The summer of my discontent

The time is early June. With a grand sense of accomplishment, I ceremoniously pen the last word on the last page of the last blue book of my last final of my second-to-last year of high school. Barely bothering to hand in the exam, I rush, beaming (I would imagine) with glee, into my last summer as a high school student, ready to kick off three months of self-discipline.

This summer, after all, is my chance to follow through on all of those plans I’ve set aside during the school year. Plus, the college applications clock has started to tick-freedom will soon come crashing to an end and long nights of worrying await. Sometime between now and my pile of rejection letters, I’ve got to squeeze in some education.

The day after school ends, at a bookstore in Westwood, I buy two items: Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” (an easy read, I tell myself) and something I should have finished a long time ago-and a CD. I’ve listened to the CD all summer. The book — well, that’s another story.

This thin, fairly user-friendly novel has developed into an unwelcome reminder of the disappointment that was the summer of 2008. Kerouac’s masterpiece, a classic of American literature, the Beat Generation’s Bible, sits on my end table on occasion; most days, it’s buried somewhere between old math homeworks and essay drafts. When I couldn’t find it one day, I convinced myself that I had left it somewhere in Spain…where the book hadn’t left my bag for the duration of the trip. I later found it underneath a pile of clothes on the floor of my room.

I had imagined that reading this book, which celebrates American ideals and the wonders of youth, would be a swell beginning to my most productive summer ever. And why not? If I could ace my finals after one good weekend of cramming, surely I could read “On the Road” in a single afternoon, with time to spare to catch most of a “Rock of Love” marathon, all before dinner.

Instead, the bookmark is trapped in page 56, as it has been for months. My hopes, obviously, were dashed. And, as I write this in the dog days of August, I’m starting to wonder where all that time has gone. Harvard-Westlake hasn’t stopped working its crazy magic.

The events of the past couple of months are summer translations of the same anxieties and paralysis that all self-loathing Wolverines endure. Over the course of the hottest season, a recognizable pattern has emerged.

First, you head straight into denial. This summer, you say, will be different. This summer you’ll read for fun. This summer you’ll learn to surf. This summer you’ll lose weight. And so on.

Second, reality hits, and it goes a little something like this. June 5: You don’t want to check out that new LACMA exhibit today, you want to sleep instead. June 7: Go to the gym? Eh…your arm is sore from channel-flipping. And the cycle continues.

Soon it’s August, and the third, crucial stage kicks in: angst. Only one month left to make all of that progress on the Common App, or to learn how to play poker. One month to finish what you’ve started.

And, most importantly, someone in this world is doing just that. In fact, somewhere in Los Angeles there’s a Harvard-Westlake student who has pre-read their textbooks and published a short story in the New Yorker this summer. This isn’t a neurotic nightmare—at this school, we lazy bums have met the enemy: the overachievers, the people who actually follow through on their plans. When we return to school and hear all that they’ve accomplished in June, July and August, the rest of us will sink back into despair.

Or relaxation. While the constant anxiety may reach a fever pitch during senior year, I’ve never underestimated my own ability to stave off that guilt with a healthy dose of denial. We live out our lives in the same pattern, and for some reason, after driving us crazy for five years, it works.