In elementary school, I equated “summer” with “vacation.” The words were interchangeable to me.
Although I was an incredible nerd (bookworm, teacher’s pet, and extra credit fiend) who loved school, I cherished summer as a welcome break from the routines and rules of the school year. By every June 1st, I was dreaming of warmer weather, longer days, and leaving the house without a backpack or No. 2 pencils.
Even in high school when I started working summer jobs and internships, I still thought of summer as vacation. I worked 9 to 5, but there were never any assignments waiting for me at home. No required reading, no exams to study for – just wide-open evenings and weekends. Endless possibilities.
Now that I am officially done with my first year of graduate school, I am realizing that I might never have another summer “off.”
My first year at Fordham was exhilarating, full of new people, books, and unexpected opportunities. Still, by the end of the year, I was ready for a break. I wrote my final papers while looking forward to another magical date – May 18th. This date was circled in my calendar, marked with emphatic ink stars and exclamation points that meant the end of the semester, the start of summer.
May 18th came and went. And since, I have enjoyed some R&R, but I have also done quite a bit of… well, work.
For one, I have been trying to revise stories that I wrote this year. Although I turned in final drafts of these pieces, none of them are quite finished. I may have completed my course requirements, but it will take much longer than a single semester to make the work actually publishable.
I have been reading magazines and journals, trying to decide where to submit and subscribe. Unfortunately, there isn’t a comprehensive list somewhere (no, not even at Poets & Writers) of which journals will expose me to the writing, authors, and techniques that I will learn from and love. I am sort of making a syllabus for myself: a list of nonrequired required reading to keep me current and connected.
I have been reading books, too – texts that will help me understand the issues I care about more deeply and also grow as a storyteller. Most recently, I have been reading The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr. This memoir about Karr’s “God-awful childhood” made me laugh and weep and sink into the 1960s Texas of her memories. I am reading for fun but not just for fun; I try to pay attention to the writing and take in all that I can about craft.
I am sure other grad students on “vacation” (those fortunate enough to take some time off before a summer class, job, or research project) have also filled their days with work related to their fields. It is not the break I imagined myself when I was counting down the days to May 18th.
And yet, I’ve been able to watch more episodes of Buffy than I usually can during the school year, and I’ve felt all right hitting the snooze more than once in the morning. I have been taking more walks with friends and by myself. Undoubtedly, I have been on vacation; it’s just the busiest, most focused and fruitful vacation of my life.
Perhaps this is the greatest gift of graduate school (besides that degree!) – this seamlessness between work and pleasure, duty and play. As a grad student, you learn to regard your passions as a part of your life’s work and not just your schoolwork.
This sort of thinking is undeniably a sign of (oh my!) maturity. I’m a writer and scholar now full-time, all the time. As grad school ushers me into the future, I know that I can’t go on being that same restless little girl, counting down the days to summer on her calendar, wishing she were running through sprinklers instead of sitting in class.
Well, maybe sometimes I can.