I’ll admit it: I was feeling sorry for myself. I’m the lead for a major project at work, and that project doesn’t launch until the last week of July. Until then my summer’s going to consist of a never-ending series of meetings, reports, and general cat-herding aimed at making sure everything goes perfectly in high summer.
When I wasn’t working, I was coaching my son’s Little League team, which was its own special kind of project management. It wasn’t until late June before things could even think of calming down. That summer vacation? I couldn’t see that happening until August. And August felt a very, very long way off.
It really hit me when I started putting together my annual summer reading list. Last summer I read 13 books and five graphic novels; this summer has about the same number. Looking over the list — which included books I can’t wait to read, like Ernst Cline’s new novel Armada and James S.A. Corey’s Nemesis Games — I couldn’t help but feel depressed. When the hell was I going to have time to read all these books? When was I going to have time to do anything that isn’t work or family related this summer?
Stressed out and wallowing in self pity … I decided, screw it. I’m taking back my summer before it even starts. Everyone has crazy summers, and some are far crazier than mine. Yeah, I’ve got a lot of long work days ahead of me, and yeah, the kids’ sports will devour time like a giant space worm, but damn it … I will find a way to make this crazy summer work. Others agreed. Seeing that my calendar was packed between now and my August vacation, my boss recommended taking a few extra days off to regain sanity. I did so — I’m took off two Fridays and in June and I’m looking at nice, long Fourth of July weekend. If things are going well, I might take another day in July.
Oh, and I started building a list.
The Primary Summer Goal List
1. Exercise like it’s 1985: 1985 was a great year. Back to the Future came out on July 3, and I discovered an awesome animated series called Robotech. The 13-year-old me also had a surprisingly good exercise routine — I’d get up in the morning, jump on my bike, ride a few miles delivering newspapers, then come back home just in time to watch an episode of Robotech.
It was a glorious time. I’m bringing it back. I finally buy myself the complete Robotech series, and my plan is to go for my morning run with Indiana, my yellow Labrador retriever, then come home and watch an episode over breakfast. I’ve been doing this for the last month, and it’s gone a long way toward keeping me sane.
2. Reading Days: Reading fiction books is how I downshift. Waiting until August to get to the meet of my summer reading list would be idiotic. Giving up on my reading list would be even worse. Instead, I’m taking some of the aforementioned vacation time and allocating it toward reading. There are a few books — the ones I usually save for vacation, like The Expanse and Lost Fleet sequels — that I’ll still read in August, but everything else is fair game. I’ve been making good progress on the list. I’ve already finished Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie, The Courts of Chaos by Roger Zelazny, and Marque and Reprisal by Elizabeth Moon.
I also have a huge backlog of comic books — about 5 months worth — that I want to spend a vacation day reading. Fortunately it doesn’t include any of the Marvel Secret Wars crossover titles — I decided not to collect any of those and instead wait for the re-launch titles to start shipping in the fall. I plan on spending Christmas vacation catching up on the Secret Wars storylines once they show up in Marvel Unlimited.
3. Summer Movies: I love a good movie, and I’m a sucker for a blockbuster summer movie. Each summer I try and see one or two big movies in the theatre; maybe three if I’m really lucky. It’s not easy — as a teenager, and even in my 20s, I was a huge movie-goer, but being a family man means I need to pick my movies more carefully. That means skipping some of the movies I might really want to see in favor of a home release.
I’m not doing that this summer. Now I’m not going to see every speculative fiction movie that comes out, but if there’s a film I think would be significantly better on the big screen, I’m going to make every effort to see it. Case in point, I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road at 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday, not getting back until 1:30 a.m. It’s a film that must be seen in the theatre for its brand of gonzo spectacle to be fully appreciated, and I came damn close to missing its first run.
Instead, I got all my work done, made sure the family was in good order … and headed out at 10:30 p.m. with some friends to see the movie. Yes, I was exhausted the next day, but it was a happy kind of exhaustion. I’ve seen Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jaws: 40th Anniversary Release, and Jurassic World. Still on the list: Terminator: Genisys, Pixels, Ant-man, and Vacation. I’d like to see at least one of these movies at Becky’s Drive-in with my family.
4. Baseball Games: Baseball is one of my favorite ways to relax, and as always I have a few IronPigs games queued up for this summer. I’m also hoping to get in games featuring the Pawtucket Red Sox, Lakewood Blue Claws, Vermont Lake Monsters, and my beloved New York Mets (preferably while they’re still in first place in the National League East… but I’ll settle for any game with the blue and orange).
5. Monster Week: It’s been two years since Nuketown’s last Monster Week, in which I watch seven different creature features and post reviews of them to the website. It’s time to bring it back, likely in late July.
6. Get to the Beach: I’d love to spend a day at the Jersey Shore this year soaking in the sun, playing in the sand and surf with the kids and (of course) reading. Fortunately, I’ve already got this day planned for late August, when some friends and I from work will go to the shore, then catch a Lakewood Blue Claws game (how’s that for summer efficiency?)
7. Fly model rockets: When I was a kid I used to build and fly rockets all the time. My rocket habit was enabled by my dad, who ran summertime rocketry programs for the township I grew up in, and organized a 4-H rocketry club. This summer my friends and I are getting back into model rockets. Building them should be easy … finding a place to fly them know, is hard. If anyone knows of a large private lot in Northampton County, Pa. where we can fly rockets, please let me know.
8. Break the 210 lbs. barrier: Related to my “exercise like 1985” goal is to finally break the 210 lbs. barrier. I’m close — my weight is bouncing around 212 lbs. — and losing a few more pounds seems like an achievable summer goal.
9. 200,000: My venerable red Jeep, purchased in 1998, is rapidly approaching 200,00 miles. It’s a milestone that’s been years in the making, and my friends and I are going to celebrate by driving around Easton and then grabbing some lunch downtown.
10. Summer Vacation: I can’t forget the summer vacation. The goal here is less about going on vacation, and more about downshifting when I’m on vacation. I want to read, spend time with my family, sleep, read, write, fish with the kids, and, oh yeah, read. I’ll be avoiding my phone during vacation, and I’ll be actively ignoring email.
The Secondary Summer Goal List
The primary list includes the things I really, really want to do this summer. Below is the stuff I’d like to do, if I have time.
11. Write more. It took me six weeks to write this column, which is nuts. I’m happier when I’m writing, which is something I tend to forget when I’m stressed out. Finding an extra 30 minutes to write something for Nuketown isn’t easy, but the mental focus that comes with writing is worth the effort.
12. Finish my map of the southern Pomarj. I’m running two campaigns set on the Pomarj in the World of Greyhawk. I’ve been slowly building out a map of the region in Hexographer; I want to finish that map.
13. Bike more. I love biking, but I haven’t done it in years. Some friends of mine recently got back into it; I’d like to join them.
14. Picture of the Day. I know, I know — I need another project like I need a hole in the head, but man, I had so much fun doing Picture of the Day. The thing I like best about it is how it encourages you to pause and take in your surroundings; that’s all the more important when I’m feeling particularly frantic because of work.
“Keep your eye on the ball”
All in all, I think this is a respectable list and an achievable one. I realize there’s a contradiction in trying to combat the stress spawned by too many work “to do” lists with yet another list, but this more about priorities than getting things done. It’s telling myself what’s important this summer. Sure, there will be work stuff that needs to get done, and my family has their own to-do lists that I’m a part of, but this one’s for me. And, I hope, it’ll go a long way toward keeping me sane.