By Kerry Tinga
September sees another summer come to an end and, in the Philippines, where summer was long ago, as it traditionally unfolds in April and May, September also sees supermarkets blasting out Christmas music through the aisles to welcome in the “ber” months. Some of you may be back in school, some others may be adults who did not have a summer to begin with because you have real lives and no time for this sort of nonsense (although I am sure you wish you did), but some of you still may be like me and have a week or two left to take advantage of. This begs the question, what are we to do? Well, I say take these few moments and linger a while longer, spend these final weeks without worry or stress, laze and be lazy. While I am still young enough to say it, let me just say it, isn’t that what summers are for?
I am embarrassed to say that this new perspective to summer was inspired by a friend of mine who joked around and said some line he got somewhere off the Internet: “We aren’t here for a long time, we’re here for a good time.” But I would rather not use that as the foundation of this article, so here is a quote from W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge.
“Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re more foolish not to delight in it while we have it. If change is one of the essence of existence one would have thought it only sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy.”
My bedside table is covered with half-read books and some others still wrapped in their plastic, all from a time in the beginning of the summer when I was more ambitious with my plans to read more. But The Razor’s Edge somehow made it into a pile of “books I had told myself I would read this summer and did,” beside the pile of “books I have lied about reading to make myself seem smarter but should really read before I am caught.”
Written late in Maugham’s life, it features perhaps one of the most mysterious, yet mesmerizing, characters of fiction: Larry Darrell, who is conceivably the protagonist of the novel, although he himself merely comes in and out of the storyline and meets the narrator, a fictionalized version of Maugham, a handful of times. A young orphaned American who enlisted in the war comes back home to Chicago. Traumatized by the image of death, he refuses offers of stockbroker jobs by family and friends and suggestions that he should go back to school. Instead, he decides to “loaf” on his meager inheritance, which breaks the heart of his childhood sweetheart and fiance. He travels the world, from Bohemian Paris to Bonn to Bombay, in pursuit of knowledge on any topic that piques his interest. He is in search of the meaning in life after having been surrounded by so much death. Ultimately, he is on the hunt for happiness.
Larry’s story, however, is told simply through catch up conversations with the fictionalized Maugham the few times their paths cross, or through the light chatter and gossip people make saying they have heard from someone who has heard from someone who has spotted him somewhere. Instead, the narrator has kept in touch with Larry’s ex-fiance, the incorrigible Isabel, her husband Gray, and her fascinating uncle Elliott Templeton, who prides himself most on being a staple of European society circles. The pages of the novel are mostly filled with the experiences of hardship Isabel, Gray, and Elliott face over the years: their financial troubles, their weariness as they age, their pot bellies or thinning hair or poor health, or the lackluster lifestyles they find themselves in, which are not at all what they had dreamed of in their younger years. All the while Larry comes in and out of their lives, always appearing as a friendly face from the past, barely any signs of aging, except for an air of wisdom and maturity.
A “summer vacation” is really a privilege for the young, and Larry seems ageless as he “loafs” through the decades as if on an “endless summer,” although he rides on a philosophical thought instead of a surfboard. But I am not Larry. I do not have an inheritance that I could use to support myself currently, and I have parents who have already paid for my tuition so that means I will have to go back to school. This leaves me with the feeling that each year is closer to no longer having that privilege, when I am a productive and contributing member of society (wishful thinking) who can only look forward to long holiday weekends, instead of summer breaks, to do as Larry does in The Razor’s Edge.
Which is why I say take these last few opportunities to “loaf,” to do nothing, except what fills you most with desire (disclaimer: within the limits of the law and keeping in mind the safety of yourself and of others), whether in the pursuit of knowledge or in the pursuit of happiness or just in the pursuit of a good time.
While you do that, this writer needs to finish packing her luggage with winter clothes as she goes back abroad to finish her studies for she has “loafed” for far too long and her mother is getting at her for procrastinating.
Kerry Tinga currently lives in London where she is pursuing her undergraduate degree in law from the University College London (UCL).She takes inspiration from old movies and new adventures.
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