Vacation is Dead (Long Live Vacation!)

Like Merlin returning from Bermuda in the animated Sword in the Stone, I’m BACK, fresh off a glorious week spent smack on the elbow of Cape Cod.

I’d probably be dead or lobotomized were it not for vacations like this one. And look, this isn’t an advice column – I’m not here to tell you why you need a vacation. For most of you, if you aren’t taking one, it’s because you can’t, and I get it. Were it not for the ample vacation time I get from my employer and the generosity of my in-laws, I wouldn’t get to do this, either. That’s the rub. And I’d be toast. The older I get, the higher my requisite comfort level gets. I’m soft. Anyway, before I fully commit myself to being back in the real world, I’ve got a few things to throw out there.

Don’t hate me for not saving the link, but I read something about vacations just before vacation, some kind of meta-study talking about how it takes at least four days to get out of Everyday Drudgery Mode and then another four days to get into Peak Vacation Mode. In other words, if your vacation is less than 8 days long, you never even fully get a vacation. If you think about it, if you work Monday through Friday, this means no mid-week departures – doing Wednesday to Wednesday doesn’t even get you there. You have to take a straight Monday through Friday in order to use the double-weekend to bump you up to nine days, and even then, you only just get to where you need before you’re plunged back into the drudgery again. That was the punchline of this article, too – only one or two days back at work is all it takes to erase the Vacation Zen you just spent all those days building up. It’s like that Sisyphus guy.

I don’t think it’s the whole truth, though. I don’t think it’s entirely that bleak. It makes sense that the feeling would be fleeting. The feeling is based on the absence of all the crap that’s no longer absent as soon as you get back. I mean, duh. What I would suggest instead, and what I think is much more difficult to measure in a study, is that subtle, perhaps sub- or unconscious benefits are accumulated through positive, joyous, life-affirming experiences that actually endure even after we stop perceiving them consciously. (It should be noted that vacations are an easy way to get these sorts of experiences, but are far from the only way.) It’s like using psychedelics. Yes, there are obvious reasons why one would focus on the Trip, or the Microdose Day, as the essential – and fleeting – experience at the heart of the matter. But as every good psychonaut knows, the real benefit is the nearly imperceptible changes such things plant beneath the surface – where they can grow.

On the other hand, maybe I’m just looking for a fancy way to justify the fact that I only survive all year based on the knowledge that I get weeks like this one. You pick, I don’t care. But here’s just a sampling of what I got this week that I wouldn’t trade for anything:

  • I became acquainted with preening cormorants and majestic ospreys (ospreys are AWESOME)
  • I finally rode on a paddleboard for the first time, after like a decade and a half of envious spectating (paddleboards are AWESOME)
  • I saw seals – they’re like little water dogs begging for scraps
  • I swam in shark-infested waters, because sharks can’t fuck with me
  • I got to spend all that time in a house with some of my absolute favorite people (some people have shitty in-laws, mine are AWESOME)
  • There was tequila and cider
  • There was a hammock on which I lay with the love of my life watching the tail end of my favorite meteor shower of the year (not to mention MARS)
  • Decent sandwiches
  • Enormous amounts of coffee, not to mention watching The Office nightly with other people who can also quote every line (and who still laugh at them all)
  • I read nearly the entirety of Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles (for the 4th time – more on this another time), a huge chunk of Thomas Merton’s spiritual autobiography (which is great but so slow I’ve been working on it for almost a year), and all of a phenomenal Italian crime novel called The Shape of Water
  • LOBSTER, 2x

I’m not even remembering it all. I don’t say all this to gloat – in fact, some of it is for my own benefit, so that I have the right amount of perspective about the whole experience. The reality is, between all the retrogrades and whatnot, I set my expectations for the week fairly low. Who knew what could go wrong? We did have some minor illnesses and a flat tire. But the end result still far exceeded my hopes. I am very grateful.

That’s just the thing – and maybe the only thing I’ll say here that almost approaches the treacherous ground of advice. This summer, as expected, was not triumphant and record-breaking like last year. At times, it was not particularly easy or relaxing. But I’m profoundly grateful for it and for everyone that had a part in it and for the shitton of great experiences I had – not just the past week of vacation, but throughout the last two months.

Now I have a couple weeks to put the finishing touches on getting my shit together before we start the “school year” or “fall semester” or whatever we want to call it. Work is work more or less all year round, but the nature and level of my diverse activities outside of work varies dramatically throughout the seasons. Summertime I’m in Summer Mode, wintertime I’m in Winter Hibernation/Hold Away Deprression Mode, but spring and fall are my busiest, most ambitious, and most productive seasons. This fall will be no different. It promises to be packed and frenetically-paced; I mean this in a good way, but it will almost certainly be difficult, frustrating, and exhausting at times, and I will likely greet December with palpable relief. But whatever this summer contained or did not contain, I am ready for the days to come.

Despite the fact that I just said I have a couple of weeks, I actually have my first meeting of the fall season after work tonight. Wish me luck.


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