Note: Autumn Studies

A change in life however big or small really just comes down to a split second; saying the words, signing your name, hitting send. What-could-be becomes no-turning-back in an instant, and when such power is wielded, what results is a shocking reminder of how much say we actually have in our lives.


My address has changed, a seemingly annual occurrence, so now the city like a roommate or a mother is beginning to have an outsized presence in my life. I have a new route to work but the faces I see are familiar and interchangeable, like the tourists in Union Square and the smokers on Maiden Lane and the girls who balance cups of coffee in cardboard carriers like the personal couriers of their colleagues (it’s almost always a girl). In her very first essay published in 1961, Joan Didion writes, “We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait.” It’s almost always a girl.


Sometimes when you’re in a new place and you feel low the universe simply shrugs, and other times it has you turn down one street and then another until you enter an empty, dimly lit cafe that’s playing Nat King Cole, and faith in the universe is momentarily restored. A slight lady wearing a short winter scarf serves me coffee while adding, “We have a beautiful garden in the back, too.” Sometimes people know just the right thing to say, often they don’t. At work an old man with many friends recently passed away and I assigned myself the task of collecting remembrances. One woman responded that after mulling it over she had nothing to say: “He was such a pleasant person, and it seems, somehow, that the foibles of less-nice people are easier to recollect and recount.” Such is proof that preoccupation with a legacy is futile because legacies are dependent on the faulty memories of unreliable people.


With every person who enters this dim cafe, now playing Frank Sinatra’s “You Make Me Feel So Young,” I feel a quick flare of surprise because just for a little while this place was all mine, but nothing and no one is ever all ours. Far from being her only customer, the slight lady with the short winter scarf seems to know everyone on a first-name basis except me. They all know she is leaving for Japan next week. One of them delivers her a single pink rose, which quickly makes its way into a thin porcelain vase. Sometimes people know just the right thing to do, often they don’t. I once brought sunflowers to a dinner party and by the time I left, two of them were on the kitchen floor, petals plucked, discarded playthings of the hosts’s one-year-old.


Today is the first day of winter. Mornings are getting colder, so cold that after walking a couple miles and then stepping indoors, the heat that greets me inspires a smile that spreads across my face so widely I notice. Smiling is often intentional, perhaps more so for girls, something I do rather than something that happens to me. The natural tug feels nice.


This year offered enough surprises to harden even the best of us, so let’s make use of this new armor, of lessons learned, as we begin winter and soon a brand new year.


Labels: Notes, Personal


  1. As someone who recently moved, this post feels so relevant. I am obsessed with your writing style! Elegant and poetic, but filled with precise observations and biting truths. Please write more, like maybe a novel even?

  2. “My address has changed, a seemingly annual occurrence, so now the city like a roommate or a mother is beginning to have an outsized presence in my life.”

    I relate so closely with this sentence. Circumstances caused me to move home after 6 years of living on my own. While I do have my own place and space, I’m just right up the road from my mother. I do feel as if the town, my mom, and my environment in general has an outsized presence in my life. I’ve grown to be a different person, my own person and I feel like living at home so close to things that used to be causes a struggle because I am no longer the same person.

    Lovely post as always. xoxo.

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