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 . . . ?