If it’s true, as Ol’ Possum claimed, that April is indeed the cruelest month, then the end of summer in Rochester is the most schizoid time of year. A time when you turn the heat up on your way to work, and run the air conditioner on the way home. A time when I still leave the bedroom window open at night for fresh air, but when I also add blankets to stay warm.
I turned off the bedroom fan earlier this week, and I’ll most likely put it back in the closet until next year. The one in the living room is still on, though, because the morning sun tends to keep that part of the house warm.
And I’ve started to think more and more about baking bread again. In the summer, when it’s 90ºF/32ºC, the last thing I want to do is to turn on the oven. But now that things are starting to cool off a bit (it’s only supposed to reach 63ºF/17ºC today), the thought of a nice slice of bread fresh from the oven, slathered with butter, or a warm slab of cheddar-onion-jalapeño cornbread, dripping with honey, seems more and more appetizing.
Even my wardrobe is changing. Fewer skirts and more jeans are the order of the day, and I’ve taken to wearing a shirt over my tank tops and camisoles.
When I lived in Northern California, autumn meant The Crush. No, this wasn’t some punk band, but rather the time of year when the grapes were harvested and crushed as the beginning steps of making wine in Sonoma County and Napa and Alexander Valleys. The Crush left the air redolent of crushed grapes, a heady, almost intoxicating scent that lasted for days.
Rochester has no grapes, and so no Crush. And even though we’re not that far from the Finger Lakes wine region, we’re too poor to afford the gas to get us there…even if we did fill the truck yesterday for less than $30.00–something we’ve not done in years.
But what we do have are deciduous trees, and deciduous trees mean glorious displays of color as the the leaves begin to die. And our displays in the city aren’t nearly as famous as those of, say, New Hampshire or Vermont, they certainly outshine those of Napa Valley.
A Time For Remembering
For me, the end of summer and beginning of autumn also are times for reminiscing. One of the first songs I learned on the guitar had the lines
“And now a quarter of my life is almost past
I think I’ve come to see myself at last.
And I see that the time spent confused
Was the time that I spent without you.”
John Sebastian, My Darling Be Home Soon
Now, at 65 years of age, I think I can safely say that two-thirds of my life have probably passed, and that as a trans woman, I’ve finally come to be myself at last. And I see that the time spent confused was just that: time spent confused. It wasn’t time wasted and it wasn’t (as I used to think) time spent fucked up: it just was.
I once swore I’d never make philosophy jokes, and I’ve tried to hold myself to that promise—but I Kant. If by philosophy we mean a love of knowledge, then I can honestly claim not just to be a philosopher, but to have been one for my entire life—despite my early school years and their attempts to destroy that love of knowledge.
“When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school
It’s a wonder I can think at all
And though my lack of education hasn’t hurt me none,
I can read the writing on the wall.”
Paul Simon, Kodachrome
Three Remarkable Women
If I seem to be better-educated or more well-read than other people, I credit three people in particular for instilling in me my life-long love of learning: my mother, her sister, and my 12th grade English teacher.
I rarely saw my mother relax without a book in her hand. With the benefit of hindsight (which is always 20-20) I realize that it was her favorite leisure time activity. My father, himself no intellectual slouch, once told me that my mother was the smartest person he had ever met.
Her sister, my Aunt Louise, is now a retired high school English teacher. Christmas and birthday gifts from her were always books or records (for you younger readers, “records” were vinyl long-playing albums). She also taught me critical thinking. I still remember the time I described someone as “fascist” and she called me out for not knowing what the word meant. So now I am always sure to look up the meaning of an unknown word, although some words were hard to look up before the advent of the Internet. Let’s face it, Webster’s New Abridged didn’t have an entry for motherfucker.
Aunt Louise was also in awe of my mother’s intellect.
So even before I was a teen, these two women instilled a lifelong love of reading.
Mrs. Alberti was one of only two teachers who actually taught me anything new in my last two years of high school. (The other was Mr. Cardwell, my Texas History instructor who told us that the real reason for the revolt at the Alamo was not liberty but the fact that Mexico had outlawed slavery, and the Anglo citizens of its northernmost territory wanted to keep theirs in bondage.) Mrs. Alberti was the only teacher I ever had who admitted she was wrong and I was right on an essay I wrote for her class.
She was also responsible for getting me assigned to an advance-placement English class my freshman year in college. Her teachings and lessons cemented my love of learning.
A Final Influence
“You gotta move
You gotta move
You gotta move, child
You gotta move
Oh, when the Lord gets ready
You gotta move”
Mississippi Fred McDowell, You Gotta Move
Over the years I have come to understand what part Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) has played in my life. While the hyperactivity has lessened over the years, as a toddler it was so bad that my mother had to put me in one of those chest-harness/leash outfits to keep me safe. It still manifests in my need to get up and walk around whenever I’m writing and need to clear my head.
The way it affects my thought processes is it allows me to make the connection from A to E without consciously being aware of B, C, and D. A professor I once had said it was like watching lightning: it travels all over the place, but finally reaches its target.
And it’s also how we started out with the end of summer and finished with ADD.