by Gar Anthony Haywood

As I write this blog post, I’m wondering how in the hell I’m going to find a way to post it in time for Wednesday.  Because, you see, I’m on vacation this week, and nothing ever comes easy for me when I go on vacation.

Vacations are supposed to be fun.  An opportunity to put work behind you and do nothing but relax and enjoy yourself for a while.  Travel, eat well, and take afternoon naps by the pool.  Catch up on your reading, maybe even try a few absurdly dangerous things you’d never try otherwise (hang-gliding, cliff diving, etc.).  Laugh and play, and love with renewed vigor, and forget what it was about your chosen profession that had you longing for a vacation in the first place.

The idea is to find your professional “off” switch and activate it, then fill the void only with things that make you smile.  For most people, shutting down their work lives can be as simple as turning off their cell phone and leaving it off.  Disconnect him from his Macbook and smart phone and an accountant becomes just another joe, his head no longer swimming with numbers to crunch.  Drop an attending ER physician on a beach in Maui for a week and see how much time he spends worrying about gunshot wounds and head trauma.  Because the work these people do is only as portable as they choose to make it, they can get on a plane and leave it behind them, whenever the need arises.

Not so the professional writer.

The writer’s lot is reminiscent of that old saying: “Wherever I go, there I am.”  Your work — and all the things about it that make you crazy — is in your head, twenty-four-seven, and you can no more leave it at home with the family dog when you go on vacation than your left foot (assuming you have a left foot).  The writer has no “off” switch, other than sleep, and sometimes even that doesn’t work.  So a writer’s vacation is, at best, a series of momentary diversions from the stresses that are always with him.  There is no complete escape.  You can run, but you can’t hide.

This summer, the family and I are doing a week in Aspen, Colorado, and as you can see, a person looking for heaven on earth could do worse.  This place is gorgeous.  The weather’s lovely, the air fresh and clean (if a little thin) and the scenery is right out of a nature lover’s dream.

So why am I having to work so hard to be happy?

The answer’s complicated, but it all boils down to money.  Paradise is paradise no matter how you slice it, but when you’re doing it on the cheap, it’s a little less so.  The wife and I aren’t here with the kids counting pennies, exactly, but we are keeping an eye on where every precious dollar goes, so corners are definitely being cut.  Most of the time, this is a painless process, since this is the story of our lives back home, after all.  We’re used to making compromises.  But when you’re on vacation, surrounded by people who would appear to have vast fortunes to spend fulfilling their every desire (and that of their children), it’s hard doing without.

Especially when you hold yourself personally responsible.

That writer’s brain you can’t turn off during vacation is constantly thinking about all kinds of things, but one of its most maddening preoccupations is career assessment.  The dreams we hold for ourselves professionally do not feature us questioning our every purchasing decision during the two weeks out of every year we set aside to forget our troubles and live a little.  Rather, these dreams have us playing on vacation with reckless abandon, unfettered by the budgetary constraints we are ordinarily bound by.

A compact for the rental car?  To hell with that, give me the SUV!

The Westin or the Holiday Inn?  The Westin!

Sirloin steak or tacos?  Puh-lease, we’ll have the steak!

Still, limited discretionary funds or no, I’m having a wonderful, blessed time here in Colorado with a woman and two children I love very deeply.  I can’t give them the vacation they deserve, but I can give them a husband and father who will never stop trying to do so.  To writers without a six-figure book deal or Hollywood option money rolling in by the truckload, the cup can always appear to be half-empty, especially when they’re trying to take a break from the grind of writing to relax for a while.

But my cup is most definitely better than half-full, and I know it.

(Oh, by the way: I managed to find a connection to the Internet in time to post this Wednesday morning, so things are definitely looking up!)

Questions for the Class: How well do you fare on vacation?  Are you able to shut everything out and enjoy yourself, or . . . ?

10 thoughts on “GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL (AS IF)

  1. Martyn Waites

    Excellent post, Gar. Spot on. I find it hard enough to switch off when I'm at home never mind holidays. When every anyone asks me what it's like to be a writer working on a book I always say to look at the old style variety act, the plate spinner. The guy who used to (or maybe still does, I don't know) put plates on sticks and get them spinning. He could have up two twenty or so by the end of his act. That's what writing is. Mental plate spinning, keeping them all turning, stopping them from crashing and smashing even when you're having a beer and watching a movie. Or at a dinner party. Or even when you're on holiday.

    I'm off on holiday soon and I'm taking the laptop, much to the kids disgust. I may not use it but I do need to know it's there. Just in case, you know.

  2. Larry Gasper

    As a part-time writer my holidays all too often mean I get deeper into my book, whether by going to a writers' retreat or by going to a conference, like when I headed to Hawaii a week before Left Coast Crime for a little R&R. I get to escape my paying work into the world of my book and that's a holiday all in itself.

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Gar, I resemble this post.

    It's really such a relief to have writer friends and a writer community so I don't feel like a complete and total nutcase, or, um, asshole. You describe it all perfectly (love Martyn's spinning plates analogy, too) and you know? It's just the way we're wired. There are good things about it (we're adventurous and funny and never, ever boring) and there are terrible things about it (we're never entirely present in any situation because one very large part of us is always sitting back taking notes.)

    I am going to Australia for two weeks this month, my first time in a country I've always longed to visit, and I'm not sure that the extended stay won't blow all my circuits entirely. If you never hear from me again – now you know why.

  4. Katherine Howell

    Love this post. I'm so pleased to know I'm not the only one. That constant career assessment, the neverending thinking of the characters and story and 'what could I do better?'/ Thanks.

    And Alexandra, you'll have a great time here on the Gold Coast! But yes, you might never surface.

  5. Allison Davis

    I just started a short "sabbatical" — six weeks off. The first "me" vacation (taking your 80 year old Dad to France is fun but it was all about him) in over 7 years…long overdue. Today was the first day and I had no idea how to act. They are fully expecting me to show up at the office, forlorn. That isn't going to happen. I do have a loose plan, involving some beach time and as Larry said, my holidays are about my writing, so am writing in the morning, and then letting the brain roam free in the afternoon. We don't day dream enough. I intend to do a lot of that. As the six weeks progress, I'll let you know how it goes. Enjoy yourself. You deserve it. I'm downloading your books, so have the steak.

  6. PD Martin

    Great post, Gar! Really struck a chord with me (and no doubt most writers) – both the holiday/not being able to switch off and the constant financial pressure of being a writer. We may as well just say 'artist' and be done with it.

    And I love Martyn's plate spinning analogy and Alex's comment about never being 100% present in a situation. Better show my hubby and friends that comment 🙂

    Enjoy the holiday, Gar. And maybe have one steak dinner!

  7. Reine

    I love this post, Gar. I hope you have a wonderful vacation. Creative people never stop working, though. You just can't. It doesn't shut off. It isn't like leaving the office, closing the door, locking up, and going home. It's always there. It's you.

  8. tjc

    Swore I posted a comment here yesterday evening. I believe it showed in the comment string. Gone now!
    A technical issue or removed?
    I did not agree with the tone of the above posting and some other comments. Did NOT write anything rude, profane or disrespectful. Hope that this was a technical issue and not censored.

  9. Gar Haywood

    TJC, you definitely weren't censored. I didn't see you post and still haven't. Don't suppose you'd care to repost at this late date, if only to satisfy my curiosity?

    (The "tone" of my post? What could have possibly been wrong with that?)

Comments are closed.