A Summer Less Ordinary, Part II: The Way It Ought to Be

This was the summer I did right.

Up until this year, I have never finished a summer regret-free. There's always been something to mourn as the days begin to shorten, the leaves change, and the heat dissipates: opportunities missed, chances not taken, seasonal fruit not consumed in adequate quantities to trigger satisfaction. And to be honest, there were a few moments, particularly in the fruit category, that I did not fully exploit this summer; but only a few.

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Fruit, for instance: I could've done with one more flat of Hood strawberries. And I only went out once to pick blackberries, though I still might hit the vines one more time before the berries start to shrivel. But I've had raspberries, peaches, Hermiston watermelons, corn on the cob, and blueberries by the pound. I've also been to both major Portland beer festivals, early enough that I was able to taste every beer I was interested in--and I had the privilege of introducing my now-21-year-old son to these events (though it turns out he just doesn't like beer):
Then there was outdoor recreation. I will admit here to not doing as much intense endurance work as I would've liked--I had thought I might work up to a century on my bicycle, but maxed out at about 40 miles; meanwhile the tricky tendon in my left foot is still keeping me from running more than twice a week, so no half-marathons appear to be in my future--but I did get to go on not one, not two, but three backpacking trips with Amy. We didn't do nearly as much day-hiking as we usually have, but I think the backpacking more than makes up for it, especially our final trip, to the Tetons.

What else makes summer special for me? How about full employment? The last time I was able to ply my trade as an elementary music teacher was June, 2009, and while I've now had two years teaching high school music in Banks, it's only been half-time, with no prospects of expanding in the foreseeable future. In today's cash-starved educational climate, full-time work is every music teacher's holy grail. To be full-time in an elementary setting is even more extraordinary. The transition is proving quite messy, as I will detail in my next blog post, but to end the summer in better professional shape than I started it is simply remarkable, something that hasn't happened for me since 2007.
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There were other seized opportunities, wonderful experiences had thanks to intentionally setting dates, making reservations, and just doing it: driving out to Idaho to see my kids; seeing my first Oregon Shakespeare Festival play; reading novels; seeing almost every summer movie I wanted to; finally having the house-warming party we didn't get around to last August. I expect there are more that I just can't put my finger on at the moment. And that's all right, because now it's time to roll out the one experience that has, on its own, rendered this summer the most satisfying I can remember:

This blog.

Look at my index page, and you'll see that there are now over a hundred entries to Midlife Meditations. That's considerably more than a hundred hours spent at this computer, rattling off thoughts as fast as my fingers can fly (and if you've ever heard me type, you know that's pretty doggone fast). Those thoughts have run the gamut from political observations to reflections on aging to aesthetics to...hey, just take a moment to scan the index, already! This might seem a tedious activity, certainly an odd one to credit with turning my usual summer blahs around: I rarely do it outside, the laptop can get downright hot on my bare legs, it's not unusual for me to doze off while typing (I just did), and it's actually a major reason that I've not engaged in more long-distance bicycling. I may have plenty of free time in the summer compared to most employed people, but spend an hour or two on a blog post, and the allotted time for a long ride dwindles fast. It also makes me less pleasant to be around: when I'm writing, I have no room in my perceptions for the people around me, and I'm afraid I sometimes come across as rude when all I really mean to say is "Could you please let me finish this sentence?"

I wrote a blog once before, a diary of my 2006 trip through the desert southwest with Sean. That was a good, if challenging, experience--Wi-Fi was hard to come by in those desert locales--but it did not whet my appetite for long-form writing sufficiently to continue once I got home. In the years since, I've done very little of this sort of writing. I did a revision of my novel in 2010, but once I was finished--and painfully aware of how flawed the now 500-page manuscript was--I set it aside, plunging my attention into more rewarding pursuits like improv, exercise, and video games. (Yes, I played more video games than I am comfortable admitting, but hey, I was unemployed.)

I occasionally checked into other blogs. My brother Ocean wrote extensively about his bike trip down the Pacific Coast, sharing deep insights about his own journey to half-centurydom. Slate magazine, the online news outlet that has become my primary source for news and opinion, is mostly blogs. So I do read them. I just didn't consider writing one.

And then, sometime in May, I did it. I don't remember what finally tipped me over into blogdom, but one day I sat down on the couch, started writing and didn't stop. Sometimes I turned out three or four long essays in a day. I had so much to say, so many opinions, so much history. I wasn't particular about who read it, though I did have to be firm in the beginning about people who wanted to engage me in debating my opinions: I write this for myself, to express myself, and I have no interest in arguing, especially not with people who can't rest until my mind is changed. So I shut down some conversations. That was hard: there have, in fact, been times in my life when there was nothing I loved better than a rip-roaring issue-oriented debate, whether it was online or face to face. But I was younger then, and with the cooling of my angry young masculinity came a preference for more reasoned discussion, for letting different opinions exist without having to counter them, and for listening attentively.

My writings have ranged across a vast spectrum of ideas, and I expect they will continue to do so. That's the nature of the form. Blogging has put me in touch with a part of myself that has long been neglected, with a passion that dates back to my earliest efforts at putting pen to paper: I am a writer.

And that explains why blogging, more than anything else, has made this a summer I do not regret. This was the summer I rooted around in the closet of my personality and found an aspect of my identity that I had allowed to atrophy, hauled it out into the open, let it breathe and find full expression without regard for the size of my audience or the lack of remuneration. I am a writer.

I've written many things in my life: short stories, novels, poetry, sermons, articles, editorials, research papers--and now, through this venue, essays. Of all the writing hats I've worn, essayists fits the best. It's simultaneously discursive and persuasive, and it's uniquely my own. I can be as opinionated as I like, can choose any topic that holds my interest long enough for me to write it out, can go on for as long as I need to say what I have to say, illustrate it as much as I like, and when I'm done, click the "publish" button and send it off into the blogosphere. After all these years, I am a writer.

I will admit that it is satisfying to check the index page and see how many people have viewed each of my entries, to wonder at what makes some of them so much more interesting than others. I am especially delighted when someone shares what I've written; and especially disappointed when a piece I'm especially proud of garners only a handful of views. But the main thing, the only thing really, is that I am channeling my thoughts, my hopes, my dreams, my passion through my fingers and into these letters and words and paragraphs and sending them all to the same place, that again, after too long a break, I am a writer.

In the last week, there have been necessary breaks in my blogging, which are easily attributable to the difficulties of changing jobs at the beginning of the school year. I expect my frequency in the coming months will be considerably less than what it has been over the summer: working full-time, with a long commute, and finding time to work out, while holding onto my supplementary jobs, is going to take a toll on how much time and energy I can devote to this blog. If you find I've not posted in more than a week, please feel free to poke me; I don't want to let go of this. I am a writer.

Hanging in there, and continuing to make the time to do this, will take this summer less ordinary and spin it on into an autumn, a winter, a school year less ordinary, and on into a rest-of-my-life less ordinary. Because, then, now, and until I'm done with this life, I am a writer.

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