The ‘second half’ of the year has started. Even for one used to the accelerating pace of the days, weeks, months and years, this arrival of the ‘other side,’ this commencement of the downward slide toward December 31st, feels to have come a little too quickly, with an indecent haste, an improper briskness.
The ‘summer’–that period between the time I hand in my grades for the spring semester and the time I walk in to distribute syllabi for the first class of the fall–is already more than a month old, and I have little to show for it. A little writing–glorified note-making, really–some speculative syllabi design (ambitious reading lists wax and wane), a few afternoon naps, a backyard dinner–this summer’s list of achievements appears a little sparse. No long travels yet, no extended afternoons of beer-drinking, no beach days.
This anxiety about a wasted summer finds its grounding in the faux ‘busyness’ that consumes us all:
Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work….The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it….Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day….I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.
This busyness, this public proclamation of consumption by our calendars, niggles at us every waking second of the day, turning our lives into on ongoing failure, a litany of unfinished tasks. We proclaim ourselves busy, all the while feeling we are not ‘productive’ enough. And sometimes even feeling that one hasn’t ‘consumed’ ‘leisure time’ ‘adequately.’
One way to slow down the clock is to un-structure the day; to remove routine and time-management, to let the day become formless. The hours and minutes, rather than being quickly poured into prefabricated containers, slowly congeal into shapes of their own choosing. We begin to notice again, that the day has distinct moods: the newness and brashness of the morning, the mature depth of the afternoon, the melancholy of the evening. Blithe ignorance of the weekly calendar does wonders too; Sundays and Wednesdays go back to being indistinguishable; Monday mornings stand accused no more; Thursday and Friday evenings and Saturday nights blend seamlessly together.
Better still, to travel, to leave home, to go elsewhere, to give oneself the best chance possible to re-experience the world anew. And when you get there, stay on your feet. The longest day of travels to a foreign land is always the first; if you want to experience a laggardly time-piece, a leisurely chronometer, take an overnight train–one that gets you to your destination early in the morning–to a never-visited town, and spend the day walking through its streets. Miraculously, the morning stretches out, the afternoons and evenings seem distant.
The surest sign a vacation is dying is the quickening of its pace.