Summer Musings: Mid-year crisis

The absence of schoolwork in the summer may leave students feeling a vacuum of purpose, but it is this vacuum that allows one to rediscover and cultivate other senses of purpose.

By Eleanor Hyun

In the final weeks of spring quarter, friends began asking about my goals for the summer. There was, of course, a list. My summer job and R&R were the obvious elements, but then there were the lists within lists—unread books, unheard albums, undrawn pictures, and unwritten stories, all of which I simply didn’t have the time for during the school year. The moment this quarter was over, I was going to get on them like a prospie on a course catalog.

Fast-forward a couple weeks: Immediately after I submitted my final essay, I closed my door, lay on my bed, and began listening to a Florence and The Machine album. About halfway through, I switched to a Korean indie band I had been thinking about for months—which I turned off after three songs. I just wasn’t feeling it. I then sat at my desk and pulled my sketchbook out from beneath a pile of textbooks and began drawing. Nope, not feeling that either. So I opened the book that had sat on my bedside windowsill the whole quarter, its cover slowly bleaching in the sun…and still felt the same antsy boredom.

It was finally an acceptable hour (five) for me to meet my friends at Bartlett for dinner. Afterward, I practically begged one of them to come back with me to my dorm, promising not to be a distraction. We sat in the study room, she with a textbook in her hand, me with a sketchbook in mine. Of course, we eventually began talking; I don’t know how we expected anything otherwise. First Rule of College: If your friend invites you back to her dorm room, don’t believe anything she promises because she’s only got one thing in mind—distracting you. She glanced over to my sketchbook and must have watched me draw then erase then redraw then re-erase the curve of a simple belt about twenty times. When I finally forced myself to finish the sketch, I looked at it and was utterly unimpressed. I felt no sense of accomplishment; instead, my entire endeavor seemed pointless.

A couple weeks ago, a friend asked me again about my goals for the summer, and I was unsure of how to answer.

The transition from the regimented school year to the more self-directed summer is one that I always seem to anticipate, but then find quite difficult to make. During the school year, each assignment is a quantifiable contribution to our grades and—so we’re told—future success. Each day is another step forward in one of ten neatly ordered weeks.

During the summer, though, we begin to forget the weekday, and then the month, as time slides by in an endless succession of day and night. Each day I write and draw, and, like any out-of-practice artist, I find my work frustratingly lacking. In sudden flashes of self-awareness penetrating a haze of mindless self-indulgence, I find that I have spent the last couple of hours aimlessly surfing the Web and reading crappy K-pop articles instead of writing. And then I realize that it’s already 11 o’clock and that I should get to bed soon if I want to wake up in time for work tomorrow. I’m left with only an overpowering sense of frustration and a toothbrush in my hand.

Remembering how to be creative—a process which necessitates an internal sense of purpose more than an externally applied one—is a struggle. I am so used to repressing my creative impulses during the school year that now I have trouble exhuming them. Without any external input indicating that I have made any kind of meaningful progress, the everyday work seems pointless and opens the door to distraction.

Why do these realizations upset me so much? If writing felt purposeless anyway, why am I bothered by my equally purposeless scrolling down my Tumblr dashboard? At least Tumblr affords me some kind of passive contentment, more than my writing can say for itself. So what was upsetting me?

The only conclusion I can come to is that, somehow, writing feels more purposeful to me than surfing the Web. In the beginning of the summer, I had felt a vacuum of purpose, but I began to realize that I was only feeling the absence of a specific type of purpose. Without the sometimes distracting immediate gratification of schoolwork and grades, another form of purpose had found the space to grow, one less immediate and quantifiable but perhaps more far-sighted.

Writing is not easy for me; it is a practice of both despair and joy. But I now feel that I must do it. I have my directive, ambiguous in some ways, but quite clear in others: It tells me to write.

Why? I’m not sure.

Seeing as I have nothing better to do with my summer, though, I suppose I might as well follow it.

Eleanor is a second-year in the College majoring in English. Summer Musings is a new Viewpoints blog that publishes every Tuesday and Friday through September 27th.