What’s in a moment? If it’s a summer moment, there might be wisps of breeze in leaves and abundant sultry heat. Isn’t a moment the ultimate timeless time frame; doesn’t its passing nature transcend ordinary timed context? Measuring time at the best of times is a sticky philosophical proposition: “the measurement of time is puzzling in a way in which the measurement of space need not be (where the whole spatial object can be present now)” (Smart, J.J.C. 126). At AU, being present in the now at our study desk can be no steady task on a gloriously sweltering day.
Something intuitive and untrappable lingers with time on a summer’s afternoon. Being students of time management almost as much as of our particular academic disciplines, summer provides additional challenges and opportunities—not only for our success, but for us to enjoy the ride. Each present tense only happens once, but we don’t have to get all uptight about it. Summer’s abyssal pleasure allows calm to wash over the essence of our being. It’s alright to sometimes let our academic deadlines lapse and our life responsibilities evaporate—just for now, just for a moment, just outside of the frame of time. These times of timeless pause, not where a second hand lingers, quivers, and trembles awaiting the resumption of its inexorable march, can be priceless as we rejuvenate ourselves. Ever since childhood the advent of summer has carried implications for scholastic liberation. Remember those glorious ten weeks or so when no adult could ask us that timeless question: aren’t you supposed to be studying? As adult students, we too can enjoy the break the season provides. We simply have to remember to put our coursework aside and embrace the inspiring inactivity summertime has to offer.
At AU, the struggle to chill and relax is real. Just to bask on a summer’s day requires us to displace the eternal recurrence of that gnawing sense that maybe, just maybe, we really ought to be studying instead of kicking back. The trick is to put our studies on hold lest we feel the weight of, at some level, always being in class. On the bright side, at AU we also always have class. We’re classy even though we don’t physically attend class; distance education puts us in a class of our own and we ought to be proud of ourselves. And even if we don’t find that perfect bathing suit (or sculpt our bodies to match), we always have the success of our academic lives to fall back on.
Bored on a hot summer afternoon? There’s always more coursework to do; it’s like the dishes, though, once we sign up for such adulting we’ve bought the ticket and have to take the ride. But crawling into our study hole and waiting for the first touches of Autumn to creep in through the window, the shadowy gloamings leering closer by the day, may not be the ideal option. Summer is ready when we are, and enjoying it doesn’t have to be a struggle; nor does cramming it’s empty spaces full of coursework need to be a prideful accomplishment. It pays to let go of our skilled, productive selves now and then. Perhaps within those warm summer breezes and their tendency to pacify our seemingly-better academic minds lies not contradiction but inspiration: summer can actually be the ultimate study environment if we get used to looking at the season that way. And part of being a successful student is being properly recharged.
A Song in the Heart, Joyful Breezes Through the Mind
A half century ago Ella Fitzgerald beautifully crooned:
And the living is easy
Fish are jumping
And the cotton is high
One of these days
You’re gonna wake up singing
And spread your little wings and fly”
Why not wake up singing today, in midday, as though we’d slumbered through the hours until now, wiled them away slumped over in productivity? Our return to school via AU has already poured the foundation of our future success in life; summer can be a great time to marinate in our accomplishment as distance students. We flew from the nest of comfort and entered the jungles of academia. And we emerged stronger and unscathed! All is not buttercup selfies and ice cream cones in the song of AU life, however. Summer gives, at best, a brief pause or reset from our academic trials and tribulations. Our pedagogical reality is our constant companion; it remains through the seasons so long as we are registered in a course. But that fact doesn’t have to prevent our enjoyment of lustrous summer days. In fact, becoming mindful of that constant niggling feeling that studying could be done at any time may help us identify ambivalence toward other people and the tasks we have in our lives. As a fortune cookie said somewhere, “The way we think one thing is the way we think every thing.”
What’s certain to this “Fly on the Wall” is that being too much of our own taskmaster is pretty much a sure-fire ticket to distance education struggles. Sometimes it’s best to just leave those textbooks untended and, like a fish lunging at a shred of BBQ prawn on a hook, seek an alternative current, a secondary stream forward, as we face the need (not only the want) to acquire additional AU credits. An hour’s rest with a lemonade may be worth two hours of continued study drudgery. In fact, if AU ever feels like drudgery the worst you can do is reduce your studies to dishes status! Taking a break when it feels right, rather than when it’s pre-planned, is a great summer task to set for ourselves. Let’s embrace the path of least resistance; not procrastination, but aversion to the age-old menace: guilt!
Pleasure in Meaningless Pleasure
Pursuing gilded guilty pleasures, covered in gold and perhaps buried between two suspiciously thigh-shaped rocks in an Indiana Jones vault, may seem almost too decadent to do in our button-downed academic minds. Time itself is a classic example; we may feel like we don’t have the time to let up in our studies and, frankly, that may be true. But wait, it’s freakin’ summer! The seasonal fates are against us, so why not get counter-intuitive? Studying may not be easy this time of year, but that doesn’t mean we have to try extra hard. Sometimes we need to just indulge ourselves and ward off deeper frustrations. There’s such thing as being too good a student, after all.
