Summer and the Feeling of Uselessness
Most of the people in my life have been telling me how lucky I am to have the summers off. While it quickly becomes redundant, it’s also a statement which I mostly agree with. Having mornings to sleep in, time to organize drinks with friends, or the freedom to work on projects I’m passionate about is truly refreshing. (Not to mention I’ve probably become obsessed with using ClassPass during my afternoons, but that’s a discussion for another time).
But there does exist one minor problem: the inevitable feeling of uselessness.
I’m not talking about the kind of useless when you can’t open a tightly screwed jar of jelly or seem to miss every shot you take in a basketball game. I mean uselessness on a profound level, literally bringing nothing of value to the world.
I know it seems like a heavy thought, which is exactly why this is a blog post and not a conversation I’m having in person with friends or family. Maybe other teachers don’t feel this way – those with spouses or children; those who travel to different countries to visit family; those who work different jobs all summer. Most days I don’t even consider what these other teachers are doing (except when their photos pop up like taunts in my Instagram feed). I try to fill my time with writing, film projects, errands, visits to friends, and anything else that I never seem to have time for during the school year. Yet, there are days that inevitably make me question the value in how I’m using my time.
Like this past Monday. After a long holiday weekend, I was excited by the prospect of sleeping in. So, naturally, I woke up at 8:45 and was unable to fall back asleep. Taking it as a sign to be productive, I immediately put dirty clothes in the laundry, made some coffee, and sat down to check up on the news (this means watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – but let’s be serious, you do the same). When that turned out to be a repeat, I switched to an episode of The Sopranos (I’m trying to make it through the series since I haven’t watched it, but that hardly seems like an accomplishment to brag about). After an episode, some more coffee, a protein shake, moving the clothes to the dryer, and some Wimbledon, I looked up to find that over two hours had passed.
It’s depressing to see how quickly time can vanish. People talk about time flying when you’re having fun, but what about when you’re simply existing? What about the feeling that two hours of your life disappeared without you being really sure what you had done during?
When you’re having fun you can at least rationalize that the passage of time was well spent, but what about when you’re just living? That’s when, if you’re me, you start questioning the myriad of other ways you could have used your free time.
It’s a thought that’s crossed my mind a few times over the past few summers since I started teaching again, but moreso this year. You see, I had big things planned for this summer: a trip to Buenos Aires by myself was all but booked, filming another short film was a foregone conclusion, I was heading to the Dominican Republic with friends to start August, and then ending the summer with a basketball tournament that has come to be the last major competitive sporting event I take part in.
Lack of funds (and scripts I liked) crushed the short film, and I needed to remain in NYC for possible meetings connected to an ongoing writing project, so the Buenos Aires trip died as well.
Everything was still fine on the surface; I had many plans to fill my time and friends around to fill it with (as long as it wasn’t weekdays between 9am and 6pm), but that’s often the problem with me: so many plans that they can’t all come to fruition. Sometimes they collide with each other in my head and cancel each other out. Sometimes they’re too crazy to ever even work, and sometimes they die off with a lack of effort.
Regardless, I feel each death. Each project that pops into my head, but doesn’t get brought into reality, becomes another example of my failed use of time. Each one brings up the old adage I heard my entire childhood on the baseball field: “There’s always somebody working harder than you.”
That’s great if you need to push somebody in the instant to dig deeper, but what happens when you let that idea fester? Every instant I’m not writing or filming or working towards a project, I’m being passed by somebody that is. Every moment that isn’t put towards the creation or something is another moment that the infinitely small window of opportunity gets even smaller. Why create that kind of neurosis in children?
What it leads to is days where I do laundry, write for a couple of hours, finish reading a book, and still feel like a complete waste of life because I didn’t leave my house until the evening.
I can rationalize it all I want: my friends all have jobs are are busy during the day. I had a crazy holiday weekend and needed to relax. I have a basketball game tonight, so I never workout before that. I still got a lot of things done.
The trouble is, when you’re the only one who can see what you may or may not have accomplished, and you’ve also created an army of hypothetical people who, in your mind, are always working harder than you, there’s no possible way you can top them. There’s no way you can satisfy yourself.
Which is why once every couple of weeks over the summer, while everybody is working and envisioning the luxurious life of teachers, I’m sitting in my apartment, thinking of all the things I could be doing better and the productivity that somebody else would be enjoying if they had the same amount of time off that I do.
It always passes. I wind up leaving the house to see friends, or have a breakthrough in a project that leaves me satisfied. But for that one moment that fear is real; the thought that anybody else would be doing more with my life than I am. That I’m somehow wasting this incredible gift of time that everybody else seems to envy me for.
See, that’s the funny thing about time, and envy, it seems so harmless until you find yourself with too much of it.