A Meditation on Autumn


Some people like Spring. I think Spring is OK—bare trees burst into green, lining fields and streets (if you’re fortunate enough to live in a city with trees, that is).  And of course, Spring is the traditional dating/mating and/or birth season, when life bursts forth.  Spring is the season of weddings and proms and babies…and mosquitoes and horse flies and other good things.

Summer is pleasant, because you don’t have to wear much in the way of clothing (and neither does anyone else).  But it can get oppressive if you live in a place with humidity and if, like me, you loved school (something I never would have admitted at the time), Summer is boring.  There are days, weeks, months, when there’s either nothing to do, or you’re roped into someone else’s plan (work, if you’re an adult; a cross-country parental death march, if you’re a child).  Relationships that were heady and exciting in Spring can feel stale and constraining by the end of the Summer.

Winter is nice, because you can sit indoors and drink coffee of mulled cider in front of a fireplace; unlike Summer, where there’s a limit to how much you can remove in public or in private (skin is usually not removable), in Winter you just add another layer, whether it’s a sweater or a blanket.  It’s a time for duvets, and in no other season does bedtime feel quite as good.  On the other hand, precipitation in Winter isn’t self-clearing; it requires shovels and lifting and aspirin; sidewalks and roads are often slippery and dangerous; and the world can seem wrapped in monochrome.  The whiteness wears off.

Perhaps Autumn is the way it is because it’s a sort of compensation for Winter.  Where the latter brings monochrome, Fall brings color; trees on fire in the day, fading into morning mists, and leaves crunching underfoot in the night.  What falls from the sky is still self-clearing, and school has begun again.  If you’re a student, that means old friends and new and exciting people. New beginnings.  If you’re a parent, you get a break for the first time since June.  Stores are full of school supplies, many of which are merely things to buy and within the first few days, will be lost, broken, or stuffed into the back of home or school drawers (I have  a particular fondness in memory of “reinforcing rings”—tiny  gummed circles that you could [nobody that I knew of ever did] use to fix the holes in 3-ring binder pages that had torn—that and the smell of Sheaffer liquid pen ink).

I have one memory, from when I lived on Dorchester Avenue in Chicago, of walking out of the house I was living in and seeing beautiful golden and reddish leaves plastered by rain onto gray sidewalks and gray steps up and down the street, and feeling the cold air hitting my lungs and just feeling alive.

Fall is the season of New Beginnings.  And, in my opinion, October is the best part of Fall.  October brings with it things like Halloween and—if you were like me and attended a school that started in late September (as most “quarter” schools did, rather in than August, like most semester schools)—a little comfort with your neighborhood.  You know where to go to get an omelet and decent coffee when the cafeteria puts Okra Fugat on the menu.  You know where the laundromats are.  The bookstores and stationers and record shops (pardon the nostalgia).  Whether you shoot in black and white or color, you walk around with your phone or camera at the ready.

It’s not Winter, but there’s already woodsmoke on the air, if you’re lucky; it’s warm enough to require just a shell to deal with any rain or drizzles, but you wear your sweater underneath the shell.  It’s a time for bonfires and guitars (whose wood and tone appreciate the drier air); for long walks, kicking through the leaves under streetlights.  For warm bread with real butter.  When I was a kid, it was the time that you’d build a fire to burn the mounds of leaves you’d collected from your yard. While I recognize the problems associated with burning leaves, I hate the brown paper bags that now line our streets.

It’s a time to peruse the shelves of used bookstores, where cats stretch across the mystery table; for chili and quiches with friends.  Scarves begin to appear.

It’s a time to sit by a fire (or radiator) sipping tea (hot) or cider (hot or cold).  It’s the season of apples and squash.  It’s the fat time of the harvest, and of harvest festivals.  It’s a time for journals and fountain pens and espresso in small cafés.  A time of healing and reflection, of resolutions and hopes for the new year.  The time to spend hours with good books while thunderstorms paint the streets in watercolors and light.  For red wine and cigarettes or pipes, if you’re so inclined.  For Ray Bradbury.  For momentary melancholy surprised by joy.

So light a candle as the days grow shorter and cooler.  Fall tells you you’ve made it through another year and fills you with promise.  Celebrate October, curiously the tenth (rather than eighth) month of the year, and arm yourself against the coming Winter.  This is the best time to be alive.


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Buying Shit on Sale

This sort of goes along with my previous entry…a bit of wisdom that I used to know and then forgot:

Never buy anything because it’s on sale.

