Editor’s note: Guest post by Stephen Martin
The summer when I was 23 did not begin well.
For one thing, I was pretty lost. My longtime girlfriend was moving cross-country for law school, and I didn’t have a clue what my next move would be, except that I wasn’t going with her. For another, I was bordering on broke. My contract work at the nearby university had just ended, and I had not a single job prospect. And yet, 16 years later I look back on that summer as one of the best of my life.
Perhaps the biggest reason why: I gave up the news.
It was a grand summer for news, too. Clinton and Dole duking it out for the presidency, mad cow hysteria in Europe, the Olympics in Atlanta. I knew next to nothing about any of it. With no income, I needed to economize. That meant no cable TV, no Internet, not even a newspaper. I barely knew what was happening across the street, much less around the world. And it didn’t bother me because, after years of faithfully reading papers and magazines, I was just tired of it.
Even back in those pre-Twitter, pre-blog, pre-historic days, you could spend enormous amounts of time consuming news or fretting all day about it, and I’d done a lot of both. But now, accidentally adrift from the headlines, I suddenly had time for other things.
I started hanging out in the university library, wandering the stacks and picking up whatever books caught my eye. I’d meet a buddy for a (very cheap) lunch or play cards or listen to music. I went for long walks. Since I never got a weather forecast, what the heavens might bring was always a surprise too.
Free of the usual distractions, I slowly became more centered. I’d spent the previous year exploring and rejecting a half-dozen potential careers.
In the silence of that summer, though, I finally began to feel a faint sense of purpose – a pull toward writing.
I didn’t know what I wanted to write or for whom. But sitting down and writing, longhand, an essay about a monastery I’d once visited created more satisfaction than I’d felt in months, if not years.
The summer crawled on in slow motion, and I began to feel part of it. I hadn’t really noticed the seasons since I was a kid. But now, I started paying attention to the relative cool of a July morning, the building humidity as noon approached, the sticky air and soothing insect chatter of an August evening. For the first time in a long time, I felt aware.
And as the summer burned toward its conclusion, I became aware of something else as well: I was running out of money.