make these observations about the odd ways the clock runs as the dog days pass by. Tove Jansson writes, in her excellent The Summer Book:
One evening in August you have an errand outdoors, and all of a sudden its pitch-black. A great warm, dark silence surrounds the house. It is still summer, but the summer is no longer alive. It has come to a standstill; nothing withers, and fall is not ready to begin. There are no stars yet, just darkness.
…Not right away, but little by little and incidentally, things begin to shift position in order to follow the progress of the seasons. Day by day, everything moves closer to the house.
All at once, a standstill and a slow creep of time and action. Things “move closer to the house,” literally and metaphorically, as we tighten our worlds against the coming (though still far-off) frost.
My friend Tim’s mom Maureen, who also works in education, describes this same tension in a recent Medium post that knocks it out of the park:
We see it, we know it, we feel it in the air, but we are still sleeping without an alarm, sipping coffee on the back deck, having long lunches, and doing mundane things that are hard to wrangle during the school year (oil changes, furnace cleaning, dental appointments, doing something with all the tomatoes that just keep coming in…). We are summering. But we are also simmering, with the anticipation the leaves are about to turn (not just a metaphor) and we are about to be in it.
…In the midst of August, weathering changes and on the cusp of so much new and exciting about to break, this is the season of suspended time.
The season of suspended time. Trying to stay afloat in the impossible contradiction of packing as much in as possible and relaxing as much as possible as you feel the season sliding out of your grasp.
All of this is especially acute for me this year, though the days have stayed warm and I have yet to taste that hint of autumn. For the first time in eleven years I will be starting a school year on the other side of the classroom: as a graduate student at Detroit’s Wayne State University. I’ll be teaching there, too—I’ve got freshman rhetoric and composition first semester—but the thought of sliding once more into a desk other than the big one facing all the others is a hard one for me to wrap my head around after this long as an educator. It’s brought back the sort of first day jitters that I thought were long behind me: will I be in class with a bunch of twenty-two year-olds fresh out of undergrad and comfortably in the habit of reading and writing academically? Am I the weird old guy in the room? Or will the room be full of the literati, the professional student types who will be running circles around me as I try to contribute to discussions on the postmodern novel? Or will none of that be true at all, and everything fine?
For now, all I can do is wait and wonder. And perhaps follow the advice Maureen gives for how to live through these strange, still August days:
Drink the coffee on the patio, have ice cream right out of the carton with a spoon, text friends late into the night, get up for sunrise, pet the dog, cheer for the home team, add a new playlist, make a fresh berry pie, tell your people you love them, savor and savor and savor. In the roots of language, “august” equates to ‘hallowed’ and ‘awe-inspiring’ and ‘grand’, so relish that, too. The leaves are about to change.
Thanks, as always, for reading. I’ll talk to you next week.
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