Is Summer Fun?

Hazlitt staff investigate.

September 18, 2015
A photo of the editor standing outside a house

Haley Cullingham is Hazlitt's editor-in-chief, and a senior editor at Strange Light and McClelland & Stewart. Books and pieces she's edited have won...

Anshuman Iddamsetty was Hazlitt’s art director and audio/visual producer. Before that they were an associate producer and sound designer for such CBC ...

Haley Cullingham: I assume we’re here to talk about Summer Roberts.

Jordan Ginsberg: Yes, now that Scaachi’s gone, we’re going to need you to keep the team up to date on sexy teens.

HC: Now that Scaachi’s gone, I’m going to need both of you to listen to me keep the team up to date on sexy teens. (Though she failed in her attempts to teach me how to use the new Snapchat update today, so who needs her, I say!) Anyway, we’re here to talk about something teens are better at than anyone else: summertime.

JG: They think they’re so great, with their tans and their whole lives ahead of them. But, yes, now that it is almost officially over, how was everyone’s summer?

HC: Summer isn’t over until the 23rd, Jordan. THERE’S STILL TIME FOR WHATEVER THERE’S SUPPOSED TO BE TIME FOR.

JG: Summer’s over when people stop trying to shame me into wearing shorts. Summer ended some time in August.

HC: If shorts are good enough for Al Gore they’re good enough for you.

Anshuman Iddamsetty: I’m wearing shorts ~right now~ ... in the theoretical summer of my mind. The summer I actually went out and did things, embraced fun, learned some ineffable truth about myself. This summer was pretty whatever.

JG: I just got lost in a Google image search for “Al Gore shorts” and came across this photo:

Al looks like he’s thinking wistfully about a tree.

HC: Is Tipper’s lapel pin a SAXOPHONE?

Anshuman, what was it about your summer that didn’t leave you with that feeling of giggling in the back of a campaign bus wearing a saxophone lapel pin?

AI: Fun is a lot of work! You have to put your back into it. And after Work work, I wanted none of that. Let me crawl into a cryogenic tube in my underground forest lab, thank you very much.

I find the pursuit of fun really stressful!

JG: What’s fun to you?

AI: Don’t get me wrong, I Like Fun. Whoo, fun. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that what I did wasn’t fun enough, if that makes sense. Like, it wasn’t enough to wile away the sun downing too many micheladas on a patio giggling about the word “morass”—you almost had to justify why you chose that over anything else, even if you couldn’t articulate what that hypothetical anything was.

Impromptu stick n’ pokes? Pop-up BBQs?? Portaging??? One tube, please.

HC: So, the story that I think kind of sums (ha) up my summer connects to what you’re saying, in a way. I spent this summer like I spent the last three years, living between Montreal and Toronto. In both places, I very often prioritized work over fun, sunlight and human contact. When I got back to Montreal for the last few weeks I would live there for the foreseeable future, I had mostly resigned myself to doing the same thing. The situation was strange: I was subletting a room in an apartment with my friend Jess, down the street from the first apartment where I ever lived in the city, sleeping on a sheet from Simon’s covering a couch from Ikea that were identical to items I had while I still lived-lived there. ANYWAY, the first Sunday night that Jess and I spent together in the apartment, she had just come off a plane from BC. It was about 8 pm, and about 40 degrees. We were sitting in her living room talking about how the best possible thing we could imagine was throwing our bodies in Jarry Pool. And then Jess just looked at me and was like, “Why don’t we?” And even though I had one hundred why-don’t-we-not reasons at the ready, almost all of which were in the form of looming deadlines, I went. And it felt really good. And then I did a lot more of that. And that also felt really good. So, I don’t know...sometimes maybe it’s good to be in proximity to people who make fun seem easy? But those people seem hard to find. And I almost feel like my deep desire to have someone shake me out of my fugue-ish state motivated Jess to embrace that role and drag me along with her.

JG: I think that’s exactly right. This sounds like self-parody, but I’m consistently shocked by how much fun “fun” things actually end up being. I went to the CNE this summer for the first time in twenty years or so, an interregnum in which there was little I would have rather not done than spend a day in the sun surrounded by sweaty people eating piles of trash food and barfing all over each other (presumably). But I was with people who wanted to go, and so I went, and it was great. I’ve spent the last couple decades assuming I hated roller coasters, and then I went on one and it was fun. Being upside-down is fun. I don’t know why I was surprised by this.

