There isn’t time enough, my friends—
Though dawn begins, yet midnight ends—
To find the time to have love, work, and friends.
Michelangelo had feeling
For Vittoria and the Ceiling
But did he go to parties at day’s end?
– Kenneth Koch’s poem “You Want a Social Life, With Friends,” via Austin Kleon
Before I get started, you should follow the link to read the whole poem (published in The New Yorker in 1998), because it’s funny and kind of true. I should print it out to hang over my desk, or maybe somewhere I actually routinely spend time, like on the wall by the bathroom mirror, as a reminder to focus on what matters and not get carried away with trying to do all the things.
All the things cannot be done. I know this, and yet I still want so much. Fitting in love, work, and friends isn’t exactly my problem, as long as the ‘work’ we’re talking about here is the job I report to every weekday. Cooper and I spend a lot of time together, I try to see my local friends regularly, and, you know, I sit at that desk and deal with email and go to meetings as expected. But I aim for more than love, job, and friends. When I count the work I’m not paid for, the creative pursuits like reading and writing and tending my little garden, and then throw in a latent desire to be in shape—a distinct need I feel every day to move and stretch more, which is hard to accommodate in the office—and add those to a deep commitment to travelling somewhere almost every month, the time runs out.
This is why I think the entire goal of so-called work-life balance is garbage: why are so many people struggling to elevate their entire non-working lives to the same level as their jobs? Life is made out of many components; work may be one or several pieces of the puzzle, whether paid or unpaid; but I see no reason to split the pie in two and give half to my employer, and half to my friends, family, health, home, and other dreams. This is a complaint and a philosophy for always, although it’s not what I’m trying to write right now.
Suffice it to say: there isn’t time enough, my friends, so mark what matters and go for it.
It Must Be Summer (‘Cause You’re Never Around)
What matters for me this season is travel. Road trips and tall trees and rivers and lakes are what our weekends have been. So I won’t complain about my job, which I am so fortunate to have. Less than two years ago, I had two or even three jobs at a time, with unpredictable schedules and requisite night and weekend hours. 2015 was my first summer ever, really, to hit the sweet spot: weekends free, paid time off, access to a car with air conditioning, and money enough for gas and the occasional plane ticket. Last summer, Cooper and I traveled to New York and Wisconsin, visited Kalamazoo and Lake Michigan regularly, and spent ten glorious days exploring Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was pretty excellent. This spring and summer, though, I’m living the dream.
I already felt busy in May, but now we’re at the peak of summer, heat wave and all (what a great time to be apartment-bound instead of up north, not), and I’m somewhere else almost every weekend. To the wayside went any pretense at a gym habit for me. We frequently coexist with dried hairballs and dust bunnies, since I, at least, am too exhausted during the week to tidy up. (Much of my extra energy went toward planning our trip to Iceland, which happened last week—more on that later!)
And then there’s this blog you’re reading, which I launched in late March, but haven’t yet worked up to posting more than twice a month on. I post Instagram photos in close to real time (although I don’t document everything), and I’ve written here about our spring break in New Orleans, and about a short weekend in Cleveland in April. But summer? Summer’s moving so fast I can’t keep up.
Maybe fall and winter will be a better time to hole up and write longer reflections, kept close to home by icy roads, and cozy by felines weighing down my blankets. (That almost sounds nice, except that the hot laptop and evening rays are keeping me warm enough in shorts right now.) But in the meantime, I don’t want to fall any farther behind.
Eastward: Ontario and New York
The Friday before Memorial Day, we drove through Ontario to Rochester, New York. It’s a drive I know fairly well, since “King’s Highway” 401 is our route to Toronto and Montreal and Niagara Falls as well as Rochester, although Rochester has been my most frequent destination—and one I look forward to always, because my favorite aunt lives there, and my childhood memories of it are all golden: playing with the 1970s Barbie motorhome and airplane cabin in the attic, sliding down little waterfalls at Stony Brook State Park, rereading L.M. Montgomery.
I didn’t see my aunt this time, as she was visiting my cousins in Connecticut. Instead, Cooper, his mom, and I were in Rochester to visit his sister, who moved there about a year ago. I loved driving along the Genesee River canyon—”the Grand Canyon of the East”—in Letchworth State Park, where we had a delicious cookout that ended with a sudden rainstorm. Over the course of the weekend, we ate classic frozen custard, gourmet ice cream, more burgers and breakfasts, and I had a cupcake I’d been dreaming about since my last trip to Rochester, the previous June. Downtown, the Genesee River cuts right through the city, and it was an impressive sight to see.
We chose a peaceful drive along Lake Ontario on our way back west, with a stop at beautiful Hamlin Beach State Park, followed by a Niagara Falls detour. When our patience had all frayed away, waiting almost two hours to cross the bridge back into Michigan, we witnessed a pretty sunset over Port Huron.
In June, Cooper and I crossed the Detroit River to Canada once again and headed down the smaller Highway 3 for our first real beach day of the year, at Point Pelee National Park. Point Pelee, which juts out into Lake Erie—Ohio almost in sight on the southern shore—is the southernmost point in mainland Canada. I’d stopped there with Cooper once before, for a quick picnic on our way home from Toronto in 2011. This time, we had all afternoon. We rode the little shuttle bus out toward the tip, and then walked the final stretch of trail through the trees, to the end of the peninsula, where the sandy beach curves around and the waves overlap as the two sides meet. (A girl sitting two rows ahead of us on the shuttle explained to her friend that it was where the two lakes come together, which was interesting, considering that there’s just one lake there.)
