As a university professor I have the good fortune of being able to take considerable “time off” during the summer to put whatever is left of my sanity back together and to reunite myself with my wife and children. This usually entails going deep inside numerous books I did not have the time to go into during the academic year and taking a series of family trips. My wife is also a teacher, which means that she has most of the summer off as well. Together, we take on the daunting task of caring for our two children under the age of ten without the life preserver of school or daycare. By the middle of August we’re usually ready for the kids to go back to school and daycare.
In addition to being a university professor I also direct an Honors program at the university where I teach. Therefore, at least part of my time is spent on administrative duties that do not allow me to spend as much time away from campus as most of my colleagues. I love the work, so this is a small price to pay. Yet, I do find myself becoming particularly impatient with everything and everyone sometime around early April. By the time classes and meetings come to a close near the middle of May I’m downright homicidal. And although I still have a lot of work to do between June and the end of July, most of it can be done without relentless meetings and requests from students and university personnel. During this time I can still manage to read and finish or get started on the articles I’ve been putting off for months.
Then, before I know it, August rolls around and I try my best to disappear from the academic world. I attach an “out of office” reply to my email and I fade into the haze of busy streets or the glare from the ocean. I’ve discovered that I am not a good summer traveler. As I get older I seem to be more susceptible to the humidity. I walk around sweating and feeling like I have malaria. Nevertheless, I still continue to travel, often with family in tow.
This summer my wife and I were able to get to the beach twice by ourselves because our son was attending an acting camp and our daughter continued to attend daycare one day a week. On one of our trips I was able to read my first beach book without having to pay attention to wayward children. I suspect that my idea of a beach read is much different than most. I took with me César Aira’s slim An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter. My wife was absorbed in relaxing and when I occasionally looked up at her I was reminded of Italo Calvino’s wonderful story “The Adventure of a Reader” which is about a man at the beach who spies a beautiful woman flirting with him. The problem is, that the man cannot quite bring himself to put down the book he is reading. It was one of those times that I found myself living something I had read years before. I was able to read the Aira novel in one sitting (with periodic ventures into the Atlantic Ocean) and when it came time to pack up I felt as if I had accomplished something.
August is an essential month for me. I crave to the anonymity that comes with summer, especially as a part-time administrator whose life has to be very public for most of the academic year. Still, my intellectual endeavors continue to occupy my thoughts even in the most chaotic moments of the month. As much as I love teaching, it is exhausting. The demands upon out time has now assumed an almost 24/7 cycle. Our students feel that they are paying for our attention through tuition. The month of August gives me that much needed breather that allows me to prepare myself for the upcoming year, which will certainly be more demanding than the last. For the time being, however, I still have some time left in which to lose myself.