Summer Time

A suggestion: It’s summer. Collapse into yourself. Remain where you are, with a good book in hand. That is, escape by staying put, on the couch or hammock, with your …

A suggestion: It’s summer. Collapse into yourself. Remain where you are, with a good book in hand. That is, escape by staying put, on the couch or hammock, with your wife or husband or girlfriend or boyfriend nearby, or nestled right there with you but engaged in his or her own reverie. “We must love who we become in front of the other,” a psychiatrist friend once told me, suggesting that a healthy narcissism attends successful relationships. He might be right. In the relative silence of summer, find out, there is time.

Increasingly, ours is a wired world, too connected by cellphone cameras, personal recording devices, and instant messaging. Talk and the ideas economy have been overshadowed by information and rat-a-tat communication. Foreign exchange traders in Toronto and Vancouver are locked into the Tokyo markets, their BlackBerrys lighting up at all hours with the latest numbers, the latest set of instructions; waiters beam orders from table to kitchen via pdas; parents track children through fields of dreams with walkie-talkies. Down the block, on the way to work, the bell rings and rings again — order, counter-order, disorder — and we become actors in a faux drama of call-and-response, satisfying this demand or that, individual consciousness mutating into something alien, selfless.

Prying eyes and hand-held communication gadgets are ubiquitous these days, and for those uninterested in being forever available or on parade, there are fewer and fewer escape hatches. Mystery has become hard to find and has perhaps vanished altogether. Wedded and welded to technological leashes, we are reduced (to paraphrase Sartre) to beings-for-others, living in a world (not to paraphrase him) where “hell is other people,” where everything is known or thought to be known. So, if you’re vexed and annoyed, stay home and curl up with your “shackjob,” as Bukowski would have it, in a tableau of your own making.

That’s right, this summer, in the afternoon, with the sun high and threatening, seek transcendence and shelter from the perpetual present and the eyes, ears, and voices of outsiders. With the kids gamboling in the laneway and your neighbours otherwise engaged, as day turns to dusk, lounge about, lost in private thoughts as they are revealed through black type on a white background. Then, with a glass of wine in hand and your mate proximate, revel in prickly feelings arising from your loins, from your biology and self, dormant but not yet overwhelmed. If your state is like mine, be thankful that after long years and many travails such urges still awaken in you, that you are not bored or beaten, that work and the world do not, finally, determine your thoughts or suppress your desire.

Read another chapter. Get lost again in private space. Set aside the moment of want; it will return, enhanced, if necessary, by a touch of prepared spontaneity. Relish the quotidian chore of dinner preparation, of curing meat, chopping vegetables, setting the table. Standing in the kitchen, barefoot in T-shirt and jeans, spoon your loved one, compelling his or her knees to buckle just a bit, his or her shoulders to rise and descend, a prelude, but for now simply a quiet celebration of being together and against, if it must be so, the otherness of a too-noisy, too-public world.

There is nothing like a full summer day spent addressing personal desire and need — carnal, private, for love — through thoughts and actions that transform them into something you want to wake up to, want to replicate. Good unions provide small pleasures, if you’re inclined to look at it this way, but large ones if you consider the alternative: vulnerability to a world dominated by the incivility of email, the boast of Facebook, the hammering of cellphones; the words themselves, the building blocks of narrative, degraded by overuse and lack of precision, the ideas absent of context. So, lock the door, purge your inbox, turn off the phone. Become unreachable, beyond judgment from without, and then return to the couch or hammock to again deny the world its purchase, and to control time that is suddenly yours alone.

Ken Alexander