Around eighteen or so years ago, my pastor told me to take a vacation.
Okay, he wasn’t talking exclusively to me. It was part of his sermon. I don’t remember much now, just that he spoke of the value of rest. Not long after that, I booked a trip to Captiva Island, Florida. Never let it be said that I don’t take direction well.
I enjoyed that trip. It was my first solo vacation, and I think I handled it well. It being the pre-Kindle era, I hauled a suitcase full of books and a few items of clothing down to Jensen’s Twin Pine Marina, a small cluster of fishing cottages on the Pine Island Sound because I wasn’t willing to pay twice as much for a room on the Gulf side of the island. As it was, Captiva was about half a mile wide at that point, so it was a short walk to the beach. I ate out, lounged on the beach with my books, journaled, and took a kayaking lesson. I arrived on Sunday; on Monday, I turned on the television to see that my town had gotten 14 inches of snow that day. Timing is everything.
I went back to Captiva the following winter. This time, I enjoyed two full days before bronchitis struck. I read later that when you’ve been going nonstop and then you take a break, all that adrenaline that was keeping you going shuts off, your immune system crashes, and you’re susceptible to all sorts of horrible diseases that you were keeping at bay solely by virtue of not resting. I can’t vouch for the science; all I can say is that I have had few experiences more miserable than being alone in a tiny fishing cottage (translation: no room service), coughing my brains out when I should have been sightseeing and relaxing.
I might have taken my chances on a third Captiva jaunt, but a few months after #2, the island was devastated by a hurricane. The fancy resort up at the island’s tip was completely destroyed. I don’t know how the Twin Pines weathered the storm, but before I could decide whether it was vacation-worthy, a host of obligations cropped up, and I forgot entirely about the idea.
For several years thereafter, I vacationed at home. The term “staycation” hadn’t yet been coined, but that’s what I was doing, in large part because I really couldn’t afford to travel anywhere. My summer getaways consisted of day trips to nearby wineries or the spa, coupled with lunches out and tickets to local theater productions.
Then came the writing conference years. The conferences weren’t always away, but sometimes they were. One year, a friend and I went to the mega-conference thrown by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, known as AWP. (Why it isn’t AWWP will forever remain a mystery.) The conference that year was in Minneapolis, where she lives, which made it easy. After the conference, we took a couple of days and drove up to a resort on Lake Superior, near Grand Marais.
I was hoping to attend a writing conference this year, but alas, it was not to be. I applied in March, and I was notified in May that I wasn’t accepted. Granted, it’s a very prestigious conference, and I knew it was a long shot, but the rejection stung anyway.
Once I accepted that I wasn’t going to this conference, it occurred to me to wonder what I might be doing with my summer. Some changes are bubbling, but at this point, there are no certainties in any direction. As I pondered, my gaze fell on the whiteboard calendar over my desk. With a start, I realized that I had neither deadlines nor meetings scheduled for this week, the final week of May. Hard on the heels of that discovery came the recognition that I’m utterly exhausted, I haven’t taken substantial time off for anything other than health matters or conferences in so long that I literally can’t say, and I am in desperate need of a break. Also, my house is a shambles, and until last weekend when I finally mowed the lawn, my yard showed no sign that anyone lived here.
Enough was enough.
The upside to being self-employed is that when it comes to time off, you don’t ask—you announce. So I announced, and it was a good thing I did, because late Friday afternoon, a client called to see if I could do a small project for him. Sorry, I said, I’m on vacation.
The vacation kickoff was a Friday night get-together with my new writing partner. We’re still feeling out this relationship, but it was a pleasant time. I came home and called my AWP friend, and we had a lovely long chat about life, writing, and whatever else came up.
Saturday, I slept late. No alarm, no obligation. The cats made a couple small attempts to get me up, but they seemed to understand it was largely pointless. Eventually, I arose, fed us all, and headed off to do a handful of errands, one of which was the purchase of plants for my window boxes and gardens. (These are traditionally my gifts from the cats for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day—being a single parent, I get both.)
The supermarket was having a sale on lobsters for the holiday weekend. I stopped in with the intention of having them steam the lobsters so I wouldn’t have to bother cooking them. Alas, the gentleman behind the seafood counter seemed to be mightily confused by all the people who wanted to purchase lobsters and have them steamed. At one point, I quietly slipped away to the customer service desk and suggested that they might want to send someone to assist him. When I returned a few minutes later, another man was behind the counter. While more self-assured, he was having no better luck: it appeared the steamer was giving up the ghost, because at the end of the allotted time, he opened the unit, shook his head, and said, “They’re not done.” He put the half-cooked lobsters in for another five minutes, only to deliver the same verdict when the timer went off. By this time, I was becoming concerned about what it was going to take for these undercooked lobsters to be both safe and not cooked to the consistency of a tennis ball. The other customer and I both chose to purchase live lobsters; I have no idea what happened to the unfortunate crustaceans in the steamer, but I sincerely hope they didn’t show up in the next day’s lobster rolls.
