The summer of magical thinking: A personal essay

File/Michael Drummond
Michael Drummond/File

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I don’t know why, but I have always believed in the promise of summer. Every year when May rolls around, I tell myself that the time is coming to fall in love, read more, write more and culture myself as I adventure to places that will enrich my soul. Every year I fail to meet any of these goals. This summer was going to be different; I was staying in the Bay Area with the freedom to do as I pleased as an “adult” with minimal responsibilities. 

In the end, I entered summer with a freshly torn heart, read two books, wrote only a few thousand words and explored no further than Monterey. I was asleep by midnight most nights, and I did all my homework and grocery shopping in a timely manner. 

It was magical. 

Spring semester had not been kind to my mental health, and I found myself needing not a physical escape, but a mental restructuring.  

My manifesto for the summer — half of my completed summer reading — was UC Berkeley alumna Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking,” an account of the year following the unexpected death of her husband. In this book, she deals with grief and the ramifications of recognizing her own deep loneliness. Didion’s story is melancholic, yes, but it isn’t grim. It is speckled with starlight as she learns to navigate her new life as best she can. The title comes from a psychological term that describes “the belief that one’s ideas, thoughts, actions, words, or use of symbols can influence the course of events in the material world.” Didion suggests that some element of this does play a role in coping.

I am not a superstitious person, but this summer seemed to confirm some of the logic of having a positive attitude that went beyond the banal rallying cries for “good vibes” ubiquitous on social media.

I am not a superstitious person, but this summer seemed to confirm some of the logic of having a positive attitude that went beyond the banal rallying cries for “good vibes” ubiquitous on social media. Something about screaming Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” with the windows down in my bestie’s car as we drove up College Avenue in the wee hours of the morning helped ease the pain of my breakup, and something about simply willing that I would take better care of myself resulted in my eating and sleeping at regular times, which my body and brain appreciated. 

None of this is particularly revolutionary, but for me, that was the point — the simplicity of the summer recentered me. The tempest of Berkeley with its urban sprawl and its absolute academic demands do not often leave me with the space to think thoughts of my own —   “unproductive” thoughts — let alone magical thoughts. No, this summer granted me the perfect balance of leisure, work and rest. 

I am not naive enough to think that I will be able to sustain this stable state in which I have found myself. The cutthroat environment of UC Berkeley is not conducive to so lofty a goal. Blame it on capitalism or postmodernism or the political climate — it is definitely all of the above. These days it seems that there is so much one must cram into their minds in order to get ahead or to become woke — both important priorities — that we forget the most important thing we can give ourselves: space. 

So I suppose I am writing this as a record to myself in the not-so-distant future to verify that I am capable of peace. The summer gave me a glimpse of what a balanced, healthy mental life can look like, and I do not want to forget its taste. I have not given up hope that my life will one day be oriented in appropriate proportions, but until that day comes, I will will it, and I will preach the benefits of willing what you want into existence.   

But I hope that as midterms and brutal class curves descend on me like vultures, I will not forget that despair is not the only possible reaction to hardship, even if it is the easiest one. 

In all honesty, I do not know if my mind will weather the first week of classes. The prospect of upperclassman-ness and the already taxing responsibility of club obligations have begun to erode the firm foundation that I spent all summer constructing. But I hope that as midterms and brutal class curves descend on me like vultures, I will not forget that despair is not the only possible reaction to hardship, even if it is the easiest one.

And though I regret that the summer has drawn to a close, I pray that my thoughts remain magical.

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Contact Edrick Sabalburo at [email protected].