July 29, 2006

Summer homes and strawberry rhubarb pie

An article about Art Buchwald in the garden section (of all places) of the New York Times (here) descrbes his love for his "summer home." The rich and famous in large Eastern cities seem to have one of these homes to use as a retreat from work and the hustle-bustle of urban life. It's also a place where friends and relatives can visit. Even though he's now 80 and dying, Buchwald loves getting company. People like Walter Cronkite, Dave Barry and Carly Simon drop by regularly. He chose this summer home as the place to spend the waning days of his life. And he's still writing his syndicated columns. The article made me think a bout the "summer homes" of linguists and other academics.

Sometimes our salaries don't allow us the luxury of even one home, much less two. But we can use our summer break time to give lectures or teach courses in other places, attend conferences, and mostly do our research and writing--because we love what we do. Some pick nice places to do their research, like the mountains of Montana, where my fellow Language Logger, Sally Thomason, researches the Salish language in the Flathead. Before I moved to Montana I used to spend parts of my summers here, my wife's home state, and I fell in love with this place. When I retired from teaching at Georgetown, we moved here and, like Buchwald, we made it our permanent "summer home." I now do my writing and research here, far from the madding crowd (and any loose gerunds that happen to be running around).

But it was the last quote in this article about Buchwald that hit me between the eyes. His housekeeper broke into his conversation with the interviewer and asked if he'd like some strawberry rhubarb pie:

"Later on today I will probably have some," Mr. Buchwald says. "But at this moment in my life I am so happy I can't do anything different."

He was where he wanted to be, doing what he wanted to do. How many people can say this? But that's what loving your work and doing it in the place you love can do for you. From all I can tell, most linguists dearly love their work and even do it in their spare time. They may not always love living where their jobs are, but they can usually find "summer homes" of sorts to help take care of that need. And they can move to those places when they retire, getting the best out of both work and home. When this happens, like Buchwald, they can be so happy  that they can't do anything different. And they can have their strawberry rhubarb pie whenever they want  it.

Posted by Roger Shuy at July 29, 2006 05:57 PM