It’s Monday so once again it’s time for your local author/journalist to regale you with some more tales from beyond the writing desk! You might notice I didn’t describe myself as “unemployed” - that’s because a month after being laid off I finally secured another job. I can’t say much about it since I’m in the beginning stages, but I can say that I will be working with books, which is probably a good vocation for this purveyor of the written word. I’ll have more to say on that score and about my unemployment saga in the weeks to come. But today I want to talk about taking time off.
My wife and I recently went on a short vacation in Wisconsin with her family and some other relatives. We stayed on the Chippewa Flowage, a massive body of water encompassing over 15,000 acres and giant expanses of pure, unobstructed shoreline filled with trees and wildlife of all variation. This was a new experience for me as I had never gone camping in my youth. Despite that, I had a total blast. We swam in the lake with our four-year-old niece, I learned how to catch a fish, and enjoyed a night sleeping under the stars. When we came back I felt unbelievably relaxed and in a much better mindset about my situation.
I was used to the “normal” routine of a family vacation in which we traveled to a highly-trafficked destination, say Los Angeles or some other huge city, and spent every waking hour trying to cram in as much activity and family life as possible. At the end, while I got a lot out of seeing family and a locale different from my own, sometimes I would feel more stressed out afterward than before. Not with this trip. I had hours to think to myself, and almost zero interaction with other humans (besides family, who often went their own direction) the whole time. At night it got downright dark in the forests, and it was something to behold to live among nature for several days, knowing that it ultimately holds the key to your survival.
I think what I really needed was to disconnect. One of the first things I did when I arrived at the cabin was to turn off my smart phone and leave it that way. Not having to mindlessly check email, think about the direction my novel is taking, or what other jobs I should be applying for, I was forced to reckon with my own thoughts and feelings about the beautiful nature that surrounded us. This was the best of all possible worlds, given the gorgeous weather we were blessed with on the trip. This is something everyone should do at least one week a year - unplug from today’s pointlessly sped up modern society and get back to understanding the actual world we live in. It will do you a huge amount of good, and might even put you in the proper mindset for the rest of the year, or even the rest of your life.
When I got back to society, I had a job interview and I nailed it. Being in a better frame of mind and reconciling what’s important in life probably didn’t hurt, but neither did my experience and my background. The point is it all came together, as life often does while we are struggling to make it comport to our demands. A big lesson I learned from simply sitting in a boat and watching the earth move around me was this: we can’t control this, but we can sure damage it (like with carbon emissions) and it’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen. If we live among it and appreciate the nature all around us, it’s a heck of a lot harder to want to pollute it out of existence. And when it comes right down to it, nature doesn’t really care if we exist or not. The planet will be around long after temperatures rise high enough to melt the permafrost and cause the sea levels to rise, just as it did millions of years ago. As long as we respect what we have, and take the time to enjoy it, we’ll be alright.
So get on out there and enjoy it. Just because I said we shouldn’t damage it doesn’t mean we have slowed down CO2 emissions in any appreciable way. But besides that importance, nature forces us to see ourselves for who we are, and to understand what we want out of life. Grappling with that internal discussion is one of the core elements of our humanity, and I would strongly advocate all of us take the time outside to do just that. Vacations matter.
John Abraham-Watne is an author and freelance journalist located in the Twin Cities, where he lives with his wife Mary and their two cats. This blog is his attempt to catalog all the events that culminate a local writer's life.