When we become too good, or desire to be too good, our rock-solid ethical sensibilities may hold us back from becoming ourselves at our best. Likewise, without due care, our virtuous minds may prevent us from enjoying summer for what it is or can be if we choose to embrace its glow. When we affix meaning and morality to every act in our lives, such as when we cannot but wonder if our better selves ought to be studying rather than lounging, we risk missing out on the ephemeral joys that make summer a magical time for students of all ages. There’s also such thing as too much studiousness, after all.
The Virtues of De-Moralizing Our Summer
Virtues can run a little too wild and lead to confusion masked in good intentions. The 20th Century philosopher GK Chesterton noted:
“G.K. Chesterton’s warning about ‘virtues running wild’:
The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone (Chesterton, 26).”
Now, Chesterton was a Catholic (who also claimed that “Buddhism and Christianity are really the same.” (Kreeft, 122) but we don’t have to take his word as limited to his particular faith. Secular humanists though many of us at AU be, the essence of moral judgement remains largely unchanged through the decades. Moralizing warnings of negative outcomes (such as telling ourselves to study now or suffer later), lest we stray from some straight and narrow ethical path, are pretty de rigueur wherever Homo sapiens abide. So let’s enjoy some summer relaxation, in whatever way suits us, and see how that makes us feel when we do crack those textbooks again. This is not to say plan to realize some new truth in advance either, just do it when you feel like it and to hell with being virtuous about it!
Being a bit de-moralized may be key to summer liberation of mind and conscience. So let’s consider a counter-virtuous approach to the virtue of taking a summer study break. To leave behind our normal expectations of ourselves, masked as they are in the virtue of imagining ourselves as academic savants, means to substitute some alternate virtues that will lead not only to run-of-the-mill productivity but stir up some inchoate inspiration. So just slam the textbook shut and enjoy some summer for as long as feels right! But will inspiration follow from unplanned whimsy? It may, and there’s no methodology to prove or disprove it: we have to just try it out. We all know time flies when having fun but let’s also remember that having fun isn’t about turning on a mental light switch.
Time and the Studying Animal
In the meantime, it bears remembering that time itself is species dependent and, let’s be honest, time also differs drastically betwixt human individuals and even within ourselves depending on what we are doing. There’s that nasty straight line between drudgery and studying again; steer away! At the general level, some folks really seem to live on island time, while others manage to accomplish things in their right way without seeming to be aware of the ominous, ticking, drumming, fingers of time passing away. To succeed at AU means to find what study mentality, and time management or intuition about such, works for us.
Enjoying summer may mean freeing our mental mooring from time constraints. And hey, do we ever really know what time it is in a universal way anyway? In his consideration of ‘What it’s Like to be a Dragonfly’, Benedict O’Connell notes that when it comes to time, we just can’t be sure if our minds are given any dose of accuracy in their sensory interpretation of what’s going on out there in the world.
“Consider a human looking at a dragonfly whizzing past. They perceive the insect as moving at a certain speed; but other species’ perception is different. For a turtle, it would appear to be moving at almost twice the speed; for many species of fly, ten times slower than for a human. This is due to animals’ brains processing their visual experiences at different speeds. For instance, brains receive images from eyes a certain number of times per second: a human brain will receive, on average, 24 images a second, turtles 15, and flies 250. This idea goes some way to illustrate Kant’s view of the subjectivity of time, as well as explaining why if you try to swat a fly you’re unlikely to be successful” (O’Connell, online)
Whatever We Do, We Can Make it our Virtue
But we can’t just thrust aside our watches or smartphones and let time as we understand it just be, either. To become consciously unconscious of something like a school assignment is no easy play; inspiration and creativity are not susceptible or reducible to an equation. Yet, it’s ingrained into us to be time-aware, so the best thing we can do is accept the existence of plans and deadlines and then see if any inspiration alights upon our minds.
Immanuel Kant concluded essentially that “people impose certain basic features on the raw data of their sense organs because of the human mind’s inbuilt structure” and, if we find the time to argue with him, we might best do it with reference to the poetic affluence of our imaginative unconscious. To this end the Caribbean poet Aime Cesaire announced: “reason, I sacrifice you to the evening breeze” (Cesaire, online). This sort of sacrifice, rather than being booked in advance, needs space to survive. Summer provides this relaxing climate of potential. While the season may not literally be a vacation for us as AU students, as its sweet embrace continues to unfold ephemeral magic, let’s sacrifice the logic and reason of our study selves to the joyful exuberance of pleasurable play. And hey, who knows what new essay and assignment ideas might emerge when we just up and leave our coursework at a moment’s notice.