The September equinox brings with it a change of diary.
The September Equinox for 2019 was marked today, the 23rd, at 7.50 UTC and as I write this, a few hours later, the Northern Hemisphere has already begun to tilt away from the sun.
I mark the occasion with a change of diary. My working day might begin and end with something handwritten but my main place for keeping thoughts together is the diary hidden in my laptop. Here I allow myself the freedom to write anything at all as it occurs to me: it might be something about the weather, or something personal that I will never share (except perhaps transmuted into fiction). It might be a passage from a novel that I try out with the liberation of not worrying ‘where it fits’. It might be the beginning of a piece of flash fiction or a short story. Or just notes of research, something for a blog post, observations. Anything at all.
Periodically, I go through my diary and copy and paste what is relevant into files relating to the different projects I have started. Sometimes I just get going in the diary and then jump straight to the draft of the work in progress. The diary holds my morning pages, my early attempts, my everything. Because I allow so much to go into these diaries they can become huge. I used to do them yearly but as my work-rate grew, the diary took so long to load that I decided to divide it into four periods of time for each trip around the Sun. Now they run from equinox to solstice and solstice to equinox. My diary for June solstice to September equinox is nearly 200 pages long, single-spaced. I feel a little sad to say goodbye to it and have been preparing myself by curating what is in it ahead of the shift so that, today, I only have all the work of yesterday to contemplate.
The beginning of a new diary makes me all the more aware of the passing of time and the need to get on with things. The diary is not an end in itself but the pot into which things are thrown, but I must reflect a little on how far I have come, what I have done and what there is yet to do.
Mainly I have been working on my novel. Ideas for short stories and flash fiction are there too but … I am aware that it is good to finish things. I am a great starter, full of ideas, eager to catch what runs through my head. If I ever run out of fresh thoughts, I will be able to draw upon the bank of previous inspiration. I might even finish the two other half-written novels I have tucked away and collate my second collection of short stories. At the moment I am most interested in working on a novella-in-flash and a novel, both set in near futures in the Netherlands. The novella-in-flash is near to completion and the novel is taking shape. Shape is what it needs now after a time of exploration. I have done a good deal of thinking about structure but yesterday I had to write and went with what I think of as ‘the Muriel Spark method’, as mentioned in Alan Taylor’s Appointment in Arezzo, in which it is said she was able to turn the writing on and off like a tap. Perhaps because she thought about it all a good deal first.
I am still finding my way. The important thing for me, still, is to feel free to write. Yesterday the work was very much directed to the purpose of writing a novel. At other times I am just setting things down. Perhaps it would be good for me to let many of my thoughts pass rather than rattling away on the keys to put them into words. But I am so very grateful to the technology that allows me now to find things again, to order them without stacks of paper, to move things around, to draft and redraft. Over time I am developing the confidence that I can write, and that the point is to decide what is most important for me to be writing about and to trust that the writing itself will be good. I have written so much about grieving and now I am writing about the future, trying to balance dystopian fears with a sense of hope and wonder. Trying to keep my sense of humour bright to help me face the gloom. Thinking about ‘what comes next’. But my messy methods have some drawbacks. It can be hard when you have written a scene that seems funny and engaging to find that it might not fit within the bigger picture of your novel. Or that the point of view you have been inhabiting for a while is not the one you want to use to tell your story. So much then seems to go unsaid. But to me that’s all fine. It’s there in the shadows.
So here’s to the end of one phase and the beginning of another. Some of it is arbitrary, this counting up of time, this deciding how to tell its story. The ordering of time zones, the positioning of lines of longitude from pole to pole around the earth are entirely imaginary, conventions agreed upon by enough people for them to have relevance and sway. It could be done differently. But the equinox and solstice: these are real. What we experience is governed by our relative position to the sun and the things we have done to the planet. Yesterday there was a funeral for a glacier in Switzerland. Nothing is permanent. We are already overwhelmed by climate change.
Meanwhile, in this tiny spot in the northern hemisphere, I feel the usual appreciative melancholy at the shortening of days, at the end of sea swimming for the season, and the looming of Christmas (half stress half fun). All movements of time and season remind me that I’m getting older. That there is so much still to be done. We will settle into autumn, and rejoice in the stillness of the quiet season. Before I know it, a new diary will be opened, that looks forward to the spring and already half-regrets the beautifully creative time of winter.
For a view from the southern hemisphere, I recommend ‘Thoughts become Words’. I am always enthralled by what Gretchen has to show about life in Australia and what is going on with the seasons and the climate there. At least, through her words and pictures, we can visit without worrying too much about our carbon footprint.
As always, I would love to know how you experience your world and the passing of time in it. Happy September equinox! For tomorrow is another day.