HC: In so many ways, it’s often about the stories we tell ourselves, right? I don’t like that, I’m an introverted person, that’s not the type of thing I want to do. But you have to remember to update your defaults every so often, if and when you have the energy and circumstances to do so, I think. What I often struggle with is when to, in the service of self-preservation and energy-saving, “embrace the tube,” if you will, and when to forsake the tube. I do not know how to make that call. Does anyone know how to make that call? That is something for which I still rely very heavily on the people around me, I think, even though I resist the advice like a small child presented with wool tights.

JG: I know I’m rarely if ever the one to make that call, which is why it’s nice to have friends with ideas of fun that stray from sitting in a dark bar reading a book by yourself and developing a vitamin deficiency. (Which I maintain is fun, but maybe not the kind of fun you can share with others, or at least not the kind that impresses people when it’s sunny and warm out.)

HC: Thank you for this reminder to take my iron pill.

AI: Come to think of it, when I did have fun I was always with someone else. Usually my girlfriend. When left to my own devices I’m just that, alone, with my devices, editing [strikethrough] looking at the Metal Gear wiki.

JG: Fun notwithstanding, how do we feel about summer as a season? Considering my dumb fashion choices, it’s never been a particularly comfortable time of year for me, but I started wearing T-shirts without a button-up over top this year and it greatly improved my quality of life. Summer may be growing on me.

HC: The first day it was above 26 degrees I wept with joy in the streets. It was a magical bodily sensation akin to lying down to sleep after travelling for 27 hours. I LOVE SUMMER.

AI: I fully embraced the tank top and it was good.

JG: I don’t think I’m there yet. I was still wearing dark jeans on the hottest of days and it really bummed everyone out. But, strictly as a season/time of year, this was the first spring/summer stretch in recent memory that didn’t activate my reverse-SAD.

HC: Summer, for me, often inspires what I think is part of what Anshuman was talking about earlier, that pressure to Make Every Night The Best Night of Your Life. Tavi Gevinson has an amazing quote to the effect that being a teenager is like living every day in a state of perfect nostalgia, or something, like active nostalgia (she said this, unsurprisingly, much better), and for me, summer seems like the time when you can access that feeling most easily. But nostalgia can be a dangerous game.

JG: Right, and I usually combat that by being a pale homebody. But I just turned 31, which is not old, but is nonetheless an age that made me realize I waste a lot of time doing the same things over and over. I could watch, like, all of Bloodline in one dreadful afternoon, or I could go on a hike. I never go on hikes, but I could start.

HC: Hikes are great! Let’s all put on tank tops and go for a hike!

AI: Hikes are garbage. As is camping. WE BUILT CITIES TO DRIVE BACK THE NIGHT.

JG: I used to be like you. Literally minutes ago. Come on over to the side of the light. Look at Al Gore up there, in love with a tree. That could be you.


JG: Hmm.

Anyway. Do you guys feel your media consumption actually changes from season to season? Do you believe in summer jams?

HC: I believe in summer jams but my summer jam is rarely anyone else’s. Which I suppose defeats the purpose. Wait, I lied, because HOTLINE BLING. We Are All Connected.

AI: Summer jams are all that’s right with the world. I want to dive for pearls listening to this Ojuelegba remix. Or cook up something good with Sheer Mag on blast.

JG: A quick glance at my Rdio account reveals a recent most-listened-to list consisting of four Ryan Adams albums, two Smiths albums, the Jamie xx album, and some new Deafheaven singles. Everything is going great.

But, also, this great album by Hazlitt contributor Zachary Lipez’s new band Publicist UK! Listen to Publicist UK.

HC: My iTunes reveals a four-way tie between Kendrick, Perfume Genius, New Pornographers and Sylvan Esso. TELL ME WHAT IT MEANS, and I ask because, the end of summer always inspires the desire to synthesize what the summer meant to you.

Perhaps I should compose a haiku from these song titles.

JG: Let’s see what mine looks like...

Heartbreaker, hold tight / Brought to the water, come back / Gosh, forgive yourself


HC: YIKES INDEED. Although somewhat soothing.

