Deep thoughts, bons mots and other misadventures in the art of ‘summering’
There is a holy trinity of summers that dwell within my psyche, not unlike Charles Dickens’ well-worn Ghost of Christmas past, present and yet-to-come. Mine don’t anthropomorphize, shake chains or walk through walls, and my specters are not intentioned on providing a learning moment, as they were for dear Ebenezer Scrooge. Mine serve more as reminders; mine are more taunt than haunt. (For you Dickens fans, I vow to deal with the allegorical implications and comparisons later.)
Now, in late May, as the summer of 2012 approaches, I am forced once again to examine this infernal coconut-scented trio and put my affairs in order—at least until Labor Day.
***Let me clarify right off the bat that this issue of mine, this annual summer lament, is what is commonly referred to these days as a “first world problem.” I recognize that, and can easily take a step back for perspective to get me through my process with the small degree of earnestness it deserves. My village has clean water and an abundance of local food—and a roller coaster. My hut withstands rain, wind and wildlife—and market downturns. My children receive a taxpayer-based free education, which spares us all the indignity of my attempt at home schooling. I enjoy free speech, some might say in a willy-nilly fashion. And, most importantly, I have a support system of friends who use terms like willy-nilly. So as I continue down this rabbit hole of misplaced woe, please, as they say, give me a break. (For you Lewis Carroll fans, that was the sole Alice reference herein.)
The Ghost of Summer Past
Sometime in March the inner rumblings begin, murmurs and hints and remnants of memories that are at first hard to name and to place. These vague yearnings are then defined for us by overzealous retail outlets, and upon our first seasonal vision of a beach ball display we give in—to nostalgia, to distant memories, to the Ghost of Summer Past. We suddenly have inexplicable urges to lounge by a pool, to read long and quixotic novels in which we have little or no interest, to pack a station wagon and drive long distances with the windows rolled down, to occupy a cabin next to a lake, where time stands still.
What we are not immediately aware of, however, is that this heady longing that overcomes us is not generally based in our own reality. What we are facing is summer, but what we are yearning for is summering.
Perhaps there are a handful of you who were lucky enough to “summer.” Maybe you had weeks upon weeks of lollygagging and whiling away the hours and days, and childhood years in a magical neverland of swimming, s’mores and starlit sleepovers. Good for you! The majority of us, however, only lived these summer-long fantasies through books and movies. Perhaps your false memories stem from the dreamlike languor of Gatsby’s West Egg or the mystery-solving freedoms of Nancy Drew, her Hardy Boys or Trixie Belden. Maybe you are somehow vicariously reliving the giddiness of Gidget and Moondoggy, or, more likely, the wide-eyed international adventures of Robert August and friends in Bruce Brown’s epic “The Endless Summer.” Even “Wet Hot American Summer” has a stranglehold on summer camp fantasies, along with “Little Darlings.”
Add summer radio hits to this list of season-memory-distorting media hypnosis and you’ll see that resistance is futile. One whiff of the unshakable smell of Noxcema and your trip down false memory lane is under way. You forgive Mungo Jerry again, because you “got women, you’ve got women on your mind. “ Your every thought plays out in Beach Boys’ harmonies. You are Kristy McNichol’s Angel or Matt Dillon’s Randy (same hair, really). You will always be Hermie, discovering love and heartache in a certain summer of ’42. This warm gentle breeze that is the Ghost of Summer Past buzzes around your ears, blowing your hair ever so gently, for the next two months or so. And you like it.
The Ghost of Summer Present
Late April arrives, and with it the harsh reality of impending summer doom. Naturally the weather will be lovely, the crowds will be avoidable and the strawberries will be plentiful. The gnawing feeling that is growing in the back of your mind starts to have accompanying clenching sensations in your chest, and after a period of denial you sit yourself down with a calendar and your most recent visitor, the Ghost of Summer Present. Unlike her predecessor, this unwelcome guest offers no warm breezes or fond memories. This Ghost is a harsh mistress and demands answers. What are you going to do with the kids every day while you work? How will you afford all of the camps and programs that will serve a dual role as daycare and summer fun? How will you create lasting memories for your offspring, memories that compare with your youth? (You have forgotten that you did not summer on Golden Pond.) How, dear middle class American, can you ever provide the kind of summer that your children clearly deserve?
***This seems like a great place to interject a little more perspective, in the form of a condensed history of summer vacation, and summering in general. People of certain geographical ilks summered out of necessity. The huddled masses would leave their homes during the most oppressively hot and humid months of the year and head for any type of water or ocean-like breeze because there was no respite, no air conditioning or electric fans. Remaining in populous urban areas in these conditions invited disease and death. Bummer! Add to this the education reform of the 1840s, which created breaks from heretofore year-round schooling based on rural needs for children to assist in local harvesting, as well as claims that “over-stimulation” of the brain could lead to insanity. Dude! With this in mind, do we really need to provide magic every time that last school bell rings? (A true Dickensian enthusiast might add here—Bah, humbug!)
