Well, it’s winter already, isn’t it? That wasn’t much of a fall, as lovely as it was. So I’m doing what I usually do, which is to mentally hunker down, keeping busy, trying not to get too pissed off about pre-5:00 p.m. darkness, and focusing on getting to December 21st, when the total number of daylight minutes start inching forward again instead of backward, on our way towards summer.
And this summer, ladies and gents? This summer is GOING TO BE DIFFERENT.
The perception out there is that college professors have quite the life. And that perception is correct: we do. It’s the best professional life I can think of. We are surrounded by young people at the most exciting stage of their lives, we have an easy schedule, we have our own offices, and we have “summers off,” during which we devote ourselves to the research and scholarship that challenges us intellectually and rewards us emotionally. It’s a damn good way to make a living. Granted, we work very hard during the academic year (I once read and commented on over 7,000 pages of student work in one semester, and I spend most of every evening and most of every weekend prepping and/or grading), and lord knows we paid the price for this lifestyle in our twenties (namely eight years of grad school during which we made about $14,000 a year while our friends were making somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000), and many of us are still paying off our student loans—but yes, it is quite the life.
Still, this idea of “summers off”? Nope, can’t say I know what that looks like.
Every summer, I have worked. I’ve waited tables, taught summer courses, edited manuscripts, run writing retreats, and in general worked nonstop until August, when I shift over to preparing for the academic year ahead. This past summer I taught two consecutive three-week courses, took twenty students on a “travel learning” trip to Ireland (which may not sound like work, but it proved to be the most exhausting part of my summer), labored every day on a new graduate program I’m starting up (an MFA in creative writing), and then spent three days in the mountains with my wife before getting ready for the fall semester.
Those three days? They were wonderful. But, you know, not anything I would call a “summer.” (And we even “cheated” during those three days, reading books that we would be teaching in the fall.)
At this point, I know what you’re thinking: #whitewhine #firstworldproblems #worldssmallestviolin
But to be clear, I’m not complaining. I chose this lifestyle, and I like it. And I’m well aware that I’m lucky. Most people don’t get “summers”; they have two or three weeks off, or spread their vacation days over the year. Most people work in cubicles or factories or in shopping malls or in many other places that aren’t nearly as pleasant as a college campus. But what I am saying is, since I am fortunate enough to have this job that does, ostensibly, give me summers off, during which time I should be immersing myself in my writing and publishing work that both enhances my university’s reputation and contributes to the knowledge and expertise I am passing on to my students, don’t you think I should take better advantage of it, before it’s too late?
And by “before too late” I mean “before I’m dead.”
So, I’d like to make an announcement: I’m done with summer work. I’m done with summer classes, done with travel learning trips, done editing other people’s manuscripts, done waiting tables. After over thirty years of it, I’ve had enough. When I suddenly find myself on my deathbed, will I regret not working harder in the summer? No. I’ll regret not taking more time to do the things I love to do.
So next summer, I’m going to have a summer. A real summer.
Which means I’m going to . . .
Go on hikes with my wife and my dog.
Spend time with dear friends.
Take my wife somewhere nice, like a mountain spa. I want to have the great pleasure of seeing her relax. (She’s even more of a workaholic than I am.)
Enjoy the hell out of having both my children nearby, before the inevitable happens and one or both of them move away.
Read books. (A lot of books. Right now, there are 31 of them on, and in, my nightstand.)
Sit in a beach chair somewhere with my feet in the water.
Go to a whole bunch of Rockies games.
Yep, that’s what I’m a gonna do. (Notice I did not mention yard work.)
Summer of 2015, here I come!
But first, I have to make it to December 21st.