Illustration by Dave Hänggi.

Noncommittal November: a Placeholder Month Made for Binge-watching

November is the passage to winter that shrivels optimism and brings on tunnel vision.

October can be so glamorous, with its lingering warmth and that late-afternoon liquid slant of golden light. Autumn is like a hammock we can still swing in. And then comes the light-starved month. Poet Emily Dickinson described November as a “granite hat” hung upon the “plush nail” of autumn. So perfect. Thank you, Emily.

I suspect that you were an aficionada of Novembers, their terse clarity and the way the trees strip down to blunt, leafless shapes, like the lines of your poems. You also wrote about death, and there’s nothing like the failing light of November to remind us of endings, of green worlds going to ground. It’s a temporary entombment, November—or is that overstating it? I suppose if you keep going to the gym, buy something cashmere (an oversized sweater, most likely, and socks) and a good book and have a warm home and warm friends (preferably both), November can be a tolerable placeholder month.

But let’s not kid ourselves: It’s the darkest time of the year. The weather is surly, noncommittal and not pretty. I’ll take five Februarys over half a November any day. November is the passage to winter that shrivels optimism and brings on tunnel vision. Facebook/Instagram turn cloying. Night arrives like a dinner guest at the door before the table has been set. Rush hour happens in the dark. Dinner is prepared with the kitchen lights all blazing. Walking the dog becomes a duty instead of a pleasant stroll through fallen leaves. November feels brusque and premature in all its aspects because, once again, even though we didn’t mean to, we succumbed to October’s treacherous brightness. We lost track of the calendar and dawdled in the fall—until the granite hat came down on all our heads.

Semi-depression is completely appropriate in November. I try not to fight it. I wear the hat at a jaunty angle. Sometimes I use a light box. I still have my first iteration of it: a giant billboard of light as blazing as a beacon in a lighthouse. You are supposed to bathe in this full-spectrum light for a half-hour every day—but first thing in the morning so that it mimics an earlier, kinder dawn. This tunes your pineal gland, or resets your diurnal rhythms, or something like that.

The only problem: Semi-depressed people don’t, as a rule, get up at 6:30 a.m. I would get up at 9 or 9:30 and slouch in front of my light box, wincing at its brightness, waiting for the miracle to come. It never did. I tried for a few years and then gave up.

The gym, friends and red wine address the November problem more efficiently—that and admitting that once again the dark month has come round and there’s nothing we can do about it. Might as well turn inward, overwork, binge-watch the four seasons of Homeland you missed when you were out having fun in the summer and try to have faith that your former best friends, August and October, will be back.

In the meantime, November has moved in with its rough black coat, its chilly embrace and that tall granite hat.

The Mood: November

Every month has a mood, a feeling, some combination of memories, moments and nostalgia. You know it—you feel it—even if you’ve never really thought about it. To help encapsulate the moods of the months, we’re asking novelists to take on the calendar and evoke the feelings of each season through fiction, memoir or a mix of the two. Marni Jackson’s novel, Don’t I Know You?, is now available in print and as an audiobook.

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