So here we are on the cusp of November, the changeling month that makes time go all slippery and restless. I don’t know of another four weeks when we lurch forward into new states of mind quite so dramatically.
When I was a kid in rural Massachusetts, there were soft old mountains behind our cookie-cutter housing development. By the end of October, the hills were red and gold, and they had the curve of human hips and shoulders under a blanket. But as soon as the foliage at its peak, you’d know that it would just take one hit from a real storm, and the leaves would be blown away, turning the hills into grey stubble.
One never knew if that wind would come early or late, but once it did, the mood changed, the light came to us sideways, and sound traveled differently, the rustling of dried foliage amplified. You could hear the new year coming. And without the foliage, you could see the outline of the rocky earth, and the stars became sharp and present.
That earthly curtain goes up in Brooklyn too. From one week to the next, the trees go bare, and you can pick out the arc of the Statue of Liberty’s crown and her torch from my window, like an apparition.
It is that body memory of the dwindling sunlight, that internal countdown, that make these weeks seem electric and nostalgic simultaneously. Or as James Baldwin put it: “The night came sooner, inched in closer, fell with a greater weight. The sound of the alarm clock conquered the sound of the tambourine, the houses put on their winter faces.”
The ordinary feels urgent on these brief November afternoons. So much to do before the sun goes down, before we careen into the next year, before we inevitably evolve, or at the very least we find that the strange and new have become usual.
Consider where we were last year at this time. Pfizer had just announced the results of their COVID-19 vaccine trials, Germany was about to close its schools, American hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID patients, the U.S. election was drawing to a fraught close, and the citizens of Belarus came out in their tens of thousands to demand the freedom to elect a new leader.
Inevitably, November is a month of high emotion, whether it’s longing, loss, or memories of closeness. Scientists say those emotions affect our neurological sense of time, compressing it if we’re excited and elated, slowing it down if we find a sense of awe in this time of year. And often, the stark relief of November skies show us most clearly who we are.
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