Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Summertime, and the livin' is easy...?

Lately I've been listening to Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now album, which is one of her most recent. I was obsessed with it around this time last summer , and the fact that I have renewed my penchant for Joni says something about the weird place I find myself in. This morning I woke up at 5 AM, and unable to return to sleep I turned on "Don't Go to Strangers," since I had felt as if I had been hearing it in my sleep all night (Play with fire/Get your fingers burned/But when there’s no place left to turn/Don’t go to strangers).

This renewed interest in Both Sides Now has reminded me that I am my most nostalgic in the summer. I used to be sometimes hopelessly remniscent through all seasons, but when I went to college and then abroad the scenery from fall through spring had changed and thus a certain connection I had with the past was severed, one based on association of place.

Every summer though I've returned back home to the leafy Chicago suburb, where I've lived since I was 5, and associations abound in this historic setting. The backyard reminds me of the night I couldn't sleep right after senior year of high school and went outside to read the yearbook til dawn or the summer after my freshman year of college when I would go out every weekend morning onto the sun-baked porch with a cup of fresh coffee, a clear blue sky above and the paper in my hand and greet my parents when they came home from bike rides. Walking to the "El" reminds me of past summers waking up at 6 to go to work downtown, sun already beating down to call out sweat droplets, or meeting friends at the station and travelling to a festival in Chicago. Going to the local library reminds me of when I belonged to the reading club back in grade school and went there to earn a certificate of some sort, or when I devotedly sat on the floor by the young adult lit section in junior high, examining dramatic books, or frenetically stopped in every week last summer to find the perfect book to read, having given up on many others.

These reminiscences have had a strange collision with the thoughts of the future that I have entertained constantly this summer. Sometimes those thoughts are quite strategical: when to take the LSATs or the GREs, what to start reading for my thesis, whether I want to try and get a job for a political cause of some sort right after college or maybe go to France to teach. However, any solidity of plan is weakened by my fear that I will make the wrong choice, and my constant self-probing, with the hope of arriving at some certain passion that I will have no qualms about pursuing once I graduate.

I don't feel lost but rather I feel that I am waiting, taking the precautions to make sure I get exposed to everything I may want to do after college during the summer and next fall. I don't know if this will be the last summer I will be in Chicago for a bit (or at home for that matter), but I do know that right now I derive a strange comfort from the stasis of basking in the past and essentially idealizing it.

Listening to Joni Mitchell elicits memories of last June when I first bought the album at a classic Chicago used record store while out with my brother and cousin. I associate it with that pleasant, relaxed day and with lulling me to sleep at night throughout July and August, but I forget the deeper reason of why I liked it: because it provoked me, with its interesting concept of a relationship evolving and Joni's poignant voice, to think about all sorts of complicated things that I had subliminated.

With this realization I remind myself that past events are set; the only variable is how we interpret them. It is time for me to let the past and the future join to form some perspective on reality that is not teeming with the firm nostalgia surrounding thoughts of the former or the irreconcilable anxiety surrounding thoughts of the latter.

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