A back-to-school list for the rest of us

A Cancer crab July baby born in the deserts of New Mexico, I tend to love the summer. Breezy nautical styles, scoops of ice cream teetering on a sugar cone, sunshine that feels like it’s baking your body through and through, lazy naps on hot beaches, mmmmmhmm. This year, however, I’ve been itching for fall, even dreaming of it, yearning for it. Summer’s been too hot, too muggy. Where summer can harbor that feeling of freedom, of days off and little jaunts around every corner, this past one has felt too free — unfettered, unsure. When you’re a perpetual student like I am, fall (even as it’s marked by longer colder nights and withering life) can feel shiny, new, comforting. With fall’s back-to-school rhythm practiced into our bones, even the non-student, I imagine, feels that nostalgic rush as the leaves begin to turn and kids, kinder to college, busy about ruddy-cheeked in un-broken-in shoes. So, though it was just 94 degrees on a September day in Michigan, fall is on the way and it needs to be done right. This is my fall checklist:

1. Imbibe pumpkin spiced (coffee) beverages

pumpkin coffee

Personally, I like to indulge in a Starbucks pumpkin spice frappuccino to welcome the fall. The seasonal lifespan of the product makes it exciting when it returns. When you see it there beckoning from the menu board you don’t think, “oh where, oh where, has my summer sun gone?,” you think, “YES, PUMPKINS!” Now, whether you get this particular drink, a hot coffee version, or a pumpkin pie smoothie (yes, those exist at some smoothie shops and they are delicious), you have to time this appropriately. Don’t get over-eager and take in liquid autumn on a day where you can still see those wavy heat lines emanating from your sweaty steaming face. Wait for a sunny day, one where the light isn’t so yellow, in fact it’s just a shade deeper, moving toward amber. Let the wind be just that flavor of breeze that tickles your arm hairs straight up, the one that chills you just enough that you start wondering how all your cardigans are doing. Extra whipped cream is okay, if not strictly required.

2. Purchase and use school supplies


Since I was a little kid, the school supplies aisle has always been my favorite section of the store. Pencils and pens, pink rubber erasers, crayons and thick tablets of paper all packed and sorted, packaged with the glittery promise of use. Oh, actual glitter is there, too! Do you take your Elmer’s glue in original form, gel, stick, or paste? Not a fan of mucilage or spiral bound notebooks? Though that is incredibly hard to imagine, I suggest you at least drop a few dollars on an inky pen — there’s nothing like writing with a pen that glides along while it scratches lightly on the page. It makes you feel important and suddenly verbose, busy, and like you’re really leaving your mark on the world. If you have the heart of a dreamer, purchase that tell-tale mustard box of crayons. Pop the top and inhale their waxy scent. Draw precise lines and figures with the perfect pretty tip, or bear down hard in vibrant color. I promise the feeling will taste like fall.

3. Buy a new hoodie or pull out an old favorite


Something about being an 80s kid and having E.T. etched into your memory makes popping on a sweet soft hoodie feel at once cozy comfortable and like you’re ready for any autumn adventure. Wear this one layer over your clothes on those evenings where bare arms and sundresses begin to fade into memory and you’ll feel instantly protected. Lift the hood to slip into your solitude. Pull the sleeves down over your knuckles; hold the fabric there with your thumbs. Feel the nubby fleece against your skin. Stow some Reese’s Pieces in your pocket. If Bob Ross’ gentle cooing could be formed into a piece of clothing, this it how it would feel against your skin.

4. Be outside


You aren’t doing fall right if you aren’t out there walking around in it. For me, fall is incredibly contemplative. The colors of the trees are beautiful and they are both high above your head and cushioning your feet. There’s something incredibly insulating about this. Though autumn doesn’t quite offer the pregnant chrysalis-like pause of spring, it does bring a quieter, more melancholic awakening. To do fall right you have to mourn a little, respect the change, notice how lovely it is. Hold a veiny speckled leaf in your fingers. Crack a twig in half. Poke your finger in the dirt. Watch the light break through the branches. Breathe cold air. Feel the gentle bite.

5. Watch Grey Gardens

Grey Gardens

When you’re not outside, you must curl up on a chair or couch, under a quilt, perhaps with the windows cracked a smidge for what could be the last time this year. Pets snoring or purring at your feet, read a book or watch a movie. This fall, I think Grey Gardens is where I’ll go. The documentary’s distressed browns and not-quite-cheery marigolds mimic the palette and emotional tone of the season. As we all become a little more reclusive in the changing weather, perhaps we can settle in to the devastatingly beautiful fall of a family, their land, and their home. Mother and daughter, both named Edith Beale, reflect on a gilded past and the future that never came while their home and any healthy relations to the outside world begin to crumble. It’s easy to see the gold-tinged beauty of Jackie O. and her Camelot, but I prefer to sit with her cousins, Big and Little Edie, out on their rotting deck — especially in this, the season of exquisite decay.

Ana Holguin writes PopHeart for The Idler.

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