Remember summer vacation? This was the subject line of a spam-mail I received recently. I have no idea what the rest of the message said, as it ended up in the trash bin -- but the question stuck in my mind. Do I remember summer vacation? Yes, I do. And it occurred to me how apt the verb is here, for "summer vacation" is, indeed, nothing more than a memory.
Do you remember how eager we were for the end of the school year? How full of plans for those seemingly endless three months that stretched ahead? I recall looking ahead to the summer with two seemingly contradictory thoughts in mind: There were so many things I planned to do, and at the same time, I looked forward to three months of doing "nothing."
Of course, those concepts weren't quite as contradictory as they seemed. By "nothing," I meant -- nothing that I normally "had" to do. No getting up much too early each morning, scrambling into school clothes, gobbling down a not-so-pleasant breakfast, grabbing my books and making sure I was ready to bolt out the door in time to catch the bus. No spending my days in boring classrooms. No lessons. Perhaps best of all, no homework. In short -- "nothing to do!"
Having "nothing to do" led quite naturally into the second half of the concept: The idea that with all this free time ahead of me, I could do anything! I had three months to do anything I wanted. Well, almost anything... My family tended to take very, very long summer trips, so my plans for summer usually had to take into account the fact that I would be spending most of it in a tent in some remote part of the Idaho wilderness. But that was no obstacle, given that what I generally planned to do was "write."
My essential travel kit included half a dozen of my favorite books, a couple of indispensible stuffed animals (and, in later years, two or three essential plastic horses) -- and notebooks, pens and pencils. By the time our travels were finished, the books would have been read and reread, the stuffed animals would be a bit grubbier -- and the notebooks would be full. (Horses figured rather prominently in those stories, as I recall...)
Today, the most common complaint I hear from writers is "I'd write more if I only had more time!" I've seen any number of articles on how to make more time for writing, how to organize one's time more effectively, how to cut out time-wasters, and so on. But it occurs to me that perhaps one of the problems we face as writers is that, now that we are adults, we no longer have "summer vacations."
There must have been a reason for "summer vacation." It can't have just been to allow farm kids time to bring in the harvest (though I've heard that given as one of the original reasons for the three-month "holiday.") No, I think educators realized that children needed a break -- that it was beneficial to the learning process. A summer vacation refreshed us, so that we could actually look forward to the next school year. It gave us an opportunity, as well, to exercise creativity unconstrained by "assignments."
Most of us may never again have the luxury of being able to take three months off from work, let alone from "daily life." But I know that as a self-employed freelance writer, I am my own worst taskmaster. If I don't have "time," it's because I don't give myself time. If I am overscheduled with writing tasks that are productive (and hopefully lucrative) but not necessarily creative, the only one filling in that schedule is me.
So I've decided to try to do more than just "remember" summer vacation. I'm going to try to have one again. It's going to take some planning, and it probably won't happen this year. It may not even happen during the summer (there's nothing wrong with a "fall vacation" or even a "dead of winter vacation"). But I'm going to set a goal: To set aside a period of time within the next twelve months when I can honestly say, "I have nothing to do!" And then, I'm going to see what I can do with that time -- and, perhaps, what that time will do for me!
Back in our school days, creativity was something that we had to pursue "on our own time" -- after school, on weekends, and most of all, during the summer. Today, "our own time" is the one thing we don't seem to have anymore -- and I'm convinced that, as writers, we suffer for it. Somehow, we need to find ways to recapture that sense of having "nothing to do" -- so that we can free ourselves to spend a few days or weeks or even months pursuing our dreams, instead of our drudgery. If you've already found a way to make this happen, I hope you'll share your tips with the rest of us -- and if you haven't, but wish you could, well... stay tuned!
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