Notes From a College Student: Dog Days of Summer


by By Amie Dahnke /

Posted on July 17, 2009 at 10:46 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 1:52 PM

About the Author

Track star Amie Dahnke is an English major at the University of Portland. She also holds the fastest Crystal Springs course time in UP history, and she became the first freshman since 1990 and the first Portland runner since 2000 to win the women's WCC individual championship. Her fastest 5k is 16:51; her fastest mile is 4:51.

The overused expression "the dog days of summer" never made much sense to me.

I distinctly remember from childhood my mom standing in the kitchen, wiping the sweat from her brow with the dish towel and sighing that familiar phrase.

"But we don't have any dogs, Mommy."

She smiled with a bit of a snort, puffing up the wisps of hair that stuck with sweat to her forehead and said to me: "You'll know what I mean when you're older."

I was 5 then. At 22, I still didn't get it. But, being a freshly minted, unemployed college graduate, I decided to look up the phrase for myself.

Turns out, the period between July and September is labeled "dog days" because the dog star Sirius is visible. Webster's Dictionary also defines dog days as a period of stagnation or inactivity.

How fitting. Actually, how depressingly fitting. In this time of economic recession and strife, we are finding ourselves in a major period of stagnation and inactivity--yours truly included. I've been officially unemployed (other than this writing gig) for a month and have been watching my bank account dwindle to nearly nothing.

Coming into summer--not the same season at all now that I'm out of school--with less money and more stress than previous summers has been taking a toll on my psyche and allowing for those dog days to come earlier than July. I lose sleep, feel hopeless and am having trouble mustering the confidence to believe, after 32 rejected resumes, that I'm even capable enough to flip burgers at a fast-food joint.

I found out that I'm not alone: Oregon's unemployment rate is the second highest in the nation, and I am entering the worst job market in nearly three decades. My boyfriend still hasn't landed a solid cooking job, and three of my closest college friends--also recent grads--are living with Mom and Dad until they can get back on their feet.

The worried college graduates aren't even alone. In September 2008, an American Psychological Association poll found that 80 percent of Americans considered the economy to be a significant cause of stress. The APA also found that calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in January 2009 numbered more than 50,000--compared to approximately 40,000 in January 2008. One can only guess how high that number has climbed by now, six months, a ton of bankruptcies, and a lot of layoffs later.

Considering that the "dog days" were believed by the Greeks to be an evil time, described in Brady's "Clavis Calendarium" as "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics and phrensies," I'm a bit worried for my peace of mind this summer. The fact that the Egyptians prepared for flooding once Sirius was visible in the sky doesn't offer much comfort.

My mother's belief that "the dog days of summer" referred to the conspicuous laziness of dogs during the hottest days of the year is, as the aforementioned malevolent stories proffer, false. That said, it's only June, relatively cool and I'm already tired as a dog. But I know too that stress can lead to emotional exhaustion, which might be at the heart of my own personal dog days.

Recently, after talking on the phone with my mom about my column and lack of employment, she offered me some motherly advice (as she so often does). I imagined her sipping a cranberry vodka (with no kids in the house anymore, there's no need for her to be in the kitchen cooking or doing dishes) to cool her sweating skin, talking to me as though I were 5 all over again.

"No matter what the dog days of summer might bring economically," she said, "it's important to fight the tired feeling. You're too young to know how hard it can get. But always, no matter what you do, find and relish those happy days."

And I guess she's right. Floods, boiling seas and the economic downturn aside, there's no point lying around and worrying.