I'm right there with you, bro.
These past three months, whenever people ask me what I do for a living, I immediately launch into a condensed, fifteen second rundown of the past two years of my life, kind of like a boring, low-stakes version of those little recaps they show before new episodes of Breaking Bad. The rundown starts in July of 2011 (“Two years ago I moved to LA to become a TV scriptwriter…”) meanders through a few milestones along the way (“…it turns out most of the prostitutes at the ranch thought I was gay, so it wasn’t even an issue!”) and ends in June (“…and then I got laid off.”)
Inevitably, somebody asks me what I’ve been up to since then, and most of the time I give the most brutally honest answer I can: “Summer of George.”
This is probably pretty confusing to people who didn’t spend their formative years watching syndicated Seinfeld reruns, so for their benefit I’m going to paste in the relevant sections from the extremely detailed Wikipedia article covering this particular episode:
"George discovers that he has a severance package from the New York Yankees that should last him about three months, so he decides that he is going to take full advantage of three months off and become very active."
My entire perception of time has been shaped by summer vacation. From my childhood well into my adolescence, the way I pictured a calendar year in my head looked kind of like this:
Like most kids, I wasn’t crazy about school. I had it in my head that I would be a lot better off in life if the public school system would just leave me the hell alone so I could pursue my own interests – I reasoned that I could do something much more meaningful with my youth if I wasn’t being forced to waste so much time on lost causes like PE or multiplying fractions.
Every summer, then, was the only time every year that I had the chance to live life the way I wanted to live it. Briefly freed from the terrible burden of a comprehensive taxpayer funded education, I had few responsibilities or obligations and all the time in the world to experience everything I’d missed over the past nine months.
I don’t even need to tell you that I wound up spending every summer in front of my Nintendo 64, do I? I mean, I’ve been writing this thing for like six years. You probably saw where this was going two paragraphs ago.
So getting laid off at the beginning of this summer was like a mulligan for me. As a kid, I squandered my spare time because I was a kid and I didn’t have much else going on. But as an adult, I’ve got actual goals to chase – scripts to write! Friends to collaborate with! Story research to do! Without the terrible burden of a paying job in an air conditioned building, I could quit working 8 hours a day for someone else and start working 8 hours a day for myself.
“Meanwhile, instead of living a very active lifestyle as he had planned, George becomes incredibly lazy. He never changes out of his pajamas, and feels too weak to even come to Jerry's apartment, asking Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer to instead visit him or talking to Jerry on the phone to know what's going on over at his apartment.”
I read about an experiment where they put a rat in a cage with two buttons – one which dispensed food and one which fired off an electrode implanted in the pleasure center of the rat’s brain. The rat more or less mashed the pleasure button until he starved to death.
I’ve been thinking about that dead, happy rat a lot this summer. When I wake up at 1:00 on a Tuesday, glance at the FinalDraft document on my computer, and decide to turn on my PlayStation instead to ‘organize my thoughts.’ When I orchestrate little errands to run just so I’ll have an opportunity to stop at Baja Fresh on the way home. When I order another $12 drink even though I have no income and I’ve blown through my budget for the day.
What I’ve realized is that on a primal level I just want to spend every waking moment shuttling from one pleasurable activity to the next until it's time for bed, and without a job to keep me on track that's pretty much what I'm doing:
"I haven't written anything today, but it's so pleasant and breezy up here on my roof... Hey, I bet it would be even more pleasant if I had a can of Strongbow... Now it's even nicer on my roof because I'm buzzed from that Strongbow! I bet it would be even nicer if I had another Strongbow... Now I'm drunk on my roof! This would be great if I wasn't getting hungry. I should go inside, cook some rice, and start writing. Ooh! Or I could walk to In-N-Out, because eating a burger while kind of drunk would be amazing..."
This isn’t to say that I didn’t do any writing over the past three months – my pilots are locked into place and the wheels are turning on a lot of exciting projects. But when I look at my creative output in relation to the sheer, breathtaking amount of unstructured time I had at my disposal this summer I feel like I could have done one hell of a lot more writing and one hell of a lot less not writing.
My plan was to start actively looking for work in September, because that seemed like the logical time to end my summer staycation. But as August drew to a close and I started to feel the claustrophobic panic I used to feel at the end of every summer vacation, I began hedging my bets.
“Well, I’m not out of money yet.” I thought. “Maybe I’ll take September off too. I mean, Grand Theft Auto V is coming out on the 17th, and who the hell is going to stop me if I want to not work for four months instead of three?”
But before I could hit the pleasure button again, I got an email from my old agency – there’s been a lot of new work coming down the pipeline, and would I possibly be available to come in to do some freelancing for them this week?
And so I found myself going through an oddly familiar September routine: On the day after Labor Day I painfully dragged myself out of bed far earlier than I wanted to, ate a breakfast I was too tired to taste, and went to work in a building full of people I hadn’t seen in three months.
For better or for worse (probably better), my Summer of George is over. I had a lot of fun, but in true Seinfeld fashion I’m not sure if I learned anything.
Truman Capps was in the pool, Jerry!
Truman Capps was in the pool, Jerry!