IVP - Strangely Dim - The Summer of Our Discontent

June 18, 2009

The Summer of Our Discontent

Remember when we were kids and each year followed a familiar, structured rhythm? School would start in September, we would get a few weeks of winter break, more school, and then summer! The end of the school year meant one thing: summer vacation! Freedom! Every year I would look forward to nearly three months of sleeping in, watching morning cartoons and reading. 


The memory I have of this transition from school to "not-school" is that it registered only as the beginning of summer rather than an end to classes. There was such relief. I liked school reasonably well, but I always felt as though the break from all the expectations of classes, of sports schedules, of navigating the tumultuous waters of the schoolroom social hierarchy, was a well-earned respite. I planned each year to revel in it. And I did--for about two weeks, at which point I was generally ready to go back.


Of course, there came a point when summer was less about respite and more about stresses: summer school, summer jobs, the uncertainty of whether or not I could see family, year-round employment with limited time off. Summer vacation, which had always seemed like a given--almost a right--became at times merely a hope, often limited more by financial concerns than by time constraints. Summer, it sometimes seemed, was not so much an opportunity for rejuvenation but rather a season of discontent.


I don't think I've been alone in this. The summer vacation event seems to be part of the fabric of the season. As with Christmas (when we ask when coworkers or friends might depart to visit far-off relatives), come May and June we begin asking what everyone's summer vacation plans are. It's exciting to hear about other people's plans to far-off places. On the other hand, things can get awkward when no destination trip is in the works. More than simply an event, the summer vacation is a cultural norm, a goal, a symbol of social status or financial standing. People who take lavish vacations are envied; those unable to take them are pitied.


But more, even, than this, I wonder if the idea of a summer vacation has taken on some of the symptoms of a greater cultural phenomenon: escapism--not just "getting away" but actually "tuning out." Given the cultural trend toward embracing new technologies that allow us to escape in some form from the immediacy of our surroundings or circumstances (such as television, video games, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) this wouldn't be at all surprising. Especially since so many other forms of escapism are designed to be taken with us wherever we go--including on vacation.

As an example, consider the pervasive presence of television sets (one of many cultural artifacts that suggest that we are, collectively, addicted to the "elsewhere"). They can be found just about anywhere: in supermarkets, at gas stations, in cars, on planes, on our phones and in our homes, with online streaming readily available for shows we missed. We've found a way to be anywhere but where we are at any time of the day or night.

Whether we're boarding a plane or packing the car for a road trip, the one thing that summer vacations have in common with gaming, watching T.V. and spending hours on Facebook or Twitter, on cell phones or with music blaring through our headphones, is perhaps a sense of separation from the "real world," of going to a "neutral" location where the cares and concerns of work or family or future are suspended while we disconnect, or engage something that exists differently. It's easy to forget that, no matter how far we travel--virtually or literally--we can't actually leave it all behind.

Don't get me wrong--everyone needs a break from the daily grind, a time to reset and to get fresh perspective. Vacations eventually come to an end; a return to work or school or family is in general an inevitability. And perhaps, in the end, vacations, with all other forms of escapism, are just one symptom of humanity's collective discontent, for which there is only one cure.

Posted by Christa Countryman at June 18, 2009 7:25 AM Bookmark and Share | TrackBack


After writing this post, Christa left for her own well-earned summer escape, leaving Lisa and me to administer the blog. I promptly caused some glitch, which has been since corrected. We regret the confusion, which was apparently compounded by the somewhat cryptic end to the post: "for which there is only one cure." As with most religious writing, it is reasonable to speculate that the one cure Christa is referring to has something to do with Jesus. We'll have to wait till she gets back to verify that. In the meantime, keep tuning in for more confessions of escapist impulses, and enjoy your summer!

Your BFF,
Strangely Dim

Comment by: Dave Zimmerman at June 18, 2009 1:47 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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