Monday, May 30, 2011

Death by Relaxation

Just recently I sent a letter to a friend of mine overseas. I know, I know--I send letters to people. I'm such a softy for pen and paper and stamps and starting monologues off with "Dearest" and ending them with "Love." The world could be going to hell in a hand basket and my first thought would be to find a more upbeat radio channel. But anyway, on the back of this particular envelope, I taped the following Baby Blues comic strip:

In case you can't see it (as your eyes have smoked over due to backyard barbecues and summer sweat sneaking down your brow), click on it. But if you're looking for a transcript, the first panel says: "I'm going to the kitchen to get some crackers..." The second: "...WHILE BALANCING THE STEPSTOOL ON TWO SKATEBOARDS AND A BANANA PEEL!!!" The third: "Boredom is for the boring!" "Tell the gang at the emergency room I said hi."

I picked it because I wanted to send this person a summer comic, from one workaholic to another. He's going to Cambridge University and has exams coming up. Summers are scary for students like us. We work through fall, with the leaves changing from green to technicolor, and we trudge through spring, replacing our winter coats with summer shorts (although in Florida our passage of time is basically switching from flip flops to tennis shoes and back again). But then summer arrives and all of a sudden we're supposed to do nothing.



Do you know what nothing translates to for a workaholic?

Auto maintenance, house repair, storage cleaning, calling distant relatives, volunteering, varnishing the furniture, deleting unnecessary files off the computer, birthday shopping, christmas shopping, any activity that will get you ahead in the fall, trying that new recipe your coworker gave you (you forgot that you were supposed to be an excellent chef!), going to a yoga class, clearing out the email inbox, reading the latest best seller, organizing a committee, revamping the wardrobe, double checking the budget...

...sleeping (if it's not on the task list, it will not happen)...

...trying out a new skin cream, organizing the organizer/calendar, clipping coupons, re-accessing life goals, watching CNN, HBO, QVC, ABC, MSNBC, TMC--while wondering to yourself why you don't have Tivo...or a secretary--and of course, questioning if you're really doing your part to try to save the planet. You gas guzzler, you.

As Americans, we're raised with this Puritanical sense of right and wrong. We grew up with the rags-to-riches mentality floating around in the back of our minds; if we just worked a little bit harder, for a little bit longer, we could become successful. Just look at Rockefeller, or Donald Trump, or Madonna. Maybe even Oprah, if you're feeling particularly generous. Working hard will get us so very far, but, in the attempt to make it to one of the top tiers--in our thrill of the chase--what if we're all working ourselves just a little too hard?

It occurred to me over the three day weekend that while I know how to change my oil, fix a runny toilet, and catalogue the difference between anaphoras and caesuras, I really don't know how to take a vacation. I tried to imagine myself going away, leaving my life behind me for a day or two. Would I relax? Would I focus on the here and now and not on what I could have been doing had I stayed at home?

Should I have chosen a Cathy comic instead of a Baby Blues one?

(R.I.P. Cathy comics)

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