Autumn Has Fallen: 100 Days to Go in 2021

September 22 was the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s the first day of the coolest, if not the coldest, season. That’s because leaves turn colors and fall off the trees, my birthday falls within it, not to mention Halloween, Thanksgiving, and things like the Texas Book Festival, Austin City Limits Festival (too expensive but still cool), and the Moontower Comedy Festival. The latter began tonight and I was there to volunteer, as I did at this past weekend’s Writers League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference, which I wrapped up in this post.

I imagine actual crops and stuff are being actually harvested somewhere, too. Before growing my own crop of facial hair in the form of my seasonal goatee, I got a discounted facial cleansing at a nearby beauty college. For me, fall is a time that’s ripe with possibilities, like the soothing relief of cooler temperatures for bike riding and walking, the return of pumpkin flavors everywhere, and oh yes, fall television season. After the dog days and doldrums of summer, plus spikes in COVID from Delta variant, it feels like lots more is going on in Austin. I’ve gotten sick of mostly being at home alone so am trying to put myself out there a bit more, with reasonable but not paranoid precautions.

In that vein, COVID protocols were in place, like everyone (and I do mean everyone — staff, volunteers, and the audience) having to show proof of vaccine or a negative test. Unfortunately, there’s a bar, so people of course took off their masks to drink and have snacks, and many did not put them back on. I took that a little personally because my first task was to unwrap 200 individually wrapped surgical masks, and it was breaking the rules. But our governor who allegedly believes in local control won’t allow local control — especially due to Austin-bashing, a real thing.

But like (ha ha! I said butt like without a “t”!) most people, I trust the science of the vaccines, even though they’re not perfect. Anyway, there was a little bit of herding cats, and otherwise I was free to watch the shows. There were five comics I’d never heard of and one I had. Some were funnier than others; the warm-up acts never get much time anyway.

As for the filmed entertainments, of course many shows are streaming, and can be watched whenever. I really enjoy The Goldbergs, about a nominally Jewish family in the 80’s in Pennsylvania; it started back up tonight. I like all the quirky characters like the “smother,” played by Wendy McClendon-Covey and “No Pants” Jeff Garlin, who plays the dad. Sadly, one of the grandfathers, George Segal, died last season. Others I’ve enjoyed are Nine Perfect Strangers with Nicole Kidman as a mysterious Russian leader of an unorthodox retreat center, and Only Murders in the Building with Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez. They’re a trio of goofy but lovable true crime aficionados. Co-created and co-written by Martin, that uber-talented musician, actor, comedian, writer, and more, OMITB has the most whimsical and delightful pair of linked scenes I’ve watched on TV this entire year, and I’ve taken in a lot of good stuff (I won’t spoil it). Much is forgettable, but a standout is The Leftovers on HBO. All the aforementioned shows are on Hulu.

It’s good time to curl up with a good book, too. I’ve got about nine out from the library at the moment and I keep going back and forth amongst them, although some I’ve lost interest in. Since the Austin Public Library automatically renews them, I tend to think I have more time to finish them than I do before they’re due, so I have a Mountain Dew. (Not really, I just wanted to work in more do-sounding word.) One book I may review, so I won’t mention it. Some are more like self-help, like one about sleep and others about writing. I was getting a bit lazy and just reading John Grisham, Lee Pace, David Baldacci and Stephen King. But if I’m ever to finish my book, I must read craft books and comparison works, which I’m discovering are hard to find.

It strikes me that all of this art, from TV, to books, movies, comedy, my own practicing flute and writing, are mostly fleeting. Like a Tibetan sand mandala, they take a gargantuan amount of effort to create, and then once enjoyed, are swept away. If you’ve never seen one, usually made by incredibly adept, focused, and patient Buddhist monks, they’re amazing. And yet they’re bittersweet, because they are created in order to be destroyed. Such is the nature of our world: impermanence. It’s something this and I daresay most humans aren’t very good at but need to be. That’s because craving and aversion are the double edges of the sword that cause suffering, according to the Buddha.

The way out of this suffering, whether it’s self-created or not, is to meditate, he said. I’m lousy at meditation, but do a five-minute guided one after yoga for well over a year and a half not. I also try to get into a meditative state when walking, biking, playing flute, doing laundry at the laundromat, cooking, cleaning, listening to classical music, reading, writing, or whatever. So far, I’ve not really seen the sort of tangible results I’d like. Maybe a bit more patience or being slow to anger when a driver endangers me, but quite often not. It’s a muscle that takes a lot more than five minutes a day to strengthen.

Autumn is an opportunity to seek out more moments of solace amidst the din of city life. Perhaps to be a little more introspective. Whether you experience that bicycling or in any other way, I hope that you found some equanimity on your equinox and beyond. We’ll need it because even a non-watcher of Game of Thrones like me knows: Winter is coming. Especially if you’re in snowier climes, better get your biking miles in sooner than later before you get stuck on your indoor trainer. Yuk! I’m lucky to be in a place that I can bike most days outside. Be safe out there, and get warm, but stay frosty!

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