a kaddish for summer dreams

All year long I dream of all I’m going to get done in the summer.  This happens every single year. I have a stack of books to read that I’m really excited about. After all, I’ve waited all year for this.  Add to my summer reading, the reading that I managed not to read last year as well.  Then there’re the books piled up in the living room that I swore not to put away — so that they’d get read.  Then there are the new books I got on the last book run to Paris (although, truth be told, three of the five of them (such purchasing restraint!) actually did get read.  I’m not sure two of them count, however, because they’re North African graphic novels.  Do graphic novels count as reading? According to my students, hell yah — and their favorite kind. So I’m pretty much not even reading last year’s pile — just skimming , which is cheating.

Okay, so that’s the reading.  Then there’s the writing.  For the past three summers I’ve been stuck in exactly the same spot on my book (tentatively titled) Alternate Teachings: A Kabbalistic Tale.  Which consists of a very different set of tzaddik stories. I’ve been stuck in that same spot, I finally realized, because you can’t (or shouldn’t) cross the Sahara in the summer, and that’s precisely where my manuscript is stuck. I’ve managed to get Reb Avram and Rav Gavriel across the Tunisian-Algerian border into El Oued (the City of a Thousand Domes), and now finally, into Tamanrassat (the exact center of the Sahara, going north to south) — and was trying to get them overland to Upper Egypt, to no avail.  They just languish there, sipping minted gunpowder tea. And I know, there’s an airstrip in Tamanrassat these days — but that’s just not how these holy men travel.  Solution: Egypt came to them.  What a surprise.  But — they’re still stuck in the bleeping desert, and it’s still summer — and I might have to wait until Winter Break to get them out of this one.  And they really need to make it to southern Morocco by Ashoura for a crypto-Jewish ritual that will take place …  Lots of writing to do to get there on time.

Then there are the academic articles to either edit, finish, or write…

So. You won’t be surprised (given my whiny tone) that once again I’ve blown my summer plans in favor of sloth, anguish, caregiving, dog walking, Harry Potter, rereading old favorites, having new adventures, and another round of BSG. And complaining. Complaining that I’m not getting any work done. And then not doing anything about it. I’ve even grown so slothful that it’s taken all the writing about death-and-dying just clear out of me.  I’ve not been holding up my own, even here. How can you be an adherent of the Religion of Labor — and be doing so much of nothing much at all?

The problem is that I’ve been busy being happy. And I’m not too happy about that.

Not being of the multi-tasking persuasion, I really don’t know how to balance happiness with, well, everything else. I noticed tonight, for example, that I haven’t updated my meticulous little OCD budgets and spreadsheets for the entire last quarter. And usually I do this at least well, once (or twice) a day. It’s amazing that I’ve managed to pay all the bills for two households at least.

Summer’s half over. Well yikes. There’s no finished manuscript. No checked off books ready to go into the bookshelves.  I have no right to ever buy another book until I finish reading the piles that are waiting so patiently for my attention. There are equally no syllabi yet completed for the fall.  No new puppy in the house to blame for not having gotten anything done. No more tzaddik stories posted. No new membership to the gym.  And I haven’t even repainted half the house. The garden’s flourishing without intensive labors on my part.  The house is clean (albeit with piles in each office of all the stuff I haven’t done). And I’ve done very nearly close to bupkiss.

There’s only this one new thing that I have to show for Summer 2011 — and that’s a renewed sense of being alive. Of being all-kaddished-out. Of finding a magnificent partner to collaborate with, who pushes me to — to — just be alive. Who challenges me every step of my routinized way, with a why can’t you —?  I feel a bit like reluctant flower being told that goddamn it, you’ve misunderstood the task — your job is to unfurl into the light of day. Something like that.

This is the first summer that I haven’t worked, probably in well, ever.  I think I don’t really know what to do with such a luxury of free time.  Except worry about it. That, I can manage.  So. I seem to get more done when I’m already over-booked. And this summer I’m less over-booked than ever before.

There’s some saying I’ve heard repeated from time to time.  That on their deathbed, nobody complains that they didn’t work harder.  There are many versions of this one, and I’m sure you’ve heard it.  But I always wish I had the discipline to spend more time working harder.  And I can imagine that on my deathbed, I’ll still be berating myself for every single thing I’ve left unfinished.  Unless. And here’s the point — unless I can somehow get used to this new idea of just being happy. That being happy is good enough. I know how that sounds. Selfish. And unproductive.

So. Here’s my midsummer’s resolution. Time to pull myself together. Change my evil slothful ways.  There are six more weeks before summer’s over. I’ve got a manuscript, blog posts, and articles to write. A kaddish in two-part harmony to keep up with. Two big stacks of books to read. A gym membership to reinstate. Walls to paint. Budgets to reconfigure. Syllabi to develop. And surely there is more —

But first, before I start on all that, I think I’ll see the new (and final) Harry Potter movie. And maybe read the whole series all over again, just for the continuity of it all. And how ’bout a camping trip or two, I mean, after all it’s summer. And the Picasso exhibit at the deYoung. And we’re still in the middle of watching BSG with two seasons and Razor still left to go. And Caprica of course, will have to follow. And I’m still rereading these old comfort books each night —

When all that’s done, I think it’s time to plan next summer.  I was thinking that getting that new puppy might be just the thing, don’t you? Which is what I’ve been dreaming of this summer.  Oh. And last summer too. It’s now two years since Ziggy’s death, and new puppy is definitely on the summer agenda.  And everyone knows that new puppy’s needs come before anything else, right?

About mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.
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