This is difficult to remember, because T loves shopping for bargains.  So, for many years, I learned to shop for bargains.  That’s OK when you’re digging around in the scratch-and-dent section of Ikea, for instance, but when you’re lured to purchase something because it’s on sale, it generally means you’re buying it because it’s on sale and not because you need it.

Know what?

You may not even want it.


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Buy, Buy Love

This is mostly about me, but I suspect it’s an affliction I share.

I like to buy things.

A new phone?  Sure.  A new computer?  Sure.  A new bag?  Sure.  A new Shirt?  Sure.  And so on and on.

I remember when politicians used to refer to the American Citizen.  But about 15-20 years ago I started to notice that we had become American Consumers.

I hope this doesn’t describe you.  I am trying to make it not describe me.

But the media in which we stew these days are way more effective than TV advertisements of days gone by…  Now there’s Amazon and Alibaba.  If I notice something that I have isn’t just right, I can almost always find something better.  Just a few clicks.

Sometimes that’s a really good thing.  But often, it isn’t.

There’s no good reason for buying a stairway to heaven.


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Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma.

They’re tearing down the junior high where I went to school in the early ‘70s.  My senior high school, which I graduated from in 1976, is now a community and (appropriately) senior center.

I don’t miss them.

I learned a great deal about various subjects and myself when I was in school, but if I had to think of something that I miss, in an emotional way, it would be something that I first acquired in 1976 and lost some time in the past two decades.

When I started college, in the fall of 1976, I lived at home with my parents.  My dad was a professor, and it made sense for us to share the ride in each day.  He parked just off campus, a lot behind one of the fraternities that lined University Avenue.  From there, it was a short walk to a café where I hung out sometimes before my first class, or a longer walk to Coffman Memorial Union or the West Bank campus.

But that first fall, I wandered through the wonders of just-off-campus shops in Dinkytown, and one of my first stops was along 14th Avenue, not far from  its intersection with 4th Street (which I have always identified as that 4th Street).  It was Gray’s Campus Drug at 327 14th Ave SE.  I needed folders, paper, pens, stuff to fill my bag.  I found those things—and something else.  A light-blue hooded sweatshirt.

I’d never owned a sweatshirt before, let alone a hoodie.  Just hadn’t been my style.  But this one became my style, and I kept it for years.  I wore it throughout my college career, into grad school, all over Europe (I believe) and it kept me warm at protests, camp-outs, you name it.

By 1986 it was pilled, dirty on the elbows, the cord was frayed, and I honestly don’t remember if the zipper still worked.  But I had already lost it, in the way one loses one’s heart.

T had acquired it.  At some point, I think she got rid of it—likely during one of our moves—but she wore it for years.  And I think that’s the reason that I don’t miss my old schools all that much:  They have to have meaning that you share with another person, and at those school, I just didn’t.

But that blue sweatshirt still comes up in conversation from time to time.  If I ever find a photo of it, I’ll likely post it, and likely not.

Look what they’ve done to my song

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Consumer Retorts: Brother Printers, Zenni Optical Glasses

OK, that’s just a fun title.  I thought this would be a good time (why not?) to write a couple of positive reviews that are long overdue.  I will not post links to the manufacturers, but you can get them from the names.  Neither of these is paid for or any crap like that.  Just a couple of good experiences I’ve had.

1. I tend to be cheap.  Really cheap.  So cheap that for years I used printers I bought at Goodwill.  (This is a short review.)

So, let me cut to the chase:  If you don’t have a printer and you need one, buy a cheap (inexpensive) Brother laser printer or multifunction printer.

By “cheap” I mean in the $100-150 range.  I have two (both DCP-L2540DW printers (one at home and one at the office), both set up for wireless use.  Each cost something like $120.  They just work.  End of review.

2. I wear bifocals.  I’ve worn classes since I was 6 or 7.  I’m 60 now.  Bifocals are expensive.  When we lived in Wisconsin, I had an insurance plan that covered glasses and I got good glasses at an expensive shop.  Best I’d ever had.  But after many years, my eyes changed and I was in a position not to have glasses that were worth crap.  (This is a longer review.)

So, I looked around and there was this place called “$39 Glasses” and I figured what did I have to lose?

Well–first off, the glasses start at $39 and mine were more like $90.  OK, still 1/4 of what I’d pay most places.  Then they took months to arrive.  Then they had to be remade multiple times (including in one case because there was an obvious 1/2″ circular mark in the center of the visual field.  Then, they stopped carrying the frame I had ordered the first time.  Then…  Hours of waiting on the phone.  Weeks of frustration.  I recommend that you avoid $39 glasses like the plague.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ve changed?  I do not recommend them.