After that, we followed the short Shuster Trail from the visitors center through a swampy area to the East Barrier Beach, which by then was shaded by the trees and the afternoon sun. The water wasn’t quite warm this early in the season, but it wasn’t too cold, either, and it was so satisfying to float in the peaceful lake and then sit on the empty shore. I really didn’t want to leave at the end of the day, and say goodbye to that peaceful, freeing, wet hair and birdsong and long shadows feeling.
Close to Home
June’s also my birthday month. I turned twenty-eight, and Cooper and I spent two weeks celebrating by seeing a lot of movies in Ann Arbor and Detroit at the wonderful Cinetopia International Film Festival. Between movies, we hung out with friends, ate great food, and even celebrated two friends’ marriage (so exciting!). When alone, I buried my nose in travel guides to Iceland, travelogues of saga sights, and so on, because near the end of May, Cooper and I made a plan to travel there with three friends who we don’t see very much anymore. I did so much reading that this was probably the most prepared for a trip I have ever been—and I think I already know what I’d do if I had a second and third Icelandic vacation. Which I hope to.
It’s become too hot for me to want to bike home from work in the five o’clock heat, and so I’ve relinquished one of my favorite weekday mood boosters. Instead, I started taking a new bus that takes a little longer than my usual one, but from a bus stop closer to home. I love that easy walk down my pretty street, cool and fresh in the morning shade. It’s a real contrast from marching down a hot hill to the university health system’s main campus.
I usually read a book on the bus—one big perk to commuting carless—but sometimes I gaze out the windows to enjoy the morning. When I looked up for the first time on my briefly scenic Kerrytown bus, cruising out of my neighborhood, I saw those big Queen Anne houses flicker through the warmly-lit leaves of summer trees. It conjured country drives and the long road we take west out of town past so many old homes, until Ann Arbor spreads out and slows down into farmland. Eventually, we catch a highway to the interstate that leads ultimately to Chicago, but it more usually, more lovingly, takes us to some of our best friends in Kalamazoo. Heading north or west in the morning light with the windows down is a treat, a magical way to start the day, and it’s nice, if bittersweet, to think of on a regular old morning.
I’ve been out to Kalamazoo twice this summer, and Kalamazoo—Ali, Drew, and little Silas—came here, too, to celebrate my birthday with fancy brunch and baby smiles and some fun time hanging out on my couches, which they can’t do enough (because it wouldn’t be enough until it was every other day). In Kalamazoo, Ali and I celebrated almost fourteen years of friendship, and talked through walks on the Kal-Haven Trail and through the cemetery by her house, and drives out to the country and to Silas’ first beach dip. I love this baby.
After the highs of June, and a magnificent Fourth of July weekend, July brought darker tidings. More violence in the U.S., more violence abroad, sadness and frustration and anger and pain. It was, and still is, hard to handle. Hard to get through the day when you see what other people are doing and saying, and when you know that it will happen again.
I also spent more time than usual at my parents’ house in Grosse Pointe, to take care of the pets while my mom was at the hospital with my dad, who had an extremely painful case of appendicitis. A couple days later, my brother John and I were there again, to say goodbye to our sweet dog Finn after fifteen years of life together. Our kind vet pointed out, as we were leaving, that Finn had probably led a better life than most people in this world.
Up North: Manistee, Harbor Springs, and Wilderness State Park
But there was a carefree weekend of woods, roads, beaches, and bonfires—all the things that take a summer from good to great—before this wave of sadness, though it’s harder to fully engage with those gleeful memories, knowing what came after.
We fled town on the Friday before the Fourth of July, for our first northern journey of the summer: two nights at Cooper’s dad’s in Manistee, on the shore of Lake Michigan, and then further north to Harbor Springs to see my friend Jessie. We camped on her family’s beautiful farm and went swimming on the Fourth at Sturgeon Bay in Wilderness State Park, right at the top of the lower peninsula. Sturgeon Bay is one of the prettiest beaches I’ve ever been to, with clear, sparkling water and sand bars, and Waugoshance Point along with two islands framing the bay in the distance. I was disappointed we couldn’t actually stand at the end of the point and feel like we were at the edge of the world, but it’s for a good cause: the park restricts access to the point because it shelters one-third of Michigan’s remaining nesting habitat for the endangered piping plover.
On the other side of the point, and the top of the park, you can look out at the Straits of Mackinac and the bridge in the distance. This is a park we will revisit; we didn’t have time to explore the trails, and they also have some intriguing rustic cabins on both sides of the point. It was very hard to head south on I-75 instead of north, to drive five hours home to work the next day, when just a few minutes north of us was a different place to be.
But I brought back glowing memories, and a renewed sense of purpose. On Friday afternoon, when we arrived at the house in Manistee, with beach advisories in effect due to strong currents and churning waters (look how sandy it was!), we walked down to the community beach to say a proper hello to the lake before preparing dinner. It was only in the sixties, but the sand was warm enough. I stood there in my clothes and watched the waves, consistent but not intimidating, then turned to Cooper and told him that my best self would jump in the lake in her underwear.
He said I sounded like Oprah, but didn’t mind if I wanted to swim. I stood there a minute more, thought about leaving and walking back up the hill to the house, so close to the water but not able to touch it, and I decided if it was so easy to be my best self, then why not?
It was so fun. I have never regretted jumping in, even the time in Glenn last June when I thought my blood might actually freeze. You can’t be sure the temperature’s right until you try, and so it’s always worth it.
Unfortunately, when we took a second trip to Point Pelee in July, we didn’t call ahead to check on water quality. It was not worth it to jump in that time, because there was too much bacteria in that part of the lake. But I will not relinquish my policy of always jumping in the lake. Or the thermal pool, if we’re in Iceland. But more on that to come! And just a little over a week until I’m headed back up north, because friends and forests and eking everything I can out of every weekend is what matters to me right now.