Let’s just pretend

Launching into Limbo

Gone are the blissful days when “nothing” or “I don’t know” were acceptable responses to the dreaded question: “What are you going to do this summer?” Gone too are the summers when you could do “nothing” without feeling an undeniable and burning pressure to make yourself busy. Immediately.

Summer résumé-building — pushed by internship-hungry friends, expectant family and the depths of my own self-conscious mind — was present during high school. Now, in college, it has become inescapable. Idleness is simply not an option.

Instead, it seems that everything we college students do between May and August is in preparation for the future. Our pastimes must be practical and constructive, our activities applicable and hirable. A stubborn urgency crowds our subconscious. There really is no time to waste, or so we’re told.

But before the future became real — before it found itself perpetually lodged at the forefront of our minds — we were free to fantasize. This summer, as I think about the beginnings of a potential career, I can’t help but recall past summers spent reveling in impractical and unhirable job exploration.

It started around age 8, when my twin sister and I decided to try our hands at espionage. We had this small spy briefcase, fit with rearview glasses, invisible ink, hidden compartments and special magnifying lenses: truly the essentials for a couple of preadolescent household spies. Outfitted with gear, we would spend the summer hours observing our mother, who I can only imagine found our attempts at covert surveillance rather amusing.

From the refuge of my bedroom, we’d monitor her various activities and location around the house. Scrupulous notetakers, we recorded all nefarious action we witnessed: my mom cutting strawberries in the kitchen, my mom eating lunch at the dining room table, even my mom (strawberries in hand) walking the unpredictable 3 feet between said kitchen and table — a surprising and apparently noteworthy addition to our intel.

As the day progressed, we’d slowly advance, always in search of optimal vantage points behind walls, countertops and large furniture. Our operations were to remain completely undetected — or at least, that was the goal. Together, the two of us ensured that any overt criminal activity within our home was kept under close watch.

But as we grew older, my sister and I quickly realized that household espionage wasn’t as glamorous as we had hoped or envisioned it to be. We didn’t find top-secret fruit-chopping all that exciting anymore, and so, at about age 9, it came time for a career shift: Rapid Rewards, the loyalty program for Southwest Airlines. Of course, we didn’t really know what a loyalty program was back then. We just saw one of their pamphlets lying around the house and thought the name sounded cool.

Every day, my sister and I would carry our desks and chairs out into the living room and set up a small but functional office space. We made phone calls and wrote letters, scheduled nonexistent appointments and corresponded with nonexistent clients. I think we even made our own business cards — handwritten, of course, and on binder paper. I’m not exactly sure what there was to talk about, but any conversation between our two invisible cubicles was all business.

Soon, though, we grew weary of our 9-to-5 stint at Rapid Rewards and sought something new. We decided to test our skills as librarians, and because both of us loved books and had shelves full of them in our rooms, working with them proved both intriguing and convenient. Plus, stamping the flaps of the books — surely a trivial part of a librarian’s job — turned out to be a highly entertaining way to spend our days.

And so we bounced from pretend job to pretend job, changing course on a whim and never giving too much thought to which ones we chose or what true responsibilities they might’ve entailed. Really, none of that mattered to us. We simply enjoyed imagining.

Looking back at the range of fields we explored in those few short summers, our career paths seem rather far-fetched. Try finding a résumé with the line “Secret-agent-turned-airline-representative-turned-neighborhood-librarian” running across the top. Unlikely, especially for a 9-year-old. But that was the beauty of it. Unbounded by the pressure of our futures, my sister and I were free to embrace a wonderful plethora of unofficial, unpaid and generally unsubstantiated professional opportunities.

No longer. Granted, I am 19 now, and spending my days making fake phone calls to people who don’t exist would certainly raise some valid concerns. But those unburdened years — spent pursuing entirely made-up occupations from the comfort of my living room — seemed valuable to me. They still do.

This summer, as I think about the beginnings of a potential career, I can’t help but recall the days when my summers were spent make-believing with abandon and when impracticality was the goal and improbability the reward.

And fun, too. Enough to share.

Jericho Rajninger writes the Thursday column on the liminal space between childhood and adulthood during a summer home from college. Contact him at [email protected]