Culture

Autumn is boring, and that is good

How one season gives us all the space to be unremarkable.

Culture

Best season

Culture

Autumn is boring, and that is good

How one season gives us all the space to be unremarkable.

It took more than a week of breathing in crisp autumn air before I realized that I was free. No more pressure to get out into the world and do Snapchat worthy, sun-drenched activities. No more stifling heat holding me hostage. My liberation came in the form of a fleece sweatshirt, slippers, and a hot mug of coffee. Kids trickled past my front step on their walks to school with their parents, who then headed back alone,got in their cars and went to work. Autumn was back, and bringing with it a return to a universal state of averageness. But from where I was sitting — not too hot, not too cold, the sun shining but non-threatening, the neighborhood quiet — a state of boring was exactly where I wanted to be. As confusing as the fall weather has been for much of the country, the season is here, returning us to our daily routines and low-stakes autumnal distractions.

North Carolina's Blue Ridge Parkway in fall 2004.

North Carolina's Blue Ridge Parkway in fall 2004.

For those among us who rarely leave the house, the changing of the seasons can be tracked via hashtags. Between calls for political action and responses to hashtag challenges of the moment, perennial favorites like #cozy, #psl, and #sweaterweather are creeping into our feeds and timelines as the weather across the country gets chillier and the days get shorter. It’s easy enough to roll one’s eyes at these tags, which often appear beneath pictures of hands cradling a mug, of landscapes filled with red and orange leaves, or of an open book on a soft-looking duvet. But I welcome this dullness with open arms and a grateful heart: At last we’ve arrived at the season in which we are all given license to be unremarkable.

In summer, everyone is expected to be extraordinary. Teens have to get internships, play elite sports, and even attend more school or risk being labelled lazy. Adults have to work, as usual, but there’s also pressure to pack in relaxing or adventurous vacations and enjoy nonworking hours in the much-celebrated summer weather. (Meanwhile, the reality of summer weather across the world actually includes inferno-like conditions, both figurative and literal.)

Enter fall: the days are cooling off, the beverages are heating up, layering is a must, and spending time outside is a luxurious choice, not an expectation. It’s when everyone’s introvert side has a time to shine, as the season seems to be made for spending much needed time with yourself.

A farmer enjoys autumn on his land in the 1950s.

A farmer enjoys autumn on his land in the 1950s.

A Londoner enjoys an autumn day in 1950.

A Londoner enjoys an autumn day in 1950.

A farmer enjoys autumn on his land in the 1950s.

A Londoner enjoys an autumn day in 1950.

Across the Northern Hemisphere, September through November has long been a time of cozy self-indulgence. It’s the season of harvest festivals that celebrate the end of hard agricultural labor while enjoying its fruits, even though industrialization and modernity have made it so that less is required of humans today than ever before. Socially, autumn is when most of us can embrace being alone — it is the perfect middle ground between the longing for solitude that comes with the end of a busy summer and the tenuous acceptance of it that comes with the onset of winter. Summer FOMO is disarmed by people taking joy in the banal. Beloved fall activities like walking through crunchy leaves and sipping hot cider are egalitarian. Get togethers with friends have more space for the kind of intimacy that comes with gathering indoors and staying in one spot together. Instagrams of trees and pies are tolerated, even liked. Our attentions turn to insulating our bodies, warming our homes, and preparing ourselves for the hard mental and physical endurance winter demands. We savor our routines while things are still comfortable. Each season has its gifts, and one of autumn’s is dull simplicity.

We talked about autumn on our daily podcast, The Outline World Dispatch. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.

With so many opportunities for boredom, it’s no wonder that attention turns to the darker but equally worthwhile sides of the human psyche. The American Academy of Family Physicians estimates that between 10 and 20 percent of people experience mild seasonal affective disorder with the depressive condition becoming more and more prevalent farther north of the Equator. Meanwhile, the month of October, in many places, is a time to embrace and celebrate fear with scary movie marathons and community haunted houses, making way for Halloween and holidays paying tribute to the dead. It may seem cynical to laud a season for eschewing focus on pure happiness and joy, but the expectation of constant happiness can be a burden. Sadness during summer is met with incredulity or pity, but in autumn sadness receives empathy and even recognition of the seasonal hardships still to come.

The Manhattan skyline in autumn 2014.

The Manhattan skyline in autumn 2014.

Altogether, autumn doesn’t ask much of us, physically, socially, or sartorially. So enjoy it while it lasts, because the catch is it’ll soon be gone forever. Scientists have long warned that climate change is making autumn, and its counterpart spring, slowly disappear. Much of the country has already noticed its effects, from experiencing an unseasonal early-fall heat wave to the delay of changing colors in the trees. The sad truth is that, even for a Millennial, autumn days today don’t match the crisp, chilly ones of our youth. The autumn we have today, with all of its opportunities to be regular, is all we’ve got. And while scientists know that spring gets shorter by 30 seconds every year, comparable data isn’t available for autumn. The underappreciated season is significantly less researched. So while the pressure is often on to savor summer as much as you can before it ends, I’d say endeavor to savor fall and all its gifts instead. Our future promises nothing but long, hot summers and extreme weather events at any time of year. Who has the time to be boring and unremarkable then?

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