This very columnist returns from a modest hiatus, realizes we are all working way, way too much
By Mark Morford
I have a message. I have a revelation.
It is mild and harmless and wildly common-sensical and terribly obvious on a hundred different levels and yet also revolutionary, and still we ignore it and deny it and make a point to reject it, trammel it with our macho American work boots and proudly jammed timecards and 12-hour workdays and our bleary eyes and struggling relationships and rampant heart attacks.
We all need more time off.
That's it. That's the revelation. Of course you agree. Of course you love the idea. But of course like any good American the noxious Puritan work ethic has been pounded into your soul since you were knee-high to a fetus, when your mother ordered you to quit lounging and get busy and, you know, clean up your womb.
And following fast food and bad porn and the baffling incessant regeneration of the Bush clan, this mad drive for more work is the great American tragedy of our time. It is. That and sitcoms. And Meg Ryan.
We need more time off. A lot more time. Longer vacations. Extended breaks. Chunks of contiguous time which you can roll around on the tongue of your id and feel all swoony and blissed. When's the last time you saw an unhappy Aussie? Exactly.
I have just returned from a six-week injury-induced hiatus, a shockingly lengthy block of time by most American work standards and aside from the mild pain and the recuperation and the lovely Vicodin/red wine cocktails, it was glorious and refreshing and soul-regenerating and completely necessary. It prevents burnouts and ameliorates loathings and lightens the spirit and lets the psyche breathe and I am now utterly convinced that we are all idiots.
Or rather, the Europeans, with their regular, multi-month vacations, are geniuses. And the Australians are super-geniuses. Three months per year, paid. They pity us. They sip their Fosters and grin and make their enviable plans to travel across Asia on a Vespa for the summer and they look at us and shake their heads and say, Jesus with a brutal mortgage payment and a weekly performance evaluation, we are just *so sorry* you're an American.
You, with your paltry two weeks off per year and your mad dash for niftier job titles, your drive drive drive and your leaving for work at 7 and getting home at 8, your desperate need to be defined by what you do and your neglect of everything that's important in favor of deluxe business cards and pleated pantsuits and lots of frequent flyer miles heading to conventions at the Indianapolis Holiday Inn. That is so sad.
And they are so right.
No wonder we so love our Prozac. No wonder TV is our national anesthetic balm. The few precious minutes we have outside of work, we just want to drain, detach, unwind, go numb, de-stress, de-pollute. No wonder we know next to nothing of either ourselves or the outside world. We never get to spend any length of time there.
I cleaned my apartment. I purged. I dumped bagsful of stuff and emptied closets and rearranged my space and took inventory and painted walls and bought art and candles and wine.
I slept in. I forgot deadline pressure for the first time in years. I haven't called in sick in a decade and haven't taken more than a week off and here I was, loaded with time. It was bizarre, it was surreal, it was... extraordinary.
I went to Hawaii. Swam with dolphins. Read magazines. Spawned profound observations regarding sunsets and breaching humpback whales and sunburns and didn't check email for days.
Our laws are wrong. Our ethic is wrong. Everyone wants longer vacations, yet we feel guilty. How dare you take time off. How dare you enjoy other aspects of life. What are you, a bohemian freak? Industrious and dedicated work is good and necessary and admirable but too much of it is dangerous and deadly and nothing but nothing will suck your anima dry like excess toil and lack of self-exploration and adventure.
We are solid and dependable and harried. We have all the shiny expensive goodies and all the appropriately excessive everything, the best in thuggish SUVs and the finest gold nugget jewelry and the blandest business parks and superlative freeways for our endless soul-draining commutes and by God we are a noble bunch of American cogs, dying our slow and fluorescent-lit, copy machine deaths with pride and fortitude. Ouch.
The Puritans were fools. Good, diligent fools who were desperately undersexed and humorless and badly dressed and who never downed a beer bong in college or had sex standing up or laughed so hard they blasted margaritas through their noses, but fools nonetheless. Why do we follow their lead?
Moral salvation through hard work? As if. As if God sits there, slumped in the holy Barcalounger, checking his books as you await entry. Did you work lots of overtime? Kneel before your 401K? Ruin countless weekends by trudging into the office on a Saturday to finish a Powerpoint presentation in lieu of sleeping in or getting out of town or having morning sex with the S.O. and then going to a cafe for a lovely post-coital breakfast and laughing and staring longingly across the table and discuss traveling to Tibet together? You did? Off to hell with you.
We should all have a month off, minimum, everyone, every full-time employee everywhere in the country. Increased to six weeks after your first year. Then up to two months. That would be just about right. Two months. Maybe more. Think of what you could do.
Paint the house. Start your novel. Drive across the country. Finish that Proust bio. Rethink your life. Read up on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and come up with a solution because apparently they all insist on remaining pious violence-drunk hatemongers who regularly shame their God. Fly to Bali. You know, do stuff.
So here's the message: Do your work, do it well, take pride and show up on time and kick ass as much as possible. Then get the hell out. Leave as often as you can. See things. Get some sun. This is the message. Hey, even Shrub has reportedly spent over 40% of his current term on "working" vacation. And he's got a big phony war to keep hyping and everything.