It’ll be August in a little more than a day, and on the air is that inevitable tang of panic. It smells like an overripe peach, fresh basil sitting too long upon a countertop, a storm drain. It smells like everything that I should have done sooner, like every hour that’s slipped away. It’s the only way I’ve ever known summer: constant hunger, constant waiting too long to bite down.
I know, too, that there’s no way to do enough to make the feeling go away. The summer that kicked off a 600-page novel draft in six months didn’t do it. The summer I taught abroad and road-tripped and did a month-long writing residency didn’t do it. Last summer, when I did another residency and moved across the country and sold a house and started a new job didn’t do it.
Maybe the trick is feeling like all things are in their place. I am very good at having one thing in its place. Earlier in July, I had a week—just five days, a workweek—where I put 15,000 words on my current project. It felt marvelous, like all things were as they should be—until evening, when my brain had moved on to other things, to what looms. This week, I’m working on a presentation for a summer book talk series, and preparing a syllabus for a brand new class that’s due on Monday. I love both the book I’m presenting and the things I’m getting ready for the class; in the third week of August, I’ll get excited, a little high on the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, new notebooks, wet ink. On Tuesday morning, when I’m talking about Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf in Mount Gretna, my ribcage will feel too small to hold in all that drēam.
But before those events actually happen, there’s the slow, sick feeling of everything to come. Part of it, of course, is that I hate to see summer go. Part of it is knowing that I really did piss away a lot of time when I could have been lessening the load that’s coming. And part of it, I’m sure, is simply a kind of conditioned response: this has been summer for twenty-eight years. It feels new and strange and terrible every time. And it turns bright and known and electric every time. I know that. I know, too, that I will have done everything I need to have done, and it will be good. I know all of these things.
What I don’t know is how to settle with them, how to quiet the waves.
My friend Deborah round-aboutly recommended Dinty Moore’s The Mindful Writer. I read it, and I was glad I did; the book is full of many familiar writerly quotes, each coupled with a few brief words from Moore to put them in context with the idea of mindfulness. It’s a good book for writers to read. Soothing. Friendly. Smart. I also read the book very quickly. Some of that is due to the format—a short, pithy book, attractive in its use of white space. Most of it is because this is how I find myself reading most of the time: in a hurry.
And that’s a bad scene. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about this, but at least a few times a year, I decide I have to do something. I do, and it helps, or I don’t, and the world or my week changes and that helps. I would like to find a more permanent solution, which I recognize is far more of a brain-shift than finding the right app or planner mechanism.
I think a good place to start is with one of the peaches waiting on the countertop.