Two friends drive along Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive on a warmish October day. They reflect on their 27-year history as the colors of an Indian summer reflect on and around the shores of Lake Michigan. These two friends started their post-MBA career together in the bowels of a hotshot consumer, packaged-goods marketer learning how to twist their creative urges into business proposals. These two friends are no longer on the corporate career ladder.
“Executive rehab,” Lisa laughs impishly. “We should have gone to executive rehab when we left the corporate world.”
Two friends are creating a nuanced, freelance life, talking about what would have been helpful after they took the leap to life without a performance review.
“Yeah, there’s a rehab for everything else, why not that?” I reply. “There should be a reality TV series for recovering executives by now.”
“Oh, oh, yes, and we should produce it,” Lisa says, employing the “yes, and” brainstorming technique. A “yes, and” versus “no, but” statement keeps the conversation moving forward.
Two friends: one teaching and writing non-fiction, and the other consulting and writing fiction. Two friends who are stretching their creative impulses into different life forms.
“No company would ever advertise on it,” I counter, in a decidedly non-“yes, and” manner. “What I want instead is an Indian summer for my life. That’s what we need, I need. I love Indian summer. I’m not ready to be in the fall of my life.”
“Yes, and…” Lisa agrees and advances the idea.
Historians, Neil Howe and William Strauss, in their book Generations compare the four stages of life to the seasons. Childhood is spring. Young Adulthood is summer. Midlife is fall, and Old Age is winter. Lisa and I are both in the Fall of our cycle. And I don’t much like the sound and feel of Fall.
Fall is the time when things go to seed. Fall is the downward slope of a productivity line. Fall is what happens after something goes up. My body embraces fall. Hooded eyelids, jaws fallen into jowls. The bosom rests instead of rises. Even the knees have wrinkles. Surely these are signs that things are shifting downward, falling. How my calves and ankles have held fast with the physical onslaught of fall I’ll never know.
“What’s the verdict?” I ask the nurse.
“Five foot and three quarters of an inch.”
“Drat. I lost a half an inch,” I mutter. “Guess I’m officially off the growth chart.”
Maybe I should be happy that I’m continuing to fall. Because what happens when the fall ends? Winter – that’s what happens after Fall. Winter is the fourth and last season of the year and of one’s life, metaphorically speaking.
I’m definitely not ready for Winter – is anyone ever ready for Winter? I should be ready for Winter. For all but three years of my adult life I’ve lived in the Midwest, where Winter is done right. I have coats for mild days and wild days. One that covers from head to toe and a short jacket for windless days. A Michelin Man coat of down, touchable coats of alpaca and cashmere, an old fur coat bought when I fled the homogenous, endless summer of Dallas for the mosaic weather map of Chicago, vowing that I would never complain of the cold. My closet is ready for every season of winter, from brisk to brittle, from damp to dry and all the pairings of pain and misery in between. But my heart and soul are never ready for Winter.
I’ve always thought Fall was my favorite season with memories of crisp notebooks waiting for blue inked notes and penny loafers destined to be scuffed, but I now realize it’s really Fall disguised in the colors and hopes of Indian summer that I love. Red. Orange. Gold and Bright Green. Summer infused with energy. A year without an Indian summer is incomplete in my book. And so it should be with life.