• Sophie Wilson

Six autumn rituals

My favourite seasons are the transitional ones. They give life the illusion of change even when everything else stays the same. In October I am still romanticising sweater weather. By January, seasonal affective disorder has made its home in my brain and I would give anything for winter to end. So, there are a few things I do each year to make the transition from autumn to winter as gentle as possible. With a winter lockdown imminent and the clocks going back this weekend I thought I’d share my weirdly specific rituals and goals for this season here.

#1 Watch Closer

As October rolls around I binge Netflix more than usual. I watch horror films to prepare for Halloween. I watch all the latest series, compulsively checking the Netflix top 10 almost every day. And, every year, I watch Closer. I only started this tradition three years ago but now it breaks up the year. I watch it when no one can say we’re hanging onto the final fringes of summer anymore when you can't go outside without a coat or have a 6 pm pint in daylight. I’ve always thought of Closer as an autumnal film although it takes place over a period of years and most of the seasons are unspecific. If you haven't seen it, it follows two relationships that are doomed to infidelity. Watching it this year, I was left thinking how much I hate all the characters but I still think it's brilliantly written and heart-wrenchingly real at times. And I’ve always liked watching films about doomed relationships. Maybe that’s not the best way to enter SAD and cuffing season but October wouldn’t feel the same without it. This Autumn I also plan to watch Whisper of the Heart, Sunset Boulevard and The Handmaiden.

#2 Go for walks on my own

Last October I moved to London. It was my first time living in a city that I had been visiting for day trips, work and study for nearly a decade. On the first weekend, I walked from Bow to St. Paul’s to visit Postman’s Park. I had watched Closer the week before and this is the park they go to at the start. There are memorials to otherwise anonymous people who died saving the lives of others. Here's an extract from a poem I wrote that day:

While sitting in Postman’s Park listening to

the breeze, the buses, the bells of St Paul’s

I’ll remember to pause before I fall into another

modern romance, where sending a message

counts as taking a chance, and we’ll never learn to

really dance, so I watch these couples with

their cardigans, jumpers, autumn sweaters,

love letters and I promise I’ll unfetter

myself from these illusions.

This year I am in Kent where there are significantly less Atlas Obscura spots to frequent, but I still plan to visit some pretty local churches when I can. I’m not religious but there’s something about autumn that makes me long for the warm glow of stained-glass windows, soft candlelight, the gothic mysticism of a graveyard. I made this 'walking nowhere to go somewhere' playlist for these walks.

#3 Listen to Kate Bush when it rains

When the rain is loudly battering the road outside my window, I like to listen to Kate Bush and make time disappear. It could be 2014, when I first got into Kate Bush. It could be 2018, when her dramatic witchy shrieks were an empowering break from the sad bedroom rock that sound tracked one of the bluest autumns of my life. It could even be an unspecified time period before I was even born. The rain sounds like part of the record. I hardly use my record player anymore but every time I consider getting rid of it, I imagine the autumn nights listening to the crackle on the second side of Hounds of Love and know I can't part with it.

#4 Read more fiction

In general, I have been trying to read more non-fiction, to learn more about the world and the real people in it. Reality can be stranger than fiction but recently I’ve felt bogged down by journalistic-style writing. I want magic realism and epic romance and moments of beautifully constructed prose pulled from the air rather than from research notes. A few that I have lined up for the next couple of months include L’Assomoir by Emile Zola, Collected Ghost Stories by M.R. James and The Powerbook by Jeanette Winterson.

#5 Watch documentaries about mid-20th century musicians

When I was a teenager, I would read Rookie every day. I treated it with almost biblical dedication, designing my months with its recommendations. Perhaps that’s what cultivated my love for lists of books, films and music. Now when I think of autumn I think of Bob Dylan. I think of the weekend the clocks change, sitting upstairs in the local Starbucks that has since closed down reading Bob Dylan’s Chronicles that I had bought from the HMV that has also closed down. Autumn sounds like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen as well as Kate Bush. As winter draws in all I want to do is drink hot chocolate and watch documentaries about these musicians. They all lived through so many winters too.

#6 Find a therapist online

This one is more of a goal than a ritual although I have spent a lot of autumns of my life in therapy. My mental health has been surprisingly ok this year but I know I need to take some preventative measures in the face of a winter lockdown. This month has been difficult already. At the time of writing this post I’ve been put off by the prohibitively high costs – disappointed, but not surprised – but I’m going to do some more research. Having cycled through so many six-session NHS and/or uni services I’m looking for something more long term. I’ve been taking French classes online in lockdown so it would be nice to come out of lockdown slightly more bilingual and slightly less bipolar. A girl can dream.

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