I am writing this from my “vacation,” which really means that I’m writing this from a different part of the country than usual. I’m sure the v-word conjures up images of palm trees, tiki torches, or ski lodges, but for me it’s more like my father’s pull-out couch and my mother’s VW. Both of which are awesome because they come with the single most important aspect an item can have to me: I don’t have to pay for them.
I took this little summer voyage in order to see my family, my uncle in particular, who is kicking the shit out of cancer. (He’s in remission. Take that, tumor.) To most people, however, the idea of a vacation serves as a break, a chance to escape the nine-to-five and just lay back on a chaise lounge waiting for the next installment of Girls Gone Wild to unfold at the beach bar before their eyes.
Most definitions of vacation include something like “leisure time away from work, devoted to pleasure,” which, to me, sounds like a different set of words, primarily “masturbation,” or “a full night’s sleep.” For a freelance worker the idea of a “vacation” is a little bit more murky than it is to those poor souls who clock in every day. Read the first sentence of this post again. I am writing this from vacation. And I will be looking for clients on vacation. And constructing cold-call letters from vacation. And keeping up with correspondence when, seriously, there’s a beach in walking distance. But, instead or playing volleyball or surfing, I will be unable to silence the internal voice who tells me I’m lazy if I’m not working (I like to call this voice “Stanley Kubrick Junior.”) I will be unable to lay down for more than ten minutes at a time (fifteen if another person is involved) before I am roused from any potential reverie by the realization that I will truly starve before Christmas if I don’t dedicate all of my time to the QWERTY grind. I will not be the architect of my own professional demise by sleeping on the job. No rest for the wicked, or whatever that metal saying was.
There’s a less self-involved slant to this predicament, too. Let’s say the average American gets a fair amount of sick leave, and two personal days per year, in order to keep their mental ducks in a completely shootable row. Let’s say they save up, negotiate with their boss, and actually secure a week in Cancun or a few days in the Poconos. That’s their time to relax, their one-shot, scheduled, be-calm-or-it’s-wasted vacation. Good for them. They have a few boxes on their calendar where it is their responsibility to chill the fuck out. You show me when the freelancer can just sit back and sip a Tab in the sun. It’s called when I’m fucking paid to do so.
With this country’s workforce dealing with a staggering unemployment rate, the astronomical cost of basic necessities like food and gas, and a housing market as out of whack as a game of Monopoly played at a coke party, freelancing is becoming the only conceivable way for some people to bounce back from being fired, or worse. Which can be great if, like it is for me, it gives you an opportunity to try your hand at something you’ve always wanted to do to earn your keep. But for many people this means several irrefutable facts:
- You now probably don’t have health insurance.
- You now probably don’t have extra money to save for any luxury items.
- You now probably don’t have sick days.
- You now definitely can’t take “time away from work, devoted to pleasure,” other than your sessions with the Hitatchi magic wand.
The irony here is somewhat epic. When I worked in offices and placed orders from the Staples catalog, there were always a few special pages devoted to “company wellness.” This included aromatherapy kits or stress balls that could be printed with a company logo. Fantastic. Companies counted money off the fact that potential overtime made me pop Pepto-Bismol like Tic-Tacs. Stress, it seemed, was accepted as being a part of work, or, rather, it seemed that work was a somewhat welcome residual effect of stressing out. Coworkers of mine spoke of long meetings and overtime the way that high-school football players talked about sprained ligaments. There was strength in suffering.
Let me tell you, all of the nights I stayed until eight, or worked on the occasional Saturday, or did so many tasks at once that my entire food consumption for the day was a Diet Coke and half a stale cupcake, that was not anxiety producing. Looking back on it, that was a diorama of worry. A second-grade theater production of unease. Real anxiety comes from the threat of eviction, the fear that you’ve made a grandiose mistake and ruined your life, the trepidation that comes when you recognize that you will likely never be able to afford more than one month’s rent at a time, that you probably can never foot the bill for offspring. Yeah, that’s stress. Put my full name on the thera-squeeze ball, Staples. Don’t forget to dot the “i.”
Among other examples of items that office supply companies think can help the average worker stop worrying about their deadline/mortgage/lack of retirement funds:
- Squeezable foam balls printed with what appears to be the planet Earth
- A “personalized” lavender aromatherapy basket (Guys, any takers?)
- A magnetic sculpture that also serves as a paperweight, featuring golf clubs and metal bits that resemble iron filings
- and, my personal favorite, this:
I can’t imagine a person with a home office, or a freelance writer armed with their laptop and a thermos of cold coffee, deciding to waste $5.50 on an object whose sole purpose is to be gripped in order to release pent up tension caused by the job being executed in order to make that money to pay for said object. Cyclical? Quite.
I’m nervous that as the economy plummets and more people are forced to rely on their luck as much as their elbow grease, the idea of taking a time out will be looked at as a fancy accessory to a “good” job. Possibly, over time, much like SUVs, organic groceries, iPhones, and a second child, taking a break from work will simply be considered a somewhat ostentatious display of success instead of a necessary breather. The Worldwide Health Organization has calculated that 72% of Americans are plagued with frequent stress resulting in related physical or mental conditions, and beyond this country the measure of stress is so the extreme that it is now considered a “world wide epidemic.” I’m sure that many yoga studios, meditation retreats, and bars are profiting off this. I’m also sure that changing my own perspective would help me to reduce my contribution to the freak out phenomenon. The trouble is, I don’t have time to think about it, I’m too busy worrying about work.
Write me, I’ll send you a postcard from out here. AinsleyDrew at the gmail one.
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Also check out Shows I Missed. It’s better than office yoga.