Originally published on May 13, 2015 over here
Introducing “The Summer Project.” It’s something I’d like to tackle myself this summer — hopefully someone who reads this will feel similarly compelled to feel productive in some personal way and will do the same. I’d love to have some cheerleaders for this. Especially since I’ll mostly be sunbathing in my Lilly Pulitzer cover-up while waiting for the ice cream truck to make the rounds.
The Summer Project
- Pick a subject or cause that means something to you.
- Spend time this summer researching and reading about that topic.
- Seek out experts on the subject to round out your knowledge.
- Use that new knowledge to produce something by September.
So, for instance, if you are socially conscious and brainy and not too swayed by mojitos on the beach, you could take this in a political direction and learn all about immigration reform. You’d collect and read articles, find and read a few books. Then, once you’ve identified a person who knows a lot about this subject (a political figure, an immigration lawyer), interview them. End the summer by doing something tangible and not insignificant with that knowledge. Organize an event, start a web site, write 20 letters to legislators, or commit to a related volunteer effort.
OR, if you are artistically inclined, spend the summer learning to sketch. Take an online course or attend a class, produce and share your work, find a mentor who knows what he/she is doing and can advise you. Toward the end of the summer, commit to a big project and work on several draft versions, then aim to create and frame a piece you are proud of.
A similarly artistic endeavor might be learning to make cheese or bread. Read up, watch videos. Get the right tools and ingredients. Then seek out someone or take a private lesson from an expert in the field. For the finale, make a batch large enough to feed a crowd at a party, or to give away to 20 friends.
Finally, there’s the family history option, which works especially well if you spend time with extended family relatives over the summer. Research your roots — beyond a simple Ancestry.com exercise. Gather a file and be thorough, attempting to understand details of where you came from, occupations, and moves. Interview family members and consider seeking out someone in the field of genealogy to understand more. For your final project, write it up, organize a reunion, or publish a collection of photos and historical documents you’ve uncovered.
This shouldn’t feel like homework. Your primary concern SHOULD be sun, relaxation, swimming, and roughly keeping tabs on the children who have formed some sort of tribe in the woods while you’ve been drinking cocktails on the porch. But the reason I gave this thing a name is: It should be a serious, grown-up effort to engage in something new in a committed way. How else are we going to discover the finer things in life if we don’t give ourselves some homework?
For my part, I’m choosing Paid Family Leave. I want to research implementation, opponents, and overall societal impact. I want to understand how corporations could adopt something like this if legislators won’t. I want to understand how it works in the rest of the developed world. I’m not sure what the final project is yet — I don’t know enough about how this will come together. At this point, my hope is that by publishing this, I’m making a pact with myself (and you) to not forget about this come June.
Who else is with me?