So, I went home, put the water on to boil, unloaded the car, and cooked my lobsters. The cats and I spent the evening lying around the living room, watching television and not thinking about much of anything. I ended up with Neil Diamond’s remake of The Jazz Singer.
That was Day #1 of my vacation. Today was Day #2. I gave myself permission to skip church, choosing instead to sleep late (again) and breakfast on the porch with the Sunday paper. From there, I had plans: I would plant the window boxes and other potted plants. I’ve been doing this since my second year here; after much trial and error, I learned that the best choice is impatiens, because the house shades the boxes and impatiens are the only shade flowers that will bloom all summer.
After all these years, I have the routine down. I spread a tarp in the front yard and assembled everything—flowers, window boxes, potting soil, and styrofoam peanuts. The latter are placed in the bottom of the window boxes for two purposes. The first is drainage; while there are small holes in the bottom of the boxes, more drainage is good. The second is weight, because the styrofoam peanuts take up space for practically no weight, meaning that the completed boxes weigh less than if they were filled entirely with dirt. I put on my sun hat and turned on one of my favorite podcasts, Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone, in order to get into the mood for the evening.
You see, long before I knew I’d be on vacation, I purchased a ticket for Paula Poundstone’s standup routine at The Kate down in Old Saybrook. The Kate—also known as the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Center, in honor of the area’s most famous late resident—is a gorgeous facility that houses concerts, plays, one-person shows, movie nights, and other functions. Back in March, The Kate had its own Oscar party. Ms. Hepburn’s Emmy and other awards are on display, as are costumes and fabulous movie posters.
Paula Poundstone’s standup routine was hilarious, but I felt kind of bad for her, because it was a tough room. She tried very hard to get the audience to engage on topics like what businesses were around Old Saybrook, but no one offered much. (In all candor, I have no idea where all the money down there comes from; all I know is that it’s a ritzy shoreline community.) At one point, Paula saw me taking a drink of my water, and she asked me—as she had other audience members—what I did for a living. I told her I was a writer and a lawyer. I wanted to give her something to work with, but I could tell I wasn’t offering much. Even so, she talked nonstop for nearly two hours, with no notes. Afterward, the group gathered around to buy books and CDs and ask for autographs was small, but she was gracious and friendly, chatting and posing for pictures. I wonder if some of the people who came thought her performance would be different. Maybe they expected a canned routine rather than a performer who riffs on whatever she’s hearing from the audience. I bought an audiobook and listened on the way home, realizing that a handful of the jokes she’d told in the performance were from that book, but not at all put out about it.
Two days of vacation down, seven to go. The rest of the week promises to be quiet (a sentence so ominous I can barely type it). I’m going to Theaterworks one night. On another, there’s an open mic event where writers can read; my new writing partner will be reading. I’m entertaining the notion that I might, if for no other reason than that I’ll only know one person there, so if I bomb, he’s the only person who will know.
At home, I’d love to chip away at the various chores. There’s still more planting to be done, as well as some pruning of dead branches and spreading of mulch I bought last year and never had a chance to spread. I’d also like to clean the house so it feels orderly and manageable. Since it appears that winter has finally departed—which, in all candor, is a very recent development—it’s time to pull all the turtlenecks out of the drawers and replace them with T-shirts and tank tops. Also, my office is a wreck, and I suspect that bringing order out of that chaos will help there, too. Other household projects lurk quietly in the background, but they’ll have to wait for another break.
Most of all, I want to spend some solid time writing. The past few weeks have left precious little time to do the thing I want most to be doing. I also want to send out some queries and submissions even though the rejections are getting on my nerves. I tell myself that the writing, the querying, and the submissions are like the newly-planted window boxes: they need to settle in and take root before they can blossom into something gorgeous.
I don’t know how much I’ll accomplish. Then again, maybe accomplishing things shouldn’t be the goal. After all, this is a vacation. Maybe the point is to lounge on the porch with the cats, a glass of iced tea, and a book or two. The goal can be rest and refreshment, just the way it would be if I were on Captiva. If I happen to check a couple things off the list, that’s fine.
But for this single week, maybe I should try not to make a habit of it.
Enjoy the vacation, Jo. Sounds like you won’t be sitting around doing nothing all week, but at least maybe it’s a change of pace from the regular grind. Keep setting goals and keep writing. It keeps us all sane.
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The change of pace is a huge part. That, and the idea that I won’t feel as if I have so many chores hanging over my head. Weaving those tasks in with writing, playing, and resting—just the right balance!
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