LAGUNA BEACH, Calif.—Digging my heels into the warm sand, lying in the most calming of environments, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. Earlier, I was swimming in the water, careful to avoid the seaweed and eager to stay just behind each upcoming wave.
But by that moment—lying face up on my striped towel, my wet feet enveloped in sand, my eyes closed as they faced the sun—the conversation I was having with my friend, about her wanting to be as dark as me by the end of the summer, had trailed off into nothingness. It was my fault—my sparse replies signaled that my thoughts were otherwise occupied.
My mind kept returning to an instant message conversation I had with a friend from school, a conversation which took place earlier in the month while checking my e-mail. “So what are you doing for the summer?” he asked as our conservation regressed into generic IM small talk. I proudly replied “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING” and continued to explain that my summer would be spent at home. Here, absolutely nothing actually meant a lot: I would commit to working a local job, writing for the WomenINColor play and wholly familiarizing myself with music, the beach, the gym, my men of yesterday (Faulkner, Steinbeck) and my men of today (Damon, Myers).
As I bragged about my freedom to mold my summer in any which way, I was reminded of Hugh Grant’s character in the recent release, About A Boy—a character who lives off the royalties of his father’s one Christmas hit song and makes a living doing nothing. Particularly, Grant’s character divides his day into units: browsing CDs, playing pool, sleeping, eating, entertaining. Now, I too had this freedom to mold my days and consequently live, for the modest three months, without the pressing demands of those outsiders that are regularly inside my life during the school year.
Yet when my friend, in return, described his impressive MIT internship as a counselor in the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science program, my carefree and confident attitude towards my own summer plan began to implode. Mine was not the status quo Harvard student summer. It served no purpose; it imparted no new skills.
And when I compared my summer plans to those of most of my other friends, I soon grasped an irony in my description “absolutely nothing.” It was indeed close to nothing weighed against Anna’s internship, whose recently received postcard detailed her government work in Madrid. It was nothing next to Janie’s travels in the Czech Republic. It was even near nothing when matched to my friends’ experiences here in the States. With New York, D.C. and even the western United States as playgrounds, most people I knew had their own exciting tale—intriguing lab experiments, work with some prestigious community service institute or adventurous trekking outdoors. And it didn’t help that many of friends here at home in southern California also had quite entertaining experiences, like those working for Fox studios or performing with their band.
True, I perceived my summer as inadequate because I was jealous of others’. But my summer seemed even more incomplete as I worried that it satisfied no constructive purpose. The mindless job to attend, the random books to read, the guitar to play—though all in their own way enjoyable, to what end could these tasks improve my future? Oh yes, and of course the beach—how could all my time spent with the surf and sand provide anything beneficial?
As my head rested on my sand pillow, my uneasiness was subdued with the surf’s after-effect—a phenomenon where the ebb and flow feel of the wave lingers with the body after it has left the water. So I reflected upon the time I just spent in the water: my satisfying swim over the smooth sand, under the radiant sun with the energetic kids. And then I remembered what a joy my first month of summer had been.
It started with a week in New York City preparing for a concert with the New England Symphonic Ensemble. The week had been adventurously assorted: visiting friends, discovering the parks, street fairs, libraries and museums with my mom, practicing Haydn and Vivaldi in my hotel room, performing with the orchestra and several choirs to a crowd of 2,000.
My return home began with a momentous ending for my brother. At his graduation from college, I acted as professional photographer catching my parents’ bittersweet smiles, content that they no longer owed tuition or rent for their first child.
And then there were the parties with high school friends where new haircuts, waistlines and priceless gossip were revealed.
In addition to the major events, there were also minor things among the nothingness. My mom’s unique ability to incessantly taunt and pamper me, all done in her lovable Mississippi accent. Co-workers whose laughter and need to spring the tiny corkscrew curls in my hair sustained me throughout the workday. Amusing correspondence with friends from school, one of whom recently assured me that “summer should be fun and relaxing.”
And so it should be, I resolved, after re-molding my custom-made sand lounge chair. My eyes, now covered with sunglasses, were still shut as they were directed towards the sun. My fingers started combing through the sand. My skin, and my friend’s, were both a bit darker. And then our conversation picked up again. We came up with summer resolutions: synchronize our schedules to maximize our dual beach exposure. Catch a boat to Catalina Island. Discover the foothills by hiking. Trade the books we were reading.
This absolutely nothing, I thought, could indeed be adequate enough for me.
Jasmine J. Mahmoud ’04, a Crimson editor, is a government concentrator in Winthrop House. She is home in Southern California mastering the art of nothingness.