What I did on my summer vacation

Do any teachers still assign this as a first-week-of-school writing topic? I certainly hope not.

No matter what kind of summer you have, it feels an impossible prompt to write well to. I can remember summers that slipped by like dreams, days upon days of the same old wonderful same old, and others full of flat tedium; how to pluck any kind of narrative out of a span of days with no conflict, no rising action, no turning point?

Of course there have been a few summers with big, memorable events (big travel, big purchases, big life changes)–but those, too, are hard to write about. How to capture what a big event really was, what it really meant?

Early on in our Louisiana adventure this summer, I realized I could not write about it while living it. There were practical problems–no easy internet or time–but it was more about knowing I needed time to process the experience. From the very beginning, my summer was an “all of the above” kind of thing: big travel, big purchases, long days that quickly became a new same old, same old comprised of tedium, joy, pain, boredom, and wonder. I have not worked so many full, hard hours in such a long time, while also living through so many hours in which I felt like I was just killing time.

I was having big, tangly thoughts and feelings about all kinds of profound things–aging, mortality, the meaning of life, family, our country and the ramifications of its history, existential crises of various kinds–and I knew I wasn’t ready to share any of them in any public kind of way.

I didn’t trust my impressions to be lasting truth, and I didn’t trust my conclusions to hold water. Not when I was so exhausted and disoriented and mind-meltingly hot. (Good God, but the heat was relentless.) Not when I knew there were things I just couldn’t know in such a short time (and might never be able to know).

I’m still not ready. I might never be. These kinds of things tend to slip away if we don’t capture them when they’re fresh. I’ll try to write more about it all, but no promises.

What I can share now, in addition to these few paragraphs, as a way to get back in the habit of writing here, is a poem I wrote the last week of July. It’s only a few weeks old and I haven’t gotten back my usual equilibrium, but I think it is true.

When a PNW girl spends the hottest July of all time working in rural Louisiana

Every time she walks out a door, 
she gasps. 

She’d tell you that it feels
like the air is getting sucked 
out of her, except she’s busy
wiping the fog from her glasses. 

She is not used to this. 

Is anyone?
Isn’t it the hottest month on record, ever?
Isn’t the ocean off Florida now warm 
as a hot tub? 

But no one around her is alarmed. 

“What can you do?” they shrug.
“Gotta work,” they say, smiling.

She is a frog dropped 
in a pot that began warming long before her
legs touched its water.

“We’re like the coral in the Atlantic!” she wants to scream,
but she fears 
she’d get no response other than words
about the work ethic Here 

(to distinguish it, she supposes, from
There, where she’s from). 

What’s a girl to do? The day’s work, that’s what.

She picks up her paintbrush when she hears the church
bell chiming the hour.

She pushes closed the front door 
that keeps swinging open, 
knowing she’ll do it 
over and over again as the day wears
on, as if 
she can somehow keep the heat from coming in. 

She’ll dream of going home, as if home
is some other place, not Here, 

as if Here is some place she can escape from. 

6 thoughts on “What I did on my summer vacation

  1. Kari says:

    Oh, I’m so glad you’re “home.” For the time being.
    I had a really bad migraine yesterday, and after seeing your Instagram post about being home, I was wondering how your migraines were while you were in Louisiana. I hope being in the Pacific Northwest brings you some relief.
    (that airplane picture is really cool)

    • Rita says:

      I’m sorry you had a bad migraine! Surprisingly, my migraines really weren’t much different in LA. I had to take meds a few times, but I didn’t have any that were too severe (in either degree of pain or length of episode). As far as relief, Portland was 104 today. Will not get back into the 80s until this weekend, most likely. I’ve escaped to my parents’ place in Washington, where it is cooler but still pretty warm. Which is what the poem was about. 🙂

  2. Ally Bean says:

    I’m happy to know you’re back home, but talk about a weird month for you. I cannot imagine how that kind of heat could NOT bother people, but I guess they’re used to it in Louisiana? I dunno. I hope you ease back into your cooler life now and can reflect upon the progress you’ve made in your other home.

    • Rita says:

      It WAS a weird month! At first, people in Cane’s family were accepting and matter-of-fact about the heat; it’s just hot in Louisiana in the summer. It was part of a general stoicism I saw in all kinds of ways: Life is hard, and you just deal with it. As the heat continued on, day after day, at such high temps, I saw some shifting, an acknowledgement that the heat was getting hard to take, and it wasn’t the usual summer weather. I think I saw a lot of things that were about people doing what they have to do to be OK in hard circumstances. In them, I saw both things to admire and things that alarmed me. (It was a weird month, for sure.)

      Today, it is hotter in Portland than it is in Louisiana. We are under an air quality alert. Hate having confirmation of the truth of the last lines of that poem I wrote, but there it is.

  3. Kate says:

    I read your post while waiting at a pick up and it’s been swimming around for the last few days.

    This “ What’s a girl to do? The day’s work, that’s what.” especially. And all the tangly feelings. I get that too

    Hope you enjoy cooler temperatures soon!

    • Rita says:

      I hope I enjoy cooler temperatures soon, too! Can you believe that this morning it was hotter in Portland than in the Louisiana town we were in all summer? Isn’t that just how things go sometimes? We should be back down into the 90s tomorrow.

      I hope it’s the good kind of swimming.

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