The Separation of Labor and Leisure September 4th, 2012
As a rule we are on-the-go vacationers. We pick destinations that offer a wide variety of things to do and see. And, accordingly, we make the most of our time on each vacation getting an early jump on the day and making each day a full one. With kids in tow we carve out time for naps, but other than that we schedule very little down time. By and large this kind of vacation really suits us – we love feeling productive and stimulated at the end of a day whether home or away. There are times, though, when I long for something slower and quieter.
Last month we spent six days in Colorado escaping the Midwestern heat and busying ourselves with museums, baseball games, picnics, and hikes. On Day Two of the trip, as we drove from Denver to Boulder I reminisced to GAP about the Colorado vacations of my childhood; full weeks spent in mountain cabins and filled with little more than hiking, fishing, and many games of cards. I pined for that magnitude of escape – allowing myself to deeply disengage from the details of daily life and fully surrender to an existence that is wholly leisure. GAP couldn’t understand why.
“But why can’t you do that at home? GAP asked. “If you want to take a step back and enjoy some deep relaxation more often, there’s no reason you can’t do it at home.”
I responded, “At home I’m too aware of all the things I could be doing – laundry, cleaning the house, bathing the dogs, making baby food. You name it. There’s something about being away from home and removed from that to-do list that allows me to relax more completely.”
“But you like being busy. If you wanted to relax more, you would. You could take it easier on the weekends if you really wanted to.”
I told him that it is precisely because I keep myself busy under regular circumstances that I find the idea of a snail-paced vacation appealing. I explained that the mere presence of potential productivity often overpowers potential relaxation and that is why I sometimes want to escape to a destination of forced down time
“That just doesn’t sound like the kind of vacation you’d enjoy,” he said.
“Because you’re not that kind of person. You keep yourself busy all the time. I think you’d get bored after a couple of days.”
I offered up an analogy. “That’s like you saying, ‘Gale, you’re a healthy eater. You are the kind of person who pays close attention to diet and nutrition. It just doesn’t make sense that you’d ever want to eat a cheeseburger.’ Of course I want to eat a cheeseburger. It’s precisely because I’m so healthy most of the time that occasionally I really want to let myself enjoy the indulgence of a cheeseburger.”
Then he made me laugh at myself. “No, that’s like saying, ‘I’m a healthy eater most of the time, but sometimes I have to go on vacation so that I can eat a cheeseburger.” The boys were asleep in the back seat and I silently cracked up. He had a point.
That conversation coursed through my mind several times over this past weekend. We made the long weekend longer and headed to my in-laws’ house on Thursday for about four and a half days of utter and abject relaxation. I did more sleeping and reading than I could ever manage at home. Much of that was due the vast reduction in parenting responsibilities that comes with having two grandparents and multiple aunts and uncles on hand to help out with my kids. But much of it was also due to the fact that I couldn’t have swept my baseboards even if I’d wanted to. I was 200 miles away.
Does this little mini-break prove my point? Is true relaxation is best done away from home. And what role does willpower play? Could I really disengage as much at home as I do when I’m gone? Perhaps with some prep work. If it’s the To-Do list that gets in the way then there a couple of ways to dispense with that. Either I have to go far away from my To-Do list, or cross everything off of it. These seem like extreme and impractical choices, but the other option – blowing off the To-Do list either in part or entirely – likely wouldn’t work for me.
I would like to be able to dial it down without leaving town. It would probably be good for me. And the fact that it rarely happens is nothing to be proud of. I think I’d like to set a goal for myself of doing more relaxing at home. I’d like to spend more time doing things that I find refreshing, rejuvenating, and not at all obligatory. If this means that I do a better job of keeping the To-Do list short then all the better.