Bi-weekly chatter about how looking closely at some of the most common expressions in everyday life can prompt new ways of thinking about our writing.
Summer, after all, is a time when wonderful things can happen to quiet people. For those few months, you’re not required to be who everyone thinks you are, and that cut-grass smell in the air and the chance to dive into the deep end of a pool give you a courage you don’t have the rest of the year. You can be grateful and easy, with no eyes on you, and no past. Summer just opens the door and lets you out.”
-Deb Caletti in Honey, Baby, Sweetheart
Allow me to extend and personalize Caletti’s image from the Honey, Baby, Sweetheart line above: If summer let me out of her big, bold (probably yellow? maybe cobalt blue?) door back in June, I am unapologetically running and playing and blowing bubbles on summer’s front lawn, still.
And I will be, until the bitter end.
According to my calculations, which are shaky when bidding farewell to flip flops, the sand chair (and sand) in my car’s trunk and the in-my-bones knowing that an ice cream at 4pm after a beach day does indeed taste better than one eaten on my couch in the middle of winter, we will be welcoming in fall on September 22nd this year. Here in the Hudson Valley, this means crisp air and crisp apples. It means a sweater because it’s legitimately cold at night not because it matches the outfit or the air conditioner at the theater could cool off a small country.
To be fair, the change of seasons does still thrill me. I’m grateful I live in a place where I get to taste and feel them in all their glory— Red Maple tree leaves, the unexpected first snow, waiting for daffodils to open-but, for me, summer never loses its celebrity status. And I’m referring to the celebrity who ages gracefully, whose work improves with time and who continues to reinvent their world in big and small ways.
On August 8th the world lost someone like this. The day I learned of Olivia Newton John’s death I thought of a few things. I remembered a television interview from a few years ago when she talked about her cancer treatments and advocacy efforts. I recalled her music, way beyond “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “Have You Never Been Mellow.” But the biggest part of me leaned into one word: summer.
Then more: Summer lovers. Summer lovin’. Summer love.
I was eleven in 1978 when Grease sprung into local theatres and into my fantasy life. I wanted those spandex pants, that blond hair and Sandy’s collarbone.
I liked the feelings that surfaced when watching The Pink Ladies and the T-Birds much more than the ones that tumbled in few years before in 1975 when I was eight and my mother took me to see Jaws. At the time the house I lived in was one block from the ocean and when I wasn’t in school or helping my mother with chores or crabbing off the dock, I was at the beach.
Despite the gore, terror and bad teeth scenes, summer lovers, lovin’ and love was still alive in the opening clip of the Spielberg classic. The smoky beach party, the lusty gazes, and the tipsy “What’s your name again?” as Chrissie runs toward the waves peeling off her clothing along the way. Most of us know what happened next. But still, summer love sizzled, even if only for a few short minutes before all hell broke loose. The fictional town of Amity Island was never the same again.
“How was your summer?”
It’s an “on repeat” question many of us ask or get asked for a good part of September. But what happens if we widen the question to include all our summers? What happens when we go to a blank page with a bunch of summer-centric stories-real, imagined or a little of both?
This is the part where I suggest that this common September inquiry may ignite action, of the writing kind. We can use it to turn up the heat and blast open any ideas about summer and love and storytelling. Flip them over. Smash them, lift them, twirl them around.
Write, play and experiment!
As we know, so many summer stories are labeled coming-of-age tales. But we can come of age at any age and writers, especially, can come of age on the page, too. (By the way, this has absolutely nothing to do with the year on your birth certificate.)
Some prompt ideas:
How was your summer? Write the answer from the perspective of a character who had a summer that included some form of a lover, lovin’ and love and who was alone in a beach house (or lake house or mountain house or villa or tent or insert your choice here) from June 21st -September 22nd.
Make your summer vocabulary list. Include words that conjure up images of summer. Once you create the list, choose your top three and then write three separate scenes (paragraphs?) with each word driving the details and the story.
Write about a summer in your life that opened its door and “let you out.”
Write a letter to a person who came into your life one summer and whose impact has been lasting.
What film, song, book, or piece of art represents summer to you? Write that story.
Not all writers are, as noted in Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, “quiet people” but most solid writers are keen observers and sharp listeners. These skills require a certain kind of quieting. A quieting of the impulses and of the mind. So, the next time someone asks, “How was your summer?” why not channel some of those sights and sounds into an essay, a story or a poem?
Maybe it’s a stretch to think the Caletti quote about summer’s door, Sandy and Danny’s love affair and crackling bonfires on a beach in a fake New England town are somehow related and can help us get words on the page but doesn’t a good stretch make for a much better workout?
Have fun and just think: Summer 2023 starts in about 285 days.