August is our most unappreciated season. Mention the month in a "free association" exercise and most people think of "heat," "boredom," "humidity," and "back to school." What more can be said for the National Allergy Month?
Actually August simply suffers from a bad press. Newspaper columnists and television reporters complain about "slow news days" and search wire-service copy for "man-bites-dog" incidents. Best-selling books such as Barbar Tuchman's "Guns of August" and Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "August, 1914" remind us that the horrors of World War I began in August. And although literary critics insist that William Faulkner's "Light in August" is really about love and identity, such pronouncements are cold comfort to Joe Christmas and most readers. Songwriters just never got around to composing "August Song," or "August in Paris," or "August Is Bustin' Out All Over." And even Neil Diamond's fine album "Hot August Night" offers no credit to the concert setting its title describes. Conventional wisdom seems to be that August is the season of nothing good or nothing period.
True, August does seem to inspire a certain degree of rowdiness. During this month Billy the Kid killed his first man (1877); Wild Bill Hickock failed to cash in his "aces and eights" (1876); Alaric's Goths sacked Rome (410); and William C. Quantrell's renegades sacked Lawrence, Kan. (1863). August also brought destruction from various causes upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945), Sodom and Gomorrah (B.C.) and Pompeii and Herculaneum (79 A.D.). During August John the Baptist lost his head in the most literal way possible, and the celebrated asp bit Cleopatra in 30 B.C. Still, no one ever said, "Beware the Ides of August."
For the most part August produces nothing so much as a near-terminal relapse of spring fever. In the reality of modern life August is the last month of the year, and September the first. Thus, August is the calm before the storm of new projects, school openings, new television shows, and renewed energy elsewhere. In August the busy world and most people in it take a vacation. Mailboxes stand empty; committees do not meet; politicians are "unavailable for comment"; and absolutely no one is "in the office just now." As a result August is hassle-free, laid back and loose -- the last respite before the authentic new year begins.
According to legend, tourists out-number the French in Paris during August, because Parisians migrate to the south of France. Italians, too, take vacations in drives in August and celebrate their freedom in the saying "No one is married in August." In the United States only half the people vacation in August; the other half are shrewd enough to realize that going to work does not necessarily mean working. Consequently people at the beach, in the mountains, or nominally on the job at this time of year are "leisured" (at other times these same people would be "lazy").
August is the time to read trashy novels and save "The Medusa and the Snail" for a mid-winter fireside. In August "conviction" is deciding in less than 10 minutes to have a gin and tonic in lieu of a rum collins. "Fiscal responsibility" is buying only one case of beer. "Ambition" in August is taking a long walk instead of a nap. "Discipline" is promising to undertake the Scarsdale diet in September.
String and wonderful things happen when the world lets go for a little while. Directed thought gives way to daydreams and then to fantasies. All things are possible in August. This month proves the connection between recreation and creation.
Surely many of the glorious achievements which come to completion in January begin as dreams in August. Relieved of the obligations to answer mail and telephones, attend meetings and conferences, and punch time clocks, real or symbolic, people sometimes do amazing things. No doubt it was the August interlude in Alos, Spain, which enabled Christopher Columbus to set sail for the New World in August of 1492.The Mayflower sailed in the same direction with the Pilgrims aboard in August 1620. Ferdinand Magellan began the first voyage around the world in August of 1519. Michelangelo began his "Pieta" in August 1498, and the First Crusade set out in August of 1096. It was certainly no accident that these monumental undertakings commenced in August. At other times of the year, responsible and diligent people would have been on the job to explain why these ventures were impossible, and the "Pieta" would still be an agenda item of some Vatican committee.
It is the curious nature of August that it lets people alone to dream great dreams or just to dream. When someone discovers a solution to the current energy crisis, they will probably do so during August. But on the other hand, August itself is a solution to the energy crisis.