August is two weeks away, but the dog days have already arrived.
It was early June when I noticed them edging into my morning rituals: I forget to step outside for that first, fresh breath of damp air; organizing the kitchen and my thoughts for the day while waiting for my coffee is hit and miss; and spending enough time on the patio to enjoy whatever is blooming happens when I get around to it. I can’t remember the last time I took a good and long early morning walk.
I can’t blame Orion and his dog star, Sirius, as they haven’t yet risen above the eastern horizon in our pre-dawn sky. I was well awake this morning and might have stepped out back to see if it was there, but didn’t. The stairs creak, I tell myself. I’ll wake my husband, the cat will want out. The dog will think it’s time to wake up. It’s easier to lie in the dark and hope sleep takes over before the sky lightens. Or before the dark thoughts creep in as they always seem to in the night, and I have to reach for my iPad for the distraction. I look up what’s in the current night sky.
Sirius won’t be visible in my corner of the world until the end of August, a time more consistent with what many relate to the dog days. Blazing heat, stagnant air, and a sense of suspended time permeate each day. That this happens when the rest of the Northern Hemisphere is beginning to enjoy cool, crisp mornings, perhaps air laced with the hint of a wood fire, or leaves beginning their yearly transformation from verdant uniformity to a riotous blaze of crimson, gold and rust, is cruel. We will have two more months of summer ahead–sometimes more. Last year a heat wave well into November had us sweltering in temperatures reaching the 90s.
If you take the time to look up “dog days”, definitions can range from “the hot, sultry period of summer between early July and early September” to “a period marked by inactivity”. Lethargy and indolence are also used to describe dog days.
Indolence: the quality or state of being indolent–slow, inactive, sluggish, torpid.
Torpid: apathetic or dormant, as a hibernating or estivating animal.
Estivate: to spend the summer, as at a specific place or in a certain activity
Those are the type of dog days I’ve been experiencing. I’m estivating. I’ve been estivating since last December. I’m at a specific place in my mind which is very different from the reality of my days. I wonder if it’s part of aging, yet I don’t feel old. I wonder if I’m bored or if I need a new hobby. I tell myself I’ll finish this project, or that, that I’ll clean the junk drawers, or redo our closet. I should call the carpet cleaners, wrap up the old china and send it away. Do something constructive. Yet I spend a lot of time staring out windows. I drift from room to room picking up and putting away with no particular purpose other than getting out of the chair I’m sitting in right now. The window is open behind the screen I’m watching letters and words appear on as I write, and a pleasant breeze causes the wind chime suspended from the curtain rod to ring occasionally. I watch people walking along the street on the other side of the wall, people on bikes out enjoying the day. I tell myself I should be out there as well.
Should I learn to speak French, or simply improve my Spanish? I could do what I once thought I might and cook my way through any of my cookbooks. Just choose one and begin. The list I made in January of bright ideas lies on my desk just to the left where I can see it. Only four of the 26 items I listed have been crossed off. To be fair, most are related to taking care of our house; it’s an ongoing job to repair or replace something in the 16 years we’ve lived here. And the four items I’ve crossed off are some of the more pleasant. I suppose I’m not motivated to check off any of the others because they’re inconvenient (replacing carpeting upstairs), they’re humdrum (touching up baseboards), or rate on the interest scale as being even with watching paint dry (going through old paper files).
When I read this back to myself, it sounds as if I’m simply lazy, but I know I’m not. Give me something interesting to do and I will engage until I drop. I’ll enjoy it, too. But if that’s the case, then why do I have so many projects unfinished? A novel in mid-restructuring. A gallery of photos to print and frame for hanging. A book of old family photos I promised to my sister and brother. I have too many interests and no deadlines and so from one day to the next, I’m left to decide for myself whether I want to do something in particular. Right now, I don’t. I’m not interested in anything for a sustained period of time. This is also evident in what I choose to read; a perfectly good book sits on my nightstand with less than twenty pages left to read. It’s been sitting for more than a month. I remember days that I’d avoid things I had to take care of just to finish a book. Photos of a recent trip sit on my external hard drive, only partially edited. This is probably more telling than anything else I’ve mentioned.
I feel suspended in time, unable to stay focused for any length. And on the odd day that I do find myself lost in a task, inevitably something interferes. Usually something insignificant. Something that distracts just long enough that I look at the clock and tell myself I should get on with my day. Go to the market. Get something to prepare for dinner.
I’ve heard that we reach peaks in our lives. There’s a tipping point, and then everything changes. I think this actually happens more than once in life and that sometimes it’s caused by circumstances we cannot control. Others seem wholly reliant upon our ability to seize the day. To make the changes we want in our lives. I’ve experienced this many times in my own life, most often making the decision to change myself. What is different now, is that the change I desire depends on another. And it is far from being a simple change. It resembles a complex array of dominoes.
And so I wait. I wait and try to sort out how to spend my time. The days pass, and I look ahead. I ignore the mantras others seem so content to embrace. “Live in the moment!” “Today is all we have!” “You only live once!”
But I’m hibernating. I’m planning for tomorrow knowing full well that it may take much longer to get here than I have to enjoy it. I count the years ahead, imagine who I’ll be, how I’ll feel. Whether I have the right to assume I have the time. That’s what stuns me.
I look out the window once more, notice the sunlight bouncing off the shiny new growth on the carrotwood trees and decide I need to get up.
I’ll clean the kitchen, go to the market, then get ready to make dinner.
Tomorrow is another day.