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the reason for the season
is meaninglessness the meaning of summer?
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)

Somehow, somewhere, summer became the season of sloth.

It's ironic, in a way. School only used to break for the summer because kids were needed in the fields; no time could be spared for fancy book-learnin' when there were crops to bring in. So instead of going to class, children went to work, and when the cold rolled around again and the fields were bare, back to school they went.

And the no-school period has held on, even though there's no longer a need for it, and the only real reason not to hold year-round school is that it's awfully expensive to run so much air-conditioning in the summer months in many parts of the country. We are in the habit of having a summer, even if school-less summer itself is a kind of giant communal appendix.

But summer, such as it is, is still sacrosanct. And it's qualitatively different from the other seasons in many ways, not the least of which is that all of our entertainment -- books, TV, movies, music -- shift into this strange, summer-only mode.

In the summer, we seem allergic to meaning.

"It's a summer read!" "Let's see a summer movie!" "It's not a great show, but you know, it's a summer show."

I'm just saying, there's a reason Transformers 3: The Rise of the Fwoosh Bang Kabloeeybots didn't come out in February.

And I'm a little torn about this. Are we giving ourselves a giant three-month permission slip to lower our standards? Maybe we are.

But maybe we're also giving ourselves a giant three-month permission slip to not be so hard on ourselves. To not feel like we're eternally behind on all the Meaningful and Important things we're "supposed" to be doing, whether that's an extra few hours of work on the weekend, or teaching our preschoolers Mandarin, or making every minute count against a giant cosmic clock of Success, Whatever That Means.

Maybe all of us, adults and kids alike, need summer for the same reasons. As a regular reminder to do something different. For kids, that might be camp instead of school, and wouldn't a life without the possibility of camp be just a little bit sadder, a bit dimmer? For adults, would a life without superhero movies and frivolously silly beach reads be just too dishearteningly mundane?

And maybe the problem with summer is not that we lower our standards of how we use our time, but that we view these fripperies as things we should only do in the summer. Because our lives get so busy again in September, with back-to-school activities, and everybody at work back from vacation and insistent on buckling down, that all of our lightheartedness vanishes before October even has a chance to flip the calendar.

So I say: have your summer. Have it anytime you want. Go sit in the air conditioning to see Super 8, or plop yourself in front of the TV for "So You Think You Can Dance" with a glass of prosecco, or grab a copy of the most chicky and least lit-ty chick lit you can find and lie down on a towel in the backyard. Or, if it tickles your fancy more, sit in the air conditioning to watch Midnight in Paris or cue up "Downton Abbey" on the Netflix, or grab that massive, demanding, densely written novel you've been meaning to find the time to read.

The point is, it's up to you. Do your heavy reading in the summer or your blockbuster-watching in the winter, but give yourself permission to do what you love, whatever that is. Our minutes are precious, and we want to make the best use of them we can -- but sometimes the best use of a minute is to laugh or breathe or watch a giant robot blow up another giant robot, and we owe that to ourselves, no matter what the season.


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry


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topic: general
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katherine (aka clevertitania)
7.4.11 @ 11:02a

In fairness, there's another reason why summer blockbusters come out when they do... people are a lot more likely to go to a movie after work when it's still light after 6PM and there's no, you know, winter.

Also, summer TV is no longer the bastion of reality TV. Thanks to cable (and network TV a bit), some of the best TV now shows in the summer. Leverage's back and I'm already getting antsy for SyFy's July openers, like Haven & Warehouse 13. Plus, Torchwood's this week! :D

beth clement
7.5.11 @ 11:04a

As a teacher at a "year round school" we need the five weeks we get to recharge our batteries. Also in WI we enjoy our time in the sun! It does actually get warm up here and we know how to throw a few parties (Summerfest, Festa Italiana, German Fest, Bastille Days, State Fair - just to name a few). There are litterally weekends where there are too many things to do as opposed to January - March where the options dwindle.
I do like the fact that you addressed the entertainment "Summer Brain Drain" but I think you made the the good point of not being hard on ourselves and recharging during the Summer

carrie deahl
7.20.11 @ 1:34p

A timely article that, as an English teacher, I can relate to. Your point about giving ourselves permission to de-think is something many work-a-holics, like myself, have a difficult time indulging in. In reading your piece, the idea of "indulgence" is what I like best. An untimely injury to my back this summer, while cliff jumping, has allotted me an extra 6 weeks of summer vacation. Time that is a bit scary and exciting to have all at once...

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