It’s almost August, and, for the most part, this summer has been a bit of a bust. Not only did both of my summer courses get canceled – leaving me with a lot of unanticipated free time – but I also really didn’t do anything of note, nor did I go away on any cool vacations. Once again, I went into the summer break without a plan and am now looking back on the past two months with extreme regret as I always do when it gets to this point in the summer.
When your job affords you a lot of time off, you feel like you should take advantage of it, and you feel badly about yourself when you spend your time frivolously, especially knowing that many people would give their right arm for this schedule. But, when you have so much time on your hands, when the world is so much your oyster, you become paralyzed and wish that oyster would just shut the F up.
For me, I wake up in the morning excited to have yet another day to myself. But, once I get that first cup of coffee in me, my mind starts racing and the thought of having to plan a day with myself leaves me sweating. The anxiety of thinking about what to do winds up leading me to do pretty much the same things I do almost every day: writing a bit here and there (most days not finishing anything that I’ve started), reading a lot, and going to the gym. Some days, I walk around the Good Will or the library for a few hours just to spice things up.
A few weeks ago, I found a completely unused calligraphy set at the Goodwill for $2. I’m not much of an “arts and crafts” type, but today I decided that calligraphy would become my new hobby, at least for the remainder of this week, which will pretty much max out the allotted time that I seriously commit to hobbies. I spent a few hours this morning reading up on the ancient art form and practicing a few basic strokes. It was actually pretty cool, but it’s much harder than it looks, especially after four cups of strong coffee (Holy Hand Shaking, Batman!).
In a conversation about my overabundance of free time, I told my friend Chris that I had just purchased the calligraphy set and that this was the week I was going to start my new hobby. He laughed at me, probably deservedly so. Chris went on to say pretty much what I said above: that he would die to have this much time off (which I didn’t take literally because if he were dead that would seem to defeat the point of having the time off, though, for me, that might assuage some the stress associated with having to find something to do). I completely understand Chris’s envy; I used to feel the same way when I had a 9-5, 12-month job where I only got 2 weeks’ vacation. However, as he was laughing at my new hobby (which will, by Saturday, become my old hobby) and basically insinuating that I was not using my time off wisely – or, at least, not appreciating it correctly – what I really wanted to say him – as I want to say to everyone who is jealous and/or angry that I have this much time off – is: WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
So, with a month left of my summer vacation, I’m going to do what I should have done MONTHS AGO, which is elicit some advice from those who wish they had this cushy summer vacation. I’m seriously asking you (the four people who read this blog), what would you do EVERY DAY if you had three months off?
Now, there are, of course, conditions that you must abide by if you want to have an accurate parallel with my life. My time off, though wonderful, is not unencumbered. So, you must take the following restrictions into account as you plan your days, weeks, and months.
1. Money – When you’re home feeling sad and lonely, sometimes spending money seems like a good way to pass the time and juice up the dopamine. Even the most ardent anti-capitalists, such as myself, cannot defy biology. In his book, The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good, David J. Linden shows that
“shopping, orgasm, learning, highly caloric foods, gambling, prayer, dancing ’til you drop, and playing on the Internet…all evoke neural signals that converge on a small group of interconnected brain areas called the medial forebrain pleasure circuit. It is in these tiny clumps of neurons that human pleasure is felt. This intrinsic pleasure circuitry can also be co-opted by artificial activators like cocaine or nicotine or heroin or alcohol. Evolution has, in effect, hardwired us to catch a pleasure buzz from a wide variety of experiences from crack to cannabis, from meditation to masturbation, from Bordeaux to beef.”
So, while shopping – whether it’s at clothing stores, farmers’ markets, Barnes and Noble, or the Good Will – can kill a few hours and make you feel good, it essentially works like heroin and cocaine in terms of its addictive properties and its expense. Therefore, if your household is on a budget, as mine is, or if you’re married to someone who hates STUFF, as I am, you have to find more cost-effective ways to occupy yourself. Even activities like going to the movies (now over $10 a pop in some places), going out to eat, daytrips to the beach or amusement parks, or hitting golf balls at the local driving range start to add up over time.
So, restriction #1 is that you’re not a gazillionaire.
2. Partners – Having a partner means having to think for two a lot more than you may be used to. Thinking for two is difficult for those of us who have enough trouble thinking for one. Sometimes when I’m debating what to do with myself, I find myself thinking of my husband and the fact that he is working while I’m home blogging in my pajamas. So, sometimes, I think I owe him courtesies that maybe even he doesn’t even think are necessary, but I, drowning in Catholic guilt, think I should oblige. For example, I think that I should be home when he gets home from work, and I think that I should be thinking about/preparing dinner or at least choosing a restaurant to go to because that’s what he would do if the situation were reversed.
