Summer's Almost Gone

Chad W. Lutz
The days are getting shorter, the air crisper, and the leaves are beginning to brown. Football seasons are in full swing, and pennant races are heating up. All around us are signs that summer is officially drawing to an end. But no bigger sign of summer ending is the return to academia hanging over the fun and freedom of the warm summer months like an axe. Beginning this upcoming week, many of the schools in this country officially re-open for business, effectively ending the promise of freedom so many young Americans hold onto during the brutal winter months, when the days drag on forever and the nights never end.

But why do I feel it? I'm 27-years old and five-years removed from any affiliation with school or the academic world. I have my diploma and my degree. In fact, the last time I set foot in a classroom was May 8, 2008. And yet, around this time every year, a malignant morose for the summer, like the end is now closer than the beginning, creeps on, even though I experience the same ritual of get-up-drive-to-work-put-in-my-eight-hours-and-drive-home five days a week, every week and have consistently for the last three years.

So why is it that I still feel like the walls are closing in, the canoe is taking on water, and that time is running out every time I see a back-to-school sign? Shouldn't I be inwardly taunting the suckers who have to drag themselves back to class come the end of the month with a righteous "Nana, nana, boo boo, your face is made of doo-doo?"

For the graduated and employed, summer never technically ends. It lasts as long as you'd like it to; as long as you think it does and perceive it to. Aside from obvious weather discrepancies, there never has to be a beginning and an end, but a continual flow. There aren't sudden months off from your day job and eventual pick-back-up to some graduated level of existence we used to experience every year, for the 15 to 20 years of our lives deemed academia.

"Last year I was a freshman, but this year I'm a sophomore!"

How wonderful would that be? Leave your job as a mid-level peon grunter and return, like the butterfly springing forth from the cocoon, a senior vice president with full benefits and stock options.

But that still doesn't explain the lack; it doesn't change the fact that any sense of freedom I feel during the summer comes to a cataclysmic end the third week of August every year from the mere sight of Adventure Time lunchboxes stacked from floor to ceiling at my local Target whether I'm in school or not.

Let's turn to science…

In a 2009 study published in Environmental Health, Issue 8, Volume 34, documenting the effects of sunlight exposure on cognitive function, researchers determined that limited access to sun exposure: "increased the probability of cognitive impairment". The study also concluded that the corresponding doses of UV exposure also greatly determined the probability of decreased cognitive function.

So, let's get this straight: every winter, whether I like it or not, I either need to move, go tanning, invest in a heat lamp or expect to spend the waning months of the solar calendar suffering from gradually numbing cosmic dementia?

Jagged little pill.
Anyone have Kleenex…or perhaps a mental chisel? (www.ecocatlady.blogspot.com)
Well, how about psychology?

Ph.D Christine Harris of UCSD defines the experience of jealousy as: "a deeply negative emotion that arises when an important relationship is threatened by a rival" in a 2004 research study called The Evolution of Jealousy. In her work, Harris examines the behavioral phenomenon as it manifests in males and females, specifically in terms of relationships stemming from the act of mating. As exciting as all of that is, what does that have to do with the lump in my throat when I see a school bus roaming my neighborhood on a practice route in mid-August?

It's true; I always intended on going to grad school, but like so many other people I know, impending student loans and lack of any real money to put toward a second degree without piling on even more debt keeps me from going back (for now). Perhaps I'm jealous of others in school and inwardly wish I was back in academia. I'd be willing to admit that, sure. An English degree is basically useless, and I'm sure others can empathize with their own fruitless attempts at finding careers post-college in their respective fields, but that doesn't account for seeing school buses and instantly feeling like I should drop to my stomach, wail, and pound the Earth like a toddler.

Maybe philosophy can help?

Another behavioral researcher, sociologist Lynne G. Zucker of UCLA, wrote a lengthy disposition on the subject of institutionalization published in 1977 regarding its existence as, what she calls, "cultural persistence". Borrowing from or building largely upon German philosopher Georg Wilhem Friedrich Hegel, Zucker explains there are two types of cultural persistence: subsystem and normative framework, the latter of which mirrors Hegelian philosophy in that the collective consciousness of a state or entity creates the social norms which then subconsciously imprint in our minds.

I promise this is getting somewhere…

For example, America was founded on the premises of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. These are the subconscious divining rods which most Americans filter Truth through, especially in terms of ethics and morals. Conversely, those who oppose American standards of moral and ethical behavior use the antithesis or opposites of these beliefs and everyone else sort of falls in between. Merely existing in something, then, gives rise to belief and vice versa.

The opposite of that, Zucker offers, is institutionalization or cultural persistence through subsystems, which are merely sectors or facets of humanity that carry specific sets of rules and moral and ethical codes, like school. Though achieved in an opposing manner, the rules and norms of school form behavioral patterns, and after enough time, individuals within these systems adopt their rules and norms as diving rods or filters for Truth.

Wow. There we go. Finally back on subject.

Now, having gone through 17 years of cultural persistence (K-12 + College), whether it was through the collective beliefs unconsciously imprinted in my mind of the expectations of school and life thereafter, or my adoption and subservience to norms created by the system of school itself, I have effectively become school and school has become me. Like the loss of a loved one, cessation of this magnitude takes a moment to digest, especially in a post-college world where I'm instantly forced to adopt new schedules, lifestyles, and routines and completely new sets of norms, which may never serve as permanent as those experienced in school.
I could agree with that. Sure. Maybe after five years I still miss going to class, hurrahing at football games, go-all-night parties, and learning about things that I actually want to learn about, instead of just being force-fed state-mandated curriculum in settings of peers who largely couldn't give a shit. It's like the classic psychological example of conditioning, much the way, at a subconscious level, we blindly believe the sun will rise tomorrow with little or no question to the matter, even though no one can ever prove the bright, bulbous star typically illuminating the sky will actually climb the horizon tomorrow morning the same way it did today. Conditioning, "cultural persistence" or institutionalization, however you want to slice it, subconsciously tricks us to hold expected outcomes of how reality plays out overtime, regardless of lack of empirical evidence. By golly, that sun will rise, come Hell or high water.

So, here I am, out of school yet feeling the summer blues, despite no class schedules or term papers to worry about for as long as I deem appropriate. I'm out, done, finito, completado, no mas, señor, no mas. Estoy libre. But, according to the sources consulted above, there's good reason for that. It's alright that I feel like I lost a puppy to a tragic car accident when the clock reads 7:45pm and already the sun is playing hide and seek with the tree line on the horizon. Now I know the feeling itself may be more out of my control than ever realized, and also that I may not be the only person on the planet who feels that way. Knowledge is half the battle when it comes to emotional and psychological well-being, but at least I know I'm not crazy (well, that might be up for debate, regardless).

But, ya know, even a setting sun holds a certain charm of beauty. A lot can be said about that. Sure, summer is an exciting time, and yes, it can be rather sad to see the leaves turn and fall and the daylight hours shrink, much in the same way that finding a single grey hair can ruin a day, even if it’s only a single grey hair. Is it ever fun to feel jealousy or regret? Of course not. Do we all feel these things at one time or another? Abso-lutley. Yes, summer is ending, but that doesn’t have to mean the end of the world. Perhaps it’s just nice to know someone else out there feels the same way about the passage of time and what all of those ticks and tocks amount to in relation to the human spirit.