It’s 7:38 a.m. I’m enjoying a smoothie made from fresh fruit and vegetables I bought at the farmer’s market, and a nice cup of coffee. This morning I’ve cleaned the pool and my yoga mats and taken Maggie for a walk. I’m listening to my iTunes on shuffle, tapping my toes to the beats of Mike Doughty, The Joy Formidable, Empire of the Sun, The Crocodiles, Kid Cudi and The Strokes (wait, how did that Ashlee Simpson get in there?).
Next I’ll get back to my first summer read, Emma Donoghue’s creepy but captivating The Room, which I should have finished before 10 a.m.
Later today I’ll allow Tony Horton to abuse me during my next scheduled P90x video, Shoulders and Arms, and spend the rest of the day struggling to open the refrigerator and send text messages.
Summer sounds great, doesn’t it? If this were someone else’s life, I’d say it seems pretty awesome. The trouble with appearances, though, is that they are just that — superficial observations that rarely match up to truth. The unfortunate truth about summer, at least for me, is that all this “me” time fills me with an insane amount of anxiety that makes it almost impossible for me to enjoy it.
I know what all you year-round employees are saying right now: I sound like a big baby. You’re telling me to enjoy the time while it lasts. And I’m trying. That’s why I’m up at 6 a.m. every day — to make the most of that time. Ah, but therein lies the rub. My school-year brain, the one that never sleeps because it’s always stressed about lesson plans and papers that need grading and the house that needs cleaning, simply won’t shut off. It keeps running and running, but because it has significantly less to process during these idle summer months , it feels like it’s going to overheat. It’s too much of a jolt to the system to go from a hectic schedule to a whole lot of nothing. And while it might not seem so bad to those of you sitting at your desk at work right now, to me it feels almost more overwhelming than my school-year workload.
I make lists, both short- and long-term, to foster a sense of accomplishment. Today I’ll check off things like “go to Target and Trader Joe’s” and “clean bathroom.” I’ll try out a new asparagus recipe I saw in the New York Times. By the end of summer I hope to have read all the books on my list — up next is Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, a book I’ve been excited to read for a long time, especially since Leslie Knope read (and loved) it on Parks and Rec. And I plan to get through lynda.com training videos on HTML5 and CSS to beef up my technical know-how.
I don’t think these goals are out of reach, and I am grateful to have the time to be able to pursue them (really, I am). I guess the problem is that I constantly feel like I should be doing more. It’s not uncommon for an entire day to pass by without me leaving the house. And if I spend an afternoon watching TV — thanks a lot Friday Night Lights — I am very disappointed in myself. Why didn’t I spend that time volunteering or exercising or cleaning or learning? And without more distractions, it’s tough to silence that critic that lives inside my head. I think this illustrates why our lives are constructed of a series of schedules created by work and school and family and society. Without them, there’s just way too much free time to question our existence (did I mention Sartre’s Being and Nothingness is on my reading list?).
So there it is, the truth about my summer vacation. In many ways, it still beats the pants off being at work, but I can promise you that come the end of July, I will be more than ready to jump back into the regimented world of the employed.