MY DEAR FRIEND AUTUMN
Autumn is my favorite time of the year. It’s undeniably corporeal, and it always has been for me. In addition to being the season of my birth—or perhaps because of it—it is a particularly affecting journey through eloquent changes in nature that cut straight to my soul. If summer can be seen as a hot fling—a somewhat lusty and mindless dash to touch every bit of pleasure that winter denied us—then autumn is a welcome return back to a life that truly means something. Its cool nights and soulful breezes are a welcome relief from the stupid humidity that defines much of August in Wisconsin, and for me—a writer—the haunting way that it cuts through life’s tendency to veer toward mindlessness is an annual dose of necessary medicine.
If summer is the flirty blonde who will leave you when the money and popularity dry up, then autumn is the sincere brunette who will hold you tighter in times of trouble. If summer is the empty flattery of first dates and one-night stands, then autumn is the nuanced and meaningful interaction that exists in the relationships that make it past a few years. Autumn always says to me (and as many spiritual texts will remind us): “You better find something real to hold onto, because the rest of the bullshit is about to fade away before your very eyes.”
In other words, autumn is deep. It’s soulful and textured, and it is the perfect time of year to reflect on your existence—both on what it means to be you and on what it will take to become a more content you. To me, it is the perfect time to make sure that we are really living our lives and not just going through the motions. Ever since I was a child I’ve felt a need to use autumn as my season for personal resolutions, and the inspirational hues of these months still stir in me a desire to contemplate and improve. What follows is a list of how I plan to use this autumn toward my personal- and spiritual-development ends.
I WILL USE THIS AUTUMN TO REMEMBER WHY I DO WHAT I DO
About sixteen months ago I walked away from a comfortable job at a large technical college to ostensibly pursue writing success. I gave up nice paychecks that were direct-deposited like biweekly clockwork, and I said I’d be okay with giving up those paychecks up if I could just fulfill my calling as a writer. However, that transition away from the office was really about so much more than just seeking some kind of professional fulfillment or literary mark of success. My soul was rebelling against the act of living an unintentional life that didn’t feel particularly satisfying, authentic, or healthy in many respects, so I resolved to dig deeper. I promised to make my life about more than just inhabiting a job title that someone else had conjured for the masses. I promised to make my life about more than just seeking financial security, and I swore it would be about more than the pursuit of the next big vacation or the next big mortgage. I promised to stop sacrificing my health and individuality for a job—any job, writing included—and I promised to embrace the big picture, which is cultivating a balanced and meaningful life of my own creation.
Sometimes I still look at the little pictures obsessively. I sometimes worry about money too much, and I sometimes worry too much about building a grand monument to my professional and artistic efforts. However, when I start worrying too much about something like not yet having a bestseller to my name, I remember the things that I do have and I remember to be grateful.
So what do I have? I do have a lot of control over my daily schedule. For the first time in my adult life, my days aren’t planned by managers. I do have the time to cook five-star breakfasts and dinners for my wife and I most every day, and I do have the freedom to go for an outdoor run whenever the itch hits me. I can now wake up at my own pace most mornings and get fed spiritually by reading devotions and journaling with a nice cup of coffee, and I can now go to bed at night knowing that I gave my dreams an honest shot before it was too late. To have the freedom to experience a more balanced, more creative, and more spiritually satisfied life: that is why I do what I currently do, and that is the why I will focus on this autumn.
I WILL USE THIS AUTUMN TO APPRECIATE THE JOURNEY
When I set goals for myself, I sometimes display a destructive tendency to ignore the rest of the world while I work myself into a lather pursuing those goals. I might get angry, depressed, and generally neurotic while I obsess on the finish line that marks “Goal Accomplished” in my mind, and I might forget to appreciate the journey. Whether those goals are writing related or whether they deal with improvements to physical fitness, I too often find myself huddled in the infuriating seclusion of my home office or of the gym thinking, I have to do this, rather than remembering, I want to be doing this.
We all have to remember the unbelievable measures of freedom that we enjoy in America in the year 2016. We can do most anything we want to do and refuse to do the things we are averse to. We all have unimaginable freedom to live our lives as we please. We can walk away from goals and lifestyles that are suffocating us, and we can jump toward new destinations at any moment. We usually don’t “have” to do much of anything. The takeaway here: You are improving each day that you pursue your goals, so don’t obsess over checklists and timelines. Instead, remember to appreciate the present moments and remember to appreciate yourself.
