September: Art, Culture, Change

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom friend of the maturing sun.

John Keats. “To Autumn”

Claude Monet. Autumn Effect at Argenteuil

Forget those hot, sunny, summer days. Forget the snow-capped tress of winter. In my opinion, the best time of year is September. The early morning dew, the cool nights and warm days, and the leaves—those yellows, oranges, and reds along the sidewalks like frightened footprints scurrying into fog. The fog, shrinking the world around you until every few steps is a step into the unknown…

True, this experience is geographically dependent, and I am showing my northern hemisphere bias (I admit that I have a hard time conceiving how the inverted world below the equator works.), but I am not the only one who indulges in this transformative month.There seems to be a widespread desire to inject art into September. Perhaps, as we return to work or school after a long summer break, or a long weekend, we want to delay the descent into mundanity as we sink 
into the mire of emails and meetings, of deadlines and disputes. The days grow shorter (again, I apologize to my southern strangers) but we will not go gently into that good night. So we douse the world with the scent of apples, and whatever chemical combination creates pumpkin spice.

 

And art.

September bursts onto the scene like an overplayed action hero leaping from a building backed by an explosion of film, music, visual art, and literature.

For years, as the end of September neared, I would emerge from Queen’s Park station in Toronto and, a block away, find myself at “Word on the Street”: a festival of book sellers, publishers, and organizations with ties to the literary scene. I always found a hidden gem in the boxes of used (lightly tattered) books. I wandered into a tent to listen to Thomas King read from his new book, or a panel of Giller shortlisted authors discuss their work. On a Sunday in September, in the middle of the lonely city, in the foreground of traffic and trains, art overtook life.

You might think, in the year of our Virus 2020, how could anything possibly overtake life? How do we remove ourselves from the world and congregate to celebrate the season? The truth is that we need September more now than in previous years. So Venice pushes ahead with their film festival (in person) despite better judgment. The Toronto Film Festival will also take place in a hybrid (online and in person) manner, despite the expected decline in crowds swarming the “red carpet”. And Alberta Culture Days has become Alberta Culture Month.

 

The “artification” of this month is not, however, an exercise in positive masking: a shaking off of all worries in favour of blissful ignorance. At the end of September, Calgary hosts “The Procession for the End Times: The Last Ice Shelf”: an event commemorating the loss of Canada’s last remaining ice shelf. The procession (carrying a large piece of white fabric to represent the ice shelf) culminates on Prince’s Island Park with a theatrical performance of “The Coming Silence”.

 I spotlight this event not because I have any affiliation with it, but for two reasons. First, to remind us that while COVID-19 may dominate our collective conscience, it is not humanity’s sole concern. Furthermore, this event reminds us that art is not about escaping but embracing. September’s fog surrounds us, but we don’t crumble in upon ourselves. We follow the path of the fallen leaves to wherever it may lead, knowing that stepping into the fog does not mean stepping off the edge of the world.

But if artistic activism isn’t your thing, there are more traditional installments. Get your mask and head to the High River Library for “Expressions of Excitement” art installation, because sometimes we all need a shot of vibrant colour.

 

“Expressions of Excitement” hosted by Valerie McLenahan and Amanda Tanner

Back on the literary front, Toronto’s “Word on the Street” is not the only game in town, or out of town. “Word on the Street” is also coming to Lethbridge this month. The Lethbridge event features appearances by Eric Walters, a prolific and talented YA author, and Richard Van Camp, whose novel The Lesser Blessed is a great read for young adults, old adults, and anyone in between. These two authors showcase the multicultural strength of Canada, the embracing of which can unite us in a divisive time.

On that note, online events have been the silver lining this year. While tech issues have been a nuisance, the internet allows us to remain connected, and even experience events we would not be able to under normal circumstances. Calgary’s “Wordfest” is celebrating their 25th anniversary online, continuing their tradition of readings and discussions with talented writers, local and abroad.

Finally, September marks the beginning of Canadian literary award season. The Giller prize longlist will be announced on September 8, marking for me an annual influx of Canadian books added to my shelves. It is a great time remember that we as a nation produce fantastic literature, and I encourage you to join me in (re)discovering Canadian authors.

As you begin to don more layers, trade the short sleeves for cozy sweaters, take the time to not look ahead to an increased workload and an impeding winter, bringing with it a host of new concerns in the shadow of COVID’s interaction with the annual colds and flus.

Forget it.

For a little bit at least, and remember that everything changes. Leaves bloom and leaves fall.

In September, little is constant. This can be anxiety-inducing, but it can also be exhilarating. And through it all, there is art.

If you haven’t listened to in awhile. I recommend getting into the spirit of the season with the third section of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I recommend Max Richter’s recomposed version, which highlights the contrast between autumn’s force and quietude.

And of course, it wouldn’t be September without a little Earth, Wind & Fire.

Surrounded by this much creative talent may inspire you to continue writing, or start again, or start. But the month moves quickly, so be deliberate in taking time to create while the energy of September is here.

This is a suggestion, not an order.

Meanwhile, as always:

Thanks for reading

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