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The Return to Everyday Life
On the end of summer, the creative potential of "shorts and sweater season," lessons from back-to-school, and why September is a second spring.
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I returned home yesterday after a six-week trip away.
Things look new and different all at the same time. I wonder if I was even gone. I think about the various realities that we can inhabit and how we feel when we are in them. I think about, as I always do, being in the space in-between.
The sun is setting earlier and rising later than when I left. Some of the flowers in the planter boxes have shed their colorful petals and moved on to dried out seed pods, but there’s a sunflower that hung on for me. A plum tree sits close to our bedroom window, and with much of the purple fruit on the ground, I catch a whiff of the pungent smell of late summer while lying in bed. When I wake up at an ungodly hour on account of jet lag, my first thought is whether the blackberries are still out or if I’ve missed them.
Good news: I have not missed out on the blackberries. I pick some the first chance I get. A little waterlogged with fresh rain perhaps, but still worth picking and eating.
No matter how or where we spent our summers, September marks the transition back to a different pace of life.
As an adult who does not attend or teaching a school, or have children, I’m not bound to school schedules, but I do love “back to school” energy (the emotional one, not the capitalistic here’s-an-excuse-to-sell-more-things one).
In English, I wish we had a broader term for it. I think of the French term, la rentrée. “The return” is short for la rentrée scolaire, and while it indicates the time of going back to school it also comes with a more all-encompassing meaning.
For several years I lived in France, and I remember the quiet Parisian streets during the month of August when the city shuttered for les vacances. Closed signs hung in doorways of cafes and restaurants that would otherwise be lively gathering spots, and there was a general sleepiness to an otherwise active and vibrant city. Many would escape the capital for other more relaxed destinations, and even those who did stick around moved at a different pace.
Some complained that the city felt “dead” in these weeks, but I always liked them. There was less traffic. It was easier to ride bikes, with fewer people and cars to dodge. You could end up in corners of the city and magically have them to yourself. It felt like there was a little more room to breathe. It was more intimate.
But as August dwindled and September rolled in, the energy began to percolate, and even for someone like me who appreciated the quieter days of vacation, there was a sense of anticipation for la rentrée. It was marked by school schedules, certainly, but also a general sense of starting anew, as the city swung back into life. You saw friends again, you talked about what the vacation days had held. You dropped into your favorite restaurant, and it felt like coming back home after time away.
It was one big welcome back party—not just a moment, but a whole mood.
In the U.S. we don’t have this same sense of extended communal time off (please see: vacation policies and general hustle work culture), but certainly back-to-school season invokes a little bit of the same energy. A couple of friends texted photos this past week of their younger humans setting off to their first day of school. This morning when the first day of September air had a cool, slightly wet chill in it that I knew would burn off by midday, it immediately threw me back to my own first days of the school year.
We tend to think of January as the month for new beginnings, but September is as potent for renewal as the beginning of the year. Maybe even more so. It’s like a second spring. The lull of summer break that has let ideas sit and ruminate gives way to a sense of renewal, a new feeling of energy, and a desire to being again.
This sense of new beginnings, of freshness, may stem from the fact that it’s my birthday month. School or no school, September has always marked a new year for me. But I think it has a wider appeal than for just us Virgos and Libras.
September performs a kind of seasonal alchemy, taking the big dose of summer abundance from July and the hint of liminal August lethargy and turning it into a fresh new energy full of potential.
To return is to come back, and while la rentrée and back-to-school have this as a central focal point—stepping out of a dreamy, obligation-less break time and back into a more scheduled, routine reality—there’s something else at play that gives this season its particular energy: newness. The T.S. Eliot quote about returning and knowing a place for the first time comes to mind.
Think about those first days back at school. There was an implicit understanding that you were returning to a schedule and routine that you knew, but also that you were starting something new.
There were promising unknowns, and a proverbial blank slate. Would there be a new teacher or new friends? Was there a new subject, a new project? Was there a new building to learn how to navigate, a new schedule to stick to? What would happen in the coming school year that we couldn’t expect?
We don’t often have this in our adult lives, but we need it. Moments where there is enough structure in place to keep us grounded, but enough newness to encourage us to be curious and engaged.
Most often we’re picking up where we left off (if we left off, that is). We return to what we know. But what if we treated this season a little more like we did during our school days? What if there was something new to spark our interest—a subject, a project, a friend, a sport, a group?
Even if there’s nothing thrilling on the horizon, what if we made some small changes to make it feel like we were starting anew?
When I lead workshops, I often joke that the best thing that we can do for our creativity is to treat ourselves like children: play, scribble, learn, eat snacks, drink water, have a good bedtime routine.
This time of year is yet another chance to embrace our inner child. Take a cue from the mood that is la rentrée. How do we return? How do we step back into regular routines where there are alarm clocks and to-do lists and demands, but while still holding onto a fresh perspective?
What are the minute shifts in our routines that make this moment feel a little different and not just the same old drudgery? How do we create and hold onto the potent power of the potential of something new?
That may have been offered up to us in our younger days simply by nature of a school schedule, but now it’s up to us to build that newness in.
Where is the opportunity for a blank slate?
Are there new routines and habits that we can commit to?
Can we remove some things that are not serving us?
While I was in Oslo a couple of weeks ago, my friend read a New York Times newsletter aloud to us over lunch about how coming home after a trip changes how you view things.
“This change in perspective, I think, more than even the rest and relaxation, is the most transformative possibility of vacation,” writes Melissa Kirsch. “You get to shed that life’s worth of accumulated mental freight for a short period, and it feels freeing. You return determined to maintain some of that lightness
The newness lies somewhere in that sense of lightness.
Whether we’ve traveled during this past summer season or stayed closer to home, I think September asks us to do some reconsidering, asks us to step forward in a new way, to figure out how to bring that lightness into our everyday.
I’ve always liked to say that September is shorts and sweater season, literallyand metaphorically. The sartorial combo when the sun is still out, when you can still sneak in some late summer days, but you’re also easing into cozier, slower moments. And I can tell from experience that shorts and sweater season is prime time for creative projects.
Land back in the everyday. Stay in the shorts, find your favorite sweater. Keep a sense of lightness. Look around with new perspective.
Here’s to the return and whatever it brings.
A LITTLE CREATIVE INSPIRATION + OTHER TIDBITS
“Whatever happens to your work when you send it into the world, with its sometimes treacherous landscapes, is none of your business, really. You made the thing, and now people can make up their own minds about it. Will everyone love it? Probably not. Will everyone hate it? Also, probably not.” A pep talk from
If we’re treating ourselves like children, then getting back into a good bedtime routine after summer is probably on the docket, and if you need some instrumental quiet music I recommend Max Richter’s album “Sleep.”
Everything in Christoph Niemann’s “Idea Diary.” Particularly the jet lag one.
I am very happy to report that the sea urchins arrived home unscathed.
“I used to think that dissociating currency from creativity was a way to keep art pure and my self-worth untethered to money. But it actually reinforces a cycle of devaluation.” via
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Just some words of inspiration for all my fellow artists and creative spirits out there who need a reminder to value what they make.
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“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.” Excerpted from Little Gidding.
Yes, I was in fact wearing a sweater and shorts while writing this.