4 min read

Friday Open Thread (with November)

Three slender elm trees lean over a river; the sun shines from beyond the upper-left corner illuminating their golden leaves.

This is a little heavier than the usual Friday Open Thread, so if you'd like to skip straight to the question, here it is: what's been making you happy lately? Anything, big or small, that's been bringing you the kind of joy you feel in your cheeks – I'd love for us to share them with each other.

Dear Friends,

I've been wrestling with a difficult contradiction lately: I love autumn deeply, and I love the deep autumn, but for the last six or seven years these hinge-weeks between seasons have made me helplessly, almost unspeakably miserable. There is likely difficult-to-access brain chemistry at work – Seasonal Affective Disorder is a known thing – but I'd never experienced it before living in the UK, and my return from Glasgow seven years ago has been insufficient to dislodge it.

So on the one hand I participate in the seasonal pleasures of an increasingly codified and marketed aesthetic of crisp leaves, woolly jumpers, mulling spices, the colour orange – and on the other endure ruined sleep, crushing depression, the certainty that I will never do a good thing ever again in either my work or my relationships, that I'm a terrible teacher personally failing each and every one of my students, that I've disappointed everyone I love and wasted so much time.

These certainties are, of course, false; mountains of empirical evidence exist to tell me I am good at my several jobs, my friends and family love me, and even if I were to be spirited away to fairyland tomorrow and kept from writing anything ever again, This Is How You Lose the Time War is still in the world, daily being discovered by people for whom that discovery is a net good. The grace and immensity of that cuts through everything – but it does so like autumn light, slanted and cool, brighter than it is warm.

So I wrestle with this: that so much of my sense of self is rooted in being the kind of person who loves autumn, loves light striking fire from leaves, loves mist rising from water and gleaned fields, loves seeing geese on the wing, loves a multitude of weathers that say summer's over, winter's coming, it's time to cover your skin in soft armour and chase the vanishing light into stories. Meanwhile this body that carries my head and heart together curls into silence and grief.

I wonder, sometimes, and I worry, that it wasn't only the UK and its paucity of sunshine that wrought this change – that it's as much to do with getting older, and feeling all the trappings of spooky season that exist as exciting metaphor when you're younger gradually gaining ironic substance. That ghosts are a romantic thrill until you lose someone permanently, and grief grows out of the dark like asters. That being haunted has a season, needs its own kind of harvest, and you've come of age to hold the scythe and reap the sadness from your fields.

I sat down here fully intending to speak about joy, though.

I had a hard week. The hardness crested yesterday: a perfect storm of patchy sleep, messed up plans, unexpected additional work, anguish sitting on my chest and stopping up my throat. There were things – so small in retrospect – that I was convinced I couldn't do.

And then I did them. With the help of no fewer than six people operating my feelings like delicate machinery – breaking down the tasks into their smallest parts, forgiving me for bailing on lunch, listening to me say over and over again how hard everything feels and how unhappy I am and giving me their voices and sadnesses and fears in return. We reaped our ghost fields. We piled our ghost sheaves, ground them, made bread of them, and fed each other.

I can only speak for myself. But today has been much better.

I'm aware, writing this, that it's the second week in a row that I've leaned into a narrative arc that concludes hopefully on a Friday, a sort of deeply melodramatic TGIF. This is unintentional and embarrassing! But it's important to me to recognize both the reality of what I felt and the reality that exists independently of those feelings – the mirror image of feeling profound love for an idea of autumn and being crushed by its material conditions. That the contradiction resolves itself, ultimately. That the light in autumn is diminished, not unmade. That we're all just doing our best.

Tell me, if you will, about things that are making you happy: books, TV, games, walks, birds, whatever comes to mind. (Is anyone playing the ACNH expansion? WE CAN COOK NOW!) I'd love to know.

Wishing you all a comforting weekend,



  • I'm going to be in Montreal tomorrow and Sunday, in the general vicinity of folk attending the World Fantasy convention. This'll be the first foray into con-going life I've made post-panini, and it hardly even counts; I didn't get a membership, and am just turning up to meet friends. But if you see me in the lobby and want to say hi, please do! Even if I'm wearing a mask, you'll know me by the flowers in my hair.
  • Helena Fitzgerald is one of my favourite living essayists, writes a newsletter called griefbacon, and recently wrote about November and ghosts in a way that absolutely wrecked me. If you’re not already subscribed and want to cry on a semi-regular basis about music, seasons, cities, and the never finished work of growing up, I can't recommend it enough.
  • Fonda Lee is one of my favourite living novelists, and wrote a succinct and necessary essay about pernicious social media dynamics from a writer/reader angle that I consider crucial. I might write more about this; I certainly think about it almost constantly. In the meantime, have you pre-ordered Jade Legacy? I am 3 work-books away from getting to tuck into it I cannot wait.
  • Portrait of the author as a fond cozy-sweater-season fool absolutely refusing to wear a jacket like a normal human:
a photo of me wearing jeans, running shoes, and a chunky hoody with the hood pulled up over my head, on top of which is a poncho-like woolly scarf garment with a giant ribbed turtleneck obscuring most of my face. It is inelegant and hilarious.

A close-up on my ludicrously pleased but mostly obscured face, eyes looking mischievously off to the side.