UNPACKING THE BACKPACK – New Year’s in the Fall

On Labor Day weekend I mowed the lawn for probably the last time of the year, as I sensed the late summer southern exposure is sending the grass into its dormant state. That chore came after cutting down and raking up what is left of the tiger lillies. And it was just before I started pulling the first of the leaves out of the gutter. Yep, fall is coming, and all of my chores were part of the “fall cleaning.” For me, the cleaning up in early September is always part of the alternative off-track New Year’s weekend celebration we all know as Labor Day. Seeing the end of summer holiday as a sort of new year is an idea I’ve kicked around and practiced for a few years now, having heard similar views from friends, neighbors, and other writers.

Labor Day really is the perfect time for a “spring cleaning” of our houses and our lives. We all know the first weekend in September as the end of summer when the pools close and kids return to school, as days and nights cool off. Though many schools and communities are long past the days of school starting after Labor Day, it’s still a great weekend for one last hurrah of play and carefree whateverness. After that three-day respite, weekend activities tend to dial back a bit in the fall, and it’s a time we can turn inward for how we will make this year our best yet. The natural connection to the seasons changing and a move toward hibernation can open our minds as well as our closets.

Americans are always game for ideas of reinvention, as it’s practically written throughout our history and our quirky little traditions. New Year’s Resolutions and spring cleaning are embedded in our spirit, times when we recharge and remake ourselves. We simply love the idea of starting over. However, to be honest, I’ve never really felt like the middle of winter is the optimal time to reset and “clean out the garage,” literally or metaphorically. The traditional end of summer, on the other hand, is a perfect time to clean up and reset. What shall we do with this moment and this transition? One other writer who has thoughts on this is Mike Vardy who wrote an insightful column years ago describing “Why Labor Day has Become my New Year’s Day.” 

The idea of reinvention in pursuit of finally getting it right is, in my view, the whole point of living. It’s what Transcendentalist poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow meant when he wrote “Neither joy and not sorrow is our destined end or way, but to act that each tomorrow finds us further than today.” Getting better is the goal, and we can make a resolution to change any day of the year. That point of view is developed by Mike Varcy in his book The Front Nine: How to Start the Year You Want Anytime You Want. Anytime can be a good time to make a fresh start. Granted, many of us naturally gravitate to traditional schedules, which makes a weekend like Labor Day the perfect time for a fresh start. 

So, as we head into the fall, I’m trying to live deliberately and artfully. As my children finish up high school and college, transitioning into their adult lives, and I head into my fifties, it’s time to begin thinking about what comes next, to make some plans for what Act III will look like. For example, a couple years ago, I started learning to play the piano, and I’m actually starting to feel more comfortable at the keyboard. Someday I might actually be a piano player. I have a new streak started on Duolingo with my French Lessons, trying to recall those four years studying it in high school. My health and fitness are good for middle age; or at least my doctor had no complaints during my recent annual check-up. Finally, as I continue to try and meditate every day, I am starting to believe I may be just a bit less stressed and, perhaps, even a kinder gentler Michael than I was last year. 

Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator, & school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teacher’s View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko. Ytou can email him at mmazenko@gmail.com