Let me start off by saying that this is one of the times of the year when I truly appreciate the quarter system as implemented at DePaul. My social media feeds in early August are full of back-to-school news (or dread about the imminent back-to-school deadline) from my mostly Northern-Hemisphere-dwelling friends, which makes the more than three weeks I have left until the start of the term seem especially sweet. It also almost makes the pain of enduring six weeks of teaching in May and June while reading summer news from the same friends worth it.
But August is also the time that I come to terms with the end of my summer. And summers in at least the past five years have been busy times for me. While I don’t teach, I certainly have a lot of work to do (because no, I don’t have summers off, thank you). My service obligations in the past few years have been downright overwhelming, and the pressure to do research is constant since it gets so little attention during the year. So I end up feeling almost disappointed in what I do each summer, both because I don’t do as much work as I want and because I never feel as rested as I hope to be in my spring-quarter fantasies about it. As a result, August is almost a time of mourning.
This past week I had a revelation about why I seem to have near-constant disappointment in my summers. The pace of the academic year is ferocious, particularly in the quarter system, where deadlines are non-stop. As a way to keep going, you imagine summer as a time when the press of deadlines is gone and you have endless free time ahead of you. Except that summer isn’t like that. Yes, you have many (many, many) fewer deadlines, but they never really go away entirely. And the few that remain weigh so much more heavily on you since it’s supposed to be your unstructured time.
When I realized this I also found a new way of thinking about summer. Summer is the time when I have the freedom to be unproductive. The deadlines that I do have are looser, so while I attach dates to them those dates can move. And rather than be upset when I push a deadline from one week to the next, I should revel in that act since it’s something I can almost never do during the rest of the year. Being unproductive isn’t a bad thing in the summer: it’s the whole point. Armed with this idea, I hope to enjoy my relative lack of productivity during the rest of my summer rather than be haunted by what I haven’t accomplished. We’ll see if the idea works as well in practice as I hope.