Working Vacation

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June is here and with it vacation season. But is there any other occasion in our lives more fraught with contradiction?

A cherished respite from the stress and grind of our working lives, it  can be preceded by frantic logistical preparation and juggling. As anybody who has flown long distance with small children can attest, the oft-quoted line of Charles Dickens about the best of times and the worst of times sums it up pretty well.

We yearn for it and yet it is possible only if we agree to accept a proposition that is difficult for many of us, namely that we are expendable, and that life, if only for a week or two, will and can go on without us. In this respect we have come full circle. Our agrarian ancestors were tethered to the plow, and now we are harnessed to the small devices that keep us connected to colleague and client.

A vacation may be a break from the demands of making a living, and yet it throws into sharp relief the cost of everything: so much a night, so much per mile. You may be freed from your desk, but you are never free from striking the proper balance between desire and resource that traveling requires.

Few other occasions in our year better underscore our fickle relationship with time. A much-anticipated trip cannot start soon enough, and then, we awaken on a Wednesday morning to realize that this experience is already half over. The math of vacation time can be a challenge: so much time to adjust, this portion to really savor it, and so little time before it is over.


Finally, great vacations do not come in one type. They can exhilarate or they can soothe. They can instruct or they can divert. But they all share one characteristic. They are not just journeys away from home, but chances to get away from ourselves. After all, if there is one piece of luggage that we would all like to lose, it is the bundle of concerns and worries that we carry with us everyday.

With a Perspective, this is Paul Staley.

Paul Staley works for a housing non-profit. He lives in San Francisco.