The Way They Write About August. 

January 24, 2024

There are certain themes in literature that seem to be permanent fixtures, gleaming with ubiquitous romance that can’t be resisted by even the greatest of writers and poets. August is that ubiquitous romance personified.

Three Augusts ago, everything was brand new; I was new to 18, new to college, and new to dating. Two Augusts ago, everything was still brand new. I was new to being in love, I was at an even newer college in a new city in a new apartment exactly one year into my newfound adulthood.

This past August, nothing was new but everything was different. The boy I met at 18 was no longer mine, my new university wasn’t so new to me anymore, and the rumbling swarm of doe-eyed freshmen reminded me it wouldn’t even be mine for much longer. Reality set in.

Sylvia Plath says “August rain is the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.” She’s mainly right. Everything about this month is odd and uneven. I find that August rain is baptism by fire. It washes away the heat and restlessness of a whole summer and soaks the ground in prayer for a cool autumn. Maybe that’s why it feels like the time to start over, transform or transition. Maybe that’s why it feels so uncomfortable.

The odd uneven time.

Plath is only one of many authors to dedicate her scripture to this phenomenon —  to take note of the condition of this particular month. If my heart wasn’t naturally inclined to romanticize the paralyzing melancholy of August on its own accord, I would have no difficulty finding the romance in the pages I flip through and the lyrics I whisper, all spelled out in sweltering desperation. Endless lines of poetry and prose trace fingers across the days and weeks that bind together an annual era of sticky nostalgia and sweet disposition. And for good reason.

There is something unwaveringly romantic about the month: the 31 days of hot fervor, listless winding summer days that bleed into hotter nights. It’s watching melted ice cream drip on burning pavement and the hair sticking to the back of your neck. August is sitting on hot asphalt curbs, sweat dripping down your chest and pooling all over your body while you pray for something exciting to happen, for anything to happen.

The sun hardly sets in August. Rather, it falls into the horizon over the course of what feels like hours. It’s much like the way you fall into bed with a lover for the first time —  wrought with anticipation and already aching for the next time before the first has even ended. The sun goes down as if it’s aching for the dawn, the chance to rise again and blister the earth with its unrelenting scorch before the dusk has even settled.

Most of all, August is unforgiving. It feels like a long goodbye to the thrill and potential of summer — a creep towards unremarkable autumn days where the dark swallows the world much too early. The days drag on forever but the weeks end all too abruptly, and by the end of it, the promise of September begins to feel more like a threat.

In The Sound and The Fury, William Faulkner notes that “Some days in Late August at home are like this, the air thin and eager like this with something in it sad and nostalgic and familiar.”

He’s right, of course. Right alongside the hot anguish and itch for excitement, there is a familiar malaise that washes over the world in the final summer days. It feels like a long Sunday bathed and soaked in golden sun, and it smells of wet grass and hot earth. It's nostalgia. It's where aimlessness meets hunger and boredom meets opportunity. The whole world knows it’s the last chance for adventure, to be excitable and uninhibited before life carries on. 

In Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, the thin and eager air is a side effect not a comfort. For her, “August comes on not like a month but like an affliction.”

The affliction is that itch, that malaise, boredom, and hunger all up against the ticking time bomb of cold air and dead leaves. It's an affliction of wanting and yearning, an affliction of lamenting decisions to be made and decisions past. If June offers sun-soaked gluttony and July sweet absolution, August is the purgatory you suffer for the sins of summer. It is a full body experience of pleasure turned agony, a ringing in the ears: Time is almost up.

The universal contention is that August is some kind of precipice, a point of no return. You never come out of the conclusive summer month the same as when you entered it — or at least you shouldn’t. Like Natalie Babbitt describes in Tuck Everlasting, “The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.” It’s a momentary pause at the peak before you descend into the unknown, and it reverberates through the stagnant air like the permanent buzzing drone of cicadas and lawn sprinklers. For four whole weeks you’re right on the verge of something, and in the end days you molt the skin you’ve tanned and blistered for the last twelve.

It's the exact time of year when the ideas of reinvention begin to trickle in. The questions that hang in the air incessantly at the start of every new milestone year: the first days of middle school, high school, senior year, college…

Who am I? Who will I become?

The ideas of reinvention trickled in every time I went back-to-school shopping with my mom, meandering through some suburban shopping mall —  our only reprieve from Texas heat. It became my favorite time of year. She was exhausted but compliant, and I was all potential: new clothes could make a new girl. If I picked out just the right stuff, I could walk down familiar halls renewed and exciting. Reinvented. …Who am I? Who can I become?

These questions must be the result of years of transition from long summer days to classrooms and school yards. Where Christmases might dull with age, the magic we prescribe to summer in childhood never seems to falter, never seems to wane even as years pass. As we inch closer to the fall, there is a renewed sense of urgency —  the fear of magic slipping away. The melancholic feelings we have about August are something like the aftershocks of childhood trepidation. They come from the time when the threat of September rang too loud in our ears, when we felt our three months of magic,  snow cones, swimming pools, tallgrass, and bug bites circling the drain, and when we knew we were soon returning to hallowed halls and old friends in shiny, new shoes.

August is the month of starting over. It rings in the new year, not with champagne and glitter falling from the sky, but with ferocious dedication to metamorphosis, to pulling off the layers we sweat beneath and revealing a whole new being altogether — baptized in warm rain and  salty oceans.

The first autumn wind will blow away the last remnants of the person you were before a summer of stagance then transformation, and you can never find that person again.

I’m of the philosophy that people change like seasons do, that the same summer never comes around twice. You only ever get one, and there’s never another like it. The nostalgia Faulkner finds hanging in the thin air, the odd, uneven time brought by Plath’s August rain, and the affliction that comes on to Didion are only reminders that the Augusts of yesterday are long gone.

Even as we age, even when we trade in back to school for back to the office, and brand new sneakers become a brand new pair of sensible flats, there is an unrelenting possibility in the autumn leaves changing. Possibility is what keeps us alive. Starting over, staying fresh, never going back to the people we used to be is what makes us whole.

And when we lose the wonderment and romance of childhood everywhere else, all we have left is the way we write about August. ■

Layout: Ava Jiang
Photographer: Aaron Castellanos
Videographer: Madison Payne
Stylists: Mimo Gorman & Yousuf Khan
Set Stylist: Floriana Hool
HMUA: Phung Huynh & Dakota Evans
Models: Jean Claude-Bissou, Chase Smyth & Remy Tran

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