Boondoggle:  an activity that is wasteful or pointless, but gives the appearance of having value.

I’m officially naming this My Boondoggle Summer.  I’ve pretty much done nothing worthwhile, but I’ve had a whole damn lotta fun doing it.  It’s been a long time since such a happening took place.  A long time.  Like, maybe, 25 years.

A few years ago, my summer looked like this.  We had moved across the country and into a house we had to remodel.  Imagine 6 workers, me, and dogs trying to stay out of each others’ way from 7 am until 5 pm everyday.  Imagine dust and filth and noise and everything you own covered in dirty plastic.  Imagine trying to keep the dogs from running away through the open doors, nowhere to cook, washing dishes on your knees in the upstairs bathtub.  Knowing no one.  For 7 months.

This is pretty much what my kitchen looked like the day I started grad school.  Imagine reading MOBY-DICK and lots of Steinbeck and poets-you’ve-never-heard-of and writing papers while all manner of butt-scratching and yelling and hammering and drilling and glass-breaking is taking place all around you.  Imagine.

Then I broke my front tooth. My tooth turned blue.  And I couldn’t talk right or smile for weeks.


Fast forward ….

Me with my kids in Spain. How fun is that?

Last summer, 2010, I was under the old machine gun to finish my thesis.  I made time to go to Spain with my family, but soon after it was the cliched crunch.  All I remember about last summer is panic.  My thesis was due.  I had no idea what in the hell I was doing.  I barely recall last summer at all….  well, except for the house-shoes I wore to the library every day.  (I had to throw them away in the end.)  It was all THESIS, THESIS, THESIS.  Get it done!  Finish something!  Come on you ingrate!  Graduate goddgammit!  You are 45 f-ing years old!

You.  Are.  45.  Years.  Old.

When did that happen?


Faster forward ….

My summer of 2011 has been a BOONDOGGLE.  A boondoggle of the nth degree.  We’ve traveled and then traveled some more.  We’ve had visitors.  I’ve read books every single day.  My toes have spent time in sand.  I have not written a word of my book-in-progress.

My kitchen no longer looks like that awful photo.  My children are living their lives and working and having fun.  And I’m not finished having fun yet.

My book.  I am thinking about my book.  But I am not writing it.  Not right now.  This is my Boondoggle Summer.  I feel like I should apologize, but I’m not gonna.  Instead, I’m going to keep traveling, keep playing, keep reading.  Reading THE LACUNA, SHADOW TAG, FEBRUARY, THE MASTERS, AMERICAN WEATHER, THE KNOWN WORLD, Lorrie Moore short stories.  I’m going to keep this boondoggle going as long as summer will have me.

23 thoughts on “Boondoggle

  1. Sherry Stanfa-Stanley

    Oh, I so want a boondoggle summer! No, wait, I want a boondoggle LIFE!


    But I disagree with that definition. I think it definitely has value. Oh yeah. Great value. For reassessing and reaffirming.

    Amen, sister. Plenty of summer left for both of us.

  2. Lyra

    See that picture? No that one. Right there. The one with the mother and HER children. There are no other words needed from anyone else to tell you what you know, what they know, what is and what is not.

    That picture brings me more joy than you could possibly imagine. Oh wait, it’s you. Of course you can imagine.


    (Oh, and we need a picture of the finished kitchen. I LOVE before and afters!)

  3. catherine

    I think I have mastered the art of the boondoogle summer. Here I am in the middle of it! Perhaps it could even be used to describe my whole life!

    And celebrate 45! That mid-40 freedom plus thesis-satisfaction! You have worked hard and earnt that green boondoogled view (not a word I think I should swing around too much)

  4. macdougalstreetbaby

    Definitely not a boondoggle summer. Not by a long shot. But damn I love that word.

  5. Jody

    You are having a SABBATICAL summer, and, clearly, it is wise to do so.

    I am a firm believer that in a writer’s life, breaks are vital. During those breaks, all kinds of stuff percolates and comes to the surface eventually. For me, the most important part of these spaces of rest, for my creativity, is to read, particularly novels that are in my subject matter, style or genre. Somehow, their structures seeps into me.

    For the record, I’m a writer who’s been doing it for a very long time (just had a birthday). You have to replenish.

    1. Teri

      Great to see you, Jody. Hope your writing is going well, and that your (not so) new grandbaby is happy and healthy out here in CA.

  6. Bonnie Middlebrooks

    I loved reading your confession about this summer.

    When I read the Boondoggle heading on your blog I feared that it was going to be about our legislators in Washington D.C. Needless to say, what they pretend to do is the perfect definition of the word.

    You, on the other hand, have no reason to feel guilty. Enjoy the rest of this beautiful summer.

    1. Teri

      Oh yes, Bonnie, there is THAT boondoggle, but I’m trying to not talk about politics! (so hard)

      Rex and I were just talking about how we were raised with a bunch of Calvinists — the motto being: work work work work die. Even if you know there’s more to life than that, there’s guilt aplenty when you’re trying to escape that mold.

  7. Averil Dean

    Let the summer roll, I say. You’ll know when it’s time to wash the sand from between your toes and start ink-staining your fingers. You deserve a summer of boondoggling — I hope you squeeze every drop of sunshine from the sky.

      1. Deb

        Glad to be back! Strange times that have turned out just fine. More reason to be boondoggling – we can make it into a verb, right?

  8. Lina

    Yeah, i feel the same. I’ve immersed myself in reading and don’t even want to think about writing. It must be what burn out feels like. But I am choosing to look at it as creative incubation.

    1. Teri Post author

      Oh Lina, I hear every word of that. It’s been an interesting few years, hasn’t it? I like your term much better: creative incubation. I’m going with that.

  9. Downith

    Boon what??? I got sidetracked by “All I remember about last summer is panic”. Oh, and “THESIS THESIS THESIS, get it done!”

    But enjoy the boondoggle summer. Does this mean I get one next summer?

  10. Laura

    I try not to think too much about how the word “summer” is pretty meaningless to me since I still have to work the regular job, day in and day out. My friends who are teachers, students, or professors get the summer off and I feel so desperate to be trapped in a gray office sometimes. But then I visited a friend who was laid off months ago and has been spending her summer cleaning/painting/remodeling her house and is so desperate to go back to work that I feel like an ass for complaining about my job.

    So far this summer I have stressed and gardened a little and procrastinated and whined. Trying to be more positive for the second half of it!

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