August 18, 2005

Sounds Almost Walker Percyian

The Wall Street Journal recently had an article about the problems workers have with "re-entry" after a vacation. (Which reminds me of Walker Percy's book about how artists and writers (and those who love them) have problems with "re-entry" into the seemingly dimmer world of reality after encounters with art).

One of the strategies for vacationers was to bring work along or in some way make vacations less appealing. Very interesting:

It used to drive Jane Genova nuts to take exotic vacations -- or even to visit places a lot nicer than her home in Connecticut. Destinations seduced the executive speechwriter and drove her to plot, in detail, ways to stay and make a living in places like Barcelona.

And it made her re-entry back to her normal life something other than a soft landing, even though she enjoys her work. "I slide into an angry depression if I take time off to do something great," she says.

So, Ms. Genova bought a small cottage in a modest neighborhood a few blocks from the shore. She tempered it further by bringing work along. That helped narrow the gap between her work and play, and rid her of the obsession-depression cycle.

"There was no daydreaming," she says. "This was New Jersey." Anything more exotic and she'd make herself vulnerable, even messing up the vacation before she got there.

Vacations are supposed to replenish us after a long period of work, providing a furlough from the office grind and its back-stabbers, ball-droppers and glory-scrapers. But it's still hard to get away from that one workplace nut-job: yourself...The line between work and play has become so blurred that work isn't just work, it's the anticipation of work while at play...That's why vacations for many people barely resemble the resuscitating respite they should. According to a survey conducted last fall by the Families and Work Institute, 42% of Americans do some form of work while on vacation, while only 14% of Americans take a vacation of two weeks or more. It takes the average person three days to begin to relax. That means people taking off just a week relax for only about four days -- provided they don't tense up in anticipation days before they actually return.
UPDATE: Roz of Exultet fame responds:
What does it say about the way we've constructed our lives that it cripples us to spend a couple of weeks truly relaxing and enjoying ourselves? It makes a modicum of sense to decline a vacation because we genuinely can't spend the time away, though that in itself should startle us into second thoughts. But avoiding legitimate refreshment because it emphasizes how miserable we are the rest of the year is stupid and suicidal.
It is amazing on the face of it. It's like sawing off one of your legs because you don't want to be reminded how much fun it is to walk. But perhaps it makes a sort of warped sense. Since we work at least 5 out of 7 days, work is the default "mode". If we worked 3.5 out of 7, vacation might have more of a chance in not being seen simply as a utilitarian "rest up for work" time.

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