All the leaves fell over night like a blanket to warm the cars and the sidewalks and the streets. It got too cold too fast, and so the leaves fell too soon. Some were still green. In the morning they were still falling slowly, accumulating down the hill. Every time I see a ginkgo leaf, I remember how I didn’t notice that my neighborhood was full of them until three years after I moved here, after I met a girl with one of them tattooed on her rib cage, which she showed me in a bar one February night lifting her sweater up to the bra line. After that, I saw those fan shaped leaves everywhere because they had a name. I knew them.
On Wednesday morning, the streets were yellow and green, the leaves accumulating quickly. A friend found one in her stroller and handed it to her baby who pulled his small hand from the sleeping bag all babies have this time of year to spin it around. Later, after I returned back to my warm apartment, a leaf fell out of my hood and onto the floor.
The leaves were leaving even then. I knew they were taking them; I saw them do it. There were many workers on the streets of my neighborhood dressed in a color that could have been autumnal if it weren’t so aggressive. They were raking the leaves on the asphalt into a tall, long line – not a pile to jump in, not a circle, but a speed bump that ran next to the parked cars. A big truck with a trunk that extended from the back drove very slowly a couple of streets over. It sucked up the leaves into its belly so that only a few stragglers remained.
By this afternoon, they will be gone.
It would have taken weeks for them to decompose on their own. They had fallen too early. They would have clogged up the gutters and muddied up the streets. They had no purpose but beauty, but the remnant of what they used to be, and that alone was not worth very much. An imposition.
This is the part of a good essay where I’m supposed to pivot this beautiful moment and sad underbelly to being about something else entirely. That’s what we do, as writers: we take disparate experiences and we connect them together. It is my job to show you how my brain works, to invite you to travel with me from the leaves through my mind and into something else that is happening, to find a new way into something I want to talk about that maybe will convince you to come with me on this journey and to care.
I haven’t been writing very much since I quit my job two weeks ago. It feels like I quit a full year ago, the days have gone so slowly. I have an essay due at the end of the week, and I’m struggling to finish it. I am trying to be better to myself this time than I was in the wake of my last work trauma. I am trying to not throw myself into work and to allow myself to process what happened slowly. But how do you process something like this? How do you learn to move on from yet another signal that the industry you love is maybe doomed forever? ItHow do you recognize that so many things about the country and the world are systemically broken, and get up in the morning and write a story that probably won’t help any of these things?
It is hard to name this period of grief and frustration, and harder still to recognize that it is here again, that staying in journalism guarantees it will come.
There’s a metaphor somewhere in the leaves being sucked up by the vacuum of efficiency. There’s something to say about giving yourself time and learning to sit with a hard transition and not sweeping yourself into stacks and hurdling forward as efficiently as possible, but I can’t quite get there this week. I’m trying to ease myself back into the work, into reality, into the uncomfortable space between believing that what we do for work does not define or give us value as humans, and truly loving the job that I get to do, even when it treats me poorly.
As I told subscribers a couple of weeks ago, the content about books is currently on hold for this month while I decompress and try to regain the stability in my brain. It will be back. I have many good books to tell you about. Thank you for being patient with me.