I WILL USE THIS AUTUMN TO BECOME A BETTER WRITER BY BEING MORE HONEST
Writers say they want to be open and honest—in fact, good writers have to leave some shame and decorum at the door in order to illuminate the places that others won’t or can’t articulate for themselves—but I have too often refused to touch on some of the seminal events and emotions in my life out of fear and embarrassment. For example, perhaps the defining struggle of the past decade of my life—the journey through prescription-drug withdrawal—is something that I haven’t really written about because I was afraid that people would label or judge. However, that journey is a part of me, and if I can’t write about it, then I’m effectively putting white-out over a large and transformative part of my life.
At one point not too many years ago I was taking five prescription medications daily (two for anxiety and three for high blood pressure), and I currently take zero prescription medicines. I took these medicines for over a decade and a half. I was prescribed “antianxiety” medications for panic attacks in college, and the slope got slippery from that point on. Medications beget more medications. The road from prescription dependency to my current good health was unthinkably difficult, but it was possible, and I suspect that there are millions of people out there who would like to know that it’s possible. I suspect that those people are out there, because I was one of those people. When I was at my sickest I so desperately wanted to hear that recovery existed, but many people who recover from prescription drugs and their withdrawal syndromes just want to forget about the experience and are hesitant to talk about its dark depths.
The pharmaceutical industry sees us as dollar signs, and too often the medical establishment sees us as Guinea pigs and meal tickets. More people need to talk about how we can exist without standing in line at Walmart and CVS to get our prescribed fixes from industries that abuse us, and I will use this autumn to talk about such topics a little bit via my blog. This autumn I will own my life story in order to let others know that their stories aren’t finished. Stay tuned for some interesting posts.
I WILL USE THIS AUTUMN TO BE MORE GENTLE WITH MYSELF
As the therapeutic and forgiving winds of September and October brush past my face, I will try to remember that I need encouragement from myself. How many of us are our own harshest critics? I know that I can be my own best coach but also my own most unforgiving taskmaster. I can be my own worst enemy at times because I cling to the mistaken idea that you have to at least occasionally loathe yourself in order to improve yourself. As this autumn progresses, I will remember that the phrase No one is perfect also applies to me. I will focus less on impressing the world and more on feeling okay with my own best efforts.
I WILL USE THIS AUTUMN TO SEE GOD MORE CLEARLY BY CONTINUING TO EXPERIENCE HIM FOR MYSELF
There it is. I know that some readers of my blog cringe at the mention of God because their idea of Him has been poisoned by shady politicians and by blasphemous church leaders who have coopted His name to their own dastardly ends, but the god that those people speak of is lowercase, as in he doesn’t exist. That “version” of God is mass produced, it is paper thin, and it should be thrown away. I think that those of us who already have faith have should speak to it by reminding the world at large that God is accepting, loving, and bigger than any ill-intentioned group who claims to have special access to Him.
I’ve had my own faith-challenging run-ins with some religious authority figures over the years—people whose harsh and unforgiving voices I have at times confused with that of God Himself—and I’ve learned to see God as separate from the flawed humans who claim to represent Him. I will use this autumn to try to see Him even more clearly (more personally), and I urge the spiritual skeptics out there to attempt the same. I urge the skeptics to consider the idea of God without interference from loud politics and powerful institutions. Use this autumn to seek Him in nature and in the faces of those people who are nonjudgemental and kind. Find Him for yourself and see where that leads you. It might help you to find unbelievable peace because, for the first time in a long time, you maybe won’t feel the nagging depression that comes from accepting that this short and relatively insane existence is all that there is for us.
As you can tell, autumn always takes me to a very unique place. I hope that this autumn—in addition to enjoying beautiful afternoons of football and delicious bottles of Oktoberfest brews—you will allow that special something in the air to carry you to a more peaceful and contemplative place, a place where you recognize and admire the bigger picture of your life. Believe me, there always is a bigger picture, but sometimes we need a changing of the seasons in order to see it.