Summer is coming.
In the mostly temperate Berkeley, its approach can be subtle. There are fewer jackets in the morning, more nakedness on Memorial Glade in the afternoon. There are landlords happily waiting outside of their May-to-May lease properties for their fifth showing today, residents inside those apartments wondering when the incessant traipsing through their living room will end.
There’s that golden glow that seems to cover everything on sunny afternoons and that feels more appropriate as the backdrop for vain photos at the Botanical Garden than for learning microeconomics at a desk in a musty bedroom.
And for college students, that’s where the sluggishness comes in, the end-of-semester, end-of-the-year sluggishness. It slips into your head with the heat and liquefies anything that might have been effective living there.
And yet, for all summer wants to slow you down, it’s not forgiving if you come to any kind of stop.
Because there are expectations in summer. There is the expectation that you will have spent the late fall and early spring secretly preparing for summer’s arrival. You will have prepared a resume and a way to pitch yourself, and you would have applied for a drove of internships and got a great one and found a way to accommodate its lack of pay, and you will be one step closer to making it.
Or you will have envisioned, applied for and been accepted to a perfect, life-changing experience. You will go to Spain! You will live by the seaside, in the mountains, in the beating heart of a city — you will have a Summer in the Sun and you will come back Changed.
There are expectations that you will have prepared your body. You will be ready to be bare-shouldered and barefoot, young and beautiful. You will have purchased your Ray-Ban sunglasses and perfected your carefree-counterculture ‘60s style.
You belong on a beach on the Fourth of July in high-waisted shorts and an American flag tank top, an icy cold beer in one lazy hand. And if that isn’t where you are, you’re missing out.
And this is the ideal of summer: The weather refuses to change, and you’re stuck in unflinching perfection and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Fall and winter are different. The fall is a movement toward something, a downward slope -— in temperature, in daylight hours — speeding into the anonymity of black winter mornings.
When it’s dark when you wake up, it’s OK if you go back to sleep for a few hours. It’s OK if you just don’t feel like getting up. It’s OK if you don’t feel like looking good or feeling good. The darkness is forgiving in a way that the fiery summer is not.
And by the time fall rolls around, everything is already decided. You’ve figured out your fall schedule, and spring classes have been decided early in the semester, and instead of spending all of your time worrying about what’s next, you just get to decide what to do right now.
However you spend your nights in the fall is OK, too. You might end up wandering through dark streets looking for something fun to do, and it’s OK if you don’t because this is just one weekend, and like the weather, things change quickly in the fall.
The school year is new, and everyone is looking for something new. Today isn’t good, but tomorrow might be. With no incessant sunshine, things feel mutable. They are mutable. It’s OK if you mess up in the fall. There is no need for pretensions of already being there, of having participated in spring’s growth and bounded into an eternally brilliant summer. The fall is a time to try out something new, to actually make the changes you’ll spend the spring trying to narrativize into the story of your life.
Everywhere is shelter in the fall. The inside of your jacket is shelter and the inside of your bed and the inside of your head. Cafes, even the dirty ones, are Hemingway’s “clean well-lighted places,” waiting to take you in and warm you up and let you study and think without the dissection the gleaming sun allows. It is a space of community, of people coming together because they rely on the warmth that communal places offer.
And it rains in the winter. And when it rains, it’s OK if your clothes are disheveled and your hair looks bad. It’s OK if your apartment is messy and if you lay in bed all afternoon.
But summer is coming, and I’m terrified. I’m terrified that I won’t measure up to its brilliance and its beauty — to its insistence that this world is wonderful and that if I’m not feeling that wonder, it’s my own damn fault.