Autumn is sometimes seen as a melancholy time. The summer is over, the leaves turn and drop, winter is on the way. Yet it’s also a time of fruit and harvests, glorious colours and mellow days. It’s a time of the light’s balance and of changes, of letting go and transformations.
A time of equilibrium
Autumn is a time when the earth gives its riches and when people can realise that what matters in life is not productivity and having, but relationship and giving. And it’s also a time of equilibrium. The Autumn equinox, which falls in the next few days, is a time when the light and dark are in balance.
As writers, it’s a good time to pause and consider what we give value to, what we give weight to in our lives. It’s a good time to seek some equilibrium.
We live in a society where happiness is often pursued as a goal, as though it was a substance that we might acquire and keep. But the fruitfulness of the giving earth and the beauty of equinox teaches us instead to let the world surprise us with moments of contentment or even epiphany. Walt Whitman puts it like this:
I don’t know what or how, but it seems to me mostly owing to these skies, (every now and then I think, while I have of course seen them every day of my life, I never really saw the skies before,) I have had this autumn some wondrously contented hours — may I not say perfectly happy ones? As I’ve read, Byron just before his death told a friend that he had known but three happy hours during his whole existence. Then there is the old German legend of the king’s bell, to the same point. While I was out there by the wood, that beautiful sunset through the trees, I thought of Byron’s and the bell story, and the notion started in me that I was having a happy hour. (Though perhaps my best moments I never jot down; when they come I cannot afford to break the charm by inditing memoranda. I just abandon myself to the mood, and let it float on, carrying me in its placid extasy.)
What is happiness, anyhow? Is this one of its hours, or the like of it? — so impalpable — a mere breath, an evanescent tinge? I am not sure — so let me give myself the benefit of the doubt.
The placid ecstasy of abandoning ourselves to the mood on a cold, clear day, walking in Autumn, seems to me so much more humane than attempting to force happiness to put in an appearance.
A time to attend
Autumn has an interesting energy. The summer is over and the days are cooler. The mists and cool, bright days can seem slower and there is still light in the evenings, though it shifts imperceptibly towards winter each day.
Autumn can be a time for new projects after the ‘holiday season’ yet the equanimity of the season tells us not to simply get back on the treadmill, but to attend to our energy and attend to the connections that matter in our lives so that we become the people and writers we want to be.
At this time of year, I begin to look towards the winter as a time of depth, digging deep into my writing processes and values. We can’t do this if we fixate on being endlessly productive and busy. I keep coming back to the notion that we must slow down and dive deeply in order to do creative work. This is huge energy, but it may not be masses of work, it may even be the opposite of ‘productivity’; seeing our art and lives not as ‘products’, but as creative and meaningful.
When we live like this, we open up the cracks for Whitman’s sense of ecstasy and for awe. We start to see life with more depth. We breathe more deeply.
A time of transformation
Porthgain quay, Pembrokeshire
And so Autumn becomes a time of tansformation. The leaves change colour because they are producing less green chlorophyll. They are slowing down. We can see this as decline, but visually we get to see the yellow and orange carotenes normally hidden by the strong green chlorophyll. The leaf becomes different: slower, less verdent, but beautiful. And then, as a result of cells forming at the base of the leaf stems to prevent sugar transport, the sugars trapped in the leaves become anthocyanins that flare red and purple.
Soon the tree will look bare, but it will survive the winter, able to retain moisture and use less energy in the harsher months.
We don’t always welcome transformations. Periods that require us to pare back can feel hard and difficult. But there is beauty in knowing what we need to let go of and on concentrating our energies on the things that truly matter.
Change is the only constant, to paraphrase Heraclitus, and meeting the Autumn reminds us to meet change with grace. But the trees don’t lose everything and transformation isn’t only about what we let go of, but also about what we preserve.
Autumn is a time of preserving — jams from fruits, pickles from fruits and veg, vegetables frozen for the winter. We transform the earth’s bounty as energy for the winter and we can do the same with our creative energies, storing them up to dive deeply into our rhythm and flow.
A time to give
Autumn is a time of change, but this doesn’t only mean it’s a time of endings. I’ve always had a sense of the year starting in autumn, perhaps linked with the academic year, though it has persisted long beyond any institutional tie. And I’m not alone in thinking of it as a beginning rather than an end.
There’s a point in the film, You’ve Got Mail, when Tom Hanks’ character tells Meg Ryan’s character that he wants to send her ‘a bouquet of sharpened pencils’ to mark this ‘new start’ season. And the writer Colette not only thought of Autumn as a start, but talked about how people in the autumn of life, like her mother, became more serene and displayed:
the gaiety of those who have nothing more to lose and so excel at giving
To see Autumn as a giving time of life as well as a season of earth in which we are richly provided for by nature, seems to me a beautiful thought.
When we slow down and dive deeply into our environment, our values and our creativity, when we let go of what doesn’t serve the lives we want, then we have more space for connections. We become more giving. And Autumn is bursting with metaphors for this, from the letting go of leaves to the abundance of berries.
A time to write
Recently, with my partner, I launched a new imprint of Cinnamon Press. Down Deep Books will produce inventive books for writers.
The first book in the imprint, Writing Down Deep, brings together the best ideas from three years of blogs plus lots of new material and hundreds of writing exercises. It also includes ‘interludes’ to faciliate your own mini writing retreats through the year, each with plenty of insightful prompts. It’s been written in response to questions and feedback from many readers.
Autumn seems a good time to launch the imprint, especially as its core values are:
- Radical generosity
- Deep attention
- Transformative creativity
Here’s to an Autumn of generosity and transformation.
An Autumn Call to Action
Book cover design by Adam Craig
I’m asking my readers to be part of getting Writing Down Deep into the world by supporting early bird pre-orders and crowdfunding for the book. In return there are lots of bonuses and there will also be surprise add-ons, both when the book is sent out and from now till the launch.
This month I’m giving away my Autumn equinox journalling and writing course FREE to everyone who either pre-orders the book or who pledges to support it at any level. You can find out more and get involved here. Choose your pre-order or pledge and I’ll send you the course.
And you’ll also find lots of other free courses on my site under the Gifts to You tab.
Valerie Bence says
Yes please Jan, i’d like to preorder your book.
I am an autumn baby, and have until recently always seen it as an ending – of summer, outdoor days, being warm and free etc but have been reassessing most things since my Mums death. This year I will see new beginnings, of new baby in our life, our new positions in the family, of being without parents, of where my writing goes from here after such an enforced fallow period.
Thank you for your work, may I ask if already having been mentored rules me out of applying for current competitions?
Thanks for everything
very best wishes Valerie x
Thank you Valerie 🙂
A lovely woman I met in Paris a while ago sent me this quote today:
“L’automne est un deuxième printemps ou chaque feuille est une fleur. Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”
I love that and perhaps it resonates with you re-assessing autumn after such a huge life event.
You can absolutely enter the mentoring competition over on Cinnamon Press – we’ve had several people mentor more than once: