Sunday, August 19, 2012

Summer Creativity Challenge #7: Naming the Summer

This week we experiment with naming the summer, a lighthearted creative activity that is both mindful and playful.  And addictive—once you name one summer it can be hard to stop.  This is an exercise that invites observation, awareness, evaluation, and playfulness.  I personally have always enjoyed naming the summer as it creates a doorway in my memory to re-enter that point in time.  It can also be useful in looking for, or developing, themes for which to create a departure point for other creative endeavors such as writing, painting or photography.

Last Thursday, I am in the middle of the second hour of a work meeting, when I receive an email from my good friend AJ, who is a very talented illustrator and artist. We’ve known each other since we were seven* and he has a mystery for me: “How good is your record keeping? I'm trying to figure out what occurred in our universe on July 20, 1997.” 

Intrigued—and an assiduous journaler since third grade—I knew I could take the case.  I spend the rest of the meeting mentally flipping through dates and memories.  I place myself in Florida.  It is the summer after my first year at Boston University.  I have a summer job as a hostess at Chuck & Harold’s on Palm Beach.  It is also the summer that one of my poems appeared in Bostonia.  I write poetry all the time.  I am still listening to Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness.    

At home after the meeting, I climb on a chair to reach the top shelf of my office lined with my collection of journals, and pull down a slim volume bound in lipstick-red velvet (purchased at Urban Outfitters) with lined pages and handwriting that is a younger and more rounded version of my current scrawl. 

There is no entry for July 20, 1997, but there is one for July 13.  This is when I remember that the summer of 1997 was: The Summer of Sin.

Please know that the summer of 1997 is not literally named.  My family has a delightfully twisted sense of humor and the word sin is my brother’s, created to goad my mom.  Or my mother’s, said in irony.  I don’t remember.  The summer was named for its late nights inspired by my post-high school curfew, hanging out at all night diners like IHOP and Clock’s, and the early stages of a summer romance.  There was a lot of freedom and not a lot of sin, but I spent a great deal of time writing in my diary (there are in fact two entries for July 13th, one at 1:35am and another at 3:30pm) so my family had to tease me about something.  Through this, the summer came to be named.

While I was not able to solve AJ’s mystery completely, I was reminded of the origin of the act of naming the summer, which began back in my early days of high school.  At that time, my brother and I had stumbled across author Brian Jacques’ Redwall books filled with a fantasy world of warrior mice, veteran hares, squirrels that have archery talents equal to Robin Hood, and badgers in chain mail.   

While there is always some sort of war going on in this British-based animal kingdom, at the heart of the story is Redwall Abbey, where they feast in front of the fire, eat nuts, cheese, dandelion greens and drink strawberry wine, among other mouse delicacies.  And they name the seasons.  I was fascinated by this idea when I first read the books and experimented with applying it to my own life.  With Florida not having distinct seasons, I found that it really stuck most in the summer, when school was out, the weather pattern distinct, and my schedule different. 

For me, naming the summer is truly never very formal.  It is something that I mark briefly in my thoughts during the week as the summer goes on and I look for themes.  I sometimes note it in my journal where, upon reading later, as in this post, it opens up a door to the memories of the summer landscape, the backdrop to other events or a theme that weaves through the whole season. 

Compared to the summer of 1997, this summer has a tame name.  It is The Summer of Butterflies.  The season has been unusually vibrant with them.  First Swallow Tails, and then Monarchs, and now Red Admirals, appearing all over gardens around town in notable numbers.  It has inspired some photography and as noted in my current journal, provides a visual cue for me to remember that when I think of this summer, it should be with the details of butterflies passing the window, landing on the Butterfly bush in the back yard; their orange or yellow wings lifting them over fences and up towards the bright summer sky. 

All of this is inspiration for the seventh Summer Creativity Challenge: Naming the Summer.  This challenge can be a short and sweet activity where you consider the unique themes of your summer and brainstorm names, or it can be a meditation on naming a summer that was important to you.  You can even create a series of names for the past few summers or seasons to show growth or patterns.  As I wrote this post, the book Summer of My German Solider, by Bette Greene, and author Waverly Fitzgerald’s time-recovery excise “Naming the Moons”, from her book Slow Time, came to mind as alternative ways to interpret it.       

With this as your touchpoint, plan some time to meditate on names or a name for your summer, or make an artist date to write, paint, etc., with the inspiration of looking at unique themes.  Record impressions, inspirations, ideas, and memories in your sketchbook and share here on The Paper Compass. 

Two of AJ's illustrations I found in my
1997 red velvet journal
*In our collective history, we both say this, but AJ is actually older than me, so it can’t be factually true.  It works well enough though, so we’ve stuck with it.


  1. Hi Brenna,

    Thank you for vividly sharing a picture of summer with your words. A picture is drawn in my mind as I read and contemplate this creative summer challenge. Summer is a magical time when freedom, feelings, and creativity all intermix. A special name for an event, season, or year; always helps to jog my nemory of that most memorable time. I am able to remember and revisit a past summer, when relationships were in bloom, nature was ever beautiful, while time and space was never ending: the summer of love. Thank you for sharing this special creative challenge.

    Very best,

    1. Ah yes! One of the best-known "named" summers :-)