October is a lot of things. It’s the month most associated with autumn in this part of the world, a month marked by harvest festivals, pumpkins, hayrides, and Halloween goblins. In New England, the trees give up their spring and summer green, and offer instead a dazzling array of red, orange, and yellow leaves that burn bright and then shrivel, fall, and leave the branches bare.
October is also the month when I was born.
And, it is the month during which U2, one of my favorite rock bands, released an album in 1981 titled, appropriately, “October.” These are the song titles on the album: “Gloria,” “I Fall Down,” “I Threw a Brick Through a Window,” “Rejoice,” “Fire,” “Tomorrow,” “October,” “With a Shout (Jerusalem),” “Stranger in a Strange Land,” “Scarlet,””Is That All?”
A common writing exercise is to choose a word, or a few words, and just “riff” on them. So, just for fun, let’s see what I can do with U2’s song titles.
Gloria: That’s my mom’s name.
I Threw a Brick Through a Window: I’ve never thrown a brick through a window. When I was 7 or 8 years old, though, and attending a summer camp in New Hampshire, I was good friends with the camp directors’ daughter, April. One afternoon April and I sneaked up to the big window that looked in on the camp kitchen. We hid in the bushes below the window and held up a yellow dish washing glove covered in ketchup. The cook, who happened to be my friend’s mother, screamed, and we ran away, laughing and giggling. Today I look back and wonder if our yellow glove with ketchup on it was as scary as we thought.
Rejoice: I looked the word up on dictionary.com: “to be glad; take delight.” Right now, I have a cat curled up and purring on my lap. I rejoice.
Fire: Bruce Springsteen also wrote a song by this name (he originally wrote it for Elvis Presley, apparently). I used to sing that song in a music studio that one of my friends had set up in his very large basement. The song just happens to be written well within my voice range, and I love the harmonies in the chorus. I have a vivid memory of singing this song in front of a microphone, while the guy who would one day become my husband sat on a chair, played the guitar and sang the harmonies. One of the lyrics: “You had a hold on me right from the start.”
Tomorrow: I think way too much about tomorrow. So much so, that I sometimes forget to be here, now.
October: The best month of the year.
With a Shout (Jerusalem): I lived in Jerusalem for about six months, during a year-long stay in Israel in the 1990s. I sublet a tiny one-room apartment not far from the Old City, and took the bus to work every day at a small desktop publishing company on the other side of town. I also fed the feral cats who lived in the yard of the apartment building. When one of the cats had kittens, and I noticed they were sick, I took them to a local veterinarian who told me they had distemper and started putting them to sleep with injections right in front of my eyes. I was so traumatized by this experience that I still cannot get the image out of my mind, 18 years later. But I saved one kitten who was not sick that day by removing the other kittens. I try to hold onto that thought. I still have a picture of that one kitten, sitting alone on the walkway behind my apartment, looking at me. Healthy.
Stranger in a Strange Land: Story of my life. One example: I spent my junior year of college in London. I was 19 and had never been to Europe before when I landed at Heathrow airport. It was evening when the plane landed because of the time difference, and once I made it into town, I walked into a McDonald’s restaurant, one of the few places that was open at 11 p.m. I looked up at the menu behind the counter and didn’t understand it. Chips? Pence? I’ll never forget the moment when I didn’t understand a menu at McDonald’s.
Scarlet: Begonias. Some of you will know what that means, and it will tell you a lot about me.
Is that all?: That’s the question that drives me, and drives my writing.