Kid #2

Summer of Nothing

Here’s how my brain works: it gets stuck on one big idea and that’s all I can think or talk or dream about for weeks and months. In other words, my mind is obsessive. My current big idea is one I touched upon in April: a more beautiful world.

I’ve been reading this book, Untamed, by Glennon Doyle. I’m rather infatuated with it (in fact, I’ve added it to my Reading List to Change the World, which has only two other books: American Hookup and Between the World and Me).

Doyle’s philosophy is that to live your truest, kindest and most beautiful life, you must first imagine it. She reckons you can solve most problems by asking, What would be the truest, kindest, most beautiful outcome?, and working from there. I’ve been trying to imagine a truer, kinder, more beautiful world for years.

Here is another of Doyle’s ideas I buy into: the “not this” sense. It’s the sense so many of us have that we could be, should be, living much more beautiful lives. Don’t we all deserve more than this? 

But a key thing about capitalism, especially the neoliberal variety, is that its indoctrination process teaches us to dehumanize others. The acceptance of the idea of others as intrinsically less than — that to maintain our pleasures, we must agree to the dehumanization of those in lower classes or a “third world” — is the cornerstone concept upholding the capitalistic status quo. 

I was sitting at the beach the other day — because pretty much all I do anymore is some form of sitting — and I was thinking about how lucky I am to have grown up somewhere as beautiful as Maine. Then it struck me that some people will never sit on a beach.

Plenty of people who live in Middle America venture to the coast for a holiday. But many die without ever seeing the ocean. For example, if a person has $20,000 of credit-card debt, or has declared bankruptcy, it’s considered “economically irresponsible” for them to plan a vacation.

It’s hard to imagine the most beautiful outcome of this pandemic. For me, it’s really poorly timed. I wish, at the very least, it would’ve waited a few years, till I was out of college. My friends and I have been feeling a little duped. Not only are we missing out on what we’ve been promised would be the best years of our lives; we’re also losing the only “paid vacation” most of our generation will ever have. 

I realize it’s problematic to liken a crisis that’s cost over 100,000 American lives to a paid vacation. Even for those on unemployment, there’s still a truckload of emotional labor and, I’m sure, financial stress. And I don’t mean to imply that college students have it worse financially. I’m sure most of us have it better.  

What I mean to say is that we’re in a very different position than young people even a few years older than us. We can’t file for unemployment. We’re back in our childhood bedrooms. I’ve lost my summer job at a camp, which I adore, and many of my friends have lost their jobs too.

The need to be productive, the pressure to make money, really grinds any enjoyment out of summer. A part of me wants to say screw it, give up the job search and just live for a little bit. But I fear my anxious mind won’t let me. We’re facing down a summer of nothing that feels increasingly like a harbinger of a life of nothing. 

Neoliberal capitalism conditions us to work constantly, till our bodies and minds are broken. And this pandemic, in some ways, is a respite from that grind. But few of us can view it that way.

Here’s my advice, which should be taken with a grain of salt and the acknowledgement that you’ll need a certain degree of privilege to follow it: Give in to the slow slide of summer. Accept that it will not be like any summer you’ve experienced before. The rules have been turned on their head. Let go of the compulsion to be productive. Imagine the most beautiful, truest, kindest summer you can have. Then carry that spirit with you when life starts approaching normalcy again.