Officially, my last day of work before the summer vacation is Wednesday, but I expect to be done with everything tomorrow. One of the perks of being a teacher is having summers off, though they aren’t as long as they used to be!
This summer break, the first summer after Catherine’s birth and after moving in to our new house, is much needed. And we plan to take advantage of it by spending time together as a family and by visiting our extended families scattered across Texas (as well as going on vacation to Broken Bow at the end of this week!). We also plan to be very intentional with our time with each other and the girls. While not really a sabbatical, I am thinking of this summer as an intentional time to focus on the things we find most valuable and to pare down the things that we do not think are always good for us.
* * *
First, we plan to turn off Netflix for the summer. Ever since we got engaged almost four years ago, Amanda and I have always had a show going. We’ve slowly watched our way through all of 24, Lost, and The West Wing. We are currently on Parenthood, but we are going to hit pause. While, these days, we only watch Netflix once Ellie is asleep, we tend to spend our evenings vegging out rather than talking or creating or listening to music or planning or dreaming. We want to force ourselves to do some of those things.
Second, we will return to the Whole30 eating plan. This plan, which you can read about here, eliminates from our diet all of the things that one can go overboard on when eating. The purpose of the plan is to make one aware of one’s eating habits, cravings, relationship to food, etc. These are lessons we need to learn as we return to our longing for simplicity, as we model what eating well looks like for our kids, and as we each deal with the various ways in which we have an unhealthy relationship to food.
Third, I plan to stop reading blogs or news articles for the summer. I am taking a class this summer at the Dallas Institute for the Humanities (an organization that exists to equip teachers with mastery of the Great Books) on the Epic Tradition. I have to read something like 3,000 pages in preparation for this class. Additionally, I have several other books that I want to read this summer. So, all in all, I have something close to 4,500 pages of mostly dense literature to get through (you can see a picture of what I will be reading this summer off to the left). I am overjoyed at the prospect, but it will require my concentration (I am estimating about 12 hours per week just reading) in a way that prevents me from having the time or energy to devote to the regular cadre of blogs I read. If I am going to be disciplined (and I am; I have my reading plan in place), then it requires that I take a break.
Fourth, I plan to temporarily cease writing posts for this blog. While I haven’t been consistently writing posts this year, despite my plan, I have produced a handful of longer articles as well as some poems and lots of quotes from the books I am reading. But I don’t really have the time to write for the blog this summer. And, even if I did, I really think I need to take a step back and think about what I want to do in this space. The entire time I have had the blog, I have really just posted whatever is on my mind. But I am not so sure that is necessarily the best approach to take anymore. I want to be more focused and less scattered; and I don’t just want to vomit onto the page whatever is in my mind; I want to craft something. What writing I do this summer, I want to be for my own reflection. I have done hardly any private, reflective writing of any length since my blog really took off in the summer of 2011.
* * *
Each of these items shares an essential focus on the relationship between habit and desire. Our habits both shape and are shaped by our desires. We either consciously develop good habits shaped by our better desires, or we unconsciouly form bad habits shaped by our worse desires. With Netflix and eating, we both feel that we have both cut for ourselves a path that does not lead where we want to go. Without cutting a new path (which requires effort and ingenuity), we will end up somewhere we did not want to go.
With my reading and writing habits, I think things are just a bit different. I have had two great reading/writing revolutions in my life. The first was when I left high school and went to college and I started reading books for leisure that were not just my cheap fantasy novels, but were serious works of literature or theology or philosophy or history or political theory. I also began following the news and reading quality blogs while, at the same time, writing blog posts myself. Of course, at the same time, I was reading and writing plenty for school! The second revolution was this past January when, starving for the Great Books, I pushed my blog and news reading to Saturdays and spent my time during the week reading books from the Great Tradition as well as reading other books by contemporary writers who were writing in the shadow of the Great Tradition. I also moved my writing focus on the blog to longer articles about important topics. My reading/writing choices this summer are extensions of this second revolution. I will double-down on my reading (good, attentive, annotative reading) and I will write as an aid to thinking and as an aesthetic enterprise. All of my good writing (anything after June 2011) has either been for public consumption or for an evaluation by my professors. I have not written for myself since my early college days when I wrote bad poetry and long, rambling, incoherent thoughts in my journal.
Tied to this writing exclusively for public consumption has been my habit formation at the hands of my blog reading. By constantly reading blogs, one is relentlessly pursued by the urgency of NOW. This urgency, driven by all of the pontificating about whatever happened two minutes ago, has the following effects: 1) it drives deep and attentive consideration of the Big Ideas clean out of one’s brain. How can one think deeply when there is so much to REACT to? 2) it motivates one to share everything one is reading with one’s social media audience. I am deeply susceptible to this. If I feel the URGENCY, then sure I should communicate the REACTION right now to my network. Such sharing habits display a slavish subordination to the tyranny of NOW. But my longing for the Great Tradition, for old things–my desire to read, think, and write in natural conversation with others and with God–indefatigably resists the tyranny of NOW.
* * *
So, to all of you who read my blog (there aren’t a lot of you, but I found out recently that there are more than I thought there were), I bid you a temporary adieu. I will be back in this space sometime after August 8th.
Have a good summer!