What follows is a not-so-delicate dance of pressurized patchwork parenting. Morning camp, afternoon at Granny’s, Tuesdays and Thursdays at art class and swim lessons, one hour layover at the neighbor’s house, junior somethings here, beach other things there. Don’t forget to take some weekend trips somewhere, anywhere, so that it feels like vacation. And smiles everyone, smiles! September is coming, and the self-doubt will give way to relief. I promise.
The Ghost of Summer Yet-to-Come … (in About Two Weeks)
After the panic of late spring’s slap in the face, a calm sets in. At first it feels like humble defeat, or maybe quiet despair. Soon, however, you find that the stillness in you can be attributed to something much more positive. You are taking the bull by the horns, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, turning lemons into lemonade, bucking up, all the while muttering something like, “It is what it is.” This clichéd resolve, dear friend, is the Ghost of Summer Yet-to-Come, and he’s kickin’ it old school. This ghost appears on the very morning that you come to your senses and realize exactly where you live and what you have access to, and by that I mean the glorious surroundings of the county as well as your own ingenuity. Suddenly you can face summer here, in a town not overrun by heat and humidity, or by over-stimulated insane children. You can summer where you sit, because guess what? You sit in Santa Cruz.
Summer break for local Santa Cruzans is a mixed blessing. We live in a town that summers year-round. Sidewalk surfing is a viable method of transportation for teenagers, teachers and tax-specialists. Beach weather generally starts around 2 p.m., right when the school day lets out, for at least seven months of the year. Corn dogs and bumper cars are homegrown. On the one hand these are excellent life circumstances. Simply taking advantage of our natural resources already puts us quite a few steps ahead of the rest of the inland nation, left to their own devices and our salty shores to escape the oppressive heat. On the other hand, we beach and bike and surf and hike and chill constantly, so how do we differentiate now? How does a summer town … summer?
The Ghost of Summer Yet-to-Come (in about Two Weeks) offers these ideas on how to relay the hazy, hot slowness, the suspension of time, the baked-in heat of a month in the sun, the heavy lungs after a day of swimming, the smell of sunblock, chlorine, saltwater and bonfire smoke mixed with an onshore breeze, the diet of hand-held food and hand-squeezed ades, the impression that you are doing nothing, with aplomb.
***Again, I feel an opportunity to interject here and point out the allegorical comparison between Dickens’ trio as my control group, and my variable triumvirate noted above. It’s really the only weight I can add to the fluff that is the dissemination of our “summer hardship.” Whereas the allegory in Dickens’ work is often identified as the true plight of the poor, negligence of the aristocracy, and the evils of capitalism, my spirited effort poses the reverse: the perceived privilege of youth, the selflessness of the parenting class, and the return to self-sufficiency in the face of adversity. (“Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don't you think?” —L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.)
Now, newly energized by your own creativity and gumption, you set about on your summer staycation with a different approach. You, armed with your wits and the bounty of the county, close one eye and take a different view on the days and nights ahead. You make a vow. If you can’t make summer magical, you will make it different. You, dear Ebenezer, will survive the Scrooge
A Different Sort of Summer
A quick go-to (or is it check-off/ but not Chekov?) list to embracing the season of the sun:
1. Sleep differently
—switch from being a night owl to a morning person or vice versa
—just for a week camp in your backyard
2. Eat differently
—cook outdoors, eat outdoors
—go veggie for a week
—cook something foreign
—feast at lunch
3. Drive differently
or maybe just bike (like you promised yourself you would park four blocks further out of your way so you could walk)
—take an alternate route
—take the bus
4. Dress differently
—Conservative? Wear something crazy.
—Creative? Wear a white button-up shirt
—get a summer haircut, like when you were a kid. (It will grow back)
5. Play differently
—visit a different park, a different beach, break or neighborhood
—conquer something you fear
6. Create a new emergency kit for your car or desk
—towel, sunblock, shorts, hat, flip-flops, old magazine
7. Slow it down
—indulge in puzzles, card games, collage
8. Listen differently
—make your own personal summer music mix and play it incessantly
9. Clean differently
—hang your laundry to dry—it will smell like summer
—bathe your house in white
—pretend your house is a rental
10. Pedal differently
—Ride a cruiser? Rent a mountain bike.
—Ride a mountain bike? Rent a cruiser
—try a motorized bicycle and see what’s up that hill you’ve been avoiding
11. Learn differently
—take a lesson: surfing, tap dancing, painting, climbing, memoir-writing, knitting, guitar shredding, photoshop, paper-making, sewing, pottery, take a class with your kids, or your neighbors kids
—teach a class
12. Read differently
—visit a corner of the bookstore or library —read in the morning
—alternate bestsellers with classic dimestore novels
—consider the benefits of comic books
—try on a biography of someone unknown
13. Be different
—plan a day as if you were your evil twin
Go for it!
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