“You know that feeling when you’re on vacation and technically don’t have anything to do that very moment but the free time is still not quite free because you have these due dates and the threat of future due dates looming over your head?”
– The author, in an email to a friend over the dark days of vacation
As if summer weren’t hard enough. As if those three months of long, lazy days weren’t enough of a challenge. As if those languorous, class-less hours didn’t make me feel like enough of a bum. There I was, just three weeks into the school year, having surfaced at last from my slow-as-molasses summer lifestyle, attempting to function like a decent human being. My days were spent running from class to class with nary a second to spare, like I ought, traversing the Internet during class like the good college kid I try to be, spending my evenings shuttling from one event to the next like any respectable YU student, and generally feeling like a productive person. Then, suddenly, with hardly any warning, I found myself unceremoniously released from this comfort zone into the unregimented wilderness of a month-long vacation.
No! I protested, as I was ushered out of the dorm building. Let me stay! I cried, as I was escorted through security at the airport. Don’t send me back there! I pleaded, my voice lost over the roar of the airplane as it took me far away from the place I knew I belonged. What now? I whimpered, laying my head down in despair on my pillow, my body – weary from hours of protest – sinking into the crisp bed sheets. I closed my eyes in despair…and decided I kind of liked them that way. A lot.
For the next few days, I savored the novelty they call sleeping late: there was something so delicious about keeping my eyes closed just a bit longer, something so right about lying supine just a few hours longer, something that almost made me forget the truth. For a few short, sweet days, I was able to escape the reality, to raise my head above the dark, desperate, swampy waters of vacation and lose myself in the hours of semi-consciousness.
But it wasn’t meant to be. I couldn’t live in an illusory fog forever. I could no longer apologize for doing nothing. The time had come. One early morning, I awoke with a start, scrambling around in the near-blindness of early morning bleary eye for a piece of paper and began furiously creating one to-do list after the next, listing any and every task I could beside neat little empty boxes. “Brush teeth,” read one that I checked off moments later, a manic grin overwhelming my face; “Eat breakfast,” exhorted the next, and I savored filling in the square after polishing off my yogurt. I was accomplished; I was producing; I was, in fact, productive. At long last, I had broken free from the shackles of vacation, had dragged myself out of the confines of free time, and had emerged, appropriately weighed down with the schoolwork I had neglected. I sneered in the face of the idle vagabond I knew myself to have been, taping shut the mouth of the small voice of reason, screaming somewhere inside me, with the latest in a series of to-do lists.
I knew, somewhere in the recesses of my sluggish mind, languid from weeks of doing nothing, that I had that art history paper to work on, that Observer article to write, those endless pages in a history book to mark up. And so I set to work, feverishly putting pen to paper and attaching task to box, knowing that only this way – only with the deliberate creation of endless empty boxes – could I live with myself, could I survive alone in the wayward wilderness in which I had been left, abandoned. In this way, I knew, I could triumph over vacation’s fearful, towering shadow.
Somehow, someway, I raised myself above the vacation that had been so callously foisted upon me and drew upon inner reserves I did not know I had to triumph over that which had tried to claim me. I managed to weave through the traffic of my mind and meet deadlines headfirst. Such as this one.
Finally done with this piece. Off to press we go. Out comes the pen to check off another one of those nagging little boxes. Tonight, a box on a checklist. Tomorrow, we take on free time. Doing nothing? Nothing doing. Cower in the face of my pen-wielding hand.