So I got an inexpensive pair locally.  They were…”weak.”  I don’t know why this tends to be the case, but almost every time I’ve had glasses made at one of those “mall” places, they come out feeling weak.  I suspect that’s because most people, when they get a new prescription, are getting a stronger prescription, and that’s going to give them headaches, so these places look at the tolerance zone and make their glasses to the low end of said zone.

So I went back to my by-then-10-year-old glasses.  They were starting to fall apart, but hey.

Then, a little over two years ago, I went for an eye exam and the doctor told me that I had cataracts and would, at some point, need surgery.  Didn’t say when that point would be.  So.  I needed new glasses.  I checked.  At a half-decent (and I emphasize the “half” part) optical place, I would need to pay $350, and I didn’t even like the frames they had.  And I might not even get five years’ use out of them because surgery??  No way was I going to do that.

So…I went back to the Internet.

I honestly forget how I found them, but there was this place called Zenni Optical that advertised glasses as cheap as $6.  Once again, the ones I wanted were way more: $35 just for the frame (you can see them on me here)!  Something like $70 baseline with lined lenses.  But I figured WTH, warranty, and got them with all the trimmings.  $95.

I think they took two weeks to arrive and they were perfect.  The best glasses I’d had since the expensive place in Wisconsin that was covered by insurance.

They were so perfect that a month or two later I ended up buying matching sunglasses.  Also $95 with a dark tint.  Nice!

Two months ago, I had another eye exam and still didn’t need surgery, but needed a slight change in my correction in one lens.  This time I went to Zenni and decided to try a different frame.  When it arrived, I didn’t like it as much; it felt fragile (their fault) and sat funny (my fault).

I tried them for a couple of weeks, but ultimately decided the frames weren’t for me.  So I returned them (you get about a month), and then ordered a pair in the frames I’d had before.

And when they arrived they were perfect.  The change was small, and so for driving purposes my “old” sunglasses are still good.  And my old regular glasses are there as a backup.

My daughter, who has a much simpler prescription and very different frame preference than I do, has had three pairs from Zenni, at around $20-25 each time.  All good.

Yes, I know I’ve spent over $300 on glasses over the past two years.  Three pairs.  All Perfect.  As opposed to $370 for one pair that might not be.

I recommend Zenni.  That’s it.


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The Importance of Feeling Special

I’ve been listening to a podcast lately about a kind of guru who calls herself a “spiritual catalyst.”  Her name is Teal Swan.

Here’s what’s interesting to me–Teal Swan grew up in a hippie family in Utah, non-Mormon, and so feeling different.  She had some problems as a young person that led to at least one suicide attempt, and so her parents (wealthy hippies) took her to a Chinese spiritual healer, who took her in as a person with a rare gift–the ability, with some training, to, well, have a look here.

But I really have nothing to say about Teal Swan other than that she was treated, from a comparatively early age as special.

That’s not an uncommon experience.  It happened to me.  I grew up in a nominally Jewish household, but joined the Lutheran church when I was 17 or so, and was baptized at 18.  I was treated as special.  Because I was Jewish, I was treated as a kind of fulfillment of prophecy (find an Evangelical  to explain the Book of Revelation to you if you don’t know what I mean).

I joined the youth choir and was told that I had “perfect pitch.”  I still don’t know if that’s true, but it made me feel special.  Once I made it to college, I felt it was required of me to study Hebrew, and to explain the Old Testament to people.

I surfed that wave of special for years.

My next dose came when, casting about for a college major, I decided to try sociology.  The sociology department at my school had an honors program, and once they looked at my transcript I was proclaimed one of the best and brightest.  Special.  I had the attention of faculty, I was given a paying job as a TA.  Cool.

And then I was accepted into ten of the eleven graduate schools to which I applied.  I was stoked.  I was stroked.

In other words, I had become a special junkie.

That was really quite hard to deal with when I dropped out of grad school.  I got a little bit of the sauce from time to time in other careers, but never another sustained hit.

Withdrawal is a bitch.

Maybe Bruce Springsteen put it best.  He often does.

(Hard to believe that in all these years, I’d never seen that video until today.)

Look, we all want to be special.  We all want to feel special.  We all want to be recognized.  And there is a reality in the sense that each of us is unique, and special for that reason alone.

And to the extent that we establish relationships with other people, we can be special to them–I think that’s what Dash fails to understand in the video above.

But special in the sense of “superior” is problematic.  We are all humans, and it would be a good idea if we behaved that way.

Teal Swan may or may not be a special junky.  But I was.

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