Vacations, retreats, teaching abroad, etc. are other conundrums one faces when in a relationship. Now, some people are fine spending months apart while one person fulfills some kind of goal while the other slaves away at his/her job. My husband and I are still negotiating this aspect of our married life. To me, it’s not cool to spend the community money on something for myself that my husband is not involved in. I think one day I’ll get over this idea, but, for now, that’s how I feel. We save money together all year long, and then what? – I get to go to a cool meditation/yoga retreat in Costa Rica while he commutes 3 hours to and from his job every day? It doesn’t seem right to me (again, Catholic guilt).
So, restriction #2 is you’re not single.
3. Personality – In an earlier blog, I wrote about being an extrovert (see Understanding an Extrovert) and how that affects my ability to enjoy alone time. Extroverts like spending time with other people; that’s how they get their energy, creativity, their mojo if you will. Since many of my friends, family members, and my husband are at work during the day, I have taken it upon myself to try to weasel my way into some already-established circles of strangers using the ever-popular www.meetup.org website. I’m really just looking for some folks to ease the stress of the loneliness during weekday hours since my nights and weekends are typically filled enjoying time with my husband, family, and friends. But, the only groups that meet during the day are senior citizens’ groups or mommy groups, neither of which I necessarily meet the criteria for.
Extroverts also have a hard with self-motivation; give us a competition or a Weight Watchers meeting and we’re ready to live long and prosper. But, to do it alone – hmm, not so much. Self-motivation is essential for anyone looking to fill up their alone time; without it, you’re up shit’s creek without a coxswain. And, God knows I need a coxswain.
So, restriction #3 is you’re not a self-starter, an AARP member, or a stroller mom.
4. Artless – Art, in my opinion, would be the best way to spend alone time if I cared enough about it or was any good at. Alas, as mentioned earlier, I am not an arts and crafts type person. Now, it’s not that I don’t care about art. Actually, I care about it a great deal. But, I care about other people’s art – you know, the people who are actually good at it. And, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. In the novel Bel Canto (which, I would like to state for the record, I did not particularly care for), there is a great scene where one of the characters is reminiscing about his grandmother’s art books and how special they were to him. He then goes on to say that he cannot personally “do” art himself, but he thinks that there are some people who are made JUST to appreciate art, not to be artists themselves. He says, “It is a kind of talent in itself, to be an audience, whether you are the spectator in the gallery or you are listening to the voice of the world’s greatest soprano. Not everyone can be the artist. There have to be those who witness the art, who love and appreciate what they have been privileged to see.”I couldn’t agree more. I love listening to music, but I can’t sing or play an instrument. I love looking at paintings, but I can’t draw a straight line. I love photography, but I’m lucky if one of five of my pictures doesn’t come out blurry. I know that art takes time and practice, and it’s not that I expect to sit down and be the next great calligrapher. It’s just that I believe that the world needs both people who do the art and people who love the art (not that people can’t be both; I’m just not one of them), but my personal preference is eschew the band and, instead, become a Band Aid.
So, restriction #4 is you’re not a scrapbooker.
5. Gameless – Lots of my friends spend their free time playing video games, and while I’m not a gamer myself, I understand how this activity could alleviate the summer doldrums. Ok, I can already see some of my elitist, intellectual friends shaking their heads, but, really, there might be something to be said for imagining world domination via World of Warcraft or FIFA World Cup, or pretending that you were once the Fifth Beatle via Rock Band (which, by the way, I could totally see myself becoming addicted to if I had game system). I also wouldn’t mind relieving my disdain for authority with a little Grand Theft Auto (though sometimes just blasting Public Enemy takes care of this quite nicely). Alas, I do not have a game system and, therefore, cannot enjoy the company of Mario and Luigi, Zelda, or the voice on the Wii Fit that tells me I’m obese.
So, restriction #5 is no playing with yourself…or imaginary friends.
Now, let me tell you what I do fairly regularly so that you don’t make any unnecessary suggestions:
- Write blogs
- Try my hand unsuccessfully at writing short stories and flash fiction
- Work out
- Walk/hike in parks and woods
- Drive aimlessly
- Go to the beach
- Shop/browse at Good Will
- Clean the house (sometimes)
- Calligraphy (ok, that’s just today, but, who knows, maybe it will stick)
- Facebook/email/word games on computer and/or iPhone
- Watch movies
- Listen to music/make mixtapes/dance around my house
- Visit with friends and family who have some time off or are unemployed
- Join meetup groups and never attend any of them
Ok, so now it’s your turn, and I’m all ears. Please post a comment to this blog telling me what you would do if you had three months off but were bound by the five aforementioned restrictions. Actually, you don’t even have to be bound by my restrictions because most of them are stupid anyway. But, keep it in reality. Don’t go pulling any Eat, Pray, Love crap on me. Just tell me what you would do if you had the time off, and I’ll give you some lame excuse why I can’t do it.