AI: Haley, I like what you said earlier about pegging music, anything, to some overarching meaning of summer. I think that ties into my worst fears regarding the last few months. That in doing nothing it all meant nothing, too. Maybe.

HC: To me, though, those nothing-times sometimes end up meaning the most. The arguably-worst summers I’ve had always teed up these really wonderful years of doing all these things I would have thought I was too scared to do. NOT TO BE CHEESY OR ANYTHING. But it’s true. I spent one particular summer hiding in my room and then that fall I fell in love and figured out something I was apparently good enough at that people would pay me for it. Not to put too much stock in things or anything BUT I do think sometimes you have to retreat and replenish the reserves of … whatever. But I don’t know.

AI: You’re right. I find the tension there fascinating. Aggravating, too. The need to fall back—you mentioned this as an act of self-preservation and, again, you’re not wrong—versus the desire to go out there and activate all your desires on a beach somewhere. For me, it’s all too easy to renounce the solar capitalism of the sun than to stand by an awkward, giddy decision. Everyone just seems so productive with their fun! Uuuugh.

HC: This is a trite question, but do you feel the internet has something to do with your impression that everyone’s fun is productive?

AI: 100%.

How do we as a species torch Instagram?

JG: This is why I only follow chefs and restaurants on Instagram now. I still get jealous looking at good food, but there’s only so much I can eat, whereas there are theoretically limitless ways in which other people are having a good time while I squander. I don’t know if I actually believe this.

HC: Instagram is the only social medium I like and allow to live on my phone. Twitter provokes in me the reaction you’re describing, but not Instagram. Also, yesterday I wore an Interesting and Certainly Noticeable Dress to work and neither of you said anything, but I posted it on Instagram and Scaachi messaged me almost immediately, so it’s serving my ego in ways that The Real World is not.

AI: I have failed as a colleague but I find your current outfit handsome and dynamic.

HC: Why, thank you.

JG: I also think everyone looks very nice.

HC: You are both looking quite sharp. But Jordan, your outfit would be better with shorts.

Now we’ve defined my summer. This was the summer I showed up to the office looking like Laura Ingalls Wilder, and no one said anything. TAKIN’ IT BACK TO THE TEENS.

AI: Maybe I have it all wrong. I started powerlifting this past spring and kept a fairly strict routine through the summer. Most of my theoretical hangs were nixed preemptively, because the only time I could train was after work, which left me drained for the rest of the evening and the evening after that. But, corny as this sounds, lifting is fun. Horrible, but fun. And I totally used Instagram to stunt on everyone. So, in a sense, yeah, productive.

HC: It’s funny, the summer I spoke of before, the one that seemed similar to your recent season, was also defined by disciplined routine.

It’s funny, also, that you say it was productive in a sense. My understanding is that it was quantifiably productive, no? In that you can lift more now than you could in the spring? “This was the summer I lifted [insert number here]?”

AI: Productive in the way that fun in 2015 feels like work, and of the right kind of work, I guess. I’m still feeling out the vocabulary of a very new lifestyle. Me big.

HC: Maybe, sometimes, fun is a long game. Not the immediate and spontaneous satisfaction so well-articulated on Instagram, but a more general sense that the things you’re doing are taking you to a place you feel good about.

JG: This reminds me a little of that Stephen Colbert profile in GQ, where he talks about his love of process, of wrapping himself up in every aspect of production beyond the performance itself. Sometimes the work is a kick in the dick, and stressful, and enveloping, and seems to come at the expense of the fun you really want to be having. But if you’re lucky, the work itself is the joy, and the effort you expend to motivate yourself to take that hike or get on that boat or just get outside and feel the sun on your body once in a while is indivisible from the feelings those actions ultimately provoke. The means justify the means.

A photo of the editor standing outside a house

Haley Cullingham is Hazlitt's editor-in-chief, and a senior editor at Strange Light and McClelland & Stewart. Books and pieces she's edited have won the Governor General's Literary Award, the Kobo Emerging Writer Award, and several National Magazine Awards. She is from Toronto. 

Anshuman Iddamsetty was Hazlitt’s art director and audio/visual producer. Before that they were an associate producer and sound designer for such CBC Radio One programs as GOKnow Your Rights, and the award-winning Spark