I always have that song stuck in my head this time of year. “Schoooool’s out…for…SUMMER!” sings Alice Cooper to me whether I’m brushing my teeth or writing marketing copy. If I let myself daydream, I can see images of the kids from, “Dazed and Confused,” tearing out of their classrooms in freedom and a fat Ben Affleck running around trying to beat up that freshman kid that got away.
The reason this happens to me is it’s graduation season. That predictable time every year where your Facebook blows up with complaints about finals, and Instagram fills with photos depicting proud scholars at either study sessions or graduation parties. CNN, Fox News and NBC will regularly run stories calculating the likelihood of these weary academics landing actual jobs. More talk about “the economy” will fuel over-makeuped newscasters, as they express concerns that Bachelor’s and Master’s alike may very well go back to barista-ing in the coffee shop concocting double tall, nonfat, extra hot, sugar free vanilla lattes.
Most of us on the other side look back fondly as well as with relief. “Ah, I remember that moment, I had the whole world in front of me.” “Damn, I’m glad that shit is over.” “Sssssssuckers!!” I’ve marched my last pomp and circumstance, but I still get that hopeful anticipation of summer that I had every year since joining the ranks of formal education.
I think we all do. That’s something we all have in common, that dream of what we would/will do when we graduate[d]. I recall in my final semesters of school often frequenting Lestat’s, a cliché coffee shop filled with mismatching antique furniture and hipsters with overgrown mustaches in an artsy district of town. I’d plop myself down on the largest available of the mismatching furniture and surrender myself to long afternoons of composing, editing, crying over, yet another 30 page research paper.
I vowed to myself as I’d gazed over at the girl on the nearby couch with a giant scarf plucking away at her tiny guitar…? ….Mandolin? Ukulele…no…what the hell was that thing…? Sorry, I just never figured out what that small stringed instrument was. Anyway, I vowed to myself every time Scarfy and I sat in the overstuffed furniture that once I graduated I would come to coffee shops and just write what I wanted.
Or I would pick my guitar back up and maybe jam with Scarfy, strike up a scarf-a-riffic friendship wherein we would talk about birds and plan to hitchhike around Europe. Maybe we’d meet some guys who also liked scarves and stringed instruments, and we would eventually be all the talk of art district coffee houses. Eventually VH1 would do a documentary on our remarkably humble beginnings that eventually lead to folksy stardom, and our patented guit-mando-lele would make us a fortune.
But what really happened was that I graduated, spent the first month job hunting, tanning, and Happy Houring. I told myself I needed a break from writing and any kind of high-level thinking, and the most time I would spend in any kind of book was the mimosa menu at brunch. I fortunately landed a steady position at a start-up company, and have been quite busy with that ever since.
It’s a gift and a curse having gainful employment. I don’t have the worries I had in that month between graduation and my first day of grown-up work…I know now that I can pay for those brunch mimosas. But it’s a bit of a curse lacking the flexibility of time. As I type this I glance at the clock, buying myself a few more minutes before I absolutely have to start getting ready for the day, and sometimes my thoughts drift to…”Now when is that first meeting? Wait, do I have any meetings today? What am I going to make for lunch…”
Work takes a lot out of you, and often it takes away our zeal and time to be creative. I know that’s what happened to me for the last year. Typically when I make it to Friday after a hard week (and that’s every week), I’m all, “YEEEAAAHH!!!! The weekend is HERE!” The delirious joy I get when the Seattle college station I stream KEXP plays “the Friday song” on my drive in to work follows me throughout the day as I fantasize of the adventures I’ll have that weekend. There’s always something to do, a distraction to indulge in. I live by the damn beach, and those waves just beckon me to them…once I get close enough the sand turns into quicksand, forcing me to stop, set out my beach towel and just lay down.
Then Saturday is gone. Sunday arrives and most of it is consumed with dread that the very next day is Monday and ruh-roh, that means back to the refinery.
But let’s go all the way back to the young college hopeful in the overstuffed antique chair. Is this they way she would appreciate me spending my time? She was so trapped, burdened with deadlines and stressed out professors. She would often say, “I can’t WAIT until I have a 9 to 5er! When I’m done for the day, I’ll be done. Then I’ll have every late afternoon all to myself to do whatever I want. And the weekends will have no call to homework! It will truly be freedom and I’ll really be able to get all my projects done.”
I dreamed of returning to those overstuffed chairs with no due date or assignment. And at the time of this writing, I have let exactly 12 months pass since my last visit to that glorious little hole, spending my weekends instead focused on “resting” from my work week or dreading the work week ahead.
So in homage to that burdened young hopeful that was me this time last year, I will finally do it. I’ll return to some kitschy coffee shop this weekend. I’ll just sit there and sip my coffee. Maybe I’ll bring a book, my computer, or a guit-mando-lele.
And when I gaze over at a stressed out academic, whose eyes are bagged from pulling frequent all-nighters and hands are shaking from caffeine overdose, I’ll smile and take a deep breath. One, because I don’t have a single fucking final to be worried about. And two, that I’ll have finally made it to the peaceful side of the coffee shop.
So here we are at Friday! Congratulations to all of you who are graduating this year, whether it’s high school or some level of university, it’s a huge accomplishment. And for those of you who finished your scholastic march in years past, enjoy your weekend. But let’s make this weekend count so that when Monday comes, we know that we invested time in not only relaxing, but taking those steps we dreamed of when we were still in school. After all, there’s still the whole summer ahead, and every weekend is practice to make it a good one.