On the guilty pleasure of checking out

To the farmers, firefighters, day camp coaches, event workers, frontline service people, road re-pavers, emergency responders, investigative reporters, I need to apologize. I’m sorry. I see how hard you’re working to keep the wheels turning. I’m not pulling my weight.

“No thinking in August” is my friend Mike’s mantra and the moment I heard it, I adopted it, immediately and wholeheartedly.

Going offline was not planned. It started more as a hankering for the adventures that only summer offers, a “this can probably wait” shrugging off of the two page to-do list, and devolved into complete mental inertia, an intellectual white-out of static, like old televisions back in the days of rooftop antennae when it was possible for a signal to be lost.

The trouble is, I haven’t gone away physically. I’ve been right here, barely answering emails, slacking on the chores, discovering new trails, new crags, new watering holes, literally marveling at this playground we inhabit. Playing. Getting really dirty.

Departing the jurisdiction, by leaving on vacation makes this kind of checking out permissible – it is summer after all – but the reality is that away-vacations are such hard logistical work (especially for families) that if you do manage to squeeze some downtime into them, you’ve earned it. Everyone knows you’ll return to work more exhausted than before you left.

A spontaneous unofficial vacation in your own bursting-at-the-seams backyard is different. It’s hard to escape the feeling that you should be doing something, contributing, helping, fixing. Picking up a shift, at least.

Then, of course, there are the smoky skies, reminding us every day of our ultimate vulnerability. This planet has eight billion people careening into a climate change brick wall that looks a lot like a very unhappy ending.  That requires every single awake member of said planetary tribe to try to turn the wheel around. That imperative doesn’t leave any time to swim laps, ride bikes, read books, does it?

Even so, I’ve been taking my time. The August of no-thinking.

There’s so much work to be done – on whatever scale I’m looking at – be it household maintenance, freelance career momentum or the indefinable work of making the world a better place, which I’d rather contribute to, than not, as irrelevant to the cosmic Grand Scheme as I am. Intellectually slouching isn’t helping anything move forward. A media fast, a social media detox, or voluntary disengagement is a perk of the privileged, like a girls’ weekend to Vegas, and frankly, I feel a bit guilty about it.

There are precedents – biblical decrees to take every seventh day as one of rest; the Sabbatical tradition allowing academics and pastors to recharge from the daily duties of ministering to hungry minds, and think some bigger thoughts of their own; productive fields allowed to lie fallow for a year to restore the soil. These ancient traditions are a reminder of the regenerative power in taking a break.

This vacation from reality that I’ve been having feels indulgent. Riding a singletrack alpine mountain bike trail, built for a million dollars, is a little head-spinning if you pedal straight into it from the bottom of the hour newscast. But it’s so nice to let all the existential anxieties lie idle, and focus simply putting your head down, and pedalling, to sweat and think about nothing more profound than the beer and chips awaiting at the end of the ride, and what a spectacular piece of infrastructure this trail, built up and down a mountain, is.

A magazine editor of mine once explained the importance of mix – for every well-reported, investigative feature, a magazine needed pages of fluff – what he called the “guilty pleasures.” Fibre takes time to digest. It’s best dished up alongside something light and sweet.

Just as we motivate the kid to try the vegetables by the promise of dessert, and as the climb is powered by my fixation on the caloric deficit I’m creating that I will be able fill with salty potato chips, life, too, needs its balance of pleasure and protest, of fierce effort and down-time. Of creating and regenerating. Of effort and rest.

What’s the difference between escapist denial, versus regrouping and regrounding? Today, it honestly feels like the same thing. But maybe that’s just life in the Sea to Sky corridor. The whole spectrum is out there on the same trails, the same patios. It’s a stellar place for any or all of the above.

The work will never be done. The Great Machine won’t even blink for my momentary downtime. And when I plug back in, as August fades to a haze in the rear view mirror, I’ll take this lightness, this looseness, this accrual of happiness, roll up my sleeves, and revel in putting a rejuvenated mind to work.

 

 

 

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