Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The do-nothing vacation

We're just back from Maine, where Cosimo has family, and I'm happy to report that we did . . . nothing, really. I floated in the ocean, I sat on the beach, I read a novel, I wandered up and down the shore looking at pretty rocks. To be sure, I ate and I drank and I socialized, but even that was low-key: just lots of sitting around on the porch or the patio with a beer. And I slept like a rock every night.

Maine flowers, Maine butterflies
(seacoast not pictured)
There aren't a lot of vacations where I do that little. My leisure travel is typically to cities, which involves an active schedule, and though trips to see family often have more downtime, I compensate by bringing work with me. Actually, I pretty much always bring work with me when I travel. That isn't to say that I get a lot of work done, but I can usually carve out an afternoon here and there or at least fit in six focused hours on the plane. More importantly, I always feel like I should be working.

I'm no workaholic, and my "productivity" is only somewhere in the average range for a scholar of my generation; I certainly don't work every single day when I have a chunk of time clear of other obligations. But even when I'm taking a break I find other ways to be busy: I go to the gym or throw myself into home-improvement projects; I go places, do things. Even my leisure-reading tends to be goal-oriented: I should finally read last year's big literary novel! I should get through that pile of magazines! Any kind of recharging is good, and there's no real harm to making my off-days feel productive. But it's a different feeling having nothing that needs doing at any particular time.

It's weird to write that at the end of my sabbatical, which is ostensibly all about such restful recuperation. But though I've had leisurely days and I've done some new thinking, those things have happened interstitially, en route to some obligation or other. Over the past six months I went to five conferences and gave six papers or presentations. Both Cosimo and I were on the job market. We moved back to our house. And I had a bunch of deadlines and suffered a bunch of work-related disappointments. It's been a huge boon to have had the time to do all those things and grapple with all those changes, but it's been only intermittently restful.

A couple of years ago I heard Alice Waters on "Fresh Air." She mentioned that she pays her chefs a twelve-month salary but only expects them to work at Chez Panisse for six months of the year; restaurant life is crazy and the hours are long and burn-out is a real problem. The other six months are for exploration: they can go abroad, visit markets, meet farmers, dine in other restaurants, and sample other people's cooking.

It's a humane understanding of what all workers need, but especially of what creative workers need. Thank God for the summer, for sabbaticals, and the do-nothing vacation.

5 comments:

Janice said...

For the last several years we've taken a vacation with my father and sister and, while it's not been exactly a do-nothing occasion (two teens make that pretty much impossible), I make sure NOT to bring work. I'll tote along a teaching prep books which I want to refresh in my mind but that's it for actual work.

I'm glad that you had a relaxing, refreshing and re-energizing vacation! Here's hoping that ours, next week, will be equally fulfilling.

undine said...

Look at all you did--including the new job! If you hadn't taken a do-nothing vacation, which sounds fabulous, by the way, there would be something wrong.

phd me said...

Amen.

Flavia said...

Thanks, guys! And Janice, wishing the same to you.

Z said...

Strongly favor vacations like this.