BY JEAN MARIE JOHNSON
I know, I know. Like chicken soup and a great night’s sleep, a vacation is good for you. Researchers tell us that a reprieve from the norm lowers our stress and our risk of heart disease while renewing our energy to achieve our goals. As an outlier, I have a confession to make: I never got what the fuss was all about. People spend so much time thinking about, researching, planning, and, in most cases, saving up for five, seven, ten days away, hoping that all of that energy expenditure will be worth it. Sometimes it is and at other times, it’s a total bust. If you ask me, counting the months, weeks and days until vacation seems like a waste of good energy that could be channeled into the here and now.
I understand how parochial all of this makes me sound; I do. But as with all things, there is a backstory. Where I grew up, a family here or there “took a summer vacation,” but those folks were few and far between. In our neighborhood, “vacation” began the day after school let out and meant scrambling down a few flights of apartment stairs in the a.m., hitting the street all willy-nilly, then arriving back home, the worse for wear, for “supper” around 5. Moms often stood on the small back porches calling for their kids: “Freddy…Joanna…” Our ears were attuned to these beckoning calls. It was all we knew, and for a kid like me, more fond of books, esthetics, and learning, “summer vacation” was a tedious time slot to be endured until the school bells beckoned me back to that better place of discipline, discovery, and yes, accomplishment.
I experienced a real vacation when I was in my mid-twenties. My first husband and I found a reasonably-priced, (well, okay, cheap) getaway to a yet-to-be-discovered island off the coast of Venezuela, and off we went. Talk about a new experience, a wonderful immersion so foreign and apart from anything I’d known! Even so, while I’ve “vacationed” in many places domestically, as well as in Paris, Prague, and even India, I didn’t acquire the vacation bug, not then, and not ever. Chastising myself, I’ve asked: What’s wrong with you? You should be super-excited about this. Your response isn’t normal! Well, reality check: “normal” has never been on my list of personal aspirations.
I learned early and well to keep my own company in a good way, to create new and different experiences right where I am by immersing myself in rich books and beautiful magazines. I taught myself how to create the “magic” of vacation in the here and now. And I did so based on this one pure idea: that my life is my own creation. I am responsible for making it “self-serving” in the best way: joyful, fun, quirky, harmonized, esthetically stimulating and soothing, connected with the nature around me. When I off-handedly mentioned to a retired friend, “I am never bored,” I wasn’t exaggerating because I am always working on the humble masterpiece that is my life. Is there room for a real vacation? There is, and I occasionally welcome it, but it’s no substitute for the rewards of my real life.
As you sequester, shelter, and distance, challenge yourself to make a fuss. I mean, a big, crazy-ass, honest, raw fuss that no one else needs to understand. Use this unexpected pause to work on your humble masterpiece, to make it more of who you are. Because when you do? Every day is a bit of a vacation.