Addendum: When I wrote this post, though things were anything but perfect politically, the refugee situation had not escalated to the point that it reached yesterday afternoon. I hope that while we are doing everything we can to promote the safety and decent treatment of people who need to take refuge in this country, we are able to continue to take the physical and mental breaks that will allow us to keep up a continued vigilance against the immoral behaviors currently being perpetrated by our government. In the few minutes it takes to read this post, trivial though it is in the face of current events, I hope you will be amused, refreshed, and in some small way better able to continue to resist. Here’s a petition to sign if you wish: Reject Trump’s Muslim Ban
“Vacationing” is a decidedly odd concept. One exits one’s comfortable, accustomed climes in order to spend astonishing sums to go somewhere that is often less comfortable for a period of enforced merriment. I, for instance, spent last week in San Diego being constantly sabotaged by Google Maps on my way to such diversion. I am convinced of a conspiracy between this nefarious navigation app and…someone. Possibly big oil companies, possibly the Xanax industry. Let us just say, thanks to dear old Google, I nearly paid an unintentional visit to a military hospital when I thought I was going to see a Rembrandt. A very nice (and might I say very nice looking) albeit heavily armed soldier eventually allowed me to make a U-turn after a meticulous review of my documents and intentions. On vacation, one subjects oneself to intolerable inconvenience and staggering expense, all in the name of entertainment. Why do we inflict this on ourselves?
In 1910, President Taft proposed that the American worker would benefit from 2-3 months of vacation each year. He believed it might even increase productivity, because these periods of obligatory idleness would restore workers’ vitality enough that they could “…continue [their] work next year with the energy and effectiveness which it ought to have.” While this idea seems to work admirably in parts of Europe (see Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next for an envy-inducing segment on successful vacationing), his idea did not catch on in the U.S. The 2 week vacation, on the other hand, is thriving – unfortunately, it seems often to have the opposite of the intended effect, leaving many of us more drained and stressed out than we began, and in need of a restorative break from our restorative break. Is vacationing (oxymoronically?) a productive use of time, or simply another futile and absurd custom of modern life?
To answer this question, let’s take a look at the various sorts of vacations the typical proletarian is accustomed to, and their effects on said person’s mental state.
The Family Trip: It’s probably June or July, and because it’s The Done Thing, you pack up your spouse and/or assorted children, put them on a plane, and go somewhere. Once you arrive at Somewhere, you discover you’ve forgotten several items vital to your sanity, and that whatever Accuweather told you was far from accurate, leaving you either too hot or too cold at all times. You will then spend hundreds of dollars a pop to do things like stand in line for six hours at Disney World for a six minute ride, watch orcas being tortured by manic young people clad in wetsuits, and be herded around historical locations that would be much more interesting if you ever got to stop shuffling about and actually look at them. You will spend your trip being either the totally shameless, socks-and-sandals tourist who stops in the middle of the road to photograph local attractions, or making a futile effort not to look like a tourist, in which case you can hardly do anything fun, must never ask for directions, and everyone knows you’re a tourist anyway. You return home harried and vow to barricade yourself inside your house for the rest of the summer.
The Foray to Visit Relatives: This has the advantage of free accommodation and having someone to tell you which streets are one way and where, emphatically, Not to Turn Left. The obvious downside is having to actually spend an extended period of time with your nearest and dearest, and you may find that the monetary savings aren’t worth the drain on your emotional coffers. On the return trip, you probably get stopped at security on account of a suspicious item in your luggage, which will turn out to be the prize-winning zucchini you failed to graciously decline. You return home harried and wishing you had sprung fully-formed from the sea foam.
The Road Trip: This saves you buckets on airfare, and if you happen to be traveling with your platonic half, it can be a pleasant trip. Otherwise, the unspeakable horrors of the road trip are so many and varied that I think it would require another whole blog post to enumerate them, and if you return at all, without having gone the way of the Donner party, “harried” would be a mild term to describe your mental state.
Any of these sorts of vacations would be more bearable if one could travel like a Tudor monarch on Progress, with an envoy of 1,000 to transport one’s accustomed food, bedding, etc…but as it is, when one travels, one subjects oneself to unconscionable discomfort. Even if everything goes right, even if the flight was smooth and the bedbugs all had root canals and the rental car company didn’t pull a Seinfeld on you, the very nature of vacationing requires one to do something that I, for one, cannot do – have fun on demand. You have a limited time to do the things you wanted to do, and you’ve spent a fortune on doing them, so there’s always pressure for Instagram-quality jollity every minute of every day. I always find myself thinking, “O.K., I spent X on this trip, and I’m here for four days – that means I need to have $50 worth of fun per waking hour,” which is, of course, anything but fun.
That said, there are certain types of vacations that I can condone. These are the Day-Trip and the Sabbatical. The former is pleasant because you go somewhere close by, generally with a specific activity in mind, and you can fill your entire car with accessories to enjoyment – your picnic, your sketchpad, your inflatable kayaks – you can even bring your dog along. And even if it isn’t a success, you’ve only invested one day. However, the concept relies on the premise that you live somewhere close enough to something you want to do that you can make it there in a day. Those of us surrounded by leagues of barren desert are rather SOL. But one still has the option of the sabbatical – while it is at the other end of the extensiveness spectrum, it has many of the same recommendations. There is a purpose to your hiatus, some sort of project to stave off the wave of existential angst that threatens to envelop me whenever I go on vacation. Maybe you are working on writing a Paleo cookbook and must be near an astonishingly vast farmer’s market, or translating fragments of Sumerian poetry, requiring the perusal of tomes only available at one of the British Museum’s libraries . Even if you’ve traveled somewhere extremely remote from your native climes, it is possible to set up house as comfortably as one does at home, because it is such an extended stay. Both the day-trip and the sabbatical are productive forms of vacationing; the former, because it really does refresh you and allow you to return to work with élan intact, the latter, because it is in itself productive, if you take Sumerian poetry to be paramount to the survival of the human race.
If, despite all evidence to the contrary, you persist in going on the traditional two-weeks-with-pay sort of vacation, never fear – you can still rationalize it. Allow me to present a tale concerning a farmer, his house, and a gaggle of geese.
nce upon a time, there was an artisanal farmer who lived in a one room house. He was terribly miserable, because there was so little room in his house that he had to live like Gene Kelly in An American in Paris, with a bed that folds up into the wall – tiny houses weren’t trendy yet, so he didn’t know what a hipster utopia it was. Each evening he went to the microbrewery with his friend, Aloysius, and spent two mason jars of craft beer complaining about his cramped living space. Aloysius finally grew so tired of listening to his friend’s complaints that he proposed a plan. “I know how to help,” he said. “Take all of your geese, and let them live in the house with you.” “How’s that going to help?” the farmer scoffed. “Trust me,”said Aloysius. So the farmer went home and let all of his geese into the house with him. As one might expect, they acted like a bunch of savages. A horde of marauding Vikings couldn’t have done more of a number on the little house. He gave Aloysius a piece of his mind, but Aloysius just told him to be patient, and keep the geese in his house for one more week, and then to let them back outside. The farmer thought this was a pretty stupid idea, but he was so desperate that he did it. On the morning that the week was up, he called Aloysius on his retro corded phone. “This is great!” he said. “It’s so quiet, and peaceful, and I can walk clear across my room without having my Timbs coated in unspeakable slime! Thanks man, you really are a pal.” And so, he lived happily ever after in a goose-free home.
So you see, next time you get the urge to be made grateful for your current environs, just say yes to vacation – no geese required.
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