October 4, 2016KR BlogUncategorized

Summer Peaches, Summer Regrets

June and July are the months of blissful ambition. With the summer all kinetic energy and carefree possibility, more of it laid out before you than behind, you feel like you can do anything. And you will, just after this nap. But August is the time when you inevitably measure all you did against all you planned to do, and assess your character based on the discrepancy.

Standing on a pile of peach pits and sunscreen, August leaves you anxious to make use of what little remains. It has an urgent sense of now or never. Enough naps. Time to get on that horse. With the mornings feeling cooler, the tomatoes have either ripened or stayed green, and you take stock of your plans from the beginning of the summer: road trips, camping trips, day trips, international trips, books you planned to read, friends you wanted to see, new dishes to cook and rooms to repaint. Maybe you planned to plant peppers this year. Maybe you planned to start keeping up with your New Yorker subscription or finally finish that poetry manuscript. Summer was your chance. Did you squander it? Drinking beer and watching movies is arguably an equally good use of time. For writers, especially those in academia, we often feel a sense of obligation to accomplish in summer what we can’t easily do during the school year: read books for pleasure, and write our own stuff. Now that you finally have time, you’re supposed to read those books that have stacked on the nightstand. I have that stack. It currently includes Geoff Dyer’s novella The Search, Ann Patchett’s This Is the Story of a Perfect Marriage, Will Ferguson’s Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan, and a bunch of magazines. I started them all and finished others. I’m not too disappointed.

I accomplished a bunch of stuff this summer. I worked on two different books. I read other peoples’ books, did final revisions of my essay collection, which comes out in November, and set up a few events. Although I wrote a lot of new material, part of me inevitably feels like I didn’t write enough. I thought I’d finish my Japanese travel book and read many more books that I did. Some part of my inner workaholic thinks I failed, and that during the school year I’ll come to regret my pace. The non-writer part of me knows that’s ridiculous. It was so nice outside, so for the first time in years, I decided not to spend most of these gorgeous sunny days inside in front of a computer.

Here in western Oregon, summer lasts about three or four months. That means it’s overcast, cold and drizzly for eight or nine (or at least that’s what Portlanders tell you to keep you from moving here). You can see why summer’s a big deal here. You really have to suck the cream filling from the pie, because when the weather turns to shit and you find yourself stuck inside keeping warm and dry, you really kick yourself for not spending more summer days outside. Well this year, I chose to do as much sunning as writing. I turned off the computer and hung out with friends and our dog Gina. I rode my bike to get lunch during the work week, instead of just making it at home to save money. When I worked, I did it by an open window or did it outside. Sometimes I wrote in our backyard. Mostly, I rode my bike someplace where I could work and enjoy the summer at the same time: parks, coffee shops with outside seating, various benches around town. My favorite routine was sitting on the grassy edge of a beautiful part of town called Overlook. Perched on a bluff, hidden in some trees’ partial shade, I drank iced tea and wrote until my battery ran out of juice hours later, then I biked home. In fact, that’s where I’m writing this right now. I wrote wherever I could get fresh air and a breeze, and then I turned off my computer and goofed around. Years ago, I didn’t do this. When I lived in Arizona, it was too hot, so I just wrote and stayed inside. When I moved back to Oregon, I had stories I still needed to tell, so I stayed focused and wrote them inside. Not this summer.

Although I checked a number of things off my Summer To-Do list, I skipped others entirely and said fuck it. Time to relax a little. I deserve it. I’ve busted my ass working six days a week for four years between three or four different jobs, routinely doing work from one job on my thirty-minute lunch break at another. As my Grandma Sylvia always said, “Go enjoy yourself!” So I did. It was a new experience for me as an adult.

While my subversive nature has always said fuck it, I haven’t always had the luxury of indulging that drive. I work. I can’t live by fuck it. But this was the first summer where I only had to work part-time, because my university job went dormant until September, and I picked up some stimulating remote work in its place. I haven’t enjoyed a summer with this much unstructured free time since I was an undergraduate in the late-1990s when I would have just wasted it. At forty-one, I put it to good use. Even though I really really wanted to finish the manuscript for my Japanese travel book. I decided: enough work, more fun.

Maybe I could have finished the draft of my Japanese travel book, work isn’t everything, even when you enjoy it. Too many Americans work too much. We hide behind it. We use it to self-medicate and escape, or we let it take over. Work creeps into our private life, and too many employers expect us to be accessible at all times, which erodes any healthy division we might have built in order to rest and have a diversified existence. It isn’t healthy. The employer gets the better end of the deal. If there is such a thing as work-life balance, for once, I chose life. Summer was awesome. I’m sad it ended, though admittedly, I can use the money from the fall semester.

Now that it’s early October, I’m reflecting. In spring, I told some friends: “We need to camp on the coast once each month this summer.” We agreed: once a month. August 19-21 was first time I camped this summer. The beach was beautiful. The smell of salt restored me. The beach also embodied summer. If your toes are on the sand, it means that you’re not letting time pass you by. You’re indulging the season like you used to when you were a kid, rather than an overworked, underpaid, stressed-out adult. It’s that adult that will always quietly wonder if I took full advantage.

I ate a lot of juicy peaches, but should I have eaten more?

I picked a lot of grapes in Portland’s alleys, but did I leave too many on the vine?

I ate a lot of berries, but did I eat enough?

Yes, I ate enough.