I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love the water. I grew up in New Jersey, southern New Jersey, where an escape to the beach for the day was 45 minutes away. Nowadays, with the popularity of the destination and the increase in the local population, the trip takes at least an hour, but the beautiful white sand and the smell of the salt water is worth it. I’ve also lived in Michigan, not far from Lake Michigan, and no, it is not “just like the ocean.” It is big, yes, and sunsets are amazing, and it has incredible, enormous sand dunes, but fresh water is different from salt water and the waves are smaller. It is no less awe-inspiring, just different. And I have lived in Colorado, right on a river in a canyon. Smaller, of course, and I could see the other side, but fast moving and really cold all summer. Again, a completely different experience of water. I love a day in the sun, in and out of the water, and reading a book. Focus on One for August is simply to get to the beach and read a book.
It actually takes a lot for me to sit and read a book if it has nothing to do with what I am teaching in the coming year. I have no problem reading novels I am going to teach, or criticism of works I am going to teach, or collections of essays in search of new things to teach, but pleasure reading is a problem. I have to give myself permission and then stop that voice in my head that keeps saying, “You should be re-reading King Lear.” But reading for pleasure is a different activity altogether. Sure any kind of reading is good for my brain, but reading a novel for pleasure actually reduces stress, improves memory, helps develop analytical abilities, and helps with focus so that when I am reading for work, my mind doesn’t wander.
Another benefit of a day at the beach with a book is getting out in the sun. Oh, I know the cancer risks. But don’t put on the sunscreen until about 20 minutes have passed. While sunscreen protects your skin from harmful effects of UV light, it also prevents your skin from being able to manufacture Vitamin D. The good news is that most people won’t get a sunburn in 20 minutes, the time it generally takes for the body to generate enough Vitamin D for the day. And here’s what is interesting. If you are extremely fair-skinned, it takes less time for you to produce the same amount of Vitamin D than someone who is darker skinned, therefore, 5 or 10 minutes of “unprotected” sun time may be enough. I am not saying everyone should ditch the sunscreen. I am saying that a short amount of time in the sun will increase the amount of Vitamin D your body can produce.
Before the school year starts up, and everything gets crazy again, take a day, or an afternoon, or even an evening, and get out to a relaxing spot with a book.