Everyone loves vacations. Why wouldn't they? Vacations offer a respite from the hassles and mayhem of tending to our lives — work, first and foremost, but also the soul draining habit of bills, TV, bedtime, spousal tending, child rearing, street noise, neighbor noise, internal angst noise. Vacations break the routine of everyday life. So what's not to like?
Well, let's put aside that vacations bring with them their own hassles — packing, the humiliations of air travel, constantly being lost, figuring out where to eat only to find crappy food, the new weird noises of hotels and their denizens. Let's assume your vacation goes smoothly, is anxiety free, is nothing but a happy frolic.
There's still something creepy about the concept of vacations. I mean, shouldn't you love your life enough that you don't pine and whine for the 10 days a year your boss allows you to take a shit in peace? I've always found the culture of the weekend and the vacation so unsettling. Thank god it's Friday says every person working everywhere. It's a common refrain among store clerks and baristas. Aren't you glad it's Friday? What are your plans for the weekend? Or there's the flipside: Oh, well, it's Monday!
My god, we lead our lives in misery! But what's so strange to me is that we embrace this misery collectively. We discuss it as if it were the norm and with a kind of offhanded lightness — What a drag that it's Monday! I mean, shouldn't you be screaming your head off to everyone and anyone? Shouldn't you be tearing your hair out, choking on the end of a shotgun? What kind of life is it that we live for the two days a week or the 10 days a year when we can, more or less, control our own time?
I think of the word vacation and I'm at once repulsed and kind of intrigued: to vacate. Yes, we should vacate, relentlessly: we should vacate our egos and our habits, our anxiety and our fears. But, at the same time, I don't want to vacate anything. I don't want to escape anything, leave anything. On the contrary, I want to enmesh myself in the flow of all things, in the cosmic churning, the cosmic surging (even if I'm just sitting there watching the surprisingly homophobic, offensive "Friends" for four straight hours. (Did I say four? I meant seven.)).
I realize that, practically speaking, weekends and vacations are much needed breaks from the tedium and pain of the everyday. It's nice to know that for the next 24 hours or next week, I don't have to do anything — I don't have to check my email, wake up for a meeting, pay a bill. I can sleep and eat and screw and stroll and drink gin all while enjoying some ridiculously exquisite views of the ocean or desert or Half Dome or forests. No doubt about it.
But there are really two inter-related things that madden me. One, shouldn't we feel so free all the time? Shouldn't we be parrying the misery and tedium of the everyday with our joy? Shouldn't we be demanding, assuming, a certain leisure in our stride as well as in our lives all day every day? To assume that we can only have such freedom for 10 days a year makes me want to weep in my bone of bones. The bosses dangle an extra week as an incentive to stay working there for another five years. What kind of trade off is that? It's completely insane!
And, two, the notion of vacation reinforces the concept of a home — of a stable, fixed place to which we return. Yes, this leisure and gin and these red rocks are incredible but I'm only borrowing them for a few days. Soon, I'll go back home. And, yes, that sounds nice — home — but it's this very concept of a stable, fixed point that is at once symptom and cause of our anxieties and fears. We work hard to reinforce this home — our physical homes as well as psychic homes. We feel we need some safe, familiar place that won't blow away with the torrent of life's chaos.
But there is no such place. Every home is run through with the flux of life, regardless of how tightly you seal the windows and doors, literally and metaphorically. And so we get anxious when we feel the winds blowing at the door, when our ego-homes rattle and shake — when we stumble, get sick, when our loved ones die, when we lose our jobs, our sanities, when shit simply happens.
We cling so fervently to our homes, we tremble and balk at life even before the winds blow. What if I get lost? What if I get sick? What if the plane crashes? What if my boss needs me? What if the rental car explodes? What if I die?? These are the thoughts that the logic of vacation perpetuates: we must protect the home — even when we already know that we're going to die! How odd is that??
The trick, it seems to me, is to make everywhere your home. Or, to quote Elvis Costello, Home is anywhere you hang your head. Now that's a permanent vacation and it's flipside — a perpetual coming into the flow of life. To be home always and never to be home: this is the way to joy. You won't need your 10 days from your boss. You'll be free all the time. Of course, you might be broke. But at least you won't be Mr. Misery dreaming of your two weeks.