September is my favorite month in both hemispheres: I consider it a second New Year as kids return to school in the North and flowers reappear in the South. It also feels like a second—or final!—chance to reshape and redeem the year. 2021 has been deeply weird for me (you too?), but filled with many wonders that deserve my focus during the last few months. Here’s to Second Winds, and here are some things I loved during this past transitional, energetic, nostalgic month:
I recommend A Colors Show: This YouTube channel has been my #1 way to discover new music for the past year: pop, rock, soul, hip-hop, and neo-soul singers performing in front of a minimalist backdrop. As the season shifts, so does my music taste, and I'm easily excited by new voices--especially if they're dense, poetic, and expressive. A few soulful favorites I discovered via Colors:
I recommend rituals, not routine: I get asked about my morning routine a LOT. I’d be interested to know when “morning routine” entered the lexicon and began popping up at every author Q&A, but it strikes me a cultural leftover from an era we’re beginning to grow out of: a time when the body, soul, spirit and day were things to dominate rather than pay attention to.
I haven’t ever been able to stay with a routine, and I’ve spent a lot of time being curious about that. Surely my scattered personality is partly to blame, but I also like to think that I simply have too much respect for creativity, nature, and the inner teacher of the human body to try to force one. (Doesn’t that sound better than I’m too scatterbrained?) Routine, to me, feels like trying to box something in that would prefer to stay wild and unpredictable: the morning, or a mood, for instance.
So, for the past couple years, I’ve been much more interested in ritual rather than routine. A ritual is something that can accompany the day, rather than mold it. It’s a practice, not a goal. It feels sacred: an infusion of divinity in the mundane. Hearing about people’s routines usually makes me feel inferior and lacking (why don’t I have the energy to write 50 things I’m grateful for before looking at my phone??) But I like asking about people’s rituals: Do you listen to a certain song while you put on makeup? Is there a specific order to which you eat your lunch? How do you prepare your workspace before you begin to write?
At some point I’ll share with you all my favorite daily rituals, but for now, here are two I appreciated in September:
-Listening to this chant every morning. When I listen to it, my brain can’t do anything else; it’s entirely focused. This particular video—the loveliest children chanting the Maha Mantra—puts me in such an enlivened, bright headspace. On an ideal day, I turn it on first thing in the morning while I’m still in bed and still enjoying the thin veil between asleep and awake. On a VERY ideal day, I turn it on while my cat is being affectionate and the sun is pouring through the window and I remembered to set my automatic coffee maker the night before.
-In the evening, I write a “Noticed List.” This is different from a gratitude list in that I’m free to write anything I noticed during the day: things that disgusted me, things that angered me, times I acted out of character, things the reminded me of the Universe’s love for me, things I’m puzzled about. I list moments when I felt hurt, and how I want to reconcile that. I list moments when I behaved out of integrity, and want to name and take responsibility for that. I list moments I was annoyed. This practice is basically stolen from the Ignatian Examen, a technique of prayerful reflection that I’ve been doing for a decade. Instead of focusing only on gratitude—which can sometimes make me feel more antsy than thankful—I embrace it all, as an ongoing treasure hunt to finding my soul’s essence.
I recommend roast chicken: If you are a chicken-eating individual (I go back and forth all the time), I just don’t think there’s anything more homey/comforting AND impressive than bringing out a roast chicken when having people over for dinner. If your friends are also chicken-eating individuals, it’s something that everyone wants and is happy to see, especially as the weather turns smokey/moody/chilly. Last week I made this recipe for a dinner party and with a bottle of Petite Syrah, a playlist of Bossa nova, and the fire pit ablaze, it was a beautiful welcome for fall.
I recommend books as gifts: My birthday is September 28th, which always feels like the true first day of the new season. When I lived in Chile, it was the day when the city smelled like spring at last, and in New York, it’s often the first morning the humidity lifts.
Gifts are my love language, so my birthday is a time when I feel extra loved—both by the transitional beauty of nature AND by presents!!
This year I received a couple books for my birthday, which inspired me to list here: I recommend giving books as presents. My gift-giving strategy has become much more radically personal in the past couple years. I’m sure that many would advise against bestowing clothes as a present, for example, but I love buying a fabulous top or cool pajamas for my friends, especially if I got them on vacation or from a favorite boutique. Books and clothes might both fit in the “this person probably wants to buy this for themselves” category, but they demand a lot of thoughtfulness, which makes them feel really special.
Here are some books I received that I recommend so far:
The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander: I just started but I keep wanting to hug this book. It’s sensual, lyrical, moving, and takes me into a deeper love affair with life--which is exactly what I want from a book about grief.
No Cure for Being Human by Kate Bowler: This felt like a birthday present just for me because I adore Kate Bowler (here's a podcast episode we did together!) but, in fact, I don't think she specifically chose my birthday to release her second book. No Cure For Being Human is another heart-achy beauty from an honest, funny, elegant writer who understands humanity like nobody's business, and it's been the perfect first read of my 35th year.
I recommend taking care of that one thing that's been bothering you. For me: the sweaters piled up in my closet, the empty shampoo bottle that's been sitting in my shower, the welcome mat with dried leaves stuck to it. They bother me every time I see them. But for some reason, I just haven't put my sweaters in order, thrown away the shampoo bottle, or vacuumed the mat. I have no excuses, except for maybe my oversaturated mind and an overwhelmed To Do List. "I can't spend time organizing my sweaters, because I have so much else to do." <--But this rationale means that I won't do any of it!
The day I took one minute to clean the mat and throw out my empty toiletries was the day I could finally get back to emails I've been putting off, finally take a package to the post office, and buy groceries for a lovely dinner at the end of the day. Action begets action! What's next? Getting rid of the chargers in my drawer that no longer serve any purpose for anything I own and irritate my eyeballs every time I see them?? Maybe! What's that one bothersome thing for you? I recommend closing this and taking care of it right now, and then enjoy a light renewing breeze through your brain after it's completed.
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