I think of summer as a mythical state of slowness, that I haven’t actually achieved since I was in elementary school. As I wrote that sentence, I had the lyrics “summertime and the living is easy” running through my head, along with images from Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine.
Instead of sinking into this kind of summer – the summer of porches and lemonade – I sign myself up for graduate classes, teach graduate classes and piano, try to finish the third draft of a book, write articles, update my resume, plan query letters, accept every single piece of advice on what I should apply for next. I try to be the best friend/wife/sister/daughter/pet mother/organic gardener/vegan cook/student/teacher/writer that the world has ever known. I suppose I could blame our culture for this, talk about how everything in my schooling made me think that I must be a huge professional name by the time I was 30 (I missed that artificial deadline). However, it’s more than that – this isn’t just external pressure anymore, I’ve internalized it.
I don’t think that I’m allowed summer. I don’t think I deserve it.
I don’t think I’m alone in this.
I wonder what would happen if we allowed ourselves summer. Would our economy collapse, our productivity nose-dive? Would our resumes be forever doomed to mediocrity? I think that, perhaps, it might be the opposite. There are studies about multi-tasking, attention spans, mediation, and the value of vacation time to back up this hypothesis, although what I have to say is decidedly less scientific than all that.
This morning, there was a light summer rain. I made myself go out in it, and then (as I’m sure will come as no surprise) I had trouble just standing still. Looking over to my rose bushes, I saw that I needed to deadhead some of the plants. As a gardener, you quickly learn that often one of the ways to promote new growth is to get rid of the dead. The metaphor goes the other way as well. While deadheading many plants is helpful, sometimes we’re so anxious to clean up our garden, that we get rid of the old too soon.
As I put rose petals in the compost bin, I thought about the parts of my life that I could get rid of, that are inhibiting my growth. I also thought about some of the sadnesses that I still need to feel, that I can’t just discard, that if sat with will eventually lead to new growth. Standing there, soaking wet, I gave myself permission to choose what I wanted to rid myself of. I also gave myself permission to let myself sit with the questions I still needed to, and not find the answers right away. I gave myself permission to drink lemonade, despite its high sugar content. I gave myself permission to read in the morning. To play piano myself. To stretch. To cry. Choosing how to spend our time – even thoughts run through our head – shouldn’t be a novelty. Yet, for me, it is.
This isn’t the end of the story. You can’t just throw a seed in any ground and then expect it to grow (at least, not usually a seed you want to grow). I’m going to have to give myself the permission – for slowness, for choice, for discarding – every day maybe every hour. I’m adding a new category to my blog – “permission for slowness” – which I hope continue writing in as the summer goes on.
Just in case you need permission too, you can start with mine.