The Endless Summer

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Exactly three years ago, I told a complete stranger—a man who lived alone in a lighthouse 9 months out of the year and then housed lifeguards for the summer months, that I was sad the summer was over. I was saying this to a man who would undoubtedly spend the next nine months alone. And all he said to me was, “There will be more.”

His wise words stuck with me, but I still wanted an “endless summer.”

What’s an endless summer, you ask?

To me, that elusive endless summer is a summer without end. Sounds pretty self-explanatory, right? Well, the word summer doesn’t just have to denote a season. In a lot of ways, for me, it is all about a particular trio of months on the calendar. But summer is other things, too. It’s more of an ideal. As an American growing up in the United States, summer (the last week of June through the first three weeks of September) meant certain undeniable facts:

  1. No school

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This isn’t true in all countries. It’s especially apparent in my life now, because I teach middle and high school students in South Korea. For them, summer probably has many of the same connotations—like ice cream and swimming pools—but 3 months without school is not one of them. My Korean students have a total of 1 to 2 weeks of summer vacation. Then it’s back to the classroom in the sweltering heat for, sometimes, depending on the situation, over 12 hours a day.

  1. Summer heat affects our decision-making.

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This is not necessarily a good or a bad thing. The things that we may or may not do are already inside of us. Sparing you the science of it all, it’s a fact that our bodies work hard to maintain homeostasis, and the summer heat disrupts this balance. Our bodies must work harder to stay neutral; therefore, we use more energy. Throw in sweaty bodies, pool parties, beaches, bikinis, and alcohol, and, undoubtedly, your decision-making—for better or for worse—is affected.

  1. Everything is brighter in the summer.

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I can’t understand people who dislike summer. And perhaps they can never understand me. Summer makes me happier than any other time of year. I can feel it in my bones, on my skin, in my very cells. I like the way my skin darkens and changes, like a lonely and desolate winter morphs into spring. The result is warmth and happiness.

I never even heard the phrase “The Endless Summer” until college, and I certainly hadn’t seen the movie. But the more I thought about the phrase, the more I wondered if an endless summer was even possible.

I would joke with friends about it, and every time summer came around, we would plot our strategies for finding the elusive endless summer. Was it something we could find and hold onto? Did it belong in one place, like on an island or a particular country or location that only experienced warm weather? Or was it a state of mind, going beyond the dimensions of time and space?

What the hell was the endless summer?

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The more I asked myself this question, the more I wanted the answer.

I used to think that I wanted money or fame—things that would allow me to find the endless summer— things that would unbind me from the obligations and restrictions of daily life. But even money and fame don’t really do those things. Sometimes they can bind you even further. I wanted everything. But I realized this:

“Wanting everything splits you into pieces. First, I must find my focus. Then, it won’t matter what I have.”

Writing is my focus. I want to write about the things that make up and influence my life. Many people say they want happiness. And that would be nice, too. But I realized it’s not what I want, exactly. Of course it would be great to be happy, but happiness isn’t an object; it’s a talent. It’s something you need to work at, more than it is something you attain. Some people are better at being happier than others.

Contentment, peace, and happiness—they’re not necessarily all the same thing. Life will never be an endless high, and finding happiness or peace is being able to deal with the changes in life in a healthy way no matter what season it is.

I recently told a friend who was traveling all over the world that he was so lucky because he was free and didn’t have to worry about money or showing up for a job, and he said he did have financial constraints, of course, and that his journey would end, and then he would have to find a job again. I wondered if that type of life was sustainable. For some it is. And then the last thing he said struck me. He said, “I travel the world in style, but not because I’m free. I do it because I’m not free.”

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Part of me understands what he means, but part of me never will.

And now, even as I finish writing this post, I think that my thoughts have changed since writing the first word on the first day of summer (yes this post has spanned the entire summer). I thought summer was a black and white thing—either its summer or its not, but I believe I have discovered some gray in this equation.

In a black and white drawing, there is always shading. There is always gray. The dark is used to amplify the light, and great artists, such as Rembrandt use stark contrast, or chiaroscuro, so that the viewer can appreciate what is going on.

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In that same vein, we have other seasons or other pieces of mind to help us appreciate what is not summer. Summer may be great for me, you, or someone who experiences the change of seasons, but for those who live in places with only summer, with wet and dry seasons, it could be eternal damnation. They must constantly find places to keep cool, or ways to protect their skin.

Some people experience cold summers and warm winters. And while a warm heart is better than a cold one, keeping your cool is better than having a hot head. I guess it just depends on how you look at the situation.

One friend said this when I asked: “How do you feel about the end of summer?”

“I like new beginnings. I don’t lament endings. I get excited about new seasons.”

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The endless summer, for some people, can mean swimming pools, devilish heat, beach parties, barbeques, ice cream trucks, World Cups and Summer Olympics, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s a state of mind. To me, the Endless Summer is the promise of another day, a new adventure, or days without end, whether in this life or the next.

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

-Albert Camus

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How do you feel as the summer ends?

Want to hear more from me?

Follow me on Twitter @jobicusmaximus Instagram @worldsaparttheseries or @jobabraham or check out my website: www.jamerkel.com

Hybridization: Getting the Best of Both Worlds

Sometimes you have to fumble and stumble and root around in the dirt before you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and realize you’ve been on the path meant for you all along. For me, It just so happens that I was looking the wrong way the entire time.

The path to writing came from the least likely of roads. I wrote stories when I was young, but they were so few and far between that I never thought much of them. I had stories in my head, but they would always remain just that. In college, I tried my hand at writing. And man . . . I was bad.

So, much to my parents and relatives liking, I was going to study to be a doctor. “You have an exceptional memory,” my teachers would say. “You should be a doctor.” I did fine in school, but I relied on my memory in many cases. When I was young, my mom worked hard to develop it, but not for selfish reasons—she was never like that. In fact, it started because she was never very good at remembering things herself.

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Me and Momma Merk make a good team

At night, when she tucked me in, she would tell me grocery items that she needed the next day. In the morning, I would recite them back to her, and when she forgot her list, which was quite often, I was there to help. As time passed, the lists became longer and more complex. When I got older, I became obsessed with memorizing things: state capitals, birds, flags, flowers, song titles, and then onto country names and capitals (I would compete with my Dad . . . and I always wanted to beat him).

I mention my memory because it has everything to do with the next part of the story—the fact that I was always “urged” in the direction of science.

I started college with the hope of going to medical school. My college didn’t have a pre-med track, but I’d heard that I could go to med school with any major, so I chose English because I’d been good at that. Like many other college students, I changed majors, unsure about attending med school and insecure about the job market for English majors. So what did I do? I switched my major to biology. My thinking was twofold: 1—I would have a lot of the prerequisites to get into medical school, and 2—if that fell through, I was more confident about job possibilities being a biology major.

By the time I earned my degree two years later, I was so burned out that I didn’t want to go to medical school—or any other school ever again, for that matter. And I didn’t want a job in the field of biology. So, what the hell did I do all that for?

During that time, I believe I became some sort of hybrid.

I had the biology major and the English/literature minor. The classes fascinated me. I loved genetics, and animal behavior, and evolutionary biology. And by that time, I was getting better at creative writing. Worlds were turning inside my head. I had a story that was trying to get out! All that hard work and confusion wasn’t for naught! I didn’t know it at the time, but the journey—my particular path—was leading me to exactly where I wanted to be.

And that’s the beauty of it all. My advice is this: don’t be good at just one thing or have only one interest. Sure, if you’re good at something, pour your heart and soul into it, but keep your options open. Something I remember from biology is that hybrids always have an advantage in nature.

I take after my mom when it comes to athletics. She was quite the basketball player in her time at the University of Maryland. My father wasn’t much of an athlete, though. He was the player who busted his nose open and broke his glasses when the basketball was passed to him. But he’s really smart. That man knows a little something about everything. And he’s a published author himself, writing on the topics of physics. Like my siblings, I believe we got the best of both worlds.

And I’m sure somewhere in your life, you have the best of both worlds, too. Follow your instincts, even if it seems like a risk. Chances are it’s what you really want to do.

Genetics play a large role in my upcoming Worlds Apart series. Find out how in A Myth Reborn, coming soon.

– Because we all need a little fiction in our lives.

“I’VE GOT SOMETHING TO SAY!!!”

You may have heard that people write because they have something to say. Well so did Jerri Blank from “Strangers with Candy,” and nobody really wanted to listen. But they did, after Jerri screamed loud enough.

I’m not trying to scream loud, although if that’s what it takes for people to listen . . . “I’VE GOT SOMETHING TO SAY!!!”

But that’s not the only reason I write. Like all art, it’s an expression, and as an observer, introvert, introspective guy, writing is my way. I’ve had stories to tell ever since I was a little boy, inventing worlds for my toys and showing off the creations to my little brother, Jude (we don’t have to talk about Peeps if you don’t want to . . .).

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(Me, age 4, playing in some imaginary world, no doubt).

I wrote my first story, “The Brave Little Camel” when I was 7 years old, which was basically just a picture book with a sentence or two at the bottom, but looking back I did know how to use quotation marks within dialogue correctly. (Sigh) That was it. I was born for stardom. And my grandfather sure thought so. That was enough to keep going . . . and I actually really loved it.

When I was sixteen, a wonderfully elaborate, dynamic, life-changing story entered my head. Little by little, I wanted to tell it, not just in a video game, or a novel, or on the big screen, but anything and everything I could get my hands on. I had a vision for my story and I didn’t want to stop until it was finished.

But, there were two glaring problems.

1. My “great” story was entirely too complex, to the point that nothing I did for the next seven years could fix it.

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2. I was no good at creative writing.

After some interesting years in college, some courses in English, and lots of self-study, I improved. Almost simultaneously, I scrapped my first story and came up with a new one. It just came to me one night, the summer after I graduated college . . . in a bar . . . after one drink too many. And when I got home, I wrote it all down. There were remains from my first story idea, but this new one—it was fresh, and clean, and in my mind, I could tell it.

The characters weren’t just ideas I would soon bring to life on paper, they were part of me. They were pieces of my own brain that I couldn’t articulate previously. So for me, it’s been a journey . . . and Rory, Fahren, Kairi, Meredy, Linus—the originals . . . they have been with me all along.

Want to see “what they have to say?”

Find out in A Myth Reborn, the first installment of the Worlds Apart series.

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Me, age 5, working on a puzzle (cheesing hard).

I have always created, and will always create, until I no longer draw breath.