How I Spent My Summer Vacation


Remember those essays? The first day back to school, the teacher was still setting up the year’s curriculum, ordering books, etc., and so you’d get handed a piece of loose leaf and a fresh new pencil and directed to start off the school year with the child’s worst enemy – the familiar essay.

We lived in the poor part of town. Nobody I knew came back on that first day of school with stories about Disneyland, or Europe. Camping maybe, but it was never one of those fancy camps where you learned French or how to play the oboe. It would have been a week at Grandpa’s fishing lodge (shack) getting eaten alive by black flies and leeches.

The rest of us spent the days at home, or at a grandparent’s or babysitter’s house if our parents worked. There would be trips to the lake (aka. a mile long forced march in the hot sun), or the beach (for this you definitely hoped for a drive, otherwise it was a 2-mile forced march in the hot sun, up a huge, steep hill to get home), but usually it was a “make your own fun” kind of summer where you spent the days in the woods, at the playground, in a wading pool in the backyard, or lolling around watching “stories” with Grandma in the cool of the living room with the blinds down.

When I was old enough to be considered responsible to babysit my younger brother for the summer months (I was 13, he was 6, the closest relatives were a couple of blocks away in case of emergency), we’d fill our days with walks to the lake, or the library, but we’d also dress up nicely and get on the bus and go downtown where we’d visit a museum and meet our mother at her work for lunch.

That I was allowed, at age 13, to wander around the downtown core of a smallish city, by myself, with a 5-year-old in tow, boggles the mind years later in the age of helicopter parenting, but I was always precocious, and independent and incredibly responsible.

Nowadays, the summer has little meaning for me as a time frame in which to do something “special”. When you’re self-employed, even statutory holidays aren’t really vacations, and as a hater of hot weather, I’m more inclined to be inside in front of the AC than at a beach. This is partially to do with the climactic difference between sweltering humid Toronto and Halifax with its fresh sea breezes, but also because there’s usually something that needs doing.

This year, oddly, I find myself with a couple of months that are “free” before I get into the serious work of my two main projects. The arts market that I put together last month will return for four monthly instalments in September, but other than some website updates, there is not much for me to do on that front until mid-July.

And while I’ve stupidly ambitiously decided to start a literary journal, I can’t begin working on it in any serious way until the submission deadline occurs and I have a better idea of what material I have to work with.

In the interim, I have two months with nothing to do. How to fill them?

First of all, that literary journal will require a special program to lay it all out. It turns out we’ve progressed since the days when I used to make zines in WordPerfect. So summer project #1 is to learn InDesign so I can actually put that journal together.

Next, I’ve got a pile of patterns and some lovely bits of fabric, so I’m going to be updating my wardrobe with some new clothes. The fat girl offerings in stores are usually not to my liking, and there was a time when I aspired to be a fashion designer and drafted my own patterns and bought whole cowhides to make leather jackets. So I’m happy to get back to that again.

There’s always stuff to do around the house, and after 7 years in the same apartment, some rooms could use a repaint. The dining room is high on my list.

But for me, summer was, and is, always about reading. Those weekly trips to the library with my little brother happened mostly because I’d run out of stuff to read. And while my parents were weirdly strict in many ways, they allowed me pretty much free reign when it came to books.

However, it seems there is much that I’ve missed, including some of the 20th century’s great masterworks. In the lead-up to the Great Gatsby film, I realized that while I’ve read the other novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald, I’d never actually read Gatsby.

My Dickens is incomplete. I’ve never been able to get into Hemingway, but surely I should read some Gertrude Stein. And Nabokov and Colette are always worth a re-read, aren’t they?

Fortunately, since so many of these works are now in the public domain, they’re available very cheaply in eReader format. I’ve yet to warm to the eReader (we’ve got a playbook, purchased on the cheap from a friend who worked at Blackberry), but perhaps the complete (illustrated) works of Shakespeare will help to win me over. I’m still dubious about the beach potential, but the likelihood of me sitting out in the sun on a disgusting, humid Toronto summer day are low anyway.

So this summer “vacation” will be about getting things done, yes, but it will also be about reading – reading all the stuff I’ve missed, and rereading all the stuff I didn’t miss.

And I might even set up an inflatable kiddie pool in the living room, just for nostalgia’s sake.