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Featured ArticleThe Fallacy of Free Time

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Although the weather has been far from summerlike, visions of lazy, sunny, iced tea days have begun to assault my consciousness. Since I work all through the summer, have no plans for vacation, and dread the challenge of chauffeuring a cantankerous teenager to all of his commitments over the next few months, I should probably consider beverages far stronger than iced tea. But when stores start selling plastic pitchers with pictures of lemons, bright yellow corn holders, and as many products to attract the sun as they do to repel it, I forget that I can't stand the heat, am subject to virulent sunburn, and haven't looked good in shorts since I was toilet trained. When I think of summer, I revert automatically into relaxation mode, and I feel forced into making plans worthy of a social director on a Caribbean cruise ship.

Despite a chilly rain and some foreboding thunderclaps, I was in summermode when the New York Times arrived on Sunday morning. I had been waiting for the Summer Reading issue of the "Book Review" so that I could devise a list of warm-weather reading raptures for lazy afternoons in the hammock I keep meaning to buy. I scanned the Table of Contents. First, the Nonfiction, so that I could pretend I still harbor serious intellectual interests and want more from a book than an enraptured evening, a good catharsis, or a few tastes of tangy wordplay on the tongue. The Making of a Psychiatrist, by Charles B. Strozier, was reviewed by a psychology professor from the University of Virginia. I had studied Heinz Kohut in graduate school. A few flashes of recognition lit up in some nether regions. Onto the list it went. And Michael Pollan's A Plant's Eye View of the World actually sounded interesting. " manages to deliver," the reviewer promises, "new ways of looking at things and occasionally, whole new mental constructs." Not bad for a summer afternoon. I passed over a book on the unknown Sigrid Undset because I really didn't know anything about the known Sigrid Undset, and I didn't want to shock any dormant brain cells into unnatural activity, especially while so many people in the northern hemisphere were on vacation.

Finally free to fantasize in the fiction section, I couldn't avoid the pull of Anne Tyler's Back When We Were GrownUps. She writes about a 53 year old woman trying to recover her original self. I applaud her. At 53, I do everything I can to conceal mine. In the collection of noteworthy new paperbacks, I was relieved to see that, since I had already read several of the titles listed, I could eschew all guilt about avoiding books described as "weird tales of misfits driven by the urge for self-improvement" or "the ostrich in fashion, food and fortune."

Feeling literarily lackadaisical, I moved on to the travel section of the Times, hoping to find some breezy weekend spots where my husband and I could travel with a bottle of wine, straw hats, and whatever progeny would not protest. "Christmas Rush?," the paper cautioned. "Yes, it's Time." Oh dear. Better throw a warm sweater into the bag. A report on exotic locales and eclectic menus in Seoul, Korea sounded great to me, but I'd have trouble convincing the others to go for buckwheat and yam noodles. And most ironically, a wonderful section described all the lovely sites and sounds of classic, picture-postcard New England. It's a great destination. Unfortunately, we are already there.

I am begining to get more and more anxious about relaxing this summer. I have so much relaxing material to read and so many relaxing places to visit that I can't imagine finding time to get everything done. In my free time, I was planning to write a book and catalog the content, colors and condition of my sock drawer. I'm beginning to understand why I've never really liked summer. The concept of free time is seductive because it has no boundaries. We all know what we can do in a designated workday, or even on a day off. But when schedules change, when days turn long and lazy, and when beaches beckon where icy winds usually prevail, we have no rules to keep us safe. The ultimate irony is trying to schedule the very concept which can never be scheduled -- free time. So listen hard for the Good Humor bells, and squish some sand between your toes. We may no longer be babies, but we can still boom!

Written by Marcia Brown Rubinstien
